NaNoWriMo tips from a madman

Participant-2014-Square-ButtonI meant to write this before the last day of October, mere hours away from the beginning of NaNoWriMo (Australia and New Zealand have already started, while the rest of us around the world eagerly count down). But typically I found myself suddenly busy this month so finding time to blog was a bit trickier than I thought. Which, um, bodes well for NaNoWriMo, right?

Still. I have slayed this beast for the last five years, so apparently I’m doing something right even if I don’t know for sure what it is. Last year I wrote a list of tips as well, but then last year’s event for me was a bit of a let down – I reached the word count but was totally uninspired by my own writing, which is a shame after the amount of planning I put into it. And that perhaps leads me to tip number 1…

  1. Don’t worry TOO much about the planning. I’m not saying “don’t plan” nor am I saying “you must plan every scene or else doom will befall you!” What I am saying is don’t worry too much about it either way. Some of you will be pantsers, running into it with no real planning year after year, and for many of you this works great. For some of you, the thought of not planning terrifies you – it’s perfectly fine to be an articulate planner too if that helps you to write. But either way, at this point just go with what you have. You’d be surprised how it can come together regardless.
  2. Stock up on coffee/tea/cola/something caffeinated. I really feel this one is self-explanatory, but I can tell you there will be times where you just want to go for a little sleep instead of writing. If you pep yourself back up, sometimes those moments can be your best moments of writing.
  3. Tell everybody you’re doing it! I think I said this last year, actually. Anyway, the more people you tell, the more people you’ll have to nag encourage you to keep at it. Of course, if you think this kind of pressure won’t help you, maybe just tell a few people. But I know personally I like to shout it out from the rooftops while live streaming the whole thing!*
  4. Expect your story to not follow your orders. No, I’m being serious. Once you start writing, your story will take on a life of its own which you are only trying to control. But, like any loving creator, you can only control it so much. Sometimes you’ll write a scene or kill off a character or something dramatic and think to yourself “wait a minute, I wasn’t supposed to do that!” Do you keep this twist that even you, the author, didn’t expect? Well, that’s the part you control. Sometimes a sudden new direction can be refreshing, but you won’t know if you don’t try.
  5. Don’t have six subplots. Probably not even five. I’m saying this because last year I rather ambitiously aimed for six but my story became more tangled than the world championships of Twister (the board game, not the destructive weather event). For a novel at least one is usually needed, but two or three are probably manageable if you can think of a way of tying them altogether.
  6. Remember it’s a first draft. A very first draft. Don’t get too caught up on it being perfect – you’re just trying to get the story out of your head and onto the page at this point (albeit at an insane speed). The thing is, nobody writes a great first draft of a story regardless of the speed at which you write it (and if you think you do you’re either a freak genius or deeply disillusioned). So don’t judge yourself too much – that’s for December.
  7. Remove the backspace/delete buttons from your keyboard. Or, you know, pretend they aren’t there if you’re a bit more normal. The point is, don’t delete what you’ve written. Don’t even read it. Again, deletions are for December.
  8. If you can find some friendly competition, use it to your advantage. Maybe someone in your local writing group wants to race you? Go for it. Maybe you find the word sprints in the forums and on social media help you? Use them. A little competitive spirit never hurt, but please please please be nice to one another when you do this! On the odd occasion I’ve seen this turn into fighting and that’s not what this whole event is about.**
  9. If you fall behind, it’s not the end of the world. My favourite novels I’ve written so far for NaNoWriMo were the ones where I had to catch up massively towards the end (I think my record was writing 11k in one day, 19k over the final 3 days). Last year I stayed on track the whole month and my writing was bore galore! Obviously this isn’t the case for everybody, but either way don’t panic – it’s not over until it’s over, as they say.
  10. HAVE FUN! Because this is so vital to the whole thing. Yes, part of this is about the challenge, about pushing yourself with your writing to see what you can come up with. But it should also be about having fun, meeting new writers, sharing your experiences. No matter whether you get to 1k, 10k or 50k, you’ve written something this month and that is still an achievement!

And lastly, I shouldn’t have to point this out but I’m going to anyway. As many of you know I often encourage as many people as I can to give NaNoWriMo a go. I think it’s a lot of fun and most people who have tried it tend to agree with me. But if you don’t like it, if you think this sort of writing isn’t for you, that’s absolutely fine. It’s not for everybody. Some people just don’t and can’t write like that, and that doesn’t make them a lesser writer either. I guess it comes back to what I mentioned in point 8 – be respectful to everyone, those writers participating and those who are not. We’re all writers here, people!

For those of you who are joining in, I wish you luck! If you want to add me as a buddy on NaNo, let me know in the comments!

