What I learned While Participating in NaNoWriMo for the First TIme

30 11 2011

By Julia Indigo/@juliaindigo

First off, I finished! I managed 51K, though the novel is barely half done.

I learned that I still have my determination muscle hanging about. I mentioned before that I put it to good use back in high school, becoming an All-State flutist three times over. I thought that I had it in me, and I was right!

I also learned that I can put my competitive streak to good use, especially when I’m competing against myself. Watching that blue bar move from left toward the completion zone on the right every day was highly motivating, especially when it vaulted heavenward above the ‘par for the day’ line on the graph.

That competitive spirit is also well served on twitter, at the hashtag #wordmongering. There is a terrific community of supportive writers from around the globe who start writing at :00 or :30 of the hour, writing for 30 min. I’m actually wordmongering this blogpost right now, and will report my wordcount at 11:30 local time on twitter. Any wordcount is celebrated there, because it’s X more words than one had 30 minutes previously!

I also learned that while it’s optimal to write every day, with my professional schedule it just doesn’t happen. I knew that would be the case, and when I had time to write I pushed myself to get the words down. That padding kept me from despair when two or three days would go by without any progress. So from now on I’ll have weekly goals, rather than daily ones.

After NaNoWriMo I proudly wear the label pantser/plotter. I started out with a logline (which changed, oops), and a basic idea, but after about 10k words I was lost. In desperation I sat down and plotted some scenes, and that unblocked me. The pantser in me came back as I was writing the scenes that I’d plotted, nice juicy stuff that I couldn’t seem to plot before I had my hands on the keyboard. For the next books in the series (yeah, that’s the plan!) I’ll try out @elenaaitken’s storyboard idea, and see if I can plot it out in more detail.

Another thing: if you’re going to write a fantasy novel, it helps to have done some worldbuilding beforehand. I hadn’t, and there are scores of “XXXXX”s scattered throughout the manuscript where I didn’t have a word or an idea for something (What the hell do Umgonnan EAT, for crying out loud??) I need to go back and flesh them out. I’ve bought a couple Holly Lisle’s ebooks from Amazon, and if I find myself a committed fantasy writer, I may well take one of her courses. Hell, I may take one anyway!

I forced myself to not edit as I was writing, but my natural flow is to edit what I wrote the day before, then begin writing again. I need to read what I wrote before anyway, especially if it’s been a couple of days since I’ve written. In my first novel (unfinished, naturally!) there were days when I was uninspired, and I would edit during that time, thinking that I was getting something done. I probably deleted some good stuff in that process, but I’ve kept all my changes for that book, so I can go dig it out when I start working on it again.

I learned that I enjoy writing sex scenes. Even when they’re between non-humans. So shoot me! It’s fun, especially when the beasties are not only sentient and have consciences, but also have to deal with strong instincts that drive their sexual behavior. That’s part of culture building – how they deal with that.

Oh, one more thing. Playing Bejeweled does not add to one’s word count!

Did you participate in this year’s NaNoWriMo? Or in previous years? What did you learn? Did you grow as a writer? As a human being? Let me know in the comments!

Two Days of Not Writing

26 11 2011

I’m in the middle of said two days, and quite unhappy about it. I like to say ‘my job gets in the way of my life’ like so many people, but in truth, it can be more of a soul-draining thing than many 8 to 5 jobs. I play in a symphony orchestra. I am one of the lucky ones. I’ve done this work for over thirty years, and have some incredible memories. Itzak Perlman, Lynn Harrell, Plácido Domingo, Luciano Pavarotti, Lang Lang, Jean-Pierre Rampal, Sir James Galway, Kathleen Battle. Then there’s Burt Bacharach, Henry Mancini, James Taylor, Ray Charles, Marvin Hamlisch, Doc Severinsen. I’ve worked with them all, in some cases, multiple times. Somehow I missed Yo-Yo Ma.

But not this weekend, the last weekend of NaNoWriMo. This weekend we are in the pit, slogging through the Nutcracker five times in 3 days. And there are six more next weekend. And it’s not an easy score! This is what I mean by soul-draining. This is what musicians do on Broadway – play the same show day after day, week after week. You have to bring your game face every time, even though you could play it in your sleep (and may feel like falling asleep!), but you can’t snooze, because it’s tricky. I had a screw up last night on the last page, something that I needed to work on just a bit to make it work… but I hadn’t, so I crashed and burned. Oops. Not good when you’re on First.

