Monthly Archives: October 2013

The Seven Stages of NaNoWriMo

The time has come to unleash your literary genius and pen (or type) the novel that is destined to be both a critical darling and a national bestseller. You’ve cleaned off your desk, created your writing playlist, stocked up on tea or coffee (or booze…whatever works for you), bid a fond farewell to your family and friends, and now it’s go time.

Based on my experience over the last three years of participation, I have identified seven distinct stages of NaNoWriMo:

1.    Pre-NaNo, aka The Possibilities Are Endless!

What a fantastic idea, this National Novel Writing Month! First you think: I’ve always thought I had a novel in me but could never find the time, or Perhaps this will force me to stop editing the same sentence over and over again and actually put some new #%*&ing words down on the page. Then you muse: What’s 30 days on the grand scale of things anyway?  Which leads you to declare: The world needs another teen vampire love story! Let’s do this thing!

2.    Week One, aka I Can Totally Do This!

During Week One, my mind is bursting with ideas and the words fly from my fingertips with minimal effort. All day at work, I look forward to going home and getting back to writing. My storyline is full of promise; my characters are quirky and cool. I am kicking ass on a daily basis and the fiction world is my bitch. Bring it!

3.    Week Two, aka What the #%*& Was I Thinking?!

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The Aged White Cheddar is my personal favorite.

I don’t have the statistics, but I’m willing to bet that the biggest NaNo exodus comes during Week Two. By now, you’ve had enough time to write yourself into some literary corners, and you’ve begun to resent your characters for being too boring or mean or stupid. Dark thoughts creep unbidden into your psyche: Who did I think I was fooling? This plot is completely implausible and the characters suck! I’m not a writer, I’m a fraud! You haven’t done laundry or been to the gym in a week and your favorite TV shows are piling up on the DVR. Anyway, what’s so wrong about spending an evening on the couch watching the House Hunters International marathon and inhaling a bag of Pirate’s Booty?

4.    Week Three, aka Over the Hump

BUT if you can get through Week Two, it’s all downhill from here. Sort of. Hitting the halfway mark inspires renewed determination to soldier on. Beside, you’d feel awful leaving your characters to rot in that locked basement, or trapped on a rock at sea, or brokenhearted by their moody supernatural boyfriends.

5.    Week Four, aka The Final Week High

Lack of sleep, proper nutrition, exercise, and adult conversation evokes an ecstatic dream state as you draw ever closer to victory. For me, Week Four writing is the most fluid and also the most satisfying. I am gleefully entrenched in a world of my creation and have come to care deeply about the fate of my characters. And just like when reading a good book, I am fascinated to discover how it’s all going to come together in the end.

6.    The Final Two Days, aka The Sprint

There’s always going to be some asshole who shows everyone up by cranking out 50, 60 or even 75K words well before the November 30th deadline, yet I suspect that the majority of the NaNoWriMo population needs – and takes – every last minute up until midnight. In 2012, I was able to ride the Final Week High right through to an early finish, and spent those last two bonus days feeling both giddy and clever, as if I had successfully gate-crashed a fancy party and no one realized I wasn’t supposed to be there.

7.    Post-NaNo, aka The Love Haze

As with childbirth and other traumatic life events, on December 1st our brains take pity on us and quickly expunge the memories of our darkest moments of doubt. We conveniently forget the psychological labor pains; otherwise we’d never be able to do it again next year. Within a few days of completion, we think only lovingly of the literary children and scenarios we birthed, like remembering good times with old friends.

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Countdown to NaNoWriMo

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Daily Writing Challenge: How would you introduce a flatulent cow into your story?

For anyone who doesn’t know, November is National Novel Writing Month. During this time, writers across the planet cancel all of their plans and neglect both their loved ones and their gym memberships for 30 days while they crank out a mind-blowing 50,000 word novel (mind-blowing because it’s 50,000 effing words, regardless of the fact that most of them are crap). The idea is to temporarily silence your inner editor and just get something down on the page. Let your mind wander and see what springs up. Space aliens. Newspaper boys. Flatulent cows. It’s all fair game.