I have to go think about how I’m going to write something that will last 100 000 words starting tomorrow!***

You can do it, everyone!

 

*Not really. But I do tell everybody I know.

**If that’s what you’re after you probably want to try NaNoFiMo – National Novel Fighting Month.

***Oh yeah, did I even tell you guys that? I’m aiming for 100 000 words this year. No idea why. I’m a lunatic I suspect.

NaNoWriMo beckons once more…

NaNoWriMo LogoWell, that sounded a bit ominous! Anyway, those who have followed my blog the past few years probably know all about NaNoWriMo, because I babble about it every year around October and November. Newer followers might also know about it because, well, it’s a pretty massive event (about 300 000 participants globally last year).

But first, let’s refresh our memories on what this lunacy actually is (or perhaps even learn about it for the first time)! NaNoWriMo is an event in which participants from all walks of life attempt to write a 50 000 word (or more) novel entirely in the space of November. This sounds like a crazy challenge, and it really is, but the idea behind it is quite an important one. We all know the old saying that everybody has a book in them (as in one they want to write, not literally a book they are digesting because they mistook War and Peace for an apple). A lot of people often say that they want to write a novel, but they don’t have the time. This is where NaNoWriMo comes in – by forcing yourself to write the story at great speed (an average of 1667 words a day) you’ll get that book written within a month. Sure, it’ll be a bit rough around the edges. But, from my experience at least, it’ll have some gems in there too. Just the act of finishing a draft is a big step for any budding writer, published or unpublished, and no matter how hard it sounds once you get the momentum going it’s pretty hard to stop. Also, a huge community to encourage you and share all your trials and tribulations always helps – with hundreds of regions all around the world organising online and physical meet-ups, it can become quite a social event too.

For me personally, my NaNoWriMo story goes right back to 2009. I discovered the event at the last minute, with a couple of days to spare if my memory serves me correct. I remember thinking that first time “this is ludicrous, I have no idea what to write, I don’t have time to do this with university assignments due and my work and blah blah blah” and then I attempted it. That first year was filled with setbacks – at one point I was 20 000 words behind, while right at the end of the month a friend died which shook up my friends and I no end (as you’d expect) – but somehow I pulled through and hit the 50 000 words.

But that first NaNo novel, in the genre of dystopian fantasy, was awful and I’ve promised myself never to look at it again. The second year I attempted historical fiction and discovered the challenge of trying to fit 200 000 words of story into a quarter as much with far too little research. I also had a car crash that month so writing wasn’t exactly the most comfortable thing. The third year, in 2011, was my first year of being a teacher, so not only did I have to juggle novel writing with report writing and teaching, but I also stupidly decided to aim for 75 000 words. Despite overloading on caffeine repeatedly (at one point I drank 14 coffee in about 7 or 8 hours, and then oddly had an afternoon nap), the psychological thriller I wrote that year has been the only story thus far that I actually kind of liked (I intend on rewriting it soon). The next two years I attempted comedy and literary fiction, and while I found hitting the word goal easier than ever I ended up deeply disappointed with my stories.

So now, in 2014, I face my sixth consecutive NaNoWriMo going for a sixth consecutive win. A lot has changed for me this year, as I migrated from Australia to Sweden back in January, and I have a feeling my new surroundings and my experiences over this year will have some influence over my story. I am going to tackle comedy a second time, and earlier this year I wrote some comedy short stories that I actually liked and in which I think I started to find my own style of humorous writing. I am playing around with different ideas (time travel and bathtubs seem to be key themes at the moment, thanks to a certain friend on Twitter (you know who you are…)), but I hope to write something a bit more coherent than my comedy novel from 2012. I also plan on tapping into my influences more, from my general British comedy influences (especially Monty Python) but also all my writing influences from both now (both comedic and serious) and from my childhood (especially Roald Dahl). We’ll see what I come up with, I guess, in a few weeks time.

But enough about me! The NaNoWriMo website is running a little bit late in rebooting for this year’s event (it’s going up next week apparently), but now is the time to decide whether or not you’re going to attempt it, and if you are, to consider planning it (unless you like to write by the seat of your pants, which statistically speaking I do about 60% of the time so far). But, some things to consider:

  • If you’ve never done this before but love writing stories, you absolutely should give this a go – it is way more fun that you might think and it will definitely help you grow as a writer.
  • If you’ve tried this before but didn’t make the 50 000 word goal – try it again! Maybe a different story and different circumstances will enable you to reach it this time, and even if you still don’t you might get a lot written and that’s never a bad thing.
  • If you’ve won this before, whether it’s once or many times, do it again! After five wins, one thing I am certain of is that every year I do NaNoWriMo my writing improves and I learn more about my own writing abilities and style.

