Tag Archives: nanowrimo

July 27, 2015

Camp-Winner-2015-Web-BannerThis month has been pretty busy, as evidenced by my not being around much online. However, that’s meant a lot of good developments for me in the writing department. I decided to do an overhaul of Paladin Honor thanks to the wonderful feedback last January (how is it already July?) at Darcy Patterson’s retreat. Feedback suggested some reworking of the end mostly and I wanted to pitch the novel at the Pacific Northwest Writer’s Association conference, which was two weekends ago as well, so it made sense to dive in and give the book a final polish. So, I’m ending the month not only with a freshly polished novel with a stronger ending, but also a couple of requests from pitching it. I just need to revamp the query and summary now before sending it on out. I feel victorious and productive.

captchaAlso, I’m hoping to make some changes to this website in the coming months. I’ve been getting a ton of spam comments, which is why I have the comments go off after two weeks, but I finally took the time to find and research some security things to put on it so I can re-open them again. I’m also doing some larger planning to try to organize my posts better… and eventually will probably bet get a theme that works better on a tablet. Marketing is one of my weaker things and I’d like to improve. Ultimately, I’d like to blog more on focused subjects, probably Anthropology and world-building for fantasy, science fiction, and historical novels, since most of mine fall into those categories.Kathul

Another thing that’s happened these last few months, is that I’ve written a joint novel! This was actually a huge surprise, since neither of intended to write a joint novel. While I’ve fallen into writing a few books when I didn’t mean to, this is the first one I’ve written entirely by accident. It started out as a fluffy crossover project, when during rping with one of my long term writing partners. One of my characters wanted to visit one of hers and help her solve a problem, and since we weren’t doing much at the time, we went ahead and wrote it. The thing ended up about 100k and we had a great time and considered it just fun writing practice.

Fast forward three years, and my friend dug it up at one point while revising another story and re-read it. It was actually a full novel, with proper character arcs, plot, and a great climax. It just needed some things to be filled out in the middle of it and for us to re-frame the book to make it unclear if my troll was a supernatural creature a construct of the MC’s imagination. We both dove into editing it and now we have a new great book!

On the downside, all this productivity somehow obscured me finalizing some art problems with my Calico Avenger book. I promise to get that fixed and out for sale soon! My new deadline is September 1st, and this time I promise it will happen!


Camp Nanowrimo: Into the Woods of Revision

camp 2015

It’s that time of year. April is almost upon us, and for those active in the world of Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month) it’s time to consider doing the April camp.  For those of you who don’t know about camp, here’s the basics: it’s a smaller additional twice a year Nanowrimo challenge in which you chose your word count or project. Finishing a started project, short stories, editing, graphic novels or screen writing are no longer rebels but official projects. Often I use the camps to give myself that extra bit of motivation to get whatever project I’m working on finished. Unfortunately I don’t always “win” camp, like I do the official event.work

This happens because when I sign up they have the default 50k goal sitting in the box and when I look at it, ready to change it to my planned goal something in me goes, wait! You can do 50k, really! Why change it? After all, you really want this project done. Only, unlike in November where I’ve set aside other obligations for the last ten years and everyone knows I’m busy, I have other stuff going on during the months of April and July. But since anything I get done is a victory in a larger sense, I find it useful anyway.

Silver creek trailThis year, though, I want to do something dramatic, bold, and brave! So, off I venture into the deep woods of revision! I want to turn a good novel into a brilliant one. The book is one I’ve been working on for several years, has been through several rounds of critiques at Critique Circle, and several full book beta tests from close friends. After doing everything I could, I still didn’t feel confident about it though. Despite knowing the book and the writing were strong and supposedly market-ready, it nagged on me that I was still missing something. That it wasn’t as good a book as some of my others. So I took the book to Darcy Pattison’s novel retreat.

