And I’m not being facetious here, I love Google Docs. It allowed me to work remotely on the novel on 3 different PCs over the course of 29 days and for that I am extremely grateful.
Of course, I could have auto-published all 50,020 words as a blog post, but that seemed excessive. I want to keep the source as pure as possible, and that includes not uploaded it as a static file or page here. At least not yet. And since I didn’t want to invite each and every person who expressed a desire to read the work – both in the comments of the prior post and via email and phone – I chose to publish.
Enjoy now or later; here come the additional insights.
Show, don’t Tell This is hard to do in practice, especially because you’re writing. You have to tell people what’s going on, that’s all part of the act of writing. It’s telling a story.
But you have to be descriptive without describing everything, if that makes zen sense. You must work to limit your use of adverbs and expand your knowledge and awareness of adjectives and other determiners.
I, for example, fail this test miserably. See that previous sentence? Perfect example.
If I learned nothing else from the novel-writing experience it was that my particular style hinged too heavily on describing the way things were done – adverbially – versus describing the scene and the people in it, developing the characters.
Have a style I’ve read Strunk & White’s Elements of Style, I’ve borrowed a copy of King’s On Writing and I spent a good eight weeks or so during the Summer participating in Ficlet Fridays, so I feel like I had a good foundation of knowledge and practical experience as the base for my novel. I was wrong.
I changed voice several times. I wrote a story within a story to keep things moving (SPOILER: it’s a MacGuffin, by the way) and keep myself interested. I think I even merged a few of the secondary and tertiary characters into one amalgamated stew (gumbo?) of a character.
I know I’m a fussy writer. I like parentheticals and triune lists. I enjoy Kevin Smith movies and Dawson’s Creek, so my dialogue has some similar qualities (shoot me or yourself now).
But writing a novel is about finding a voice for the novel, for the narrator and for the characters. I think that the style and voice of the novel suffered mightily at the hands – my own typing hands – of my personal style. While I think some of it was good, I needed to find a way to interject the better parts of that overwrought inclination and jettison the rest and just write the words.
But that’s a minor quibble. I imagine if I was ever to edit this piece down and add the back 50,000 words (since I didn’t finish the whole story, I just found a good stopping point just past the finish line), I’d be happy I had some of my signature style to guide my knife and hatchet-wielding editor’s pen.
Anyhow, no big revelations. They’re somewhat intertwined but I thought they both merited mention.
The big news: the novel is on the internet. It was intended to be called “Land O’ Goshen” but that was before I took it to a different place. For now the title is NaNoWriMo 2008. I figure keeping it nameless is like delaying the naming of a baby in a hospital nursery: it keeps me from accepting the fact that it’s real.
If you read any portion – I don’t require or expect you to finish it – please feel free to give me constructive criticism or just an attaboy.
I’ve participated in four consecutive years of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), beginning in 2005, and this is the first time I’ve crossed the 50,000 word threshold and “won” so that should tell you something about just how daunting a task it is to write an entire novel in 30 days, if you didn’t already know.
I went for a mixture of comedy and tragedy in a novel I described, as a tongue-in-cheek elevator pitch, as “Superbad meets Crime and Punishment”. If you think about it, that’s lofty company in both camps. I may have been setting myself up for failure, but I wanted to aim high.
This year was no different than 2005 – 2007, except for the fact that I finished.
Same lack of time. Same familial responsibilities and duties that hedged in to my writing time. Same late nights. Different result.
First, I think I finally found my angry place and went there. Part of what was holding me back was, quite honestly, me. I’d listen to my inner demons and let them direct me towards TV or surfing or just general apathy and major boredom (Thanks, Ben Folds!). I literally wasn’t giving myself a chance to win because I hadn’t planned a way to spend the requisite time physically sitting down and writing. It may only be 1,667 words a day but failing to plan for that actuality means a few days of missed deadlines equals 5,000 words, which is both daunting and demoralizing.
Lesson 1: Follow your muse, write ahead, bank the ideas and don’t stop when you’re on a roll.
