NaNoWriMo: The Kids’ Edition

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I feel very fortunate because this year, my younger daughter Maggie is doing NaNoWriMo with me. There is an entire young writer’s program for NaNoWriMo that kids can sign up for. Maggie is going to do it, and so are most of the kids in her class. And that’s my fault.

During the annual open house/back to school night that school holds for the parents of students, I got to talking with Maggie’s teacher, Patty, about people who come in and volunteer and get the kids interested in something that pertains to the lesson plan. At some point in the conversation, NaNoWriMo came up. One of the Patty’s former students participated in NaNoWriMo last year. She mentioned how she would love to get some of her kids to do that again.

I didn’t say anything at the time because I felt like I wanted to think that through. Patty had no idea I had written and self publish book (insert shameless marketing plug here) or that I had done NaNoWriMo last year. I sat on it for a bit, wondering if I wanted to mention this and offer to help lead the class in a NaNoWriMo charge. I’m not a teacher and have no training in classroom management skills. I didn’t know if I’d be a good fit to come in.

In a phone conversation I was having with Patty one night about something else, I decided to mention it, and offered to come into the class and talk about what the NaNoWriMo challenge is, and see if there are any kids who were interested. Her response was unbelievably enthusiastic, and so, last week I found myself in Maggie’s classroom talking to her classmates all about NaNoWriMo, writing, and storytelling.

I have to tell you, it was a metric ton of fun. The class is great, excited about the project, and from what Patty tells me, chockablock full of writers.

I talked about what NaNoWriMo is, and what a novel is. I talked about the kinds of ways you could write a novel, from typing right into a computer to writing it all long hand. I had one person ask if the novel could be dictated to someone, or into a into a software program. Hey, if it was good enough for Paradise Lost, it’s good enough for NaNoWriMo. I talked about the process writers use to write: some write in the morning, some in the evening, some in their bedroom, some at the dining room table, some even in the kitchen. We talked about the kinds of books the kids are currently reading, and what their favorite novels are. We talked about the Inner Editor, which I dubbed the “Evil Inner Editor”, who constantly whispers in your ear telling you to stop, or slow down, or do things differently. One of the exercises from the Young Writers Program is to draw the Inner Editor on a worksheet. Once drawn, the kids are encouraged to hide him/her away so they can’t work their evil spells. We did that in the classroom and some of the kids’ Inner Editors turned out really well.

As I said, it was a ton of fun.

Patty had already come up with the word count she is hoping the kids will hit. She’s shooting for them to complete 250 words per day, which is about one page per day. That means that the kids will end up writing a 7,500 “novel” by the time it’s finished.

I’m headed back into the classroom in the middle of November to check in with the kids and see how they’re doing. I’ll be giving them tips, most of which will be plucked from the wisdom of the NaNoWriMo community. We’ll talk about the challenges they’re having and see if we can’t find ways to working around them. Most importantly, I’ll be giving them the encouragement to keep on truckin’, and to keep ignoring the “Evil Inner Editor”!

After that, I’ll head back into the classroom sometime in December to find out how they did. There is a program NaNoWriMo has this year with FastPencil, which will help kids publish their finished work. Hopefully, at the end of the month, and maybe by the end of December, there’ll be enough kids that finish and publish that Patty will have a whole new library.

After the class was over, tweets were tweeted:

 

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NaNoWriMo: 2015 Edition

Shield-Nano-Side-Blue-Brown-RGB-HiResIt’s November 1st. That means it’s time to kick off NaNoWriMo. And once again, I’m participating. And new this year, so is my nine year old, Maggie!

Throughout the month I’ll post various updates on the progress for both of us. Tomorrow I’ll explain how I got Maggie, and her whole 4th grade class, involved.

But for now, it’s time to write. NaNoWriMo has begun.

Aaaannnnnddddd GO!

NaNoWriMo – The Lessons Learned

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Let’s start off with this brief summary of my participation in this year’s NaNoWriMo:

I WON!

Yes, that’s right, I won the NaNoWriMo contest this year, where anyone who hits the 50,000 word mark in a brand-new-never-having-written-a-word-of-your-NaNoWriMo-novel inside of thirty days wins. What do we win? The ability to say we won. That’s it. No cash, no prizes, though there are some nifty T-shirts you can buy. So, in short, you win bragging rights.