In a group with three other novelists, we worked through the exercises in Novel Metamorphosis interspersed with lectures from Darcy and small group discussions. What came out of that retreat was a focused map for revisions, one I’ve been honing this last week by doing some of the exercises in the book I didn’t have time for the retreat schedule being so focused. Unlike other camps, I’ve got my backpack full of tricks and a detailed map of what I’m adding and subtracting from the novel. And thus I’m going to be big, brave, and bold. The novel is 85,000 words long and I’m going to edit each and every one of them, so I’m upping that number on the nano goal to 85k.

And considering this novel is about the age of Charlemagne, I feel quite justified in using the traditional battle cry as I get myself fired up for April 1st: Monjoy!

Camp is here!

2014-Participant-Vertical-BannerI love to go camping. Something I will have to wait until I get my car back from repairs to do. Siiiigh. But until then, I can go to Camp Nanwrimo! This summer version of Nanowrimo (the main event is in November) is a lot more relaxed. Writers can pick their word count goal, if they’re writing a novel, script, short stories, revising, etc. Any writing project is acceptable. And while I’m super busy with both writing Much Ado About Villains and proofreading Dragon Boy for the Pacific Northwest Writers’s Association conference Sea-tac, I just couldn’t resist getting myself together to make a goal for July’s camp.

Good thing I’m not really going camping until August! I won’t have time.

I debates setting a new goal for Much Ado like I did in April, but I need a break from my intensive schedule and some mental room to work on Dragon Boy and the conference, so I decided I’d finish one of my other novels that was unfinished. I’m attending a workshop next January (no one can complain I don’t plan ahead at this rate) where I’ll be in a small group going over a chosen novel and so I picked one that was unfinished but I really cared about for the workshop called Mortal Friends. I need to send a full draft in to my group partners by the end of November, so now’s the perfect time to squeeze it in. I’m pretty excited to finish this book, as it’s one that’s special to me. Here’s the blurb:

Conrad (Con for short) the goblin is forced to join the Horde to help his impoverished mother keep her house and his sister out of an early and disgusting marriage. Life in the Hoard stinks, he’s bossed around by the other goblins, the food’s no good, and the heroes just cut through them no matter how hard they fight or try and defend themselves.

His brother Swindle watches his back though, and gets Con a nicer position—guarding a captive princess. The Princess Irene is slated to marry the goblin prince in a plan to bring the Golden Lands under the Horde’s control.  Bored with guard duty, Con first reassures her, then teaches her how to sword fight, accidently becoming friends. As the wedding draws near, Con can’t stand the thought of watching it happen, but can he help her escape without being a traitor to his people?

I’ve kept my goal at 50k, the length I hope the book will end up at, because before finishing it I want to go over what I’m keeping and revise it. I’m hoping for a whole draft by the end of the month so I can get back to villains.

Now, to everyone else doing camp this month, let’s get writing!

Losing Camp and Tea experiments


2014-Participant-Vertical-BannerI realize I sort of disappeared for the month of April. Signing up for Camp Nanowrimo was probably not the brightest or most doable ideas—but that’s what happened. This year, I’ve been madly trying to get both “Much Ado About Villains” finished and “Dragon Boy edited in time for the writing conferences I’ve signed up for, and my reasoning when poked by a friend to join her at trying Camp Nano again this April was that I needed to finish my draft anyway. I might as well count the word count, right?

I was going to put a realistic goal for the month, but when filling out the novel information sheet, I did need 50k of all the scenes in order still… even if that would be counting revision material (Camp rules are more flexible than the main Nov event, allowing for personalized word count, revision, editing, or screen plays). I probably should have set the more reasonable 30k goal I was originally planning, rather than leaving it at 50k, because I ended up with 28k or rewritten and revised beginning, although I think it’s coming along quite nicely at least.

