NoMoNaNoWriMo: National Novel Writing Month is over


Wow. Whoever chose November for the National Novel Writing Month challenge must have had a sadistic streak.

For starters, November hath 30 days, which makes it one of the shorter months. Mathematically, a 30-day goal may be cleaner to calculate than 31 days, but it does increase the tension.

Speaking of tension, in November most Americans celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday, which involves more than the day set aside for preparation and consumption of the feast. Depending on your role, you are also making time for housekeeping, travel, Black Friday shopping, tree-cutting, holiday decorating, and more that week — which also happens to be close to the deadline for the contest.

Many, if not most, of the participants in this project appear to be teens or young adults, working around school or work, or both. As a retired old fart, I’m an exception to that rule. 

Even though I generally kept ahead of the 1,667-word-a-day pace for making the 50,000-word monthly challenge, I fell behind during the Thanksgiving weekend because family took priority. Some days I wrote nothing, some days only a few hundred words.

All this does, as we say in the news business, bury the lede — or lead, if you prefer:  Yes, I completed the challenge and wrote 50,000 of a novel within the deadline. (Newsies understand deadlines.) It was a full novel, with beginning, middle and end. With some revision — and that process is covered in January and February — it may actually be publishable.

That said, it was what we called in my college days a unidraft — that is, you sit down at the typewriter (today, your keyboard), start writing and don’t look back. No time for a rewrite, although on the final day I did reread, correct obvious errors, and make a few minor revisions.

Without getting into too much detail, I did have a couple of factors in my favor. “Welcome to Betelgeuse” is an introduction to a fictional universe that I’ve been imagining and pondering for years. (Coincidentally, during November I opened an old file drawer and discovered a folder called “Betelgeuse Project” with printouts dated 1999.) Second, because of the nature of this universe, many of the characters I was using were already familiar so I did not have to develop them from scratch, although I did have to research them, so there was a tradeoff.

Some takeaways from the experience:

  • The deadline was what got me off the dime on a project.
  • It takes discipline to say “I’m going off to write now” and to do that.
  • I write much better dialogue than action, and better action than visualized setting.  Maybe I should stick to playwriting.
  • Setting daily goals and keeping track of them helped keep up the pace.
  • Now that I’ve completed a draft of a book, I should be able to do it again because “I can’t” and “I never” are not valid excuses.
  • It was actually fun and I’ll probably try the contest again next year.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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National Novel Writing Month

NaNo-2018-Writer-Twitter-Header

So there I was, scrolling through my emails, when I found a missive from the Mark Twain House in Hartford. I’m on their mailing lists because I attended a writers’ weekend a couple of years ago, and because I donated to their foundation.

It pitched one of the new programs, in which writers can book some time to write in Mark Twain’s library at the mansion. It sounds like fun, although the fun has its limits: pens are not permitted (pencils are), and power in the library is limited so laptops have to be fully charged and able to last.

Part of the pitch was that writers could get in shape for #NaNoWriMo, which of course led me to wonder what the heck had such a strange acronym. It turns out that this national nonprofit organization’s program called National Novel Writing Month has taken place every November since 2006. It’s sponsored by schools and libraries and local writers clubs across the country and encourages writers, young and old, experienced and new, to pound out a 50,000-word fiction manuscript during the 30 days that hath November. It’s a free program but the nonprofit accepts donations.

This word count results in a modest-sized novel, but the rules are loose: it doesn’t HAVE to be a novel or even fiction; it doesn’t HAVE to be complete; it doesn’t even HAVE to be good. The idea is to push the writer to Just Do It — overcome the self-editor, the procrastinator, the deep planner, the researcher — and bang out a first draft. That has been exactly my problem with my first two novels, which are both about one-quarter of the way through. I put them aside for Real Life, or for research, or for just plain fear, and may not get back to them for months or even years.

One of the few rules of NaNoWriMo is that they discourage you from working on an existing project, finishing or editing something that you already have in the works. You start with a clean slate, zero words on Day -1, and try to complete it in the time allotted. That’s an average of 1,667 words a day — a difficult pace but not grueling. My typical columns would have run about 700 words, so this is a little more than two columns worth of writing, or about four to five hours of writing.

This post comes to just over 500 words. It’s taken me about 30 minutes, including interruptions and editing in links the morning after. So this won’t exactly be a piece of cake, but it’s a reasonable target. I’m going to give it a try with a third project I’ve been thinking about. Perhaps the experience — and Scrivener, the writing tool I’m trying out through the program — will give me the confidence and practice and discipline needed to complete the challenge. Wish me luck! (And if you’re inspired to try NaNoWriMo too and want to be a writing buddy, look me up on the site. I’m listed as hwfielding.)

So if you don’t hear from me for another month or so, you’ll understand. Or perhaps I’ll share some of the story as it develops. Just don’t expect too much. (NaNoWriMo continues with editing and revisions in January.)

(542 words, or about 1/3 of a daily goal)

Living Here: Starting over

living-hereWith permission from the Republican-American, I plan to self-publish one or more collections of “Living Here” columns published between 1994 and 2018, with proceeds to benefit the newspaper’s charity, the Greater Waterbury Campership Fund.

So far, so good: I identified and retrieved nearly 1,000 columns — including more re-runs than I had anticipated, so probably the actual number is closer to 950 — in electronic form. I have also clipped four or five boxes of these columns over the years, for preservation.

Now comes the fun part: Reading, editing, organization and publication.

The reading part truly is fun, partly because I’m now enjoying these essays as a reader rather than as an author, and partly because I’m rediscovering stories and memories long since overlooked or forgotten.

Not that I’m on a par with either of these writers, but Peggy Noonan wrote an essay last week in The Wall Street Journal about the passing of author Tom Wolfe, in which she recounted an event at which she had quoted to him something he had written years before. “Oh, that’s good,” he had responded. “Did I write that?” Noonan assured him that he had, and in her essay she recounted a similar story about Tolstoy’s daughter reading him an account of an epic battle, from “War and Peace.”

Apparently I’m in good company in having these moments.

The hard part is organization: I started by sorting the columns into five broad collections: Curmudgeon, Community, Home Sweet Home, Home for the Holidays, and The Kids Are All Right. I was hoping to keyword them somehow to better organize them, but that function doesn’t exist in Word (WordPress would actually be a better tool for that, but I’m not going to put them online). Barbara suggested putting them into a database somehow, so today I started that. I’ll go back to re-read and enter the metadata for the essays I’ve done so far, then continue reading and entering from this point forward.

On a project this size, that will require a lot of time and effort, but the results should be worth it. Fortunately I have and am familiar with Access. That’s a secret weapon Tolstoy, Wolfe, and probably Noonan didn’t have.