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.

YPL

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

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6 Things that Happen When You Start a Blog

200(gif creds to KittyWow)

  1. You see potential posts everywhere. Anything and everything you do becomes something that you might want to post about. There are days when I see something interesting, like a particularly evocative photo, or an article about a music festival, and my first thought is “I want to blog about that.”
    Of course, ask me how often that actually happens.
    Writing on topic can be tricky, when your blog has a particular theme or audience. I know food bloggers who want to write about their music tastes, but they find that they have difficulty doing that on the designated “food” blog, or book bloggers who want to write about food but feel restricted to talking about books. Which leads me to my second point.
  2. Sometimes, you don’t post as much as you want to.
    Maybe it’s a result of something like point 1: You’ve got stuff to write about but it’s not relevant (for me this happens when I’ve been writing fiction-y things like books, which don’t make sense for this non fiction blog), or maybe you simply don’t have time to write.
    For me, it’s usually some combination of those two. But either way—sometimes, like now, I’ve gone a solid month or two between posts, and I feel really guilty about it, because I know I’m losing readers, and that people probably think I’ve fallen off the face of the internet. But also, I really do miss writing the way I do here—frank, open, and honest. Which brings up point 3…
  3. You will find yourself settling into your “blogging voice.”
    I’ve been blogging for almost two years, and I’ve come to the conclusion that my voice shifts every time I pick up a new genre. And honestly, despite the fact that I like the fiction form the best, I think I like my blogging voice the best. This is the place where I can be honest, real, and up-front about topics and themes that truly matter to me. This is the closest I get to my speaking voice, and the best part is, I don’t have to write in someone else’s head. I don’t have any autobiographical characters—this blog, and the version of me that I present on here, is about as close as it gets.
  4. You will discover that some of your friends, or even just acquaintances, read your blog. And that experience is really freaking weird.
    I tend to convince myself sometimes that I’m just writing to the ubiquitous “audience,” or to people who have never met me in real life, or who maybe know who I am in real life but do not connect it to the on-screen, in-words version of me.
    Buuuut… that’s just blatantly not true.
    Every once in a while, one of my friends will say something along the lines of OMG you have a blog!!! I just found it, and I followed it and now I’m gonna read it! And every time, I have no idea how to respond. On the one hand, I’m thankful for the readership. On the other… well, I blog about some stuff that I rarely talk about, because some topics are controversial or a little political, and I’m vocal when I write about it. But I don’t talk about it, because talking makes arguing much easier. Whereas when I’m writing, I can think about what I’m going to say, how to frame it inoffensively, and how someone else might respond to it. Knowing that people I know are reading those thought-out, well-considered pieces makes it a little more difficult to post them, because I worry about the in-person backlash that I might receive.
  5. But the amount of support and open friendliness is astonishing, and truly wonderful.
    I have said it before and I will say it again—the blogging community is incredible. I have friends—close friends—who I would barely know without blogging. There are people who I vaguely know, but without the fact that we both write on the internet, I would never have guessed that we had anything in common. These are the people with whom I will talk about potential posts, or other people’s posts, or really anything at all (blogging or non-) at any hour of the day or night. And we all know someone who knows someone else who is friends with one of us, and it’s all interconnected and leads to deep and definite warm fuzzies. When I post something deep and heartfelt, these are the people immediately there with support. When I post something funny, they’re the ones who message me 5 seconds after I post with a million “lol”s and emojis. Love you all ❤
  6. Blogging becomes a way of life.
    Even when I don’t post much, I always come back. I have started other online accounts, and then posted maybe once every six months, and neglected all of my friends on them. But WordPress is the one I always come back to. When I don’t post, I feel guilty. So I post. When I do post, it makes me remember why I love to write on here. And all five of the elements are what make this cycle go round.

On Writing Instruments

giphyI am one of those people who are really irrationally attached to their specific writing utensils, and even worse, I get a touch pretentious about it.

Unless I have no choice, I only really use one or two brands of pens and pencils—for pens, it’s Pilot G2s, preferably the 07 thickness, or else I’ll use a Papermate felt-tip. For pencils, it’s pretty much always the Papermate ClearPoint mechanical ones.