Which is saying a lot for a free contest where there are thousands of winners.

That out of the way, I want to reflect on the lessons I learned from cranking out 50k words in a month’s time.

1) You are not alone. There are lots of people out there willing to lend encouragement and good thoughts and happy vibes and whatever else they feel like throwing your way for support. There are communities out there supporting writers, there are meet ups where you can all sit down together and write and lend an actual hand for someone to hold if they need it. There are professional writers who have lent their voices in encouragement, and there is no end to the number of people tweeting about NaNoWriMo on a daily basis.

2) You are absolutely alone. No one can write this thing for you. It’s you by yourself, mano-e-mano, man versus machine versus calendar. It’s a gnarly threeway brawl that you and you alone must fight. Nobody else can jump in. This isn’t the WWE. You can’t tag somebody else in if you feel like you’re fading. You are the only one who can write your book. Otherwise you fail the contest.

3) You are not alone. Think your special? Just because you did it? Just because you hit your daily word count? Get in line. There are thousands and thousands of people who jumped into NaNoWriMo and have hit their daily word counts. Thousands have hit their word counts sooner, faster, higher than you have. Take that in, realize this, take a big deep breath…then let it go. You can’t get caught up in how far ahead or behind you are in reference to anybody else. To do that invites disaster. If you start doing some sort of comparison project with your fellow writers, you’ll get into a mine-is-bigger-than-yours mentality that is at best a complete waste of time, and at worst mojo-wrecking. If you’ve got your mojo working, who cares if your mojo is better than somebody else’s? Who you trying to impress with that shit?

4) Write as much as you can as early as you can. Cause you never know when your gonna get an injury that requires you to be carted off the field. My goal was to finish my word count by Thanksgiving (which I did, by the way). I wanted to get it done so that I could enjoy my holiday, maybe spend the day picking at some words but not feel forced to hit a daily number. Besides, the food coma was gonna be epic this year, man, epic.

You know what I enjoyed most on Thanksgiving? Pedialyte. Thursday morning I got a case of the stomach flu and that was all she (or in my case, he) wrote. For two days my colon sounds like the French countryside in 1944. By Saturday I was finally starting to feel better, but it was slow going. I didn’t have a lot of energy since I hadn’t had a decent calorie in two days. By Sunday I felt well enough to open up the laptop, type in one paragraph, and that was it.

5) When the month ends, the motivation does too. It’s good to feel the pressure of the deadline. It makes you work for it, forces you to make time for writing. Even if you’re just picking up the story, writing 200 words for the fifteen minutes you have leftover from your lunch break, and closing it again. The deadline manhandles you into writing during any snippets of free time you have.

When the deadline has passed, the pressure goes with it. Now you’re not up against a wall, trying to squeeze words in, desperate to hit a daily word count. Now you start to think “Well, I couldn’t quite get to it today, I’ll just pick it back up tomorrow.” WRONG! You will not! Stop kidding yourself. If your motivation for writing starts to flag, then so does the writing, then it’s six months after the end of NaNoWriMo and you’re sitting on 55k words instead of 50k. Stop that shit! Open up your laptop and lay down some magic!

6) The choice of word processors makes all the difference. If you’re using a word processor or a typewriter or a pen and paper, that’s your business. I’m not going to tell you you need to use this one over that one. What I am going to tell you is that, no matter what you use, you’ve got to have it handy at a moment’s notice. You never know when you’ll get five minutes to hammer out two really great sentences. With a pen and paper, that’s a lot easier than just about any other writing medium. You can carry them with you anywhere and be ready to write in five seconds flat. With a typewriter, that kind of thing is a lot harder. You can’t really lug a typewrite around with you everywhere you go. I mean, you CAN, but you’ll get a lot of looks that suggest it might be time for the men in the white coats.

My choice of word processor was Google drive. Again, this goes back to the available-at-a-moment’s-notice requirement. Google drive is all cloud based, so your fictional manifesto is available anywhere you have an internet connection.

