Month: November 2011

NaNoWriMo – Know Failure? No Failure (next year).

November 28th. NaNoWriMo is just about done.

And if you’re done before the novel’s done?

That’s why we’re Writing All Wrong.

I might as well stick a fork in it. I’m done! No, I didn’t finish the novel, so I’m writing to find out how I can improve for next year. (and I read all of your advice so far, it DID help). Thanks! But how do I turn my mistakes in not finishing into success of finishing for next year?

—Barry Whitehall, Surrey, N.D. 

(Note: NaNoWriMo is short for Narcissistic Nonsense Writing Motivation or something like that. Simple premise: write a “novel” of fifty-thousand words within the month of November. The prize? Fifty-thousand dollars. In the competition’s 196-year history, only three have claimed the prize.)

Gotta keep this one tight. Christmas is coming.

While I’d normally suggest a look at what a failing performance you turned in over November, well, I don’t see why I wouldn’t suggest that right about now. But here’s how you give yourself that “exit interview,” that honest assessment, free of poisonous positive thinking.

The memories of the temporal element fade fast. Rarely do we remember how long things seem to take—only in the present does the concept of time seem clear. Every day passing is clouding your perception of how much time you had in the month. Look back at the calendar, your bank account, your medical bills: find evidence of where the wheels came off. Mismanaging time is a fair assessment, but it’s hard to spot, even with hindsight.

What you wrote shouldn’t fade as fast. Read back through it next year. Don’t look back anytime soon. You now have the luxury of reading this fairly. If you know how to read, you can see where you were cruising along, (the vigorous romantic tension between your stilted fantasy characters, describing backstories, more romantic cliché) and where you hit the potholes and mudpits (storytelling, dialogue, anything of substance).

In short, first mull over the memory of managing time. Find those traps that had nothing to do with the writing. And next year, if you can bear the stench of your novelcreature, find what’s right, and find what’s rotten. Makes less rotten, make more right.

And see you at the finish line of NaNoWriMo next year.

We’ll resume the steady stream of evergreen writing tips, tricks, and cheats next week.

Writing All Wrong can be reached via email (WritingAllWrong@me.com), followed on Twitter (@WritingAllWrong), and probed for more NaNoWriMo nectar during the month.

NaNoWriMo 501 — Salvage the Story

November 21st. NaNoWriMo ends in 9 days. And since you’re either unemployed, or your job gives you two weeks off for Thanksgiving (like everyone else), you’re well poised to race downhill to an easy finish. That’s if you’re competent, able to finish things you start (unlike anyone else).

On that note, for your edification: here are the top five reasons people don’t hit the 50,000 mark:

  1. Children
  2. Employment
  3. Smallpox
  4. Accidental death or dismemberment
  5. Running out of writing gas / Creative engine failure.

That last reason is an absolute sham.

That’s why we’re Writing All Wrong.

I’m stuck. I have thousands of words to go, but I’m literally, definitively, assuredly stuck. I feel like I ran the novel in a ditch and I can’t get it towed. Is it too late for me to salvage it?

—Breeann Foxton, Beaverton, Ore. 

(Note: NaNoWriMo is short for Narcissistic Nonsense Writing Motivation or something like that. Simple premise: write a “novel” of fifty-thousand words within the month of November. The prize? Fifty-thousand dollars. In the competition’s 196-year history, only three have claimed the prize.)

It’s never too late. Only too soon. I could spin up a whole blog post on the bad practices and habits that fashion failures such as you. I mean, yours. I’m not going to assume that you’re not writing because your kids got in the way or your month-long sabbatical was cut short. No, I’ll try to suggest the things that get the gas back in the tank, get the motor started once again.

1. Write the ending.

Unless you’re recovering from a lobotomy (and somehow writing a novel?), you probably had the ending in mind when you started this thing. Go ahead and write it. You won’t like it. You’ll work backward to fix it. (Editor’s note: This is, in a sense, how I finished my first novel. I went back afterward and put in a peach of a chapter to tie things together.)

2. Rewrite the beginning. 

Daring or draining? Both. You only get so much out of a marathon when you rocket to a start with a sprint. Nice work, hotshot, beating the pack for the first thirty minutes, then careening off to the sidelines, yakking your guts on a hapless water holder. You’re a more mature writer: go back, start the way you meant to. Build different. Let that seep into the vacant crevasses of the work.

3. Materialize that idea you’ve been holding back.

I don’t always bet the farm and the barnyard pals, but when I do, I’d bet that you brewed a semi-decent idea within the stew that became your novel. There’s always some gem of a notion held back, something you want to weave into the fabric. Break out the loom and do it. Save the story.