Camp ate up a lot of mental energy and time, meaning things like this blog got shelved, but not “winning” wasn’t a big deal to me. What mattered more was that I found the missing plot and tension issues that were slowing up the novel. And at least I had a lot of fun sitting in front of my computer with a lot of hot tea. April is an excellent month for drinking tea in Oregon.teapots

Over the last six months, I’ve actually been drinking a huge amount of tea. It’s soothing, it lets me keep the heat bill down (since it warms me up) and it makes for a pleasant time while writing. My husband has always been fond of tea pots, and so I started collecting nice second hand ones as I came across them, which has lead to my being in the habit of using a small teapot regularly for my tea. Most of the teapots are a Japanese style that strains loose leaf tea, although sometimes I’ll use a bag as well. I just put the bag in the teapot instead of a cup and it stays warmer longer in the pot.

teasUp in Beaverton last weekend, my husband and I got a bit daring with a brief stop to Uwajimaya, the largest Asian store in the Portland area, that I know about anyway. They have a wonderful pottery section we enjoy browsing, but we were strong and did not buy yet more teapots. Instead,  the allure of the tea isle roped us in. So many varieties, so many brands, none of which we could read the packaging, or at least not well, but all of which looked fabulous! We went on a 30 dollars spending spree on random Asian teas: two kinds of gen-mai cha (roasted rice), two different green teas, hoji-cha (roasted tea), and an interesting herbal mix with various roasted grains. Not something we ought to do often, but I’ve been having altogether too much fun sampling it all.

Since I shouldn’t drink caffeine (a cup of caffeinated coffee seems to not wear off for 24 hours instead of the supposed 6 that caffeine stays in the body), I usually stick to herbal and decaffeinated teas. However, this can get disappointing to miss some of the more interesting flavors. Certainly, imported Asian teas never come in decaf.

However, I’ve read somewhere that most of the caffeine in tea is released in the first 30 seconds of brewing, so to reduce how much caffeine I get, I will decaf regular teas by brewing for 30 seconds, dumping the water out, and re-brewing. It’s not as low in caffeine as a professionally decaffeinated tea, but at least takes the edge off so I don’t get jittery, and yet can enjoy all the new flavors.



The Writing Life: What Nine Years of Nano has Taught Me

2013-WinnerOkay, so I didn’t mean to disappear on the blog for a month, but as many of you know, I do Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month) every November. The challenge, for any of you who have yet to hear about Nanowrimo, is to write 50,000 words in 30 days.  Some people worry that it produces a lot of bad, haphazard writing, which I can’t deny, but it’s also produced a lot of brilliant writing as well. The best part is the camaraderie and meeting up with people during the month for word sprints, parties, and generally having lots of people to discuss the joys and frustrations of writing with. I always enjoy ending off the year with Nanowrimo. My first year I’d never finished a book before. I wanted to find the courage and willpower to write a complete finished novel. I found all that and more. However, writing my ninth Nanowrimo was vastly different than writing my first. I’ve learned a lot these nine years, and I keep learning new things. Here’s a few of them:

I really can do it.

I was unsure of myself the first couple of years, afraid I wouldn’t make it. After nine years it’s pretty obvious I can write 50k in a month. It’s even pretty obvious I can write 100k in a month as I did two novels some years. 150k however was a fail. I think my best has been 120k. Knowing I can make it, that when I’m really motivated I can crank out words, means that now I focus on what kind of writing I want to get. Do I want a solid first draft of something? Do I want to have a bunch of fun writing a silly or personal project? Do I want to freewrite my way through exploring and fleshing out a new idea for development? My third nano novel sold after only minor revisions, while my sixth was a completely mess of fragmented scenes that kept contradicting each other as I tried to figure out where the story was headed. Self doubts plague me when submitting a novel places that it isn’t ready or as good as I believe it is, but drafting a novel isn’t about the doubts. It’s about sitting down and doing the hard work of writing.

Resistance has meaning.

This little saying was something I first read in “Writing on Both Sides of the Brain” and Nano has taught me it’s very true. Every year is different in how “easy” or “hard” Nanowrimo is. There doesn’t seem to be any way to tell ahead of time which books will practically write themselves and which will be like pulling teeth. Sometimes I breeze through it. Sometimes every word is written in blood. Sometimes a few scenes flow and others are awful. Sometimes it’s so bad I have to give up and switch projects. The first couple times the novel turned out hard I got angry and tried to force it out. I almost no prewriting on my second Nano book and the idea was only a month old, and yet it wrote itself rather quickly (never mind I thought it was awful by the time I got through it). So why weren’t these other ideas moving?

