Lessons from NaNoWriMo, finding new authors, and a ‘duh’ moment . . .

I haven’t written about it any real depth, but 2014’s NaNoWriMo.org provided me with a very valuable lesson, one that I (think I have) finished processing enough to get  some actual useful knowledge out of. What I have written about, since about week three into November, is that I utterly could not stand the way the pace makes me dread sitting down and writing.

At this point in my writing career I know a decent amount of information about how I am, as a writer. (Rule 1: Know Thyself). I know the types of stories I love to tell. I know what times of the day I write best in. I know that if I’m starting a new series that I need to be alone in the house while I’m starting, and that distraction utterly destroys me, but if the story is well along its way then commotion around me isn’t a big deal, so long as I have music on and ear-buds in. I have a pretty good idea of the length of the story based on how complicated the plot seems, and I know that my ideal length is long short story to novella rather than novel length — and I know that that’s based on industry length, and not so much the new, more relaxed e-book length, in which case some of my material is more novel length than novella length.

I know that, for the last few years that I’ve been paying attention and trying to make the push from amateur writer to professional writer (primarily in attitude and approach, with the goal of my writing becoming my full time job) I’ve carried forward the idea that plotting out the story kills my desire to write it. In a world of pantsers and plotters  I have settled down in the  land between the two, but certainly a bit more toward the pantser side. I rarely ever write down the plans for my stories, but I do have a “steeping” process they all go through, when I work out the bigger details — in my head. Sometimes dialoguing out loud to see how that plays out. (Yes, I essentially talk to myself. In public. “You can’t just expect to throw this at my feet and think everything is going to be just fine. You grew up knowing all about this, but I’ve thought I was human my whole life. In my mind, I still am human — all this greenfolk blood aside. I don’t know how to be what you want me to be!” “I want you to be you, Charlie. Nothing more, nothing less. I won’t pretend that I understand what it is to be human, but I do know that I need you, now. The whole world needs you, now. This cannot wait until you are comfortable with it. We’re dying.”)

I know that I have a ton of stories — many of which are the beginnings of serials — that I want to get going on. I know that more writing time isn’t going to come before I figure out how to push material out, because my aim is that my having material out and available is going to allow me to increase my writing time by allowing me to work full time on the writing. Horse before the cart and all that.  And I know that for the last year I have been lamenting about how I don’t — I can’t — waste the writing time that I do have. I’m not downplaying the process I have made in the last three years. I’ve gone from writing ~20k words in 2011 to writing 80k in 2012, to writing over 100k both in 2013 and 2014. I’ve gotten myself out of my “write for a month solid, take three to six months off to recover” habit. I write when everything is miserable. I’ve learned that writing 4-5k in a weekend is just as good as writing 1k every day, 4-5 days a week, and that sometimes it’s even better when I’m burned out on words from the day job. I’ve learned to relax about the word count while also striving to always up the word count. And, I’ve made writing a part time job that pays one of my bills regularly. This is nothing to sneeze at.

But, NaNo came around, and  I spent October steeping my brain in the book I thought I was going to write . . . . and then on October 30th I realized that no, I’d be working on Poseidon: A Narrative instead. I had a vague, vague concept of what I wanted to do with that book, but that was it, and I went into November scrambling to deal with this surprise.

The first few weeks went well enough, but by the third week in I had reached the end of what I knew was going to happen. While I realize that the point of NaNo is to hit Dec 1st with 50k words worth of material, and a rough draft finished, that’s not good enough for me. I work full time, I have a house full of needy critters, I have two part time jobs going on right now, and I still want to do things like knit and read  — I cannot waste time while writing, which means I have to figure out how to write efficiently.

I came out of NaNo deciding that I wasn’t going to do it again, because the pace is just too much. I also came out deciding I was going to allow myself to have December off – I haven’t had a “vacation” since I started Born of Flame in 2013 — just to read to my heart’s content. (Two weeks in, and I’ve devoured a ton of books, and I’m also chomping at the bit to get back to writing). During this reading spree I discovered Lindsay Buroker’s Rust and Relics series — and, more to the point today, her blog.

