5 Things to Consider Before You NaNo

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You all probably know what NaNoWriMo is if you’ve been following my blog for a while. It’s National Novel Writing Month—30 days, 50,000 words. It’s tough, it’s fun, it’s my favorite month of the year (November), and I recommend the experience to every writer out there. But NaNo is not for the lighthearted! So here are some thoughts from a veteran, for anyone thinking of trying it out this year.
1. Before you start writing, figure out what it is that you want to get out of NaNo
. Content generation? A writing community? The introspective aspect of writing, where you just put words on a page day after day, more like journaling? I highly suggest that you figure out what you want from the experience before you actually start working. NaNo is difficult; there’s no denying that. It’s really easy to get discouraged if you don’t meet a word count one day, or if you hit a plot wall. So, it’s important to consider options like Camp NaNo, or Youth NaNo, both of which allow you to adjust your own word count through the month, instead of holding you to the 50K.

I find that the most important aspect of NaNo is the constant immersion in the story—I have to be in my characters’ heads every day, so I never get lost writing my way in and out of their points of view. Of course, other aspects are still important—write-ins are basically my favorite events ever, and I love having the ability to discuss writer-y things with other people who are in a similar place to where I am. My friends and I will sometimes just sit in a circle, typing furiously, and only talking when someone hits a plot hole, or runs into an inspiration wall, at which point we all brainstorm until we have collectively brainstormed some decent ideas.

2. Know your writing comforts. Food, music… you name it. For me, the food is mostly hot beverages, particularly coffee (hot coffeeand black, or iced with almond milk), or hot tea (I typically alternate between Earl Grey, peppermint, and green with jasmine, depending on how much I need the caffeine). I even have a travel mug that has the official NaNoWriMo seal on it, plus a Faulkner quote and “Slay 50K” written on it. Music, in the past, has been many instrumental playlists, but this year… well, I’ve been listening to the Hamilton soundtrack continuously for two months at this point, and I have no reason to believe that that’s going to stop, because I’m still completely obsessed (Besides, “Hamilton wrote the OTHER 51!” has become my inspiration to keep going whenever I consider quitting anything). I jot down notes in physical notebooks (my current one is adorable and slightly smaller than my hand, and I love it), using fountain pens, so I try to have those on hand as well.

3. Connected to writing comforts, how about the writing necessities? The comforts are the things that it’s nice to have around. The necessities are the bare essentials. For me, it’s the hot beverage and the laptop. And as for my environment… I’m a high school student on the go. I carry a laptop with me pretty much everywhere, and as long as I’m sitting still, I can write. It’s one of my magical talents—I can focus on one thing to the absolute exclusion of everything else. Once I’m reading or writing, nothing can break that focus, unless there is a physical intrusion between my face/hands and the page/screen. So, I don’t need a particular space for writing. But I do try really hard to avoid writing while I’m in my bed: it’s very easy to forget to sleep during NaNo, and I try to keep my bed a designated place for rest, and not work. And sleep. Sleep is a necessity. It’s not tangible, like the rest of this list, but I cannot reiterate its importance enough.

4. Figure out your inspiration. Everyone needs it. Figure out what yours is—for me, it’s mostly a million different quotes about creativity, and my 365/365 goal (read a book per day in2015) has been a huge contributor to my writing. For you, it might be a sport. What’s most important is that you love it, and it’s enough to keep you writing. My two ‘quotes to live by’ for NaNo tend to be “If a story is in you, it has to come out,” from Faulkner, and also “Sometimes, you wake up. Sometimes, the fall kills you. And sometimes, when you fall, you fly,” from Neil Gaiman’s Sandman. The second quote might seem really random, but it reminds me that I need to let my imagination loose—as Natalie Goldberg would say, I am free to write the worst junk in America! The important thing is that I am writing, and I just have to rememberthat there is a chance that buried somewhere underneath the mire and silt is something really good, which I can work with later to make it even better. I also have added in a new quote, to which I alluded earlier—“Hamilton wrote the other 51!” I’m obsessed with Hamilton. Not denying it. Just accepting it and living with it happily. And if A.Ham could write 51, I can write 50K.