I also use a fountain pen that I’ve had since I was in middle school.
the nice thing about being a little attached to said writing utensils though? You are forced to get to know them. it wounds weird, but you also end up really loving writing longhand, or at least by hand, which is a skill that is rapidly growing less and less important to high schoolers, as computers become the educational tool of choice.Pilot

I prefer writing freehand, but if I’m really honest, I often choose to use my laptop instead. For me, though, it’s a matter of convenience. When you’re writing a novel—or anything that needs to be saved carefully and/or often—the ability to save it, and edit before saving another draft, is incredibly helpful. I certainly don’t want to have my only copy of something like one of my novels stored in a notebook.

That said, nearly every single one of my pieces starts out handwritten. I outline on paper, I plan on paper, I use bullet points on paper. Every time I do anything, it’s on paper first, and then online or in a Word file second.

My favorite fountain pen feels personal. My Pilot pens feel good. My Papermate pencils feel right.

I probably sound like a lunatic, talking about these brands like this. But I doubt that I would sound as irrational if I were a guitarist or a pianist talking about my favorite instrument manufacturer or brand. Right?
papermate

Because for someone who writes as much as I do, the pen or pencil is an instrument.

I love writing. I love handwriting. But for those who do not, I recommend buying and getting attached to the right pen for you. It might not be the same as the ones that I’ve listed. I do suggest that it be black, or at least a very dark blue, just because it’s easier to be taken seriously by teachers and assorted authority figures when you’re using that then it is when you have a giant sparkly purple-and-green-swirl-glitter-crayon (I probably have a few of those sitting around my house, actually). But really, it’s whatever you feel comfortable using.

I know it sounds a little strange, but it can help make something like a school assignment significantly enjoyable, and can even lead to more personal writing as well.
It won’t solve all the creative problems in the world, but it can certainly help.

And that’s worth something, right?

Writing Update, as Promised

g-pen-writing-on-paper

Hello, World,

I promised you all a writing update post, and here it is.

I know I haven’t posted much this summer, but I promise you there is a very good reason. And that reason is…

I wrote another novel!

You may remember that I published my first one, Touchstones, this past winter. Well, I have completed the first draft of book one in a planned trilogy. Its working title is Light of the Oceans. It is only the first draft, and I suspect that it will be cut down to be a good deal shorter in the first round of edits alone, but right now it is 201,054 words long.

It’s not connected to Touchstones, like, at all. Different universe, no crossover characters whatsoever. It’s different, and I like it.

So, that’s what I spent much of May, June, and July doing. Writing that.

I’ve also been writing a bunch of short stories, many of which may appear on this blog, depending on which ones get edited down to be shorter and which ones grow into longer, more episodic stories. And I’ve been outlining—There are several more novels that I plan to write in the future—the other two books that are supposed to accompany Light of the Oceans, a more contemporary, less fantasy novel that I’ve been working on lately, and also… drumroll please… a companion to Touchstones! It’s an idea that I had been toying around with for a long time, and I have finally decided to go ahead and actually get that done. No idea when I will start writing it, but I do at least know what I would be writing it about.computer typing

In addition to all of the long writing projects, I think I have mentioned my job at an art museum. As a part of that, I’ve been doing rather a lot of visual artwork (follow my Instagram to see more about that). I did a post over on Chelsea’s wonderful blog, 100 Ways to Write where I talked about this—working with a medium other than words has really allowed me to open up my creative horizons, and to really stretch to the very limits of my comfort zone, to the point where what seemed impossible before now seems… I don’t know, manageable at the very least.

I am also a member of the Writing Fellows organization at my school. What is a Writing Fellow, you may ask?

WF is an incredible group of creative students, and I’m honored to have been selected. We had to apply, giving writing samples and talking about why we specifically wanted to be a part of the program. We will be meeting frequently throughout the year and discussing writing prompts and workshopping each other’s work. We also are charged with staffing the Writing Center, which is a space where we help other students develop their own writing skills.

I have also been keeping up with my reading challenge for 2015, which is to read 365 books in 365 days. If you’re curious about my progress on that, or you just want to see what I’ve been reading, take a look at my Goodreads page— go ahead and add Touchstones on there, too!

So, as you can see, I’ve been busy, and much of that busy (the part that hasn’t been writing) has had to do with social media– I have also created a new Facebook page—go ahead and like that for more updates, or check out my Twitter.

THE BOOK IS HERE

TOUCHSTONES.

IS.

OUT.

Well, mostly. It’s not up on Amazon or Barnes and Noble yet, but it is available for purchase here.