Finder her blog allowed to find her post on writing faster, which in turn lead me to Rachel Aaron’s book 2k to 10k: Writing Faster, Writing Better, and Writing More of What You Love. Discovering that book lead me to confront what in hindsight should have been a no-brainer.

If I want to write more efficiently, if I want to stop wasting time at the keyboard, I need a better idea of what I’m writing when I fire up OpenOffice. Every time I wind up with a writing day of 1-3k words, when I know I’m going to toss half of them, I am frustrated. I keep chalking it up to being a writer, but I’m not getting any younger, and the stories-to-be-writing pile keeps expanding. I need to get these stories out. I’m not going to miraculously suddenly cease needing to sleep and so far my plea for more hours in the day have yielded no change in our orbit, so something else has to happen.

Knowing what I’m going to write before I sit down — not in any abstract, ephemeral way, but knowing what I’m going to write for that writing session is something that needs to happen. And this concept — to sit down for five minutes or however long it takes, prior to starting that days writing to figure out what I’m going to cover, that is, to micro-plot each day as it comes up — is the concept that feels revolutionary to me. Maybe it shouldn’t, maybe I’m slow on the uptake, but plotting out the story never translated into knowing as I’m sitting down what I’m going to write, in enough detail that I don’t have strain for ‘what scene is this that I’m covering.’

So, today, after our doctor’s appointment, once Beth heads into work, I’m going to sit down and start my outline for the trilogy of which A Marriage of Land and Sea is book 1 for. I’ve been aggressively “steeping” it in my head since I realized I’m going to try this approach (so, for two days, three counting today) and I’ve already sketched out some of the details. Mainly, the connections between by three heroines and also the over-arching plot. I’m going to spend today writing down everything that I know about this story, creating a timeline of events. I’m going to plot the shit of this series, and I’m hoping that this will be the key to getting the material out faster, with fewer wasted word.

I’m not expecting no snags along the way. I’m not expecting perfect writing days. But I want to get rid of the idling time, and I want to cut down on the “wasted words”. I want to increase my efficiency. So, this is the next experiment. Wish me luck, and stay tuned!


6 thoughts on “Lessons from NaNoWriMo, finding new authors, and a ‘duh’ moment . . .

    1. Jolene Post author

      Plotting and planning wise, it did not contain new information (for me) so much as it provided a new-to-me way of looking at it. I’d run across the idea of planning out scenes and stages first via Lazette Gifford ages ago at Forward Motion, but so often hearing or reading someone talking about what works for them — especially when it’s different from what other people have said, even if only a bit different — helps jar me out of “it has to be THIS WAY” thinking. Aaron’s book was a good read, definitely worth the money. I just don’t know why I never thought, hey, dummy, maybe have a game plan for each sitting down and writing. It was her comparing writers to bakers that was really the clue by four I needed. A baker does not enter the kitchen, turn the oven on, and then see what ingredients one has in order to bake something — at least, a professional baker does not. They don’t randomly add flour and salt and water and hope they come out with bread. There’s a plan in place before the work starts — why the heck wouldn’t it be that way with writing?

  1. Bridget Rose

    NaNo really burnt me out on writing–I went from 1600 (or more) words a day to being lucky if I could make 200; once December hit and the word count goal vanished I really slacked off. I’m slowly getting back into writing more, and planning what I’m writing *before* I start writing (instead of wasting time on the internet researching tiny details) sounds like a good way to help me get back into writing more.

    1. Jolene Post author

      It breaks my heart a little that NaNo does seem to burn people out. I haunted the boards a tad and saw that a load of people hit that third week slump and start hating the process. Which is a bit like missing the forest for the trees, in my way of thinking. Writing should be awesome and fun, even when it’s not, and I hate that people (myself included) have gotten burned out on something that’s supposed to showcase that awesome and fun-ness. But I’m also glad it’s made me take a long, hard look at my approach and about the things I tell myself about myself — are they true, still? Were they ever true? Where do I go from here?

      YAY writing. I hope planning works for you. I hope just changing things up work for you. I hope that the burn out heals and the joy comes back.

  2. Pingback: Nanowrimo’s Antique Magic | Paranormal & Romance author Juli D. Revezzo

  3. Pingback: Writer, Know Thyself | Jolene Dawe

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