Monday, November 30, 2009

NaNoWriMo 09: Tools for Success

50,000 words in 30 days? Sounds hard right, but it's entirely possible, with the right story, a few good characters, some determination, and a few other things. NaNoWriMo is coming to a close for this year and I've just polled a few of the participants and winners about what they felt helped them the most to get the words out, keep the story going, concentrate, and keep at it all month long. Here's what we, the writers, have to say.

  • A Good Story - Don't go in unprepared. Sure, I winged half my novel and had no idea where it was going to end, but I did have a clear beginning and a general idea of what was going to happen. Some people outline their entire novel ahead of time and hey, if that works for you, go for it. That does not work for everyone, and even if it does, you may not stick to it. You don't need it all figured out, you just have to love it.

  • A Support System - NaNo is not for the weak, don't face it alone! It helps a lot if you have other people participating at the same time as you. I think that is a huge part of what got me to the finish line this year, was knowing that my friends were writing away and I would be letting them down. Knowing that they were all cheering me on. Other writers help, but so does a simple support system of friends and family. Be prepared for a lot of people thinking you are crazy, I know my family did/does, but they still asked me every now and again things were going. My mom even asked me about my word count in an attempt to get me working when I was sick as a dog on day 29.

  • A Sounding Board - In addition to support, find a friend, a fellow writer/nanoer perhaps, that you can bounce ideas off of. I know I would not have been able to work through a few rough patches in my novel (or start actually, starting was hard) without the help of Mike, Jesse, & Jordyn. Sometimes your friends have good suggestions, or maybe you just need to talk things out to see what needs to be done.

  • Snacks - You need sustenance, don't starve yourself just to finish your novel on time. Plus, I think the simple action of eating something stimulates your brain. A lot of writers turn to candy for this, for me it's tortilla chips. Or maybe gum is more your style, keeping with your diet too (you dedicated person, you).

  • Drinks - This is just as important as snacks, if not more. Don't let dehydration get you down! Also, most drinks--for writers anyway--involve caffeine. Caffeine is the writer's best friend. It keeps you going, it energizes you (albeit temporarily), and it keeps you up. Or if you are a morning person, it wakes you up. It has been said (I forget which author, forgive me) that writers are simply machines for turning coffee into novels. I don't drink coffee, so I think it's that we process caffeine and output word counts. Also, hot chocolate, iced tea, Gatorade, Diet Coke, and Coca-Cola are all very good alternatives to coffee that writers swear by.

  • Cough Medicine & Vitamin C - This is just me, I think, but if you are caught sick in the middle of NaNo (or at the very end like I was), trust me, these will be your best friends. Take them (within reason, I am not promoting drug abuse here) to get you through it. Your body will thank you for it.

  • Sleep - You will want to stay up really late on some nights, but if you are falling asleep at the keyboard, those lost hours sleeping will be worth it. When you are tired your brain doesn't function at its best and your novel will suck. You will write things that upon rereading in December will make you question your sanity. You will stop sentences in the middle. You will have random letters from when you literally fell asleep on your keyboard. Sleep is good, try it some time.

  • Set a time for writing - This doesn't work for everyone, sometimes you just have to write when the moment is right, but with NaNo, you don't always have time for that. Figure out when you write best, whether in the morning, just after lunch, or in the wee hours of the morning when the only other people awake are night guards and those poor souls who work the 24 hour drive thru at McDonald's*

  • Free Time - Essentially, going along with the previous point, write when you can. If you can fit a few words in on your lunch break, do it. Every word counts. Ray Freisen & I both write really well when traveling, in cars and on planes. Do not do this if you are the driver, of course, but other than that, take advantage of that time, make it worth your while.

  • No Distractions, No Internet - This is the hardest one for most writers, cutting out the distractions. The wonderful E. Lockhart turned me on to a program called MacFreedom which is cruel, but effective. Basically you turn it on & it locks your internet so that you can't access it until the time is up. You can press all the buttons you can find and scream as much as you want, but it will not let you online. And once you get over how crazymaking that is, it helps. I have also locked myself in Starbucks without internet and managed to knock out 3,000+ words in a single sitting**. But some people honestly cannot do this. I am usually one of those people, I have to admit, but they also need a certain degree of strength. So you can only write in short bursts & need to check your twitter every half hour, okay, but don't check it every half minute.