Fighting resistance never worked though. I had to learn to read it. Sometimes it meant the event I was trying to make happen wasn’t right, or that something earlier in the book needed restructuring. Sometimes it meant I was too stressed about real life, and needed to solve other problems before I could clear up my mind to be creative. Sometimes it meant I needed to delve deeper into world building or characterization that needed further development. And yes, sometimes it meant I was writing the wrong project entirely and needed to switch. Each novel has to be taken where its at when it comes to a screeching halt and the question asked, why? What’s stopping me from writing the next scene? Once I find the answer to that, things will flow again.

Distance provides perspective.

When writing slowly it’s tempting to keep agonizing over each bit of a story and worry about how good or bad it is. During Nano, when every word is needed for that word count there’s nothing to do but keep onward. Or if I rewrite a scene, I keep both versions in the document rather than take the hit to my word count. Every year about the fourth week of Nano, like clockwork, I detest the project. I decide it’s truly awful and nothing I’ve written is worth anything, but force myself to get quota anyway. Then as soon as I win, I drop it and swear I’m never looking at that piece of garbage again.

Later when I reread it, a month or two or even a year after Nano, I’m surprised to discover each time I was overly harsh. That while its not perfect, there’s some good stuff in there. Because of Nano I’ve written several books I was convinced were horrible, books I might have otherwise left unfinished or unwritten. My second Nano book which I think I hated the most is the book my critique partners tend to mention the most as their favorite of my books. I’ve learned to be fond of it and certainly would never call it awful now, even if I still do think its a bit sentimental of a story.

Interacting with other writers is important to me.

Writing is often a very solitary pursuit.  I had a couple small critique groups online before I tried Nanowrimo (that’s where I heard about it) but I’d never had the pleasure of meeting other writers in person. I was the only person I knew at that time in my regular life who was trying to be a writer.  My first time at a Nano gathering, I met a whole room full of writers. We talk about our ideas, our love of writing, and I was totally hooked. Meeting other writers is fantastic. I didn’t keep in touch with any of them, but I have gone to Nano meet-ups ever since and enjoyed them fully. I’ve also expanded how I interact with other writers online, and now most of the year writing is a community activity for me. I race with writing partners almost daily, while I have other critique partners that I exchange books with several times a year. Many of my real life friends I made through writing and we get together to either brainstorm plot trade work. There’s a real synergy that happens when working with other people that brings everyone’s projects, no matter what stage they’re in, to a higher level. I can’t imagine to going back to writing and editing alone.

So, as Nanowrimo has drawn to a close, with yet another year, I’ve locked up my “awful” attempt at something new and creative to incubate, plan my party with the great group of writers I’ve met this month in Salem, and lay out my list of project for the new year with renewed vigor. I think editing last year’s nano (Much Ado About Villains) moves to the top of the list. After all, there’s a lot of good stuff in here.

From the Dreaded One’s Desk: Conquering the Evil Cold

Dreaded OneDeep in the Slough of Despair the Dreaded Author had succumbed to some evil symptoms.  A sore throat and stuffy nose.  She moaned, rolling over in her Nest of Doom.  “I have too much to do to be sick! I have sentences to cut. Characters to torture! Evil scenes to rewrite! Nanowrimo to plan for! It’s starting tomorrow. Nooooo!”

The silence was overwhelming, and the Dreaded One felt distinctly sorry for herself, abandoned by even the minions among piles of junk she was now to sick to do anything about.

“I have a suggestion,” a soft whispering voice said.

“Who are you?” The Dreaded Author said, whirling around, an action she quickly regretted and clamped a Kleenex to her runny nose.

“Let’s call me the Natural Health Minion.”  The little goblin-like creature, bald-headed and bearded, like a miniture evil Dr. Weil poked its head up over the edge of the couch. “Natural Health can make you better faster. Get you back on track.”

“Okay, fine.” The Dreaded One was too desperate to question it really. And what harm could it? Everything was already terrible.