Using Google Drive, I created the document and was able to access it from any machine I happened to be using at the time. All I needed to do was to log into my Google account and viola! there it was. I could access it from a laptop, or a desktop, or even my phone. How’s that for ubiquitous? It was like having a pen and paper with me at all times. The best part? I didn’t have to type in all the things I had hand-written earlier. Best of both worlds.

7) Finishing feels like the frickin bomb! Nuf said there.

That’s what I learned this go-round. Maybe I’ll learn more next year. Already got the idea forming. Just have to let it stew, do some homework, and, oh yeah, finish the current one I still haven’t finished.

“How It Ends – Part One”: Free Book Promotion (Shameless Marketing)

c45394dc3c76377ad4e38898ed06df782bf09266In honor of NaNoWriMo (okay, not really, but I was trying to figure out how to tie it into what I’ve been blogging about lately), I’m dropping the price of Part One of How It Ends to nothing. That’s right, a big $0.00.

(Yes, I brought one of the serials back, despite the fact that I explained why I took them off here. I reserve the right to change my mind about things.)

Okay, actually, technically speaking, the price for Part One is already $0.00 on B&N.com, Smashwords, and iBooks. But Amazon doesn’t let you price something at $0.00. There are ways around that (I talked about it here) but that hasn’t worked for me yet.

Yet.

I’ll keep trying to fight the system.

*shakes fist in Amazons direction*

The point is, in the meantime, for the next five days, on Amazon, Part One of my science fiction robot apocalypse love story How It Ends is free. So go pick it up. Why not? What could it hurt? It’s a free book. Who doesn’t like free things?

You do too! Put your hand down!

NaNoWriMo 2014 Update

IMG_4281We’re twelve days into NaNoWriMo 2014. How are you doing? Have you cracked under the pressure? Are the words flowing out of you like silver streams of pure literature destined to alter the landscape of fiction as we know it? Are you plowing through your novel, letting the stream of consciousness spill from your mind in an unhinged screed* not fit for human consumption?

(Hint: The answer to all of these could be “yes”.)

For my own foray into NaNoWriMo, things are going well. I passed the halfway point last night. I’m no longer underwater in my word count. As of this writing, I’m closing in on 27,000 words. Basic math tells me I have about 23,000 words to go. (Basic math, by the way, is sometimes a stretch for me–I was an English lit major, after all–but I think I’m on solid footing here.)

Here’s what I’ve uncovered in the twelve days since I’ve started this journey:

* I’m in LOVE with how much this contest forces me to write. I have a terrible habit of being what Stephen “Uncle Stevie” King call a “lazy writer”. When the writing gets tough, I have a tendency to walk away from it and come back a few months later with no clearer way of tackling the problem. Except that, a few months later, my writing muscles have gone unused and have atrophied and my creative mind has grown fat and lethargic. This contest forces me to confront my writing every day, to flex my penmonkey muscles, and make some actual progress.

* A single sentence CAN turn into a novel. Like, quick. The novel I’m writing writing now is called Lost Things. It was based on a single (and perhaps rather long-winded) “what-if” sentence I wrote on the back of a church bulletin. The sentence looked kinda like this:

What if a man helps ferry dead souls to the afterlife by the use of items that show up on his kitchen counter that were personal and special to the deceased, but one day, using one of these “lost things”, he accidentally frees something evil and is then caught in a battle to defeat it?

Yeah, it’s a run-on, I get it. But it’s turned into something special for me. This one (long) sentence has turned into 27,0000 words in twelve days. This short synopsis helps flesh out that “what-if” sentence:

For forty-two years Bill has been dealing with the Lost Things. They appear in the morning on his kitchen counter. Each time they do, he takes them to a local secluded glade and, using an ancient rite, he frees the Lost Things’ owners, for each Lost Thing represents a deceased member of the Bill’s town. Each soul needs help transcending the void. After so many years, Bill is tired. He can feel his own time is near and knows he’ll need a replacement, which is why he agrees to teach Geoff. Geoff is a young man, married to his cancer-stricken wife Mara. But there’s a darker force at work in Bill’s town. A force that drives them to free the soul of a maniac and unleash a monster. Bill, Geoff, and Mara must overcome their fears and stop this evil before it can unleash Hell on earth.

As I plow through the writing, I find the it’s unspooling in my mind, with each day adding a new facet that I can fold into the main story.