  • Music - Another tip that works for some, but not others. Sometimes it just depends on the day. I swear by Explosions in the Sky and whenever I am listening to them, I write really great stuff. Other days I need total silence and have been known to threaten people in order to get it. If it works, do it.

  • Insanity - It's something all writers throughout history have had: just a little bit of insanity. This is doubly important for NaNo, I believe, because you have to be just a little crazy to want to take on this project

  • All of that said, there are no clear "do's" and "don'ts" of writing, there is just you and your novel. You know what works for you, so do it. Do whatever it takes.

    Congrats to all of those who finished this year! We did it!

    *For the record, I appreciate you serving me ice cream, even at 3 AM.
    ** It helps that Starbucks is magic. They'd have to be, or why would so many writers go there?

    Monday, November 23, 2009

    Girls and Breaking Out of the Boxes

    I don't normally post anything personal here, but I don't think this is just me and I feel like I should address it somewhere. Here seemed as good a place as any.

    My friend Jordyn, of Ten Cent Notes did a piece awhile back that was printed in Red: Teenage Girls in America Write on What Fires Up Their Lives Today and was afterwards interviewed by Bitch Magazine, which you can read here. I have yet to read Jordyn's piece (no worries, I soon will), but the interview struck a chord with me.
    This part especially:
    On the biggest misconceptions about teenage girls in America: The idea of "pretty or smart." Many girls are both, but everyone gets lumped into one category or the other in spite of it, and sometimes that holds girls back. A lot of times it's hard to step out of the box others put you in, even if you want to, and I think it's especially difficult for girls, because the lines are firmly drawn.

    I spoke briefly with Jordyn after she posted that, telling her how I liked that bit and we had this little interchange over twitter:
    Jordyn: I've had guys tell me that I "look smart". I kind of figured that was code for "boring". lol
    Me: I've gotten both, but never at the same time. I'm either smart & boring/nothing special, or I'm pretty with nothing to offer. And I really hate that. I want someone to think I'm pretty (even when I don't) and to tell me I'm special (even when I'm not).

    And, honestly guys? I don't think that's too far off from what most girls want. This is also something that I believe most girls have dealt with in life, too, and not just in high school. From the time we are young we, as girls and boys, are taught a duality for how women are to be perceived. It's something women have fought against for a long time, but has become so engrained in our lifestyles and in the media that it's hard to break free from it. There are the pretty girls, and there are the smart girls. But do we ever look at a pretty girl, say, the homecoming queen, and think "wow she's so intelligent"? Or look at a really smart girl, the bookworm in your calculus class with the glasses, and talk about how gorgeous she is? I don't see a lot of that happening around here, to be honest.

    As I mentioned in the quote above, I've been perceived as both pretty and smart, but never can I think of an instance where it has happened at the same time. I have had guys come up to me and hit on me without ever having spoken to me, because they think I'm pretty (and for the record, I hate that). I'm more than my looks, and I want people to see that. Or sometimes I write something really great, or give a good speech, and someone tells me how smart I am. Like Jordyn, I feel that the word "smart" can sometimes mean "boring." Smart girls aren't exactly known for having fun or being fun, and in the media especially, they are rarely portrayed as pretty.

    So we get put into boxes, like Jordyn says, and we feel like we're stuck there. Sometimes, we are--but that's only because the girl accepts her fate to remain there. A "smart" girl gives up on her looks, why should she bother if no one is going to notice? A "pretty" girl gives up on her studies. Why does it matter when everyone tells her she can get by without them? It's a cycle spurred on by those very same girls who are trapped within it.

    I'm not saying we can start a revolution here, because that can't happen overnight. What we can do though, is start with one girl. Maybe it's a guy telling the bookworm she's pretty, maybe it's telling the model that something she said had depth and meaning. There are girls like that out there, most girls are not one or the other, despite which box she's been thrown into. All a girl wants is to be accepted for all that she is, not for one quality or the other, and we should be able to see that in them. Not only that, but we should tell them, because sometimes they've been in one box too long to see that they can break free. The pretty girls don't always think they are pretty, and the smart girls don't always feel so smart. Sometimes, all a person needs is someone else to remind them of how great they are. That's not such a hard thing to do. It's a start, anyway.