I’ll probably do another “tips on surviving” type post a little later in the month (don’t expect any profound advice other than to drink coffee though), but in the meantime I’d love to hear from you if you are doing NaNoWriMo or even if you’re just considering it. Also if you want to add me as a writing buddy on there, let me know.

23 days to go and counting!

Book Review: The Pleasure Of My Company

The Pleasure Of My CompanyI came to this book with high expectations. The Pleasure Of My Company is Steve Martin’s second novel/novella, and after having read his third and most recent a couple of years ago, An Object Of Beauty, which blew me away with its eloquent language and profound insights into the world of art, I knew I was probably going to like his first couple of books (I seem to be working my way backwards). Luckily, I wasn’t disappointed.

The Pleasure Of My Company is very different, both in story and character types. Martin is brilliant at painting deeply flawed characters who struggle for one reason or another, but, due to the way he writes and develops them through the story, you tend to fall in love with them as a reader. In this short novel (it’s around 160-170 pages – on the outside is says a novel but inside a novella) the main character is Daniel Pecan Cambridge, a young man somewhere in his late 20s or early 30s (depending on his mood) who suffers from a number of neuroses which leave him mostly trapped inside his house. As a few unexpected events occur in his life, including winning the Tepperton’s Pies Most Average American essay contest, as well as taking in some unexpected guests in need, slowly Daniel’s universe is forced to expand and he gets a taste for what his life could become if he could just break free. Of course, breaking free is not that easy for the modern neurotic.

Daniel is such an unusual character, but Martin has depicted him so vividly by writing from Daniel’s perspective. You get to read his thoughts on the various women in his life, from Elizabeth the real-estate lady to Zandy who works at a shop, to his student-counselor Clarissa. Through these insights, you see the way his mind works as he craves any attention he can get off these three women and dreams up loving relationships with them, even though he also second-guesses himself and wonders if he is just being ridiculous. At one point, when he finally gives up hope on at least one of these women, he says “She had destroyed whatever was between us by making a profound gaffe: She met me.” While quite witty, it also reveals the true nature of Daniel’s mind – self-deprecating and fully aware that his own limitations are not normal. And I think, perhaps, it is this self-awareness that helps us to sympathise and empathise with Daniel, because it brings attention to the fact that deep down he does want to break down some of these barriers in his life.

Martin’s language control throughout the book is quite remarkable, as well, as so much of the feeling of the story comes from the writing. The way Daniel describes situations can be very blunt and matter of fact, but it’s also very important that his fears be made to feel very real. One of his key fears is that of roadside curbs, namely that he cannot walk over them onto the road. But while the actual fear itself seems ridiculous to most readers, the feelings that the fear produces can still be welled up inside us through the use of building atmosphere through long, panicky sentences. As an example, this is a paragraph from one of the times that Daniel does walk over a curb (it happens a few times in the story):

If I’d allowed my body to do what it wanted to do, it would have fallen on its knees and its head on the ground, its arms stretched out on the sidewalk. Its mind would have roiled and its throat would have cried, and nothing but exhaustion would have made it all stop, and nothing but home could have set the scale back in balance. But instead, I marched on, spurred by inertia and the infinitesimal recollection that I had recently crossed a curb and had not died.

It takes Daniel nearly two more pages of writing to actually cross the dreaded curb here of which he speaks, but through the use of such language as this we find ourselves rooting for him as some kind of unlikely hero, as if he were facing a much more serious threat than he actually is, and that really is a sign of clever writing.

Ultimately, The Pleasure Of My Company is a triumph over adversity, and a fascinating view into a life that many of us could never even imagine. It is funny, sweet, tender and brave, and is a testament to Martin’s ability as a writer and a storyteller. If you haven’t read any of Martin’s fictional writing, I urge you to give it a try – he’s not just “a good writer for a comedian/actor”, he’s a brilliant writer full stop.

Book Haul!

It’s been a very long time since I bought books, and it’ll be a very long time until I can do it again, but lately I did buy a few books to last me through most of the summer. I thought I’d just quickly show you them, as I made sure I bought only books I was very keen to read. Also, The Last Girlfriend On Earth which I reviewed here was among these books but I figured I didn’t need to show it again. Now, to the books which I shall also briefly comment on because, you know, it’s me and that’s what I do!

The Girl Who Saved The King Of Sweden by Jonas Jonasson. This is the second novel by the Swedish novelist, who is famous for writing the amazingly funny The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out Of The Window And Disappeared, a novel which was Sweden's bestselling book the year it was released, which has achieved international fame and has even recently been made into a movie. Very excited about this one.

