Thursday, December 01, 2011

Lessons Learned from NaNoWriMo

Writing 50,000 words in 30 days was a tremendously positive experience for me. Over the last ten or fifteen years, I had come to think of myself as a poet ONLY. I dabbled with fiction for a few pages at a time, dreamed about maybe one day trying my hand at it again, but never gave myself permission to take the time and to put in the effort to follow a set of characters for an extended period of time. Now that I have stuck with this cast for 30 days, I believe in my ability to do so again and again. A door for creativity has been opened to me.

Now I know that an hour or even 30 minutes a day is plenty enough time to work on a scene, to get some dialogue flowing and to keep momentum going forward in an initial draft. I was amazed how by sitting down for a solid hour in the morning I was usually able to crank out 1,600 words without strain. I won’t claim they were great words or even okay words, but for a first draft, I’m not supposed to worry about that at all. It’s more a matter of learning who the characters are, who they want to be, what they want to do, and where the plot is going. The first draft is only an exploratory journey and a get-to-know-you period, if you will. I’m excited to know that it doesn’t take a major change in my daily schedule to foster that process.

I learned that I can write under terrible conditions, or at least what I once thought were terrible conditions for writing creatively. During the week of Thanksgiving, I had four house guests. That is to say, I had six people total in my little house that only has two bathrooms. The “office” where I usually write had a guest staying in there on an air mattress. He happened to be the latest sleeper too, so I wasn’t able to get access to my home PC in the mornings. During the day the PC was usually tied up by another guest who was doing Black Friday and Cyber Monday shopping. Good thing I had borrowed a laptop from work! I was able to sit on the floor of my bedroom and write whenever I could squeeze it in. Sometimes the time was stolen in the mornings or in the late afternoons. One time everybody else was watching a movie I’d already recently seen, so I took those 2 hours to write in bed. This experience taught me to look for those tiny pockets of time and space to write. I don’t need to wait for the ideal situation. Every little amount of writing you can do adds up.

Lastly, I want to underline something I alluded to earlier in this post: FIRST DRAFT WRITING DOES NOT HAVE TO BE HIGH QUALITY! This is a lesson about turning off the internal editor. I found myself bored a few times when I was creating scenes. I also had a few days when I caught myself saying that the book was a flop, that it was hopelessly boring and dull. It very well might be, but when writing the first draft you have to set all those opinions aside. That’s the joy of revision. You can take a sorry story and throw in a few twists and turns and turn it into something wonderful. But you never get that opportunity if you don’t jot down the first round of garbage and let your characters explore options. Outlining doesn’t seem like a viable option to me. I could come up with an outline that says what the characters should do, but that doesn’t mean that they will show up and do those things. It’s only by muddling through the exploration of storytelling that your characters announce where they are going and what is going to happen. You have to trust that process and work the process and tell your editor that he/she needs to shut up until needed later.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Midway Point Novel Status Report

Today is the 16th of November. Yesterday was the halfway point in the 30 days, and I achieved getting past 25,000. At the end of the day yesterday, I was at 25,750 words.

This morning I wrote 917 words and I hope to write more later.

The writing continues to go well, obviously. There have been times when I felt too tired or too drained to write. A couple times recently I caught myself wasting time on internet browsing when I ought to have been writing. There have been a couple mornings where I stayed in bed later than I should. On these “reluctant” writing days, I’ve gone ahead a written eventually. Typically these were days when I had no idea what scene to write next. The best I could do was to ask myself, “Which character do I have the most interest in today?” I’d pick that character and write some kind of scene that was suited for that character. A few times the scenes didn’t advance the plot much, but at least helped with the word count. In a couple cases, I learned something new about the character that might come in as important later.

Dialogue seems to be going the easiest. I get two characters talking and it goes and goes and goes. Usually I try to have the characters at odds about something, so they’re not just being nice and sweet to each other. I know that in my earliest attempts at fiction writing my biggest problem was lack of tension and conflict. So even if the conflict is minor (someone is angry because the kitchen is messed up), I try to keep the characters in tension.

