December 13, 2016

p1040939

I finally remembered that at the end of my last post I promised to write about what I learned from NaNoWriMo the next day. It’s now twelve days later. In my defense, I’m a terrible person. Nevertheless, onward and upwards, and I’m going to write about it now.

I’m writing this for myself as much as you, dear reader. NaNoWriMo was quite an experience, one who’s lessons I’m keen to distill into a fine and pungent liquor I can guzzle down whenever I’m feeling less than motivated in the future in order to give me that sweet writing buzz.

Here’s what I learnt:

  1. I can write far more on a given day that I expected of myself. On my best day I topped somewhere around 6000 words, and averaged somewhere around 2,500. Were they good words? Depends on the context. On their own? Sure. The way I strung them together? Quite a bit less so. Which leads me to my next lesson.
  2. Good words don’t always have to be good. That last sentence is a pretty good example of what I’m talking about. The words I write don’t always need the best version of themselves in order for them still to have value. In the case of rushed, oh-god-I-just-want-to-reach-my-word-limit, type words their value comes from simply existing, by having something I didn’t have before. After smashing out words that way I then have some content that, however bad, I can slowly work on and improve until it’s of a higher quality. Without that, I literally have nothing. Bad words are still better than no words at all.
  3. Writing by myself is possible but writing as a group is better. I was lucky enough to share this NaNoWriMo season with an excellent group of people. We all worked individually on our own novels, there was no co-writing going on, but knowing they were out there slogging away at it, as well as having the opportunity to talk or message about the process, helped greatly. It gave me external as well as internal pressures, as well as people to bounce ideas off of and compete with. Writing is a solitary endeavor most of the time, having a writing group around you is a good way to alleviate that.
  4. Consistency is best. This is a lesson that I feel I was already aware of, like something in my periphery, but was really brought home by NaNoWriMo. By forcing myself to write everyday and seeing that page count climb ever higher it truly showed me that getting results isn’t a matter of one crazed burst of energy but by slowly and consistently putting time and energy into a project. I walked away with 61,000 words written in a month and I can attribute that to staying consistent (and also to drinking my body weight in coffee).
  5. Just start. I’m definitely someone who likes to know exactly how I’m going to do something before I start doing it. This often leads to me not starting a project or endeavor because I feel like I need more time to plan every aspect of it out in my head. Often that’s an impossible task, not to mention unnecessary. With NaNoWriMo I had the very basest of plans for my novel and it didn’t matter. I made it up as I went along and for the most part I didn’t hate what came out. Some of it I even really loved and have to ask would I have discovered it if I had tried to plan it all?
  6. I can write a novel. Easily the best lesson from all this. I haven’t written one yet by my measure, but I have made a damn good start. I’ll do a second draft of all those words I wrote, a slower and more considered one, and using all the lessons I learned I know by this time next year I can say that I have. I know this because of NaNoWriMo.

++++

These lessons aren’t just good for writing either. Two days ago I ran a half marathon, a little bit over actually as I ran 22 kilometers. I’ve done this twice before in my life and both times I spent months training for the event. This time I just went for it. I started and simply kept going. I did it at a consistent pace and by finishing got far more out of myself than I had expected. It wasn’t my fastest run but it also wasn’t as bad as I would have thought. I timed in at almost exactly two hours (I was .9 of a second over). Basically, I did the NaNoWriMo equivalent of running and since I started this whole thing by describing NaNoWriMo as a writing marathon it seems appropriate.

Talk soon

Damian

December 1, 2016

01122016

November has come to a close and with it NaNoWriMoers around the world stop their fingers over their keyboards and breath a sigh. It’s been twenty days since I last wrote a blog and in that time I turned thirty, had a week of celebrations with my brother, and completed NaNoWriMo.