My hands are shot. I am developing arthritis in my index fingers, and I’ve used my hands full out for years. Between typing, knitting, weaving, journaling by hand, and playing my instrument, it has taken its toll on my joints. I cannot type if I want to perform, particularly such a grueling weekend, and I cannot perform if I want to write.

So… I’m not writing. Tomorrow afternoon I have ONE Nutcracker performance to play, and when I get home I’ll walk the dog, feed her, grab a cuppa, get out the laptop…. and grind out the last 3500 words on the WIP that I need to win NaNoWriMo! Well, maybe I’ll finish on Monday night. But tomorrow? woooHOO.

On the Last Week of NaNoWriMo

22 11 2011

I’m at 41,000+ words, and it’s the last week of NaNoWriMo. What have I learned?

I’ve learned that I can still channel the determination that made me an All-State Flutist during my Sophomore, Junior, and Senior years of High School.

I’ve learned that a log-line is NOT enough for me, if I’m writing 1500+ words every day. Simply mapping out some scenes works much better, even though I end up adding more in between them when I’m in the thick of it.

I’ve learned that there is scads of info that one can give the reader using dialogue alone. In fact, the blasted book looks more like a screenplay now – pages and pages of dialogue.

I’ve learned that it’s big fun to hang with the folks at #wordbitches, #mywana, and #wordmongering, and I can really pound out the words when I’m against a timer.

I’ve learned that 1000 words/one hour is comfortable for me, at least in the first draft, when I have scenes set out already.

I’ve learned that having a spot of tea with a character helps me understand his/her motivations.

Is that enough? ::smile::

There are things that I know now, too. That I need to write, it’s in my blood. That I can trust when something just isn’t working. Set it aside and let it marinate, ferment. Perhaps it will turn into yogurt, or maybe just appalling goo. No matter, it was a learning experience. And, that I have no idea how to proceed, after the first draft is done.

I trust that I’ll figure it out. I have made so many writing friends on twitter, and they are such a helpful bunch! Go to my profile, and I think there will be a list of blogs that I follow. Maybe. I don’t know wordpress well enough right now… and I haven’t put up a blogroll yet. There is so much good info out there to be had for FREE.

If you are NaNoWriMo-ing, or have in the past, let me know – what have you learned from the process? Does any of the above sound familiar?


Oh… and I’m going to be blogging more regularly now. At least once a week through December, perhaps more. No more two week unplanned hiatuses. (Is that even a WORD??? lol)

Thoughts After the First Week of NaNoWriMo

7 11 2011

Here in Texas the first week of NaNoWriMo will be over in a mere seven hours, and I’ve done what I set out to do – written 16,000 words toward the 50,000 word goal which comprises “winning”. I wanted to be as far ahead as possible, as soon as possible, because November is busy! Assuming that NaNo is an American invention, who in heaven’s name decided to hold it in November? Thanksgiving and the run-up to the holidays notwithstanding, my work schedule is tight, I have guests coming from out of the country in a week, and I’m just now getting over this cold/flu/virus/allergy thing that laid me low over the weekend. (The weekend where I wrote 6000 words.)

I planned to take today off from the novel anyway, and the timing couldn’t be better. I cannot face the book today, I’m bored to tears with it, I don’t know how to get from her to there with it… etc. And that’s just fine, because I know myself well enough to know that later on tonight, or tomorrow, latest, I’ll be ready to pound out another 2000-3000 words, and the next day, and the next, until my next day off.

I’ve been thinking about the choices we make, how we choose (or don’t choose) to spend our time. Speaking for myself, in recent years I’ve been treading water by choosing to spend hours of my life unproductively. One could certainly argue that the time I’ve spent playing games on the iPhone was ‘down time’ where my subconscious was doing its thing, which resulted in me being here, NOW, writing… and that might well be true. But now that I’ve committed to writing each and every day, whether the novels I’m working on, or blogging, or articles for sundry periodicals, I have to look more closely at how I have been living.

