A Nano Victory

50k in November 2014!

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As I said on Twitter, 50k in a month is not, in itself, that much of a challenge for me anymore. I’ve done it enough times that I certainly know I can. But there’s still something so cool about doing it with other people, all striving for the same goal in the same time frame. And it is important to sort of reset my focus. After the heavy editing I was doing the past few months, I had sort of gotten off-track when it came to generating totally new material. Nano helped re-align my discipline.

Of course, I was also a Nano Rebel, so my discipline was perhaps lacking in that regard. Only about 30k of those 50k were on one project — a space opera that’s actually based, quite tangentially, on the very first thing I ever tried to write, at the tender age of 11. It’s a concept I return to every once in a while, reworking and reimagining. No idea if this most recent iteration will take root in a way that will be useable later, but I enjoyed playing with the main character, particularly. I wanted to take a roguish, devil-may-care, Han Solo-like figure… but make that character female, and also make her the central protagonist of a traditional hero’s journey. It’s not meshing together quite as I’d like yet, but the seeds are there, and I might be able to do more with them later.

The remaining 20k came from not one, not two, but three others — all of them in the Aven universe. One is a few scenes from the immediate sequel. I haven’t written much of that, but sometimes I was just getting the itch to spend time with my familiar, beloved characters rather than building whole new ones — so that’s what I did. The two others take place 200 years and 500 years on, respectively, and were full more of world-building than of plot or character, really. I’ve been trying to sort out how the political realities will shift and reshape over time — which may then help me work backwards to find the correct path for the conclusion of the current story. It’s a fascinating way to think, as a historian — playing out the alternate possibilities that my domino-flicking changes create. Will anything come of those? Maybe. I don’t know. But if anything, it’s giving me a new angle on the world I’ve been living in for so much of the past few years, and that’s always exciting. I don’t feel bad about being a Nano Rebel in this way, because the important thing for me is no longer to make sure I finish a single project — I know I can do that — it’s making sure I make room for writing in my daily life. Switching between projects made sure that I didn’t lose that joy. Writing is a job, for me, but it shouldn’t be a chore. Giving myself a little extra freedom, even if it was outside Nano’s strictest boundaries, made sure my heart stayed as engaged as my head.

The thing that does make this year’s win a bit impressive, in my opinion, is that I actually did it in 21 days. I was in Disney World at the start of the month, so I had an 8-day deficit to come back from. A few 4k days brought me back up to speed — but 4k days aren’t easy to come by, either in terms of time or creativity. You have to really want it. I owe a shout-out to @NanoWordSprints for helping me with that — their prompts and pushes are a great way for me to keep myself on task (and not, say, Tumbling or Pinning).

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This is, if not the very latest I’ve won Nano, then pretty close. Most years that I have won, I’ve done so around the 25th. Was this year slower because of that 8 day deficit? Maybe — but I caught that up pretty fast, then just stayed right about on pace the last week or so. Perhaps it’s because the Thanksgiving break usually falls a bit earlier? It’s easier, not just to find the hours to write, but to find the brain space when I’m not sitting down to it after work. But that’s just an excuse, really — I’m perfectly capable of pounding out a thousand words even when I’ve worked 14 hours at my other two jobs (or, as happened a few times this month, after getting home from a 4 hour Star Wars: Edge of the Empire campaign session).

To all my fellow Nano-ers, whether you’ve won already or not, whether you think you’ll make it in tomorrow or not — Congratulations to you! Taking on a project like this is a success in of itself, and it makes us all a part of something pretty special.

#WhyNaNo?

For anyone who missed it, there was a pretty incredible National Novel Writing Month chat on twitter today: #WhyNaNo. It’s part of #NaNoPrep — a chance for veteran Nanoers to talk about what keeps us coming back and to convince the potential newbies to join in the madness. The conversation was lively and inspiring, and it got me thinking about my own reasons for Nanoing over the years.

Why (quoteymcquote)Why did I start to Nano? To show off. 2001, senior year of high school, and I mostly wanted to prove that I could. And I did! Though it was far from good — a lot of self-indulgence, a lot of waffling, a lot of fanfiction muddled with original stuff (not that there’s anything wrong with fanfic). But I did 50k in a month, and it felt good. My friends and I read bits of it aloud at lunchtime and giggled a lot, and their encouragement kept me going.

Why did I keep Nanoing? I discovered how much I liked it. And I wanted to keep showing off. In college, it was pretty easy. For as much as college students complain about overwork, even at William & Mary (where your best hasn’t been good enough since 1693), I had free time. And finals weren’t till December, which left me days after Nano to write those papers. So I kept pounding out stories that, in retrospect, weren’t very good. But some of that went to creative writing classes as well, and one of them held the seed of a project that I still turn over in my mind every couple of years, hoping to find the right angle on it. And someday I will.