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5. Most importantly, don’t be too hard on yourself. Just enjoy it. There’s a lot to love about NaNo. I don’t know where my writing would be without it—Touchstones, my published novel, started out as a NaNoWriMo project my freshman year of high school. Light of the Oceans, the novel I am currently editing, was written entirely over the course of and between two sessions of Camp NaNo, in April and July of this year. But as much as I love NaNo, I have to keep it in perspective. It’s not the only thing in my life. I also take classes, extremely challenging ones. I have a social life. I have a job. I do s
ports. I manage to squeeze NaNo into every minute of the day when I’m not doing something, but… everyone has the days when you don’t hit the word count. Everyone stares at their computer at some point in the month, and thinks, why did I ever decide to write a novel this month????

Everyone deals with it. That’s not what matters. The important part is how you deal with it. You can’t beat yourself up over what you haven’t done, or what you dislike about your novel. What you can do is work with what you’ve got. Go back to those goals, those hopes and expectations of what you want to get out of NaNo. Think about your priorities. It’s okay not to finish. It’s okay to change up the plot by introducing alien goldfish that eat brains, if that’s what it takes to get the plot moving again.

When I don’t meet my goals for a day, it sucks, and I do spend a few moments feeling sorry for myself. But then I go for a run, or I spend ten minutes actually living in the real world, the one that isn’t made of paper and words. Sometimes I even go to bed early and marvel at how much more functional I am the next day.

The next day is always a fresh chance to catch up, to change directions, to try something new. That’s how NaNo works—you take it day by day, and there is no judgment. The whole point is to create a supportive, encouraging, writing community.

I have been NaNo-ing for 4 years, and I have won the past 3. I love this writing process and the people I’ve met as a result of it more than anything, and if you’re considering giving it a shot this year, I highly, highly encourage you to try it out!

I will probably not be updating this blog much with my own writing over the next couple of months, because of NaNo and editing. But I will try to post some helpful links over the course of NaNo!

Write on-
Maxxe

pic creds to YPLibrary for all photos in this post, and to Kittywow for the gif

The Morality of Mortality and Other Potentially Depressing Ideas

 

I’ve been reading a lot in my nonexistent spare time (In other words, I got sick and read seven books over the course of two days because I didn’t really have much else to do).

The seven books consisted of two series— I highly recommend both of them, by the way. Series one: Throne of Glass as well as its two current sequels and the five novellas that go along with it, by Sarah J. Maas. Series two: the Night Angel trilogy, by Brent Weeks.

The series really aren’t all that similar in any regard beyond the medieval settings, the physical descriptions of all of the big, evil monsters. There are fancy swords and disguises and swashbuckling warriors because—oh, yeah. There is one other similarity: the protagonists of both are assassins. They’re not really known as good people, and they don’t always do good things, and they definitely don’t come out of it unscathed.

And that got me thinking.

When I write, the struggle that my characters face is rarely life-or-death, at least not in a crazy, sword-swinging, action-y way. Maybe that’s why I like reading those books so much—it’s completely out of the realm of what I might normally encounter or write about.

But in the case of both books. They make no show of glorifying violence, or even death. Any time that real blood is spilled, not just a practice dummy broken apart, it really matters. And the emotional scars stay with the characters just as long as the physical ones.sarahjmass

I tend to just write about the emotional scars. Not so much the physical ones (that might change in the book I’m currently writing. Not sure yet).

But I realized something when I was finishing up the Night Angel trilogy. They might not glorify death, but they certainly do make it seem commonplace, almost without the reader even realizing it. And, it’s even more commonplace in the world of books in general. Authors use a sudden death to shake things up a bit.

And that kind of disturbs me, though I’ve been guilty of this several times.
Because the idea of death, or mortality in general… well, it’s manipulative. I’ve never been in a life-or-death situation, thankfully. But people I know have come close, some have come way to close for comfort. Some have even not come out okay, or have not come out at all.
A sudden death does shake things up, a lot. A sudden injury does the same thing. It can even invoke serious changes in a character.