That first lesson is a hard one to learn. You really do have to clear 3 or 4 hours on your calendar some days to write well and accomplish something. Even if you end up getting to 1,667 and stopping after only 30 minutes, you’ve “found” some time. You need to “find” time at the outset and enjoy getting it back when/where you can.
Lesson 2: Cheat (within the rules)
I’m not talking about importing someone else’s work or using something you’ve already written, but am suggesting taking shortcuts to meet your word count.
Quote some song lyrics or have your character sing in the shower. Recite biblical passages or have a preacher do likewise. Write a poem or any other form of writing apart from prose to break your mental lock.
Nothing kills momentum like good, old-fashioned writer’s block and the only sure way out of it is just to write. In a competition like NaNoWriMo, quantity trumps quality every single time. All of these ideas ARE NOT CHEATING per the rules and were actually given as advice by the helpful staff and guest authors.
Lesson 3: Don’t go it alone
I wasn’t too keen on following my advice or learning this lesson at all, but it’s important. Whether you have an album or playlist that helps you focus, a trusted friend competing alongside you or you’re the type (like me) that has to tune out all distractions by turning off all other media, have some kind of support structure around you.
I’m lucky that I have an incredibly supportive wife and some family members as a cheering section, but whatever will help you out the most, cling to it with all your life. There were times that I lashed out and got gruesome because things weren’t going my way, but I didn’t abandon hope or the support structure that worked for me. It’s not always people but things or rituals that can be your solace; let it/them help you.
Lesson 4: There is no lesson 4/keep your wits and sense of humor about you
If nothing else, NaNoWriMo taught me that, whatever external baggage I had heaped on top of it, it’s merely a competition to reach 50,000 words. 49,998 of those could have been “I” and the last two could be “Love You” and it would still pass muster. It wouldn’t exactly be the keenest narrative or commentary on the world – it wouldn’t be the “Next Great America Novel” – but you’d still win.
This Lesson (that isn’t a lesson) was hard for me. My version of not going it alone relied a bit too heavily on going it alone, without real people. It ultimately worked for me, but only following a prolonged, bitter outburst, a horrible weekend (maybe two), two late-night, five-hour writing sessions and 29 days. Which is to say, I’m still learning all of these lessons even as I type this post.
Part of the great learning and writing I did do came out of positive times I was describing, or the joy I found in having made time to write amidst all my other prerequisites. The fact that I could laugh and smile and play was born out on the page. I didn’t tag those moments mentally or in the document itself, but I think I can spot them upon reading and re-reading what I wrote.
Would have I done anything differently? Sure, but I don’t know that I could have. Sometimes you have to run the race first to know how you should have been strategizing all along.
In the future there are definite plans I could, and will make, should I write another “novel”. I’ll definitely outline the work, but also outline the time I’ll spend writing and share it with my loved ones. Setting expectations is key and another document shouldn’t be hard; you’ll be (I’ll be) writing a novel, what’s a few more words.
As far as next steps, I don’t think I’m brave enough just yet to share my masterpiece. One, because I think it’s complete and utter shit, and that’s not me being facetious or humble or overly negative, it’s me being honest. I don’t like the final product because my expectation are different than those outlined in the competition. I didn’t just want the words, I wanted the magic, I wanted the NOVEL!
All that said, I’ll probably put it on the blog or share the actual document on Google Docs to those who are so inclined to read and give feedback/constructive criticism. Leave a comment if you’re curious (morbidly or otherwise).
For a final thought I want to provide a metaphor for writing a novel, especially writing 50,000 words in 30 days, that occurred to me at around the 2/3 mark. Writing long-form prose is like being a sculptor if the sculptor had to create the rock out of grains of sand first and THEN whittle it down into its final form. You’re really playing God in writing and you have to build up and then tear down to get anything worthwhile. I know now that I’m at the creation stage and that, if I were to turn the NaNoWriMo into the work I’d eventually like to create, I’d get my chisel out and start hacking. Right now, though, I think the hackery is best left alone, there was enough hacking just to hack up what I put on virtual paper.
