Sunday, October 31, 2010

Life, Nanowrimo and Just Doing It

After all the gremlins and goblins, princesses and pirates go home tonight and the Halloween decorations and candies are put away, NaNoWriMo begins. For those of you who aren't familiar with NaNoWriMo , you agree to try to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. That sounds like a lot and the first time I tried it, I let my own insecurities psyche me out. About 10 days in, I decided there was no way I could do it. After all, it meant writing -- gasp -- a novel in just one month. What I didn't take into account is that the rules say 50,000 words, not 100,000 or more (which is what I write now without batting an eye). So, I became my own worst enemy.

Instead of focusing on the end number of 50,000, look at the daily average you have to write. 1,667 words, give or take. That looks more manageable, right? Now, that might mean you only write a few hundred words a day during the week and then pound out more on weekends. You -- and I because I am doing NaNoWriMo as well as taking up Sarah's challenge. Yes, I've lost my mind. But you already knew that -- simply have to do what works.

One of the biggest excuses I've heard -- and I've used this more often than I care to admit -- about taking part in NaNoWriMo is "I don't have time". It's an easy excuse and, yes, real life does happen. But, if we were to look at our lives with a critical eye, I'd lay odds each one of us could find a few minutes a day when we are doing something -- or nothing -- that doesn't have to be done. Some of us are gamers. Some of us are avid TV watchers or sports fans. Some of us don't get up until we absolutely have to. So, instead of spending an hour or more a day playing Halo 3 or watching Dancing with the Stars or the World Series (oops, strike that. The Rangers are in the Series so we'll say football) take half of the time you'd normally be gaming or watching TV and write. If you like to sleep in, start getting up half an hour or hour earlier. Give yourself time to write.

The issue really comes down to the question of "Are you a writer?". It's not, "Do you want to write?". There are a lot of people out there who want to write, some who even think they can, but who will never be a writer. A writer is, in my opinion, someone who has to write. That's right, HAS to write. I'm not talking about having to write to make a living or to please someone else. I mean you have to write because it is a part of you. It truly is something you have to do. For another author's take on this, check out John Scalzi's post here.

Another thing to beware of as you take up the challenge of NaNoWriMo or even Sarah's challenge from a week ago: distractions. It is so easy as we hit that part in the book that seems hard to write to start looking for other things to do. Some of us suddenly need to clean house. Others just have to get that yard work done. There are any number of distractions -- including, for me, deciding that it is the PERFECT time to learn something new. Sometimes a distraction is good. it lets your mind take a step back and, when you return to your writing project, you can look at it with fresh eyes. But these distractions are also insidious because they will keep you from writing if you let them. So, just as you set goals with your writing, you need to set limits on the distractions.

All this said, I'll admit I haven't written much this past week. But, after everyone left the house after the baseball game last night, I took time to write out the basic outline of a story that attacked me earlier. Then I finished the outline for another project I've been working on. Today, after a bit of work I have to do outside and which shouldn't take more than an hour and after I finish prepping Kate's prequel to Impaler, Born in Blood, to go up at Naked Reader Press, I'm spending the rest of the day writing. And, tomorrow, I'll start getting up half an hour earlier than usual to write. That is my commitment to both Sarah's challenge and nanowrimo. Now, the project for NaNoWriMo will not be complete at 50,000 words, but it will be halfway completed. That's a good start.

So, how many of you are doing NaNoWriMo? How do you find time to write and, if you're having trouble finding the time, is there anything you can do to carve out 30 minutes a day for it?

22 comments:

MataPam said...

Me. My Muse pointed out that the Urban Fantasy I was writing was creating the perfect conditions for a zombie outbreak in the sequel. She was right.

I don't know when the first book will get done, but 50K words of the Zombie aftermath are going to hit the electrons next month.

Kate said...

I'm not, for the same reason I don't ever do it.

For me, narcolepsy forces a limit. If I push too hard, or I'm over-stressed, everything just shuts down.

I've got priorities, and writing, alas, can't be first. First is the day job, second is my family, third is the assorted admin stuff that has to happen (paying bills and the like), then writing. Anything else is prioritized after that.

Right now, I'm struggling to keep up with the bills and so forth, which tells you exactly where I am with everything else. Since I can't ever predict when the job or the family will go feral on me, I also can't commit to much.

When I play games, I usually play games to try to unwind sufficiently that my brain starts working again: it's a way to make writing possible, only there are times when I can spend all weekend trying to get to that point, and then I have to go to bed because when I don't get enough sleep, it's not pretty.