But I’m not so sure that it’s the best plot device out there.

Certainly, the idea of impending doom, or of suddenly-realized-morality is probably the most obvious catalyst for personality change. But there are other ways in which a person’s character can change. And I don’t think that those are discussed often enough. nightangel
We authors tend to block ourselves in, with the idea of “________ must happen to cause ______ to happen, and that will mean _______ in the long term.”
It’s a basic outline. Outlines are helpful. But usually, when looking for a HUGE change that they know needs to happen, a writer will select a death. A beloved character, maybe.
But that is, again, manipulative. It’s designed to do what reality TV does—take your emotions and your but-what-if thoughts, and make them a (literary) reality. And I’m just wondering… how ethical is that? There are so many emotions out there to write about. So why despair? Is it so very awful to know that good things happen too?
Well, when it comes to literature, maybe it is.
Because happiness is an emotion that we never want to experience by proxy. We want it directly. Despair, on the other hand…
It’s easier to read about other people’s pain than it is to feel our own.

That said, there are some really good books about it. And what makes those books so good? They have their light points. Because that’s something else I’ve figured out.
Nothing is ever so stark that there is nothing happy left over. And reading the sad books with happy bits and pieces can help remind us of that.

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It’s NaNo Time!!!!

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(this is the official NaNo crest)

As much as one of my former writing teachers probably wants to kill me for the number of exclamation points I just used in the title, I’m okay with having used them. They’re basically emoticons, and I just used four of them, because I’m four times as excited as usual.

While a lot of people I know spend the day after Halloween feeling fat, or slightly hungover, or just sleeping in, I spent it completely rejuvenated and in a really, really good mood.

And no, that is not just because I finally got a decent night’s sleep for once in my life.

It’s because the day after Halloween is November 1st, which is arguably my favorite day of the year.

November 1st brings a lot of my favorite parts of life together.

Writers, all working hard to do what we love for a whole month, giving us reasons to talk to each other when we might otherwise not.

Community, whether that be online or in person.

TEA, because who on earth can write without tea?

And finally, I don’t have an excuse not to write.

That’s right, folks, NaNoWriMo is here! (look, there’s another exclamation point!)

For those who don’t know National Novel Writing Month, abbreviated to NaNoWriMo, takes place over the course of November. Over 30,000 writers across the globe engage in a challenge to write a 50,000 word (minimum) novel over the course of 30 days. No revision. No prologues or chapters or passages written before midnight between October and November.

I stayed up last night to start writing at midnight, and I’m glad I did. I have a story, that story is going to take at least 50,000 words to tell, and I have a month to write it in.

NaNo time is my favorite time of the year.

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It’s going to be especially interesting this year, because I won’t be writing on my own. I’ve done NaNo three times this year. One of those times turned into Touchstones, the novel I am publishing this month (Oh look at that, another reason to love November). However, I have never done NaNo with a direct community. This year, though, a few of my good friends at school are doing NaNo, and I actually registered on the NaNoWriMo site, which I had not done before. Additionally, I found out when the public library near me is doing “write-ins”, which are basically a couple of hours when a huge number of writers sit there scribbling or typing and making our wrists hurt, and not saying anything to each other. Sometimes two or three people pose a question to the group, and there is a lot of humming and hoing, before a resolution is reached. It is a community, and while I have been peripherally involved, this will be my first time being what I call experienced, and getting to intentionally hang out with writers as crazy as me.

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For the next four weeks, my wrists are going to be in continuous agony. I’m going to spend all of the time that I’m not doing homework or sports on writing. I’m probably going to be a tiny bit stressed out, because I get that way whenever I’m interrupted while trying to write, if I’m on a creative roll, and I’m actually getting stuff done.

And I’m going to be absolutely blissful doing so.

For those of you who may be doing NaNo, or NaPo (poetry), or NaPl (playwriting), have fun, and write on!

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