Bare List on NaNowWhat?

A week has passed since the #amwriting community closed on NaNoWriMo 2017. You’ve given 30 days of your life to pounding out words, diligently bringing your masterpiece to life. It’s gone from a concept dancing in your brain to a living document awaiting your love and attention. So, now, what do you? Your heart is racing with anticipation for the future of your manuscript. There’s so much work to be done, but where to start? Recruiting a critique circle? Beta readers? Editing? No. None of those. What you’re going to do now with that precious piece of yourself you’ve worked so hard to make happen is break up with it.

Yes, you read that correctly. Break the hell up with your manuscript. 

But why? I love my novel! I’m ready to dive in and make it perfect and watch the future of this perfect prose unfold! I know you are, and that’s why you’ve got to give it a break. You are too emotionally attached right now, too entrenched with your characters. You’ve been involved in a hot and heavy romance with your words and you need some time to cool off. You and your work are going to be involved in a super committed, long term relationship, so you deserve time to sow some wild oats before you’re ready to march down the aisle.

Right now, your work needs to sit. I know you have a lot of ideas bouncing around in your head and probably a stack of notes on what you want to improve, but right now, the work is best served by you forgetting it exists for at least 30 days. I know, it’s horrible to think about. You’ve not worked so hard on this to put it in a drawer and forget about it, but your novel will be better for it. Looking on your work with fresh eyes will give you the opportunity to have a truer sense of the story you’re telling and a more honest regard for the words on the page. You will be pleasantly surprised by some of your choices and mortified by others. That’s the process. If you delve into the editing while you’re still fresh on the heels of every decision you made, you will still have an attachment to those decisions, some of which may be detrimental to your work. You may be in love with something that needs to go or cut something you forced in for deadline that is actually really beneficial. Time helps avoid that.

I know everything in you is screaming at me. You’re already finding ways to sidestep this important part of the process. You’re objective enough, you only need two weeks, you can have beta readers be objective. No, friends. At least this first revision, the responsibility is on you to have that self-restraint and let your novel sit.

So, what can you do while your manuscript simmers?

  1. Write – Never stop writing. You established that you can put the words on the page, so keep doing it. Free write, join writing challenges. December is National Novel Finishing Month, International Plot a Writing Month, and International Story a Day Group. You can join those (and many more all year long) to keep you motivated or start your own.
  2. Read – The best writers are readers. There’s no better way to spend the cold winter months than snuggled up in a cozy chair reading, so hunker down and get to it.
  3. Research – If you want to stay involved with your work, spend your time researching its future. What does the market look like for your genre? How can you best promote your work? What agents best align with your novel?
  4. WIPs – This is a great time to focus on any other work you may have in progress. Edit a novel you loss interest in, expand on that short story you started in free writing last year, send out your older work to some beta readers.
  5. Workout – What? What sweating have to do with writing? A lot. Creativity, focus, and mental stamina are all improved by a healthy workout program. Writing is great for mind and spirit, but sitting at a computer all day is bad for your joints, circulation, and muscles. So, get up and get moving. Yoga is great for flexibility and focus, core training will help save you the back problems inherent of a career in front of the computer, and cardio will give you a chance to brainstorm your next work or get to know your characters a little better.

Do you have any suggestions to add to the list? Share them in the comments.

Bare List on The First Draft

It’s that time of year again. A time that new and established authors alike gather to defy the clock and better judgement to bring their characters to life through writing at least 50,000 words in 30 days. We are thirteen days into NaNoWriMo and that means that your social media feeds are filled with word counts and declarations of early victory, but amid that chorus of cheer and exuberance are silent cries of self-doubt and even defeat. I hear those cries. I see them in the absence of updates from a once elated newbie. I see them in the lamentations of the disenchanted first-timers disappointed in their work. While I see it more this time of year, it is there throughout the course of the year. Every time someone sits down to write a first draft. The words start flowing as a dream comes to fruition but the fear, doubt, writers block, and sometimes just life step in and rob us of our vigor, our determination. You might think that this is an affliction specific to the first time writer, because seasoned writers, we know that this happens EVERY SINGLE TIME so surely we are prepared. Surely we can shake it off and continue pounding out the words, but this is not always the case, because doubt lies. It pretends that this time is different. That we may have survived before, but surely we can’t again. So, for those that are experiencing it for the first time or need a reminder, I’m here with tips for fighting what I have deemed the First Draft Fear Monster.

FDFM is a beast that attacks writers at they fight to complete a first draft. Its weapons include but are not limited to: making you want to scrap every word (maybe the entire concept) because it tells you this brilliant work is stupid, it tells you every word is wrong and illogical, makes you doubt that you can ever accomplish this dream, tries to get you to shelve your work, and generally steals your desire, maybe even ability, to write. It’s soul crushing enemy, but I promise you it is beatable. Here’s how:

  1. Redefine Your Expectation – A lot of writers, especially newbies, think that a great book is written on the first time out. That the purpose of the first draft is to put pen to page and create a work that simply needs a few typos fixed to be ready to go to print. That is categorically incorrect. I’m not saying it’s never happened, but it’s rare and setting yourself up to that standard is asking for failure. Instead, think of yourself as a sculptor except you can’t just go out and buy a slab of marble, you have to create it. That is the first draft. You are building a giant hunk of rock that you can contour and detail, hammer at and cut away. It is not the masterpiece. It is the canvas on which you will create it.
  2. Don’t Get Married to Your Notions– Every author has started one story to end up in another. Every author has cut a character they thought they would love or changed a setting they once thought was important. You are not required to write anything. Having an idea does not set it in stone. If your story starts to go a different direction, let it. If an unforeseen character gnaws at the edges of your mind, give them a spotlight. Evolving your story line does not mean you have failed your novel. It means you have given it room to create itself.
  3. Forget Perfection – That’s not a thing right now. It may never be a thing. Even J.K. Rowling has things she would have done differently if she got a chance to write Harry Potter again for the first time. You are going to edit and edit and edit this thing and just when you think you can’t anymore, you will edit it again. Then, even when it’s published and on display for the world to see and you think “my gosh I’ve done it and it’s perfect” you will reread it and still come up with things, however minor, that aren’t perfect because perfection is impossible. Everything about writing is subjective, not just to the individual but to the individual’s mood, circumstances, hunger level, etc. I cannot iterate this enough. Perfection is the enemy of publication and you will kill yourself and your dream if you hold yourself to its fantasy.
  4. Change Your Definition of Failure – The hard truth of embarking on any manuscript is that it may never succeed in being published. That does not make it a failure. It makes it a stepping stone to your ultimate goal. Harper Lee never would have published To Kill a Mockingbird if she hadn’t first written Go Set a Watchman and the world NEEDS To Kill a Mockingbird (GSaW maybe not as much). Writing is the only forum in which we hold our first attempt as the definition of success. You probably didn’t get the first job you applied for, but you learned how to get better at interviewing. You didn’t win the first marathon you entered, but you got better as you kept going. Michael Jordan, Peyton Manning, Simone Biles…they have all lost and they are all champions in their fields. Your current work isn’t the next great classic. So what? That doesn’t mean it’s unimportant. That doesn’t mean it isn’t purposeful. That doesn’t mean you have failed. It means you are working towards success.
  5. Write – There is this great misconception in the writing community that if you put things away, this spark of inspiration will hit you in the middle of the night or a big meeting and you will suddenly have all you need to steamroll to the end of your work. For most people, this is bull. Ninety-nine percent of the time, if you put something on the shelf, it will stay there. Will you think of it? Sure, but then you’ll berate yourself for putting it there in the first place, then the FDFM will use it as ammunition to torture you with until you’ve lost your will to write again. The exclusive way to shut that lying beast up is to write. Write until your you’ve found the story. Write until it’s turned into a new story. Write until you can proudly proclaim to that monster “you are wrong. I know I can write because I have written” and when you’ve done that, write some more.

You are not alone. People out there pounding out the words, sending queries, and signing deals…they are not different than you. They just learned to fight the self-doubt, the agonizing pain of the writing process, and you will, too. The only way you can possibly fail is by not trying, and you’re here. You’re writing. Despite all the life, worry, time constraints, etc. Despite all of it, you are writing and that is how I know that one day you will be able to say “I have written”.

Share this with anyone succumbing to the First Draft Fear Monster. Have you battled and won? What tools would you add to the belt?

Bare List on Why NaNoWriMo

Halloween, Thanksgiving, hoodies, changing leaves, the sweet smell of autumn pies baking in the oven. These are a few of my favorite fall things, but at the top of that list is one of my favorite fall traditions: Nanowrimo, National Novel Writing Month. If you’re new to the writing world, you may not be familiar with the 501(c)3 charitable organization encouraging us all to novel out 50,000 words in 30 short days, but you should be…nay, you NEED to be. Even if you’re an experienced writer with a number of books on the shelf, NaNoWriMo is an excellent opportunity to reignite your writing process. Why is National Novel Writing Month how you need to be spending your November? I’m glad you asked because I’ve made a list:

You Can Do It, And You Deserve to Know That- If you’re new to the game, fifty-thousand words may sound like a lofty and even unrealistic goal, especially in thirty small days that include a busy Thanksgiving holiday weekend. But that’s only because it is an insanely lofty goal, but I promise you it is NOT unattainable. When the pressure is on, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised with what you’re able to accomplish, especially with the wealth of inspiration and information provided by the organization and community. You deserve the pride in a job well done on November 30th and all you have to do to make that happen is get started. Once you’ve got that first 50 out of the way, you’ll have the confidence to take on any writing challenge.

It’s the Wrecking Ball of Writer’s Block- So, you’re an old pro at writing. You know you can write 50,000 words in 30 days. Hell, your publisher expects you to do it in 3. You’re past NaNoWriMo, right? Wrong. If you’re struggling with new material or having trouble finessing an arc with a current project, NaNoWriMo is perfect for you. Pounding through those words with the pressure of a time-constraint but freedom of WHATEVER YOU WANT is an amazing combination for spurring your creative brain into action.

Great Community of Avid Writers- Writing can be an isolating profession or hobby, but it doesn’t have to be. While you might not have many “real-world” friends that share your zeal for character development or unexpected plot twists, NaNoWriMo does. It’s a huge community of people of varying experience levels as passionate about writing as you. You can make friends, meet mentors, or encourage a new generation of writers.

Bragging Rights-  We can pretend that this is a totally philosophical endeavor for self-evolution and improvement (which it is) but come on, you WANT to tell people you did this. It’s an awesome accomplishment. But, it’s not bragging if you can back it up, right? And you can because NaNoWriMo will reward you with an exclusive Winner’s Package.

Great Experience for a Great Cause- There is an exhaustive list of reasons why this is an outstanding experience for writers. Seriously, this little barely even skims the surface, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about what a great mission the organization strives to achieve. NaNoWriMo and it’s various programs promote writing fluency creative writing education, promote communities to ensure the proliferation of the written word, provides free materials for libraries and community centers.

There’s plenty of time to sign up and get your profile ready. I’ll be adding my bare list of 50k words to those of the thousands of other avid writers and I invite you to do the same. NaNo Newb? Share your questions or concerns. Nano Pro? Leave your experience in the comments.