“First, a day of rest! No mental activity. Period. No writing. No potting those plants you just bought. No puzzles. And NO majong solitare on the Dreaded Husband’s computer while he’s at work!”

“But I can’t just stare into space! And I things to do!” The Dreaded One couldn’t think of a more awful suggestion.

“No work!”

“What about reading? Reading isn’t work.”

“Is so. You should sleep.”

The Dreaded One growled. “I can’t nap to save my life, and you know it. Reading in bed as as mental free as I can manage. Or possibly internet videos.”

“Internet Videos are better than reading.”

The Dreaded One privately wondered if the minion was actually interested in rotting out her brain, but wasn’t going to argue. “Fine.”

“Next! No eating. Fasting helps you get better faster.”

“What?!” roared the Dreaded One. “I hate fasting! I feel awful when I fast.”

“You already feel awful.”

The Dreaded One was stymied for an answer.

“Finally, gargle salt water. Then heat a pot of water, put a towel over your head and lean over the pot and breathe steam for ten minutes.”

That at least was finally sounding sensible. Muttering darkly the Dreaded Author got up and went do that, and felt considerable better. Not eating bothered her, but for the sake of getting well, well, it was work a try. So the she settled down in a pile of trash for reading some books and watching some stupid videos. Hours later the Dreaded One paused to realize she had a splitting headache and was starving. “For get this! I feel terrible and I’m starving!” Ignoring the protests of the lone Natural Health Minion, the Dreaded One stormed off to the store, bought a decongestant, and ate lunch.

Within minutes she was crippled by nausea. “How can I be hungry and nauseated at the same time?” moaned the Dreaded One flopping back on the couch with a Kleenex box clutched tightly in her claws. Suddenly staring at the ceiling doing nothing but not throwing up sounded like a great idea.

“Told you so.” The Natural Health minion sniggered.

The Dreaded One threw a used Kleenex at it and it scurried away. And everything blurred into a sick haze of miserableness…

Three days later the Dreaded One woke feeling reasonably well.  Glancing around the dirty Kleenex-strewn Slough of Despair, she felt a sudden urge to pick things up, take a shower, and go torture some characters and get that word count up. But first, after a nice big meal. “You know, maybe this Natural Medicine thing wasn’t so bad,” she muttered, getting up, even able to breathe through her nose.

The Natural Health Minion poked its head up from behind the garbage can, just out of reach of the couch. “Which is why you need to rest another few days!”

“Bah! Forget that! I’m having lunch, and you are it!” With a snarl the Dreaded One pounced.

The Natural Health Minion ran from the slough screaming.

Grinning evilly the Dreaded One headed to the fridge. “I declair myself well! Nano here I come!”

Batik, Camp Win, and African Violets

I’ve been so busy moving, I haven’t blogged about much else in a while, so here’s a quick news update on other things happening to me:

Batik and Prayer Flags

I had a great time at the Summer Conference last week.  In between Dr. Fagerberg’s great lecture on the liturgy and Fr. Jeremy’s stories about the 2012 synod (which he pronounces sin-id) I took an art class to give my brain a break–batik fabric dying.

batik 003Batik, for anyone not familiar with it, is a process of dripping wax on cloth, then dying it in different colors.  It’s sort of a cross between Ukrainian Easter Eggs and Tie-dye.   I did it last year at the conference, a Holy Spirit dove that worked out pretty well, and Ina (the teacher of the course) and I talked about how all the designs hanging up looked like prayer flags.  This led to a discussion about actually making prayer flags with batik, something I had planned ahead of time to do this year.

batik prayer flagsTraditional prayer flags feature five animals, the windhorse, the dragon, the snowlion, the tiger, and the garuda (a bird-like creature).  The windhorse is usually put in the center of each flag, a symbol of the wind that blows through the flags and carries the prayers out across the earth. The four other animals (the Four Dignities) each represent a different element and aspect of the earth.  For my Christian prayer flag, I picked the Holy Spirit, and the Four Evangelists, traditionally represented by the four beast from Ezekiel’s apocalyptic vision: the winged man (Matthew), the winged lion (Mark), the winged ox (Luke), and the eagle (John).