Why did I stop Nanoing? Graduate school happened to me. And a working adult life happened to me. Man alive can those things, however wonderful they are, suck the ability and the energy for creative writing out of you. Particularly, in my case, because I was doing so much academic writing (and still do, at work), which is an entirely different skill set. My graduate thesis left no room in  my brain for creative endeavors, and for the first year I was working, it was just too hard to come home and make myself sit down in front of a blank screen again. I gave up on Nano for a couple of years the same way I’d given up on almost all creative writing.

Why did I start Nanoing again? Because I hated that I’d given up on creative writing. I knew I still had stories in me. I’ve wanted to be a novelist since I was eleven, and I hated that I’d lost sight of that. So I used Nano as a kick in the ass to find it again. And it worked. Aven began life in Nano 2011. It bears little resemblance now to what it was then, but that was the start. I immersed myself in a new world for the first time in years, and I gloried in it. I got back into the habit, and I’ve managed to keep it up in the three years since. 1667 words a day no longer scares me. 3000 words a day is a stretch, most of the time, but I know it’s not impossible, so it doesn’t scare me either. One Sunday during this past summer of revisions, I managed over 6000 words in a day. That Nano was a major step on the path of turning me into a working writer, not just someone who daydreams about being a writer. I made myself do it, discovered that I could, and decided that I must.

Why do I keep Nanoing? For the joy. It’s still a great activity. I’ve Nanoed and Camp Nanoed these past few years, with varying degrees of success. I used the Camps of the Summer 2012 to finish Aven‘s first draft, so those went well. But sometimes I fall on my face — life gets in the way. Or, it’s been a month where editing and revising Aven took precedence over creating something new. I don’t beat myself up about it — I know I have the habits now. I know I can’t write 3k or even 1k every single day of my life. But Nano got me into the pattern of doing it regularly, of always working on something, new or old. I do like being able to participate properly in November, though — there’s a delicious energy to it, the mania of keeping up, the excitement in the forums, the challenges and sprints and encouragement on Twitter.

Why will I Nano this year? If I do, that is. It will depend on where Aven is, really. It’s likely that it will be out to editors, and I’ve learned that the very worst thing I can do is look at the manuscript while it’s out with others, because that will just make me crazy. So, if that’s the case, I’ll Nano, for the joy, and for something to keep me occupied while we’re waiting to hear back. It’ll be a challenge this year, since I’ll be spending the first week of November at Disney World — but I’ll give it a go anyway. Just to see what I can do.

So how many of y’all have Nanoed before? What drove you to it? What have you gotten out of it?

“The first draft is just you telling yourself the story.” — Terry Pratchett

In the past ten days, I have created a villain, orchestrated a sex scene, and killed half a dozen people who didn’t exist in the first place. I’ve been editing, and I think can count the number of chapters left un-tampered with on one hand. Something like seventeen chapters saw substantial alterations, two of those were re-written entirely, and most of the others got continuity tweaks.

As it seems, January and February are “Now What?” months over at NaNoWriMo. As I just finished my third round of revisions for Aven since signing with Connor back in October, I’ve been following the conversation pretty closely, since it’s relevant to my current headspace. There’s been a lot of great advice, both from the pros and from the community. There’s also been a fair bit of, well, whining — from people who think revision is too hard or too depressing. From people who find accepting criticism to be stressful. And from people who have realized that being melodramatic on the internet, particularly about artistic endeavors, is a good way to get attention. (An unkind assessment of the population of the web, I know, but not, I think, an inaccurate one).

And in some ways, I get that. It is hard work, and in a lot of ways it’s the exact antithesis of what gets people through November, especially those who are new to writing, or new to writing such long projects that they might actually want a future for. Now is not the time to throw everything at the wall. Now is the time to hone in, to admit that a lot of what you flung earlier isn’t working for you, to scrape that stuff away without mercy, and to figure out, with precise vision and control, what you need to add in its place. And misery does love company, so I thoroughly see how this becomes a self-perpetuating cycle when Nano openly asks people to talk about their experiences.

My opinion of editing? I find it fun. It’s like a puzzle game — you have to figure out what doesn’t fit, and what new piece might fill in the gap. Maybe something just needs to be twisted another way, or turned upside down. If you move something, it might create a gap elsewhere, and then you have to figure out what to do about that. It’s definitely intellectual exercise, and the workout can be exhausting. It can sometimes melt your brains and make you a little crazed, especially when you plunge in deep and don’t come up for air for hours on end. But then it feels so good to know when you’ve nailed it! So some days, it’s a little like this:

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I just happened to run across the Pratchett quote in my subject line today, and I quite like it. The first draft is where you find the characters and get a sense of the shape of things, but it won’t have the sharp definition or the right energy. Aven began life during Nano 2011. I think there might be a couple of scenes that are sort of intact from that first draft. A lot of material got shuffled off and will hopefully appear in a later book. A lot of material got extracted completely. Maybe it will come back, maybe it won’t. But it doesn’t stop existing just because I had to take it out of the working draft. It doesn’t get unwritten just because I do that — because I don’t delete anything. I make copies and shove the old material into different files, so that, should I ever want to revisit it, I can. But even if those fragments never come back to life, either in this or a future project, that’s okay, too. I still had the joy of writing them. And they still helped shape the novel into what it is today. If I hadn’t written those words, I couldn’t have gotten to this point.