    Thoughts on the subject? Experience with it? Share them in the comments please!

    Thursday, November 12, 2009

    NaNoWriMo 09: Zenith, Favourite Lines Chapters 10-19

    Chapter 10
    He didn’t fit people into social classes or jobs, but rather roles. Acting roles, and even though he couldn’t figure out the genre of the film yet, he knew that Risty was born to be a leading lady. She was never going to play a supporting role, to anyone.

    Chapter 11
    "...He was a bit off his nut, that one, but that’s why we loved him I suppose. He was a lot of fun at parties, if nothing else.” Gramps laughed to himself, remembering family and times long since past.

    Chapter 12
    "There would be special effects explosions of extreme proportions and bright flashes of colour in intense paka-paka sequences.

    Chapter 13
    Risty was not at all like them, she was strange and mysterious and very serious, but she had managed to open his eyes at the same time so that he was finally able to see what had been in front of him all along.

    Chapter 14
    Risty Alexander thinks about the bigger picture and conspiracy theories and does not have time to think about the little things, or the little aspiring directors, in life.

    Chapter 15
    “No one has a perfect life, Rob. No one has a perfect family. No one is exactly as they seem.”

    Chapter 16
    "It wasn’t just my shoes that were specially designed for the job, I was.”

    Chapter 17
    “I was a coward once, Rob,” Risty said, her eyes locking with his, softer for a second. “Just once, but that’s all it took.”

    Chapter 18
    This would not have happened, this moment here in the barn, but neither would the hundred others in the last week, the ones he wanted to remember.

    Chapter 19
    Whatever it was, it was to blame for hundreds of deaths, and he didn’t want to add his own to the list. He was a director, not a stunt man.

    Chapter 20
    “But that’s why we’re going to get through this, so that we can still be around for a very long time and you’ll eventually learn to trust me. I can wait.”

    NaNoWriMo 09: Zenith, Favourite Lines Chapters 1-9

    I've been posting my favourite/oddest sentences on my tumblr & I thought since I never update here, I'd share them all with you folks as well.

    Chapter 1
    “So, Rob Mason, what do you know about hobo-eating alligators?”

    Chapter 2
    She didn’t understand potatoes the way they did.
    ((I spend an awful lot of time talking about that silly potato))

    Chapter 3
    That one message, twelve lines long, had broken the strong old man.

    Chapter 4
    Everything was traded for safety. It was the one thing they had in abundance these days, if nothing else.

    Chapter 5
    “The price of convenience,” she said scornfully. “Everything is so convenient and so fast, and we lose sight of what’s really important anymore..."

    Chapter 6
    “Ah yes, those ever important minutes we’re saving with everything these days,” she commented. “Pretty soon we’ll have one thousand four hundred and forty of them, all to ourselves, to do whatever we wish.”

    Chapter 7
    “Do you remember that day?” Risty asked suddenly. She sat down in the clovers and continued staring up at the clouds.
    “Which day?”
    She turned her head quickly and looked him dead in the eye. “The day the sky fell.”

    Chapter 8
    Sometimes sharing a loss made it easier to lose, even if you had just met the person you’d be sharing with. They both needed something, and maybe the other one could help with it.

    Chapter 9
    It had a thermometer, barometer, seismometer, and every other kind of -ometer a man could have need for, and a screen to monitor them all from.

    NaNoWriMo 09: Do you do research?

    And if you do, what sorts of things do you research? Do you only look up the really big things, or the small things too?

    I seem to research only really odd things.

    My list so far consists of (but is not limited to): potatoes, the great Irish potato famine, the Great Chicago Fire, maglev trains, the history of flight, airplanes, train bombings across the world (especially those in London, New York, & Moscow), clouds, crop circles, & urban legends.

    I'm pretty sure my novel is the first thing to combine all of those together.


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