I’m proud, yes, of running the race and crossing the finish line but I want to think of myself as the winner of the Boston Marathon terms of potential and while competing in this half marathon of sorts is nice and finishing is admirable, they’re two different types of athletes and athletic competitions and I’m thankful to know I can at least be amateur level. But I want to go pro in the worst way, maybe not at long distance running, but in some discipline that involves moving my feet. Speed walking? Track & Field? Line dancing? I’m killing a metaphor here and not softly, but you get the drift.
Anyhow, if you’ve come this far you really love me and my writing so it’s a possibility you’d actually like what I wrote last month. It’s just as crazy, on that I can deliver on my promise.
Whether or not I compete again next year or in some other year is up for grabs, but for the near future I’ll be writing here. I enjoy it as I enjoyed NaNoWriMo 2008, so it can’t suck too bad if I have a good time, right?
“This area has to do with introspective and self-reflective capacities. Those who are strongest in this intelligence are typically introverts and prefer to work alone. They are usually highly self-aware and capable of understanding their own emotions, goals and motivations. They often have an affinity for thought-based pursuits such as philosophy. They learn best when allowed to concentrate on the subject by themselves. There is often a high level of perfectionism associated with this intelligence.
Careers which suit those with this intelligence include philosophers, psychologists, theologians, writers and scientists.” (Wikipedia)
I have no idea why the phrase I’m using as a post title, “Tentacular and the Octophants”, jumped into my head this morning, but it did.
Likely culprit: a cool print of an Octophant that’s now become a t-shirt. This might make a good birthday purchase. I’m just sayin’.
I also think the title would be a great band name. Very 70’s prog rock or terrible high school/college rock noise experiment. It’s a definite contender for inclusion in my upcoming novel for NaNoWriMo.
You remember NaNoWriMo, right? The annual novel-writing competition that takes place each November. I’ve participated three times now with almost an entire 50,000 word novel as the result, spread across 3 years and 3 topics.
It’s been more of a lark in the past, but it’s put up or shut up time in 2008.
So I’ve got this little nugget – a band name – Tentacular and the Octophants. And I’ve got a phrase I’d like to use, maybe as the novel’s title: “Land O Goshen”, which my paternal grandmother still says.
My cousins grew up in Goshen, Indiana and I think some kind of coming of age/finding yourself/switching identities story would work well there. Or maybe referencing that mundane locale with the biblical Goshen.
Anyhow, I’ve still got another 3 weeks to plan the structure, jot down some more snippets of dialogue and clever phrases and study up on Egypt, Indiana and the concept of identity (both personally and online).
That whole Ficlet Friday experiment? Yeah, it was fun while it lasted but it seems as though I, along with everyone else, let it whither in the Summer Sun.
Sorry. If I’m blogging about writing – fiction writing – don’t deny me an allusion.
Cut to last night’s iPhone/iTunes update. I get an email from Chris @ NaNoWriMo about some site upgrade or another and it reminds me that while we may be 7 weeks away from the general election, we’re closer still to the start of NaNoWriMo.
And this is the year I finish. This is the year I write like I’ve been exercising: daily This is the year it goes into a document, not into the void or a dream or a lazy cubicle chat with a colleague.
Rather than continue making declarative statements that may not come true, I’ll link to a Psychology Today piece on creativity that induced both head-shaking agreement and head-shaking bewilderment. Why are creatives (and I’m being generous to lump myself in here) such dichotomies?
So how should I harness these dual impulses inside me to create … whatever it is I’m creating.
Art? A novel? (Hopefully) Prose? This blog post? (Definitely)
I’m thinking the solution, which came to me via Bump, is going to be Evernote.
Simple. Multi-purpose (good for grocery lists AND late-night ideas). Multi-platform (Web & iPhone app)
Here’s the first “creative” thing I’ve captured using Evernote. Let’s hope I give it enough food and water to grow:
The fight isn’t the last stand It’s the first stanza
Granted it’s only a fragment, a strand, a shard of an inkling of something larger, but I like it. For the moment.
My point is that at least the moment was captured. If I revise or delete or reverse or reconfigure later, the fact remains that I had the raw materials to begin with.
While I may feel sorry – surprisingly not too much – about the Ficlet Fridays petering out, I’m happy that, for the first time, I’m confident and assured by some semblance of process going in to NaNoWriMo.