Lastly, my other successful option has been bringing in new characters. Whenever I introduce a new character to the mix, my writing takes off again. I realize that I can’t add characters all the way through. Being at the halfway point, I actually probably need to stop. So my last major character was introduced this week and he is a lot of fun. He’s comic but also crucial, and he’ll probably grow in the story to the point of being mature and highly valued. I think.

So that’s how it’s going!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Wanna Help Me Write a Novel in 30 Days?

[This post has been edited after the "suggestion period" expired. I've stipped out the details so there are no spoilers for anyone who gets to read this novel SOMEDAY!]

I’m asking all my creative and imaginative friends to help me write my novel this month. I’d like to hear any ideas you have based on the following characters and situations. Feel free to brainstorm wildly. You can suggest anything, and I mean anything! Don’t like one of the characters? Suggest that character die in some awful and bizarre way. Want to add complications? Have someone win the lottery or steal a car. Truly anything goes!

While I can’t possibly promise to use every idea, I’m hoping to incorporate those that surprise me and advance the story in a way that the characters will go along with. I’ve not yet solidified how this will all turn out so you might have a huge influence on the direction of the story.

Here’s the basics of what I’ve developed so far:

Main Characters & Their Situations:

Margery Adams: 3rd grade school teacher whose life is turned upside down when she takes in a little, neglected girl.

Sharon: 3rd grader, the neglected girl with the swollen eye.

Audrey: School nurse, mastermind of a secret vigilante operation against inept or otherwise incapable parents.

Mitch: former cop, son of Audrey, the muscle and pain inflictor of vigilante effort.

Lakeesha: Sharon’s mom, sends her daughter away with a black garbage bag of clothes (and hidden in the clothes, a gun).

Denzel: unemployed, wants his gun back.

James: “jack of all trades” and self-professed healer.

Final Instructions:

Let your imagination have a field day here, since you don’t have to actually write the novel—I do! For instance, if you want one or more of these characters to be abducted by aliens or ninjas, go ahead and suggest that. Or if you want a flood to strike and destroy the school or someone’s house, that’s okay too. Just go nuts!!!!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

2nd Weekend Update on Writing a Novel in 30 Days

I’m at 21,287 words (the goal being 50,000) which is exactly on target for finishing on Nov 30th. This is thanks to Christi, since she’s the one who gave her blessing to write in the car this weekend. No, I wasn’t driving while writing! Christi was driving, but she gave me permission to write in the passenger seat while she drove. Since I was already ahead on my word count going into this weekend, I was able to keep up with the daily average requirements even though I wrote a lots less on Friday and Saturday in the car. We were in the car due to our trip to Atlanta for the Johns Creek Poetry Festival, where I did spontaneous poems again--so even more writing!!!!

I’m starting to wonder about an ending for the novel and have a few ideas, but don’t know whether the characters are going to cooperate with those. I’ve gotten my last few scenes from pure character surprises, writing to find out what they were going to do. Man, I never saw that cue stick coming for the back of that guy’s head. Nor did I know that a sermon would change the lives of two of my characters. So I’m hoping for more surprises like that.

And I'm hoping for more surprises like my friend Todd's latest poem. Check out his poetry at “Sentient Force Field.”
--it rocks!

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

NaNo Novel Writing Update - Day 9

At the beginning of day 9, I’m at 14,352 words on my novel. The goal is 50,000 by November 30th.

Here’s a day by day summary of how I got this far.

Day 2

I’m up to 4382 words so far. Today was rougher than day 1 due to a poor night’s sleep, but it’s early in the game, so if I’m not as productive now, I can catch up.

Day 3 -5

I wrote steadily each of these days, gradually losing my cushion of extra words, but not falling behind.

Day 6

Wrote this to Mom:

The novel thing is going steady for me, but not stellar. Today I had time in the morning to write, but I stared at a blank page for a while and then decided to do some devotion time instead. If I don’t write today, I will fall behind on my daily word count. But I might let it go for today, in hopes that something great will occur to me for tomorrow.

Yesterday I wrote a scene with a new character that could potentially change the whole direction of the book. My original idea doesn’t seem to be working very well even though I’m telling myself not to worry about it and not to judge it.

We’ll see if the day off gets the juices flowing again. I might look at some fiction writing books tonight to see if I find any advice there.