The people here who have seen what happens when I push too far know how scary that is.

Ben Godby said...

Like Kate, I find stressing about writing leads to a case of the badnesses. I spent a while pushing myself to do five or six thousand words a day, and eventually I just burned up and cracked.

Now, I do what feels right, and I make sure to push myself at those times when I hover between "write" and "anything-other-than-writing," to see what comes out (and usually, it ain't bad).

I think the most important thing that NaNo can teach new writers is how to just write every day. If you can add even a few lines every day, you're getting somewhere - and building the discipline that will eventually allow you to write more than those few lines.

Lin W said...

I'm doing it, but not so much for a nebulous 'word count'. I'm still doing Sarah's challenge, also.

I'm using this month to try something I read about years ago, and think will work for my (YMMV, and all that stuff).

I'm setting up my desk space, and making myself treat writing as a job. Up, dressed and in the 'office' at a set time. Working at a set time. With my desk area arranged to be conducive to writing.

I don't really do the feng shui (or however it's spelled), but if there aren't stacks of books threatening to crush me or Insanadog (Laddie, actually), or reams of messy photocopies skittering off the desk, I can give my undivided attention to what I'm doing, instead of having my oh-so-easily-distracted mind led astray by other things.

And, yes, there are a certain number of rituals. My special mug goes 'here', I have 'this' music playing, etc. All of which are supposed to add up to "writing time" in some grand Pavlovian fit of creativity ::grin::

I'll let y'all know if it works... just, don't ring any bells, OK?

Lin

Amanda Green said...

Pam, the muse is rarely to be denied. Especially since she's yelling in my ear right now. The fun comes in trying to balance what she wants with what has to be done. Fortunately, at least at the beginning of a project, she's usually satisfied with just a few minutes a day.

Amanda Green said...

Kate, what you aren't telling folks is that you still manage to grab a few minutes fairly regularly to write. Also -- and this is something I purposefully left out of the post this morning and probably shouldn't have -- editing does come into play here too. And, while I was talking in generalities in the post, there are times when life does interfere. What I get tired of is hearing the "Poor me, I don't have time to write" from people who do have time to do other things that aren't essential to their everyday lives.

Amanda Green said...

Ben, I wasn't talking about stressing over the writing, just sitting butt in chair and doing it. Sometimes, it may only be a few words a day. But you have to set goals and deadlines for yourself. Otherwise, you wind up committed to an editor somewhere and not having the work finished on time.

A couple of years ago, Sarah sent me a book -- and I don't have it in front of me right now to give you the title -- but it included an exercise to help get past the "stressing" over writing and just get back into the habit of writing every day. Basically, every morning before you start the day, you sit down and write, longhand, two pages. It doesn't matter what you write. It can be your grocery list or a list of what you have to do that day, complete with descriptions. But you need to do it. That gets you in the habit of just letting the muse, so to speak, flow.

And yes, if you stress too much as you write, it shows. I'll also repeat what I said to Kate: real life does get in the way all too often. I recognize that. I've lived it. But when you (and I'm using the generic "you" here) can find time to play games or watch TV or stare at the lint in your belly button, but then say you don't have time to write...well, that's when I call "bulls**t".

Okay, grouchy editor Amanda is going back under her rock to finish the work on her desk so she can become writer Amanda again.

C Kelsey said...

Doth I detect a subtle jab at suddenly learning something new? :P It's okay, I'm writing too. It's like a two for one special, except it's a lot of work.

Amanda Green said...

Lin, very good. I know a lot of writers who have to do it the same way you've described. And yes, if you look at yourself as a writer, you have to admit that writing is a "job". It may be your second or third or even fourth job, but it's a job all the same.

I find when starting a new project, I have to do the same thing. The desk is straightened. The detritus from the previous project is put away. I think of it as a fresh start. Of course, the clean desk doesn't last very long.

Let us know how it goes.

Amanda Green said...

Chris, no. I know you're writing. Think of it more as a warning -- which wasn't aimed at you, but which you should keep in the back of your mind -- about how easy it is to get distracted when the writing gets hard. Ask any of us how hard it is to keep at it when we get to a certain part of a story or book. The temptation to go do something else is sooooo great. But there are times you just have to push through.

Anonymous said...

I've been slamming this weekend trying to complete Sarah's challenge. Luckily, my intended market for this story tops at 2500 words.

