Wednesday, April 23, 2008

How NaNoWriMo saved my life

Thanks to Sandie, Diane and Rachel for the invitation to post about my experience of NaNoWriMo last year. Okay, okay. I'll admit the title of this blog post is a bit melodramatic, and not true in the literal sense. But the 2007 NaNoWriMo challenge did save my writer sense of self, as well as my writing dream. Let me explain.

In the previous ten years before November 2007, I was in Writing Drought Hell. And this is an understatement. As all you writers know, when you're not writing you are miserable, depressed, in a waking nightmare that doesn't seem as if it will ever end. Well, you get the picture. That was me. I had always wanted to write a novel, but since 1997 I found I could not write one creative word. I tried almost everything to get me started writing again - counselling, writing courses, reading how-to-books and interviews with authors, trying to come up with answers as to the reason/s why I couldn't write thinking that if I knew that I could solve the problem. After two years of putting off NaNoWriMo, I finally decided it was time to give it a go. Hell, I was desperate.

But I was also scared shitless. Would I be able to write at all, let alone 50,000 words in 30 days? What if I couldn't? Then I'd have to watch while my dream of writing a novel went up in smoke. The pressure I was putting on myself was enormous. "Just sit down and start writing," advised my well-meaning hubby.

On November 1st, that's exactly what I did. I had already read Chris Baty's 'No Plot? No Problem!' a few years before, but re-read the parts of the book that related to each stage of the challenge. For those of you that haven't read this book, I recommend you pick up a copy, as I found it invaluable in helping me get through the month. You can order a copy from What attracted me most to this challenge, was that the aim was to write as fast as possible in order to silence the inner critic. This is exactly what I needed.

Part of what I had internalised was about 'what is the best way to write a novel.' I had these beliefs drummed into my head that I must plan and plot and outline before writing an actual sentence. Needless to say, I never planned or plotted or outlined. So I decided to do what Chris Baty recommended and start from scratch. I had no idea what I was going to write until I sat down at my writing desk on the first day of the challenge.

It must be said from the outset that I thought there was no way I could actually write 50,000 words in 30 days. I had been going through a writing drought remember? Even though I knew that was the goal of the challenge, I told myself the aim was for me to write consistently throughout the month, and I'd be happy if I achieved 10,000 words. Imagine my surprise when I actually managed to write 54,032 words by the end of the month!

The writing didn't come easily at the beginning. To be honest, it was a struggle. But then a funny thing happened. The writing became easier. I got so into the story and the characters that there were days when I doubled or tripled my daily word count target of 1,667 words. This gave me the buffer I needed, as I was able to have a break for a few days towards the end of the month. This was extremely helpful, as I was starting to feel run down and needed a break from the writing.

Oh, and BTW, I did manage to have a life during the challenge. In addition to working 32 hours per week in a demanding and draining job, I had a household to run, did a 4-week romance writing course, attended social engagements, and celebrated my second year wedding anniversary. I also have fibromyalgia (which is a chronic illness characterised by fatigue and chronic pain) to contend with. And I am the biggest procrastinator in the world! I found that achieving my daily word count only took me a couple of hours a day. Admittedly, it was harder to achieve the word count during the working week, but I made up for it on my days off work.

I don't believe I could have achieved what I did without the support of the RWA NaNoWriMo support loop. The sense of community and camaraderie made the challenge more fun. Who else could have provided friendly competition, shoulders to cry on when times were tough, and hugs when things went well? I initially tried to keep up with Sandie who had a formidable word count. That's what spurred me on.

Writing without an outline, or without any idea which direction the story was going, was fun. I jotted down notes at the end of the day on what my next scene would be about. I also kept a record of the dates I wrote and the word count I achieved, and felt enormous satisfaction at seeing my word count increase. Writing the ending of the story was the most difficult for me. But when I did, I was ecstatic! Writing 'The End' was the best feeling. I had finally done it. I had written a first draft.