My birthday was predictably fun, full of love, and over in a flash. The lead up to the event, especially a landmark one such as this that completes not just another year but another decade, was slow but unstoppable. My excitement rose by the slightest margin incrementally with each passing day and was doubled not only by the thought of birthday fun but also by once again being visited by Brother Jonathan. It’s weird and more than a little sad that I now get “visited” by my brother who since birth, and arguably even before that being twins and all, has been relatively accessible to me pretty much whenever I wanted. However, he now lives in London and half, if not more, of his life also resides in Austria. The day was over quickly being full of activities, friends, and family; and even Jonathan’s trip went by all too fast as he really only had five full days in the country. We made the most of them. Jonathan is now back ensconced in his life on the other side of the globe and unfortunately, life being what it is, it’s unlikely that we’ll see each other until we’re both thirty one.

On to NaNoWriMo. It’s been a hell of a ride. I detailed some of my thoughts on the experience in that last post and so will attempt to avoid repeating myself and instead focus on the things I noticed in the second half of the challenge. Firstly, that it’s not the worst idea to write myself into a corner. The first twenty to twenty five thousand words I wrote were largely exploratory and world building which meant that the actual plot got fairly neglected. I was setting things up but not really pushing them forward as I was too caught up telling myself the ins and outs of my world and characters; a fairly easy thing to do since I had done minimal outlining before the month and had a word count to reach each day. Aware of this I purposely sought to push the plot forward after reaching the halfway mark of the fifty thousand word deadline. The only problem was I didn’t really know where my plot was going. I had a hazy idea of an ending somewhere in the future but all the bits inbetween, and all the mysteries I had been setting up, needed answers and I didn’t have them. I pushed on regardless until I wrote myself as far into a corner as possible, literally to the point where one character was asking another character for an explanation that I didn’t have. I found out that at that point something miraculous happens. I wrote something down. The character responded with an idea that came from some desperate and last minute part of my brain and I then built upon that. Even more amazing, the idea wasn’t half bad. This happened a number of more times as the days of November passed by and always with the same result. I’d hit a wall, brain would kick in with an answer from nowhere, and I was off and running again. It was really exciting because while I knew that I would scrap most of the words I was writing at the end of the month, as it was fairly terrible writing, I wouldn’t scrap the ideas. With each new gem of an idea I was once step closer to a second draft that actually had some substance.

I hit the end word target, fifty thousand words, two days before my birthday. In the week leading up to my birthday, with these fresh ideas popping up, I got into a groove and my daily word count jumped from around two and a half thousand per day to around five thousand, which meant I was barrelling towards that fifty thousand goal even faster than I thought I would. I had a plan to slow down and purposely write that fifty thousandth word on the day I turned thirty, November 20th. Except on the 18th I got another fresh idea and decided to write it out, thinking I would still be a few hundred words away from the target. When I was done I checked the word count and found that I had instead passed the illustrious goal. It was odd. I had stumbled across the finish line almost by accident, without noticing, and without any fanfare. After the shock passed elation kicked in and I was too happy to care that I had ruined my own plan. It turned out to be a blessing because rather than get more writing done in my week off with Jonathan I got less, almost none to be exact. This was due to the combination of being blessedly busy as well as getting sick, which was undoubtedly the worst present I got this year. I finally rallied again after a few days of rest and I finished out the month yesterday with somewhere just over sixty one thousand words and a self filled out certificate proclaiming I was a winner of NaNoWriMo.

screen-shot-2016-12-01-at-5-17-39-pm

The story isn’t finished but I realised pretty early on that it wouldn’t be by the end of the month. That’s okay, it was getting to the point where I had actually found my story and so all the early muddling about was distracting me from writing good stuff for the finish. My plan is to leave it for the next month then starting January 1st reread what I’ve written and scrap it for parts. I’ll take all the good story points, characters, and world elements that I liked and use them to start a detailed outline for draft two; ditching all the other superfluous stuff. Once that’s done and I have a pretty good idea of the whole arc of my story then my plan is to open a fresh document and start writing again from page one.

I was planning on including in this blog all the things I’ve learnt from NaNoWriMo but seeing how I’ve gone on a bit already I might save that for tomorrow. Instead I’ll leave you with this.

http://community.sparknotes.com/2016/11/30/did-nanowrimo-slay-you-read-this

It’s an very well written article by Sara Benincasa on the overall point of completing NaNoWriMo, and how all writers out there should be proud even if NaNoWriMo got the best of them.