To simplify, I made one flag for each animal and went with the colors and dyes available instead of trying the traditional colors.  Someday I may try something that echoes a traditional prayer flag more directly–with prayers and all five animals on each color, perhaps with a wood-block print, but I’m relatively pleased with the batik results anyway.

Camp Nano Success

Camp-NaNoWriMo-2013Just prior to leaving I was writing madly, since my Hood River writing group had talked me into Camp Nanowrimo.  I successfully finished the day before the conference.  I have a working draft of “Home Schooled-Villainy” a short story that takes place between books one and two of “Dark Lord Academy” and went over the first four chapters of book two, restructuring it.  I hope to get a working draft of the novel by the end of this month.  I know people are waiting on me.  I feel pretty positive about the content I got during the month though. It’s a strong start even if I need a lot of revisions.

My New Hobby

full blooming violetWhen I was little my great grandmother had a row of African Violets in several colors on her windowsill.  She was always very particular to put the awning down (I love that word–awning) to protect them from direct sunlight.  Mostly I think about it because A few years ago, I noticed my mother had a fair amount of success getting her one African Violet to bloom.  After teasing her about it being an old person’s pastime, she explained she’d discovered African Violet food and that they were relatively easy to care for.discount violets

After that, I just had to try one on my own.  Not only did the one flower I bought bloom several times, but I successfully grew a new plant from one of the leaves (although it hasn’t flowered yet) and the original one split into three.  So now I have four pink violets, and when they bloom, I might give a couple of them away.  But it started me wanting more colors!

Full sized plants in bloom range about $4-6 locally, with Fred Myers plants being the healthiest and largest at the cheapest price.  However, some stores discount plants when they finish blooming to 50% off, so now I’ve acquired some discounts, with Lowe’s being the best deal, followed by Wal-mart.  I’m not sure what colors some of them will be, but I’m looking forward finding out.

Don’t worry though. I haven’t forgotten Sylvania.  The move has just postponed getting any of it out again.  I will manage an update hopefully by the fall on them.mystery violets

Nanowrimo Fallout, Umbrellas, and Disaster

Well, it was a rather harrowing Nanowrimo.  I struggled every day of the month to keep up on the word count.  Usually I don’t have much trouble with Nanowrimo, but MAAV apparently decided it was going to challenge me for every word.  I’ve hit 50K, and I’m pleased to be a Nanowrimo winner, but the novel is a mess.  It’s going to take a couple of months to sort out, but I’m still hopeful of making a June release date for the book.  At least I can be proud of myself for sticking it out this year instead of switching novels when it get hard.

One thing that might change that is ironically if I find my muse for the books.  I’ve decided if I ever find my groove while writing MAAV, I’ve decided I plan to ride it as long as I can and draft OHAV (book 3) until it floats away again.  So I hope for that, and I believe Nanowrimo even has a camp in March, which I might try redrafting whatever I need for that.

In a moment of un-Oregonian-ness I bought myself a new umbrella.  In general, the “real” Oregonians don’t use them.  Usually the rain is more mist or drizzle on and off, plus they’re awkward and annoying.  Umbrellas are for foreigners, and by foreigners, I mean people who are not from Oregon or Washington (the state).  You wear a waterproof coat and just dash from the car to the store and back again.  If hiking, you button up your coat and put up the hood and get only reasonably damp.

But, I want to keep up with my walk all winter long, and I hate having my head all bundled up in my waterproof coat, it makes me itchy.  Plus, despite being out in the middle of nowhere, my walk is wide and paved, keeping my feet dry (if it were an actual mountain trail, I wouldn’t bother and plan to just get wet feet as well as the rest of me). So, not getting soaked on my walk won out over my Oregon pride.

I’m the one crazy lady for miles, just me and my umbrella in the middle of nowhere… I haven’t yet run into a park ranger for a while, but they’re the only people I ever see out there, with their hoods of their waterproof jackets up like true Oregonians, as they ride their small cart/car thingy through the drizzle to pick up the trash at Starvation Creek.   I can hardly wait to bump into them, while I walk along twirling my splendid, and very large umbrella.