This year will be my fourth participating in NaNoWriMo. I am proud to say that I have successfully hit the 50,000 word count each time so far. In 2010, just days before the November 1st start date, I thought, “I suppose I should come up with a storyline or something”. I knew that writing about subject matter I was already familiar with – in this case, an 18-year-old girl leaving home for the first time to go to college – would make things decidedly easier. What I hadn’t anticipated were all of the sub-themes that popped up along the way. For example, I had no idea that I’d been ruminating over the subject of gay teenagers and homophobia, but there it was, manifested in the form of a 15-year-old kid named Andy. I was even more surprised to realize that, without my knowledge, I had written a young adult novel.

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I managed to wait until December 1st to crack open this beauty.

For my second round of NaNoWriMo, I got cocky. I thought, “Last year was a piece of cake. I’m going to really challenge myself this time!” And then proceeded to torture myself with an overly complicated plot structure in which the point of view alternates between three different characters whose overlapping story lines traverse the same one-month period of time. Is this doable? Sure. Is this doable in 30 days? No way. At least not by this writer. Twelve days in, I was on the verge of tossing my laptop out of the window and hiding in a quiet corner with a jug of gin. But once I accepted defeat and allowed myself to stray off the plot-line path, I was able to make a respectable comeback and still hit my 50,000 words.

I kicked off NaNoWriMo 3.0 immediately after a breakup. This was both good and bad. On one hand, it was a relief to delve into a fictitious world where I could focus on other peoples’ problems for a while. But on the other, my anxious state of mind drove me to create a dysfunctional family of wretched yet sympathetic characters who took up residence in my head and then barely slept for 30 days. Again, many curious sub-themes popped up along the way: women’s changing role in our culture, family secrets, the accuracy (or lack thereof) childhood memories, commitment issues (no duh), among others. It was a grim place to be at times, but I was proud of the end result. In fact, I have spent the last year revising this novel, and will set it aside only temporarily to participate in NaNoWriMo 2013.

So what will I write about this year? What kind of world do I want to live in for the 30 long days of November? I am presently undecided. And that’s the beauty of writing fiction: what you write about is completely up to you.

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A Backward-Looking Foreword

As a child, I was always making up stories. Some may call this lying, but I prefer to think of it as being imaginative. I was in third grade when I first transcribed one of these stories onto a piece of paper. It was a gripping supernatural tale about jolly, treasure-laden fairies and the pair of naughty raccoons that slip into fairyland to rob them. The treasures were far too plenty for the fairies to carry around with them, so instead they placed their gold bullion and jewel-encrusted tiaras within the most beautiful flowers in the meadow, where they were ripe for the raccoons’ picking. Long before I studied Greek literature in high school, I created my own deus ex machina in the form of the sun, who offered the distraught fairies a simple solution to prevent future theft: he would keep an eye on their treasures during the day and then each night as he set, he would close all the flowers’ petals to keep them safe. And this was my rationale for why flowers close at night. Perhaps it isn’t quite Greek mythology-worthy, but really it’s not too shabby for a nine-year-old.

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My Dream Boyfriends in their Hair Heyday

In my pre-teen, boy-obsessed years, I was less concerned about understanding the meaning of the universe than I was about meeting and dating pop stars. Enter Duran Duran. In fifth grade, my friend Cass and I wrote our first epic love story, trading a small embroidered notebook back and forth between us as we chronicled our grown-up lives as notable fashion designers who just happen to meet John Taylor and Nick Rhodes at a party. Throughout junior high, a steady diet of soap operas and Tiger Beat magazine fueled my solo practice of penning epic tales (the longest of which got up to 800 handwritten pages) of my torrid relationship with Nick. We fought. We made up. We had a lot of sex (really mortifying written-by-a-12-year-old-virgin sex). We were harassed by the media and plagued by his jealous ex-girlfriends. But at the end of the day, we were in love.

Nowadays, I’m pretty sure I create fictional characters primarily so that I can torture them. Why else would I introduce the shy, undiagnosed narcoleptic woman to the guy with erectile dysfunction and a chip on his shoulder, and then force them to date? Why else would I conceive of the career woman whose child is kidnapped while she is sleeping with her boss? I am a literary sadist. And as my fourth round with National Novel Writing Month creeps ever closer, I am already stalking my next victim…

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