I can look back and know that I’ve always been this sort of writer. I find new things through continuing to play with the story. Back when it was all OC Star Wars fanfic all the time, I wrote and re-wrote some key scenes over and over again, across months and years of living in that story. My problem tends to be more that, if left to my own devices, I’m never satisfied. I’ll keep fussing and tweaking forever. I always feel like there’s something else I could say, something more, some new angle worth exploring. (Neil Gaiman, according to his blog, sometimes has a similar problem, which makes me feel better about it).

And that’s a lot of why I feel like the best part of having an agent so far — beyond just, y’know, having one — is having someone to help focus and direct my edits. I’m fortunate that Connor is an editorial agent — not all of them are, and not all writers want their agents to be editorial, but this was clearly the kind of relationship I had to be able to have with an agent. His eagerness to work with me and to develop the product from something good into something great has been magnificent. It’s wonderful to have friends and family members who are willing to read what you write, but even if they are willing to be constructively critical, they don’t have the insider knowledge of the publishing industry. They can’t tell me how certain popular series have changed the expectation for the genre. They don’t know how the trends are ebbing and flowing. And, frankly, they tend to not be great with the kind of revising help I need the most — they’ll either just think everything’s great because I wrote it, or their advice will be so super-specific as to not be helpful, more line edits than conceptual. Working through it with a professional in the industry gives me much better ways to focus that energy that drives me to pick and twiddle and micro-adjust. It gives me things I can really lock my jaw around and shake the life out of — which is great, because it’s so much more satisfying than those vague micro-adjustments I’m otherwise prone to. It’s like how you feel better after eating a really great meal than you do after snacking indiscriminately all day.

All of which is to say that, as I stated on Twitter last week, I’ve been enjoying a lot of deep and artful thoughts about sex and murder.

Nano Prep — Unleash the Hounds

2013-Participant-Vertical-BannerIt’s that time of year again! Sign-ups have started for National Novel Writing Month. I’ve already set up my profile and conned one local friend into joining the madness with me. I just realised that this is my tenth year of participation. (My first was in 2002, but I punked out in 2006, thanks to directing Romeo and Juliet that month, and in 2009, thanks to writing my Master’s thesis, which I guess are both okay reasons). I’m looking forward to continuing my winning streak — 2011 and 2012 were both very good for me. I believe 2013 will be as well. I’m so excited for it that I’ve already started diving into the forums — and I’m clearly not alone in wanting to immerse myself in Nano’s special energy as soon as possible. There are nearly 29,000 writers signed up as of this moment, and several forums have taken off like a shot — particularly the Fantasy Genre Lounge and the Reference Desk.

October at my real-world job is completely bananas. Especially this year. We host a conference towards the end of the month, where a few hundred of the experts in our field descend upon our Playhouse for almost a full week of paper presentations, staging sessions, shows, and festivities. My boss and I spend several weeks preparing ourselves and our volunteer coordinators and teams of helpers, and then spend a series 16-hour days herding the cats, guiding our volunteers, schmoozing the VIPs, and just generally being as capable and charming as we can manage. I’m presenting my own paper, so, y’know, no pressure there. This caps off a month where we’ve had two teacher seminars in a row, last weekend and this, a few leadership seminars, and a host of other normal, non-conference responsibilities that always crop up at the beginning of the school year. So, really, while Nano is always a bonkers challenge of its own, this year, it’s also a reward. After a month of bleeding out for other people (happily! I do love my job, it’s just seriously exhausting sometimes), in November, I get to retreat into a world of my own creation. I’m really looking forward to it.

This year, I’ll be working on re-envisioning my screenplay, Tallows House, as a novel, The World is Always Ending. (Working title, at least, thoroughly stolen from a Neil Gaiman short story). This is a pet project, and I freely admit that. I’m more interested in getting The Antares Project to a finished, query-able state, and I think it’ll meet with more success. But, it’s also at the fill-in-the-gaps-and-fiddly-bits stage, which isn’t good for Nanoing. I’ll share some more about TWAE’s premise later, though, and probably some character sketches.

Honestly, at this point the hardest part is not writing. I had a snippet of exchange in my head yesterday, and I just have to hope it’ll still be there to recall on November 1st. I’ve had a great idea for dealing with the timeline and communicating its non-linear bits, and I can’t let myself scratch down more than a few memory-jogging notes. But that’s part of the fun of it. I like letting the pressure to write build up, like a champagne bottle ready to pop.