My very best friend is a marvelous writer who isn’t writing much at the moment. She’s the reason why I’m writing at all – her example gave me that “what if I were too…” notion that launched me into this profession in the first place. I love her dearly, and am concerned that she spends so much time on Facebook! And when I call her on it she has as many reasons for spending time online, as I did for using iPhone games to avoid the rest of my life.

But for me the real question is: When I get to the end of my life, will I regret how I’ve spent those hours, days, years? For me, now that I have this purpose, I have an answer. No regrets for the time spent here, on my butt in front of the computer, writing. And if I make the choice to spend the hours that I could be writing, playing games on the iPhone (or whatever gadget we’ll all be oohing and aahing over in ten years’ time) then yes, that will be a regret. With this realization, I now have a bottom line. Being published is not the issue (though eventually, that would be nice). Writing is, for me, the most satisfying creative form that I have ever experienced, and I have been a creative person my entire life: musician, artist, weaver, knitter. It is as though at fifty-four I have been reborn, with a new purpose. I’ve found something which I was searching for, without knowing that I was searching.

So I’ll sit down with the laptop and pull up the NaNo book, either tonight or tomorrow, and write some more. And there will be plot dead ends, threads that lead nowhere, ideas that don’t work… and then that flash of brilliance that makes me smile. Draft Zero. That’s the ticket!

A Late Friday Link Dump

4 11 2011

There is probably a better title for this post, but hey, I’m in NaNoWriMo hell right now, so I’m just going to put it out there for grins.

First up is Tess Hardwick’s wonderful post on racism, or rather, her daughter’s color blindness. We all should be so blind!

Then there’s Anthony V. Toscano’s blog. That is, the whole thing. Every post has the ring of truth. The man is a great storyteller.

I loved Ashley Marsh’s post on collaborating with your characters. That’s how I began my first book – Steven told me what to write about. Her ideas give a method to my pantser nature.

She writes: If you’ll notice, this hook/idea features two very important components, both of which are equal in significance: the characters and the plot.

Which is exactly what I’ve done with my NaNoWriMo novel. Well, at under 10,000 words currently, it’s a novella. An unfinished one!

I like this Shirley Jump article on “Show not Tell”. I thought I had a handle on the concept, but her article showed me that there was more to it than I’d realized, for instance, avoiding “-ing’ constructions.

I felt quite put off by Mooderino’s article on outlining – and not because it’s a bad article. Rather, because I realized how little I know, and how much I need to learn, about writing.

And now for something completely different

1 11 2011

Last night (Oct 31, 2011) I had no notion that I would sign on to NaNoWriMo,but when I saw that you could get Scrivener for 50% off if you were a ‘winner’ (i.e., if you wrote a 50,000 word novel by the end of November), I was so in. I’ve been lusting after that program for some time now, and the opportunity seemed too good to pass up.

So I went for it.

Slight problem. What am I going to write about?

Well, here is my process thus far.

I had a book idea that I was batting about: Germany, A.D 600-700 or so. Two tribes, the chief’s daughter is given in marriage to the other tribe’s chief’s son. At the wedding, she and the groom’s brother fall in love. Pain and suffering ensue. Yeah, it’s an old story, right?

Now, if I’d decided to write this particular story a month ago, I would’ve had a chance to do some research into what actually happened in the area known today as Germany, 1400 years ago. But I had three hours. Hmmm. This isn’t going to work.

Then I thought about Avatar. Smile! So last night I started naming the characters that I knew I’d need, came up with a log-line (thanks to Kristen Lamb who posted on just this today!), and this morning I started writing. Even with work, and some ‘interesting’ issues coming up today, I managed just at 2700 words, 1000 words more than I needed to write to stay on track to get to 50,000 by 11/30/11.

The beings in this story started out in an amorphous manner, but in the second sentence they ended up having tails. Then later on they had six legs – two legs and four arms. And wings. With feathers. And they change color, depending on their emotional/energetic state.

Now they are dragon-like creatures. Having ritualized sex. WHAT???


Yep. Ritualized dragon sex. Kind of like the Alchemical Marriage. Not that I am any kind of expert on that. All I know is that it happens every morning in this world I’m creating, and it heals the spirits of those in that particular community.


All that, without plotting. This is gonna be fun, I can just tell!


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