I've been going at this one like I go at the other shorts, revise what I've already written to get my brain going and then put down the new words. I try also to have a plan in my head for the new words so that I'm not stuck on where to go.

NaNoWriMo. Gerrgggg. I will, I will, I will, I tell myself. Knowing ahead of time the words will suck takes a lot of the pressure off, but even so, those words must happen. I think I've decided to use the shorts for Sarah's challenge as novel "break" time.

My biggest shot in the foot happened when I chose an alien planet to set the novel. I can see myself getting stuck during the novel trying to world build.

I'm trying now to set my brain for it. But the way, I figure, even if I don't succeed in the 50K words, I'll get at least half of that, and for me, that's so awesome.

Off to finish the short...

Linda

Cholisose said...

I think I'll have to go to bed early and get up at 5:00 or so in order to do my Nanowriting before all my class and internship work gets in the way... I'll see if that actually works or not. I may jus thave to do as I've done in past years and give up my weekends. =P

MataPam said...

Linda, do your worldbuilding inside the novel. Edit out or move it to a better place when editing. But all that necessary work might as well count toward your 50K.;)

Amanda, stress can lead to a state of immobility, of your brain just freezing up to the point of not being able to do the laundry, let alone write. I'm very respectful of stress, having been there twice. You _must_ prioritize and simplify as much as possible to lower the stress levels. Writing for yourself can help, writing to an outside deadline _for the fun of it_ probably isn't a good idea.

Now my problem is threefold. I tend a bit toward passive aggressive. NaNoWriMo is a test to see if I react that way to an "editorial" deadline. Because I also write fast with a cheering section looking over my shoulder, especially if online so I can ignore them in between. But will the internet distract me and take me away from the writing?

When in doubt, experiment.

MataPam said...

And speaking of NaNoWriMo, should the Mad Genius Club have a group?

I'm MataPam there also.

Amanda Green said...

Linda, I have to agree with Matapam's advice. Do your world-building inside the novel. If you're really worried about the world-building, write the novel as best you can during NaNoWriMo and then go back in and fill in the blanks. You may find that you surprise yourself with how much world-building you can do without worrying about it.

Amanda Green said...

Cholisose, in a way, I hope you can make getting up a little bit early work. I remember the days of college and internships and I know I needed my weekends to unwind and decompress. Yes, I did write some, but the thought of having to write a week's worth in two days would have probably sent me screaming into the night. Good luck!

Amanda Green said...

Pam, I'm as aware of what stress can do as just about anyone here. Been there, done that more times than I care to count. As I said upthread, there are times when life gets in the way. And yes, there are times when you have to prioritize.

I'm not saying that writing should come at the expense of all. What I am saying is that we have to be honest with ourselves. Are we not writing because we really don't have time due to family obligations, work, etc., or simply because it is easier to do something else instead of pushing through that scene that's being difficult to write?

I have to admit to chuckling over your NaNoWriMo comments. I feel much the same. Especially with regard to wondering if the internet will be a distraction. Good luck and let us know how it goes.

Chris McMahon said...

I would love to do NaNo, but the reality is this is one of the suckiest times ever for me and writing. Mind you I can't stop THINKING about it.

I would love to use NaNo to write a YA idea I have. I quite like dealines, but at the moment, frustration is boiling over.

Amanda Green said...

Chris, sorry to hear about the frustration. If you need anything, just shout.

Synova said...

I've done NaNoWriMo a few times. What happens is that I psyche myself up to write something, to just get past my "internal editor" and pound out a first draft, something fun, something I'm not invested in.

And then about 20K words in, not at all behind schedule, I suddenly think, "Hey, this isn't half bad," and it all comes crashing down.

I think I'll do it this month but I don't think I'll be official even if I keep word counts, and I'm certainly going to count the novel I'm working on for Sarah's challenge for double credit.

Amanda Green said...

Synova, I hear you on this. That has happened to me a couple of times with NaNoWriMo. I've also done the unofficial route the last couple of years -- it is also how I'm doing it this year. Part of the reason is the time-sink their forums can be, not to mention the emails from the local group, etc. Any way, good luck and let us know how you do.

Anthony J Langford said...

I'm not doing it this year. And probably never again.
Twice was enough. And while you can prove something to yourself, like a type of boasting of how many pushups you can do, I would argue that if you're serious about writing a novel, why would you rush it? I found it took almost a year of rewriting to get them back up to par.
It's probably good for those who lack the discipline or need the extra push, or something fun to do if you're extremely bored.
Otherwise, write the novel in your own time and make it a good one.