For now me and my writing buddies, Sean, Gabe, Tom, and Alyce, who also successfully slayed NaNoWriMo this month and also supported, encouraged, and provided competition for me, are going to go get drunk.

Remember, there’s nothing new in this world, which means anything you create has been done before. Rejoice in this fact because it means there are others like you out there.

Talk soon

Damian

November 11, 2016

11112016

While sitting at my kitchen table this morning I saw a bunch of balloons rising up in the sky. Usually I sit on the other side of the table but, as the Lady Holly had been doing some work there, sat on the window facing side to complete my morning writing session for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). Call it serendipity but this move allowed me to see the flock of hot air balloons you can see in the photo above glide past my window which I would have otherwise missed. I got very excited by seeing this and raced to get my camera. I flew out into the back yard and climbed to the top of our very high soundproof fence (as our backyard backs onto a highway) and started snapping some shots. Satisfied that I had captured the moment I went back to the house to realise that in my hurry I had locked myself out. Damn you NaNoWriMo.

NaNoWriMo is also the reason I haven’t blogged recently. Quickly, for any who don’t know, NaNoWriMo is a challenge put forth to writers to complete an entire first draft of a novel of fifty thousand plus words during the month of November. As you can imagine it’s taking up a lot of my time, a lot of my thoughts, and a lot of my writing juices. To complete the challenge I need to write at least 1,667 words on average per day. At the moment I have an average of 2,500. Which means despite only being a third of the way through the month I’m already half way through the required word limit at 25,000 words. Or to be more accurate I’m currently sitting on 27,512 words as I’ve already completed my 2,500 self imposed daily word limit. As you can probably tell I’m pretty pleased with myself.

It’s weird to have written so much in ten days. It took me months to finalise a 17,500 word novelette, yet I smashed through that amount in just a week. As you would expect, while the quantity of the writing is high the quality isn’t. To be able to complete that much writing I really don’t have the time or the energy to actually make sure the 2,500 words I’m writing every day are of a standard. It’s been interesting, sometimes excruciating, and oddly liberating. The first couple of days I hated it, especially day one.

I was writing in my normal way, which involves some self editing as I go and a certain amount of planning to know just where the story is going. While I had done some planning prior to the start of November for the idea I’m working on I quickly realised just how little content that planning would produce. The speed to which I was burning through content meant I used up my first initial plot points during day one. I have some strong ideas about how to finish the story and few ones along the way but there’s a lot that need to happen between then and now and that stuff has to happen at a rate of 2,500 words a day. Because of this I was forced to go into full discovery writing mode. I’d sit at my laptop or work computer with the barest minimum idea of what’s going to happen next, a little unsure where to even start. Like I said, for the first few days this was a mild form of torture and getting to the word limit hurt. Then somewhere in there something changed. Maybe it was that my standard-of-writing-dam-wall broke, or maybe it was my writing muscles getting stronger, but either way I stopped caring that my writing was an average pretty shitty and just wrote. Before starting this I knew that my quality of writing would drop, but I think for those first few days I was still rallying against it despite this knowledge. Once I accepted it was like a switch had been flicked. Since then it’s honestly been kind of amazing. 2,500 words a day no longer seems intimidating or impossible but rather very achievable. The other day I got up early and finished off my 2,500 words before work! The writing’s not great, like, really not great, but I’m learning how little that matters.

What I’ve written is messy and unstructured. It rambles and diverts away from the main storyline almost constantly but the places it goes to can be more interesting and surprising because of it. When I sit down to write I honestly have no idea what’s going to come out and sometimes what comes is garbage that I know I’m going to have to throw away later but sometimes it’s something really good, that fits in perfectly for the story, fleshing it out and enriching it in a way I never would have planned. The way I see it I’m writing draft zero, this is almost a research document, a way for me to discover all the parts of my story, work ideas through, and see what comes of them.

If I maintain the rate I’m going by the end of November I will have hit 75,000 words, which, even if I only keep a third of that, gives me a really great start on writing this novel.

Also me being locked out of the house turned out okay. I remembered we had a spare key, carefully hidden, and I was able to let myself in with no problem.

Turns out I never needed to worry.

Talk soon

Damian