* As this is my first NaNoWriMo, I know that when I go and try doing this again next year, it’s entirely possible that the experience will be the WORST writing experience of my life. I have this thing in my head right now itching to break free. It’s scratching at the inside of my skull with long dirty fingernails, trying to open the cracks. It’s leaking out now, right into my novel, but that’s this year. Next year, I might have the story idea, but it could fight me tooth-and-frickin-nail every day for thirty days.

* Insomuch as there is a community out there to help encourage you to write, what with all the “pep talks” that appear in your NaNoWriMo mailbox, the NaNoWriMo forums, and the NaNoCoach hashtag on Twitter, this journey, this effort, this mountain I’m (and you’re) trying to climb–yeah, well, news flash, you’re climbing it ALONE. No one can help you with it. If it’s climbing a mountain, then all the encouragement is people lining the sides of the mountain trail cheering you on. But none of them can lend a hand or lower a rope or a tree branch or find something useful to…sorry, drifting in a movie quotes for a moment. The point is, YOU are the one writing. YOU are responsible for all 50,000 words. No one else. And while encouragement helps, YOU have to be the one with the intestinal fortitude to soldier on. This is when you learn whether you really can do it.

That’s where I am so far. To date, it’s a really great experience. More than halfway there. If you’re not halfway there, no sweat, you have time. We’re not halfway through the month. You got days to make up some lost words. So let’s keep it going. Time to knuckle under, not lose focus, not stray from the marathon course, and keep going.

I got this.

So do you.

 

* Borrowed this phrase from a friend of mine because I love it.

NaNoWriMo 2014 – Day 2

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I promise not post progress every single day. I think will tend to make people bonkers. But here we are at the end of day two of NaNoWriMo, and I’m just curious: how’s it going?

For myself, I’m just over 6000 words. It’s a nice start, especially since I know that once the work week hits, life returns to its normal state of crazy.

No matter how far you’ve gotten remember that it’s farther than you were. Keep writing!

NaNoWriMo 2014 Commenceth

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NaNoWriMo started today. For those unfamiliar with this term, it stands for National Novel Writing Month. It started 15 years ago in the San Francisco area with 21 people participating. Last year there were over 400,000 people who participated. Not bad for something that started as a tiny idea.

So what is NaNoWriMo? It’s a thirty day month in which you are challenged to write one novel. You might think, hey, banging out a novel in thirty days? No sweat. I can read one in five. How hard can it be to write one? Well, marathon man, you can drive 26.2 miles easy-peasy, but can you run it? Okay then.

Basically, you have one month, the month of November, to write a novel. What constitutes a novel? For the purposes of NaNoWriMo, 50,000 words is a novel. It doesn’t have to be perfect, it’s a given that it’s a first draft. It doesn’t even have to be complete. You might end up writing an Alan Moore length million word gem. As long as you’ve got 50,000 words logged by midnight on November 30th, you win.

What do you win? The ability to say you came to play and play you did. It’s bragging rights. That’s about it. No cash, no prizes, just the right to say you took up the pen and completed the challenge. That said, there are sponsors who put up prizes, and who knows? You post and validate your 50,000 diamond, maybe you’ll win those. But that’s luck of the draw. The main prize is saying you did it.

Cost to participate? Exactly zero dollars. Best. Price. Ever.

Last year I couldn’t participate. I was in the middle of trying to finish the first draft of a crime novel I’ve been writing. This year, despite being in the middle of revising the second draft of said novel, I had an idea and decided to jump in.

This is my first time participating. I’m determined to finish. Rough calculation means I need to crank out about 1600 words per day. This will take me about an hour to hour and a half each day. That’s the goal. Plus, if I write more on the weekends, I can “bank” some words so I’m not as crushed for word count in the middle of the week.

I’ve already got a start and have a little over 3000 words written. I’ll be posting updates on this blog, but if you’re participating this year, you can follow me on NaNoWriMo at this link. I’ll be posting excerpts and looking for ideas and feedback as I go. Obviously I won’t have time to edit just yet, but any constructive feedback is helpful. The more the merrier.

Let’s tackle this beast together! Who’s with me?

Oh yeah, one more thing: the writing has to be legitimate writing. This doesn’t count:

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