The Girl Who Saved The King Of Sweden by Jonas Jonasson. This is the second novel by the Swedish novelist, who is famous for writing the amazingly funny The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out Of The Window And Disappeared, a novel which was Sweden’s bestselling book the year it was released, which has achieved international fame and has even recently been made into a movie. Very excited about this one.

The Ocean At The End Of The Lane by Neil Gaiman. I bought almost all of Gaiman's novels last year, then never got around to reading them and had to leave them boxed up in Australia for the time being. This, his latest novel, will help make up for that a little I hope.

The Ocean At The End Of The Lane by Neil Gaiman. I bought almost all of Gaiman’s novels last year, then never got around to reading them and had to leave them boxed up in Australia for the time being. This, his latest novel, will help make up for that a little I hope.

If you haven't seen the brilliant television show QI, get off my blog and go and look up QI on Youtube right now (I'll talk to you in a few days upon your return). For those more familiar with it, this book basically deals with the same sorts of information the show does, and even includes snippets from the show. A good way to find out a lot of what you know is wrong, and very funny too.

If you haven’t seen the brilliant television show QI, get off my blog and go and look up QI on Youtube right now (I’ll talk to you in a few days upon your return). For those more familiar with it, this book basically deals with the same sorts of information the show does, and even includes snippets from the show. A good way to find out a lot of what you know is wrong, and very funny too.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, by Rachel Joyce. Don't know much about this one, but the title made me curious. Every now and then I make a reckless purchase based on something like the cover or the title. Fingers crossed.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, by Rachel Joyce. Don’t know much about this one, but the title made me curious. Every now and then I make a reckless purchase based on something like the cover or the title. Fingers crossed.

Imagining Alexandria by Louis de Bernières. One of my favourite ever authors, famous for Captain Corelli's Mandolin, Birds Without Wings and Red Dog, this is his first collection of poetry. What I've read so far is beautiful.

Imagining Alexandria by Louis de Bernières. One of my favourite ever authors, famous for Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, Birds Without Wings and Red Dog, this is his first collection of poetry. What I’ve read so far is beautiful.

The Pleasure Of My Company by Steve Martin. I was swept away by a more recent novel by Steve Martin recently, An Object of Beauty, and have decided to backtrack to his first two works of fiction. This one is about a modern-day neurotic, and as I expected it is incredibly intelligent, witty and insightful. Steve Martin, I have to admit, is a very impressive writer.

The Pleasure Of My Company by Steve Martin. I was swept away by a newer novel by Steve Martin recently, An Object of Beauty, and have decided to backtrack to his first two works of fiction. This one is about a modern-day neurotic, and as I expected it is incredibly intelligent, witty and insightful. Steve Martin, I have to admit, is a very impressive writer.

Shopgirl, by Steve Martin. His first work of fiction, this short novella looks at a young woman working in a shop who embarks on a relationship with a man nearly twice her age. I am yet to read it, but the praise I have heard about it, plus the fact it was made into a film, make me suspect it's as good as everything else I've read by Martin.

Shopgirl, by Steve Martin. His first work of fiction, this short novella looks at a young woman working in a shop who embarks on a relationship with a man nearly twice her age. I am yet to read it, but the praise I have heard about it, plus the fact it was made into a film, make me suspect it’s as good as everything else I’ve read by Martin.

Well, that’s it for now. I aim to have proper reviews up of all seven of these books over the next couple of months, so keep an eye out for them!

What books have you bought or borrowed recently? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

A Creative Conundrum

As many long time readers will know, I like a good writing challenge (even if my health got in the way a lot last year). I’ve gone through the insanity that is NaNoWriMo (writing 50 000 words of a novel in 30 days) for four Novembers in a row. For the last couple of years I have also tried my hand at two different writing challenges in April – in 2011 I attempted (and won) the sister event to NaNo, Script Frenzy (which has now finished as an official separate event) in which you wrote a 100 page script, and in 2012 I attempted NaPoWriMo – writing 30 poems in 30 days (which I didn’t quite finish).

So with April approaching, I have a choice. Do I attempt NaPoWriMo again, with the goal to actually finish it this year? Or do I go for Camp Nano, where I can either write a novel and elect my own word count, or even write a script (as Script Frenzy has been incorporated into Camp Nano this year)? Or do I do something completely different, and if so, what?

I genuinely can’t decide, all I know is I do want to do something creative during April, especially as I do have some time off work later in the month. So, what do you think? What should I do? What would you do out of these options, and, on that note, are you attempting or considering attempting any of these challenges?