Now that Nano is over, I’m taking a short break from MAAV and focusing on getting Disaster out!  I’m hoping to release on December 12th, in both hard copy and kindle. I’m going to try out select for a couple months so I can try out the free promotion feature, but when I do giveaways I’ll have epub versions available too, as soon as I figure out my formatting.  I’ve gotten a bit rusty in the year since I did ASFV, and so I have to relearn my html all over again.  Ah well.

I’m really excited to be getting Disaster out before Christmas!  Both my illustrator (Leo DeBruyn) and my editor (Word Vagabond Editing) have been fantastic.

What makes a book ready to write?

It’s been an interesting first week of Nanowrimo for me.  One reason I didn’t make a blog post last week, because between getting “A School for Villains” out on Amazon and starting my novel, I was too overloaded.  However, three days in, I got stuck.  That’s happened before but not quite this way, or with quite this result.

See, I spent a lot more time outlining the book than I have in the past, partly to prevent getting stuck, but despite that, I was hitting a wall that seemed more about a lack of getting into the character’s heads properly or the spirit of the world.  Because the work was connected with my new release I found the stress was too high, and ended up realizing the book just wasn’t ready to be written for several reasons.  I set aside the project at my husband’s suggestion, set my word count to zero, and started another novel instead.  While I’m still tragically behind, the book is far easier to write despite no planning at all.

This has gotten me pondering when a novel is ready to be written.  You would think after having drafted twelve novels in full and publishing two of them I’d already have an idea of when  new idea is ready to be written, but this year’s progress (and the first time I’ve ditched all my word count instead of sticking it out) has made me realize I actually don’t know the perfect magic that means some books get written and others get stalled.

See, those twelve novels have at least that many or more that got started and never finished.  I’m just one of those disgustingly prolific writers and to be fair I’ve done this over eight years, so it was a rather long period of time.  So, I thought I’d do a bit of self examination and try to figure out what makes a book ready to write for me.

The problem is, it doesn’t seem consistent.

My first novel took five years to write (not counted in my tally for the other novels) and that was understandable.  I was learning the craft.  That also gave me plenty of time to ruminate on other ideas because I’d vowed not to start a new project until I’d finally finished the book.  It was my way of making myself finish something.  So, when I made myself finish in time for Nanowrimo, it didn’t surprise me that the idea I picked for my second novel was easy to write, it’d been sitting in my head for 5 years.  The same with the third book I finished, a  sequel.  It’d had a long incubation period.

But then, the next two Nanowrimos I picked brand new ideas instead of the ones that had been sitting around in my head.  They just insisted they were more interesting and so despite being new and unplanned I went for them.  I wrote two very tight and well-plotted novels with them, one of which was my first published book.  In both cases I had a strong premise and a concrete climax and little else, yet they flowed easily.  Meanwhile better plotted and researched projects languished.

Thinking that perhaps an idea being new and energetic was the answer, I tried just going with it and discovered over the following few years it didn’t work reliably. I had a lot of false starts and painfully long battles to finish a number of following novels.  I had about three Nanowrimos in a row that the final product was basically unfinished and unreadable and the only progress on finishing novels that I made was on slower written projects during the rest of the year.  It made me feel like being better researched and plotted would help the novels come out better.  Thus my attempt to prepare better this year.

And yet here I find that my well plotted and researched project wasn’t ready, while an idea I’ve had kicking around in my head that’s indistinct and vague seems to be ready to go.  Apparently I’m not very good at knowing myself.  My only consolation is that this time I realized what was wrong was I didn’t feel ready to write the book and that I was better off setting it aside and writing something else than getting  a mangled draft out of all my work like in some of

This leads me to think that perhaps the only way for me to know if a book is ready to be written is to try it and see if it flows or if it flops.

Ten Reasons to Try Nanowrimo

Every year about this time, there starts circulating a few mean-spirited blog posts about Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month) and why it’s stupid or ineffective or objectionable. Setting aside that an attitude that looks down on new writers for “not being very good” and discouraging them from writing is mean-spirited, arrogant and even more counterproductive, what are some actual reasons to try 30 days and nights of literary abandon? Can you actually get anything good or worthwhile from working so quickly?