I’ve been working on this for over a year. It’s taken up more of my time than anything else has over that period of time. I was up until all hours of the morning last year writing it, and I spent every spare minute I had editing it. There were definitely times when I panicked and thought that all the effort was for nothing. There were moments when I doubted that it would actually become a real, live, book.

But it did.

And it’s here.

And I’m over the moon.

I mean, just look at that cover. And I’ve been looking at the words inside. And they’re my words.

I owe so much to so many people, without whom this book would not have come to fruition.
I’ll hopefully be negotiating with a few libraries and bookstores nearby to set up readings and book signings. I’ll let you all know soon, so you can see if there will be any near you.

Thank you all for the love and support.

–Maxxe

TOUCHSTONES IS FINALLY (ALMOST) HERE!

I am BACK from my (very brief) blogging hiatus to let you all know… THERE IS A RELEASE DATE for Touchstones!

The book will be released officially as soon as the publisher sends me a new review copy, which should be in about a week. As soon as that happens, I will put up links here to where you can buy it.

Eee, I’m getting chills just being able to say that.

The book looks like this.

touchstones

It’s been quite a journey, from the scribbles on the pages of a notebook, to the big fat Word document that sat on my computer for so long, all the way to the literal, physical, BOOK that I’ve been loath to let out of my sight.

I’m really excited.

I toted around the book for a couple of days, because I was so excited. And that wasn’t even the final version.

But this one will be.

I don’t know if I will be perfectly happy with it. I can pretty much always find something for my perfectionist brain to nitpick over.

But you know what?

I WROTE A FREAKING BOOK.

A New Semester is a Fresh Start

I’ve been back at school for almost a month now, but the semester hasn’t really kicked into gear until this week. And one of my teachers said something with regard to her class, and it really resonated with me. She said that, twice a year, each student gets a chance to reinvent themselves. The grades don’t carry over. The longest non-summer vacation time has just taken place. It’s a clean slate.

Well, as clean as any slate can be for a high school student.

But I am determined to clean mine as much as is possible.

I let things slide a little last semester. Okay, a lot. I overloaded, and it was bad.

Since then, I’ve cleared a little space in my schedule, and I’ve reorganized. I’m working ahead, and I have an hour or two more almost every day that I didn’t have last semester. More than that, I know what it is to be in the place I was in at the end of last semester, and I am determined not to end up there again. So I’m cleaning up my act.

I was efficient before. I had to be, because I knew that if I was not efficient, I would crash and burn within seconds, and then that would spiral into more crashes and burns further down the road.

I learned from that. I shut down social media much more readily now. I sit down to work, and I work, until everything is finished. I’ve built up strong relationships with all of my teachers, to the point where I can ask for an extension if necessary, or where I feel comfortable asking if I can modify an assignment here or there. The point is, I’ve gotten really good at doing nine or ten hours of work in fewer than five or seven hours.

But now, I make sure that I also have time to read a book or two every day or two. I put on a TV show a couple of times a week. I don’t rush through eating dinner with my mom and dad. I don’t find myself frantically doing homework in the car, for fear that it won’t get done otherwise. I have time to write during the day, and I’ve finally picked up speed on a long-term project again—I was in a bit of a slump while working on edits for Touchstones, my book (more information on that later—there will be an official “THIS BOOK IS PUBLISHED” post), and then in another slump right after NaNo, when I ran out of steam on my revisions.

I’m in a much better place, and I have a little bit of room to breathe.

Of course, I know that my breathing space is a bit limited, and I know that it will diminish in a week or so, when Touchstones is finally, officially published, and also when track season starts.

I also know that even if I’m in a better place now than I was a month ago, I’m still probably overloaded, and I don’t have any guarantee that I won’t end up in the exact same downward spiral at the end of this semester.

But I can do my best, and last semester, I didn’t even have the spare time to do that.

I’m not trying to say “new semester, new me.” I’m not a different person.

I’m actually trying to say “new semester, old me.” Because really, I haven’t been me for a while. I spent so much time being stressed out and freaking out that I had to work to smile. And that isn’t me. I refuse to let it be. So I’m going to use this semester, and any time I might have gained back, to reintroduce myself to the world.

Let’s start here.

Hi, I’m Maxxe. Nice to meet you. How are you?

 

Oh, it is good to be me again.