Additionally I keep feeling the tug to write a book about what and why I believe, something I could give away to friends.

I’m praying for God’s inspiration and direction for my writing and for whatever else He wants me to do.

Later that evening I sent Mom this email:

I ended up grabbing some writing time this evening after all.

What I wrote was different angle on a scene that had been alluded to in a conversation, so I didn’t move the story ahead very much. I only visualized the scene in more detail and from a different POV.

I got 1418 words out of this exercise.

Since this novel in a month thing allows for exploratory stabs at a novel, I think I’m keeping to the intended goals.

My hope is that the action will move forward some more tomorrow. I might have to get my character into an accident or find a stray dog or bump into an old flame. Something to stir up some sparks of action.

Day 7:

I got 1,428 words today.

Had to write in the morning and in the evening to get up to that number.

I ended today on the verge of a pivotal scene, so I would have something exciting (I hope) to write tomorrow morning.

This is by no means the novel I set out to write, but I’m following the characters and the plot ideas as they come, so it is organic at least.

Day 8:

Having a “pivotal” scene to write in the morning was a good strategy. I got 1362 words out of the scene this morning.

I really need to squeeze in more writing time if I ever want to get ahead, but at least I’m not behind for the 30th deadline.

As write through this second week, I need to keep looking for pivotal scenes, keep the characters in “action” where at least they are doing something to effect each other, and toward the end of the week I need to start dreaming up an ending of some kind.

Day 9:

Another day, and what do I do?
Waste my novel writing time updating my blog!

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

The Odyssey Known as NaNoWriMo 2011

Today I started the odyssey known as NaNoWriMo 2011. Basically for those who don’t know what that is, I’m writing a novel in a month. The total word count must reach 50,000 by November 30th.

The morning session went very well indeed. I knocked down 2000 words in about an hour and forty minutes. The prep leading up to this morning was fairly intense.

I’ve completely changed my evening/morning routine. For years, I’ve always taken my shower in the morning, usually after breakfast and Good Morning America. But in anticipation of needing the writing time in the mornings, I’ve moved my shower and shave time to evenings, right after Christi who has always taken an evening shower.

Also I’ve taken to setting up my coffee maker the night before as well, so all I have to do is hit the ON button and load up the toaster oven with a frozen pancake.

It’s not as though I’m able to just pop up and start writing at six am, which is the time I’ve decided on for an early morning start during November. There’s still the eating of breakfast, one or two other necessities, and the 2 minute wake-up rinse off in the shower. I still need time to dress, comb hair, and brush teeth. Still need to pop something in the toaster for Christi, get out her glass of water, yogurt, and vitamins.

There’s the popping of my more excessive vitamins. There’s the dog biscuit for Linus and letting him outside and back inside. Lastly there’s seeing Christi off with a helpful hand in juggling all the things that need to get into the car and a life-sustaining kiss good-bye each morning. So even though I get up at six, I don’t get to start writing until a few minutes after seven, after I wave good-bye to Christi from the kitchen window.

I still feel as though this plan is extremely workable for me. When seven rolls around, I’m wide awake, fed, caffeinated, and alone in the house. My plan is to keep this up Monday through Thursday.

Fridays will need some adjustments, but I should get in two hours of writing without a struggle.

Saturdays I’ll get up at six, if at all humanly possible, and get to the gym for a second workout. The writing might need to happen in the afternoon while Christi is napping.

Sundays I’m going to try to sleep late, seven-thirty (?), if possible. The writing time might be shorter on Sunday, since I might need a break and extra time for spending with Christi.

Anybody else doing NaNoWriMo this year? Let me know how it's going!

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Cigarettes, a spontaneous poem by Keith Badowski


We don’t want to burn!
Cool as it looks, turning to ash
is something we’d love to postpone.
Just look at us snug in this pack,
our filters so white and clean,
in our orderly rows like cells.
From here we’re causing no harm,
all our poisons calmly inert.
We don’t want to cause cancer
or scar lungs or stain fingers.
Think of our white paper as a flag—
each of us has the skin of a pacifist.
Spare us the germy dampness
of your mouth and sweaty hands.
Pardon us, we beg, from incineration
in that holocaust of the ashtray.

Keith Badowski

Inspired by this prompt