A month later, I read over what I had written. There were a lot of holes that needed fixing, but I was surprised that the writing wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. This first draft still languishes in my bottom drawer. I might re-write it one day, but it needs a hell of a lot of work. Nevertheless, as some wise person said (Nora Roberts?): You can't fix a blank page. Participating in NaNoWriMo and completing a first draft (even if nothing comes of it) was one of my best achievements. It saved a big part of me - the writer - and my mojo returned after having gone AWOL so many years ago. Most of all, I proved to myself that I COULD DO IT. And if I can do it, anyone can.

Tell us about one of your achievements, writing related or not. What did you doubt you'd ever accomplish, and that made you proud when you finally did? I'd love to hear your experiences. You might also find it helpful to remember this achievement during the month of June when times get tough and writing 50,000 words seems impossible.

I'm looking forward to joining all of you for the June 50ks in 30 days writing challenge.

Angie :)

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Struck by lightning?

What's it like for you? For me it's like being struck by lightning. One second nothing, then bam! The idea is there. Usually it's a scene that rolls across the screen in the back room of my head. It's never the beginning, well once it was, but that's it. Then more scenes start following, never in order, come on, that would make my life too simple and we can't have that. So it's my job to write down the scenes and then patch them together like a jigsaw puzzle. Good thing I like jigsaw puzzles.
I'm just back from my trip to Bangkok and guess what? Yep. There was lightning in Bangkok. I was standing in our hotel room looking out the dirty windows at the even dirtier streets below and the song 'One Night In Bangkok' started playing in my head. Damn thing is still there, but that's okay because it kind of fits with the lightning. Anyway, I'm busy singing in my head because no one wants to hear me actually sing, and this guy suddenly starts talking. He's telling someone, can't see them yet, that there's probably no way to locate a missing brother. With everything that goes on in the back streets you'll never know what happened to him.
Then she appears, standing toe to toe with this guy and says she doesn't care who she had to go through she'll find her brother, dead or alive! Okay, that's interesting because I'd been thinking about how sleazy Bangkok feels, it's not just dirty it's filthy. I know it has a reputation and maybe that played into it too but that was all I had.
Then I went shopping with my friend who lives there and we were getting lunch when this guy starts chatting us up. Okay, so we're not that old but hey, we're old! Plus we've both got sizable rings on our fingers but this guys still chatting us up and that's when the second lightning strike occurred. I'm not going into details because I'm still playing with the idea and it may change shape before it's finished, oh who am I kidding, it will change shape. It always does.
So back to inspiration, it's where you find it. I'm known for such lightning strikes in the shower, which probably isn't wise with all that water but hey, you go with it. Besides there's not much choice. It can be while you doing the most mundane activity like the washing or like me while you're visiting an exotic local, it doesn't really matter. What matters is that you take advantage of it, whether using it in a new idea or fitting it into your existing wip, every little thing counts.
The best advice I can give is to write it down. I have about 6 little note books filled with little bits and pieces that have struck me at one time or another. I've used a lot of them. I'll use the rest at some point and I'm sure I'll continue to add to the books. Don't fall into the trap of thinking I'll jot it down later. Not gonna work. You'll forget. If anyone looked at my notebooks they'd swear they were written in another language, and they wouldn't be far wrong because it's my language. I have my own short hand that means I don't need to write down every word, thank god!
There are so many ways to be inspired. Music, movies, other books, even just out shopping. Next time you're out and about look at the people around you. Make up a story about them. What sort of life does the woman in the short skirt and high heels live? Is she a hooker? Maybe she's a lawyer? And what about the man over there? The one dressed in dirty jeans and holey t-shirt? Does he work construction? Maybe he's a mechanic? Or maybe he's a millionaire who hates the trappings of his wealth? See where I'm going with this?
If you have the time it's a fun exercise to think up stories for people you see. Next time you're in the line at the supermarket check out the people in front of you or even the check out chick (how sexist did that sound?), you'll be pleasantly surprised at what your mind will come up with.
So now that I've wasted your time, because you just had to read my insightful witty post, get off your butt, grab a pen and note book and head down to the local shopping center and see what you can get out of it. It actually does do more than take your money. And if you're lucky it'll help you make money.
Go forth, be inspired!
Oh, and come back and tell me how you went.
'See' ya!
Rachel C