As a participant since 2004, here’s ten reasons I think Nanowrimo is worth a try. It’s not for everyone, but can be quite rewarding. And whether you “win” or not, the experience is enlightening.

1) Motivation – if you’ve always wanted to write a novel, but never had something to force you to sit down and just do it, Nanowrimo is the perfect motivation to get a move on it. It’s a tight deadline that gets you working and working fast.

2) Out-writing the inner editor – in a lot of my early writing, I’d give up early, because I’d realize the story/writing sucked. The thing is, the only way to get better at writing is to write, revise, and then write some more. If you don’t keep writing in the first place, that never happens. True, without some revision, you don’t improve, but without getting stuff drafted in the first place, you don’t have anything to revise. Sometimes after writing crap and outrunning the editor, you get brilliant bits of writing later in the book that are quite useful when revising.

3) Imaginative Experience – I believe writing a novel expands our brains and that’s useful even if you’re not intending to become a professional author. We experience characters coming to life, who then chat in our head, argue about the plot, and start feeling a bit like real and independent people. It’s a magical and exciting creative experience I think it’s good for people to experience. The power of creation, and watching your own fictional world come to life is something that builds us up as creative people.

4) Collective energy – there’s a wonderful support in Nanworimo. All that collective energy of so many people working together at once is inspiring. It gets me moving in a way writing on my own often doesn’t. With so many people to cheer you on, you’re never alone.

5) Experimentation – I’ve found Nanowrimo is a perfect time to learn something new, try something that isn’t part of the normal flow of my writing. Try a new genre, or a tricky plot, a strange point of view, something challenging. The rushed speed forces me to try wresting with it and making it work and either it does or it doesn’t. Usually by the end of the month I know if the idea was worth it or if I’m trashing it.

6) Connections – I’ve met a lot of fantastic people during Nanowrimo, both online and in my community. The real-life based “write-in” groups make it possible to connect with a ton of local and inspiring people. Online, you can meet even more people on the forums. I’ve joined 2 critique groups I found during nanowrimo, and made lots of new friends and connections. It’s a fantastic networking experience.

7) Keeps a sense of humor – when you’re working this fast, you can’t take your work entirely seriously, and you shouldn’t. Keeping a sense of humor means you’ll weather the challenges of writing better. When you get writer’s block, being able to suddenly switch genres, use a challenge from the challenge thread, or start giving your characters all 2 or 3 word long names to up the word count helps keep writing fun and playful. So does breaking the fourth wall and ranting at your characters and letting them rant at you. Who cares if none of this stuff makes it into the final draft, if you do revise the book, it was fun, and writing ought to be fun.

8 ) Community Education – by participating in Nanowrimo, you help drive educational and literacy programs for children, as well as give your community an opportunity to think about authors, books, and writing. I’ve written in public places as part of the event, talking to and educating people on writing. I’ve even been interviewed for local papers. I’d love to also work with schools who do Nanowrimo in class someday.

9) Being an inspiration – creative energy has a way of encouraging other people to be creative too. By telling all your friends and relatives what you’re doing, you’re challenging them to consider their own creative projects, and watching you succeed will inspire them to try as well. At least that’s what I’ve found, my family’s creativity feeds off itself. My father’s composing inspires me to write, my writing inspires my brother to draw, and his drawing inspires my mother to get moving on her educational craft projects, and so on. Inspire people to do something creative by doing it yourself.

10) You can’t lose – no matter how many words you write, you’ve written more than you had before the month started. Even if they’re terrible, they’ve gotten you writing, given you ideas, expanded your mind, and inspired you to perhaps start a brand new project in December. Seriously, no matter how little you get done, you’re a winner and the supportive community surrounding Nanowrimo helps remind you of that.

Some of these were the reasons I chose to try Nanowrimo; some of them I learned along the way. My own personal journey and how Nanwrimo changed my life, was published here on the Nanowrimo blog in 2008.