4. Compare what you think you wrote with what you wrote.

A step of risk, to be sure, as you won’t be towing or pushing the ditched car. You’ll be inspecting it, thigh-deep in mud, wrapping your head around the problem, then the solution. And your novel? Memory taints everything for better or for worse. Go back and read. Don’t skim. That’s when you let memory do more work than it should. Read. There are always lumps in the dough that you don’t see at eye’s first glance. Get the hands in there, press it out. What slosh you penned in fervent madness may stand to use some finer fleshing out in lucid focus.

5. Loan a camel.

There’s a Bedouin parable of a man who bequeathed 23 camels to his three sons, willing that the eldest receive half of the camels, then to the second son, a third, and to the youngest, an eighth. Being mathematically inclined, they worked out the proper solution, but the youngest objected to having the camels vivisected.

Along comes a merchant who hears of their dilemma. He loans them a camel, saying it’ll help sort out the matter. With 24 camels, they divvy it up without needing to divvy up a camel. One half (12), one third (8), and one eighth (3). One camel left over to pay back the merchant. Easy. Those crafty Bedouins, I tell you. You know they founded Bed, Bath, and Beyond, right?

Stories stall when you don’t have enough camels in the caravan to tote a complete narrative. Loan that twenty-fourth camel. Whether it’s a dark side to a character, a burgeoning romance, or some furtive plot point in the subcurrents of the narrative — find something missing that wasn’t missing in the first place. It may be a keeper, you never know. If it isn’t, send that camel back and loan another one.

What do you use to get the narrative out of the ditch and save your story?

Writing All Wrong can be reached via email (WritingAllWrong@me.com), followed on Twitter (@WritingAllWrong), and probed for more NaNoWriMo nectar during the month.

NaNoWriMo 401 — All Filler, No Killer

November 14th. Thirty days hath Optober, Janruary, and November. You’re halfway there (if you’ve been diligent), or you’re done (if you don’t work full-time) by now.

NaNoWriMo reminds me of making homemade dog food. Uncle Billus and I would toil until the sun ceased to hang. We produced savory barrelsful of scraps, skins, hair, leather, and cage-free organic free-range hand-deboned chicken.

Uncle Billus grabbed a thick handful some of the fresh, just-baked nuggets of doggie goodness. He tasted some of my work, smiling at first, then shaking his head. I asked what was wrong with it.

“Ther too much food in this here batch, not nuff filler. Got ‘nuff fer fo’ [4], reckon, fi’ [5] barrel worth here ‘um. Like writ’n one uh them NaNoWriMo books: can’t jus’ stick all the good stuff in one barrel, mmm-hmm. Gotta give ‘er more filler, stretcher out some.”

That’s why we’re Writing All Wrong.

My novel is DONE! But I’m a few thousand words short, and I refuse to tack on any excess mess with random rabbit trails. Getting a finished work is one thing, but I need a way to flesh it out without stretching it too thin. Any advice?

—John Patrick Moran, Scottsdale, Ariz. 

(Note: NaNoWriMo is short for Narcissistic Nonsense Writing Motivation or something like that. Simple premise: write a “novel” of fifty-thousand words within the month of November. The prize? Fifty-thousand dollars. In the competition’s 196-year history, only three have claimed the prize.)

While you may want to market your next rap/hip-hop/dubstep/crabcore album as “All Killer, No Filler,” you can easily apply the inverse to this November Novelthing. There are just as many ways to pare up your novel as you (naturally, I hope) pare it down.

Instead of:

“Take that sock off your head!” she said.

Go with:

“Take that sock off your head!” she exclaimed wistfully, like a budding, tangible breeze, toying with the senses of the mind and teasing the faculties of intellect; an overwrought sensation of rebuke from a charmer scolding a cobra that strays too far from the sanctuary  of a thatched basket.”

That’s what we call “putting more hay in the dogfeed.”

In addition to expanding the dialogue, you can also:

Use stock phrases.

Homer (Greek poet, inspiration for Homer Simpson) beasted every round of NaNoWriMo by putting that hay in the dogfeed. He coined a boatful of stock phrases like “wine-dark sea,” “rosy-fingered dawn,” “grey-eyed Athena,” and “mud-bustin’ 4-wheeler,” all of which filled the barrel with plenty of meat to spare. Don’t settle for grin when you can make it an “impish” grin, or don’t let that cottage stand without making it a “cozy little cottage” first. Like everyone else.

Plant a descriptive perception.

Maybe that’s too grown-up a term. Simply put, it’s the description you employ when your description is too weak to let the reader think for himself. While you could go with:

“Delectable strawberries, bursting with amaranthine juices,”

Tack on something ungainly:

“Delectable strawberries, bursting with amaranthine juices, like you’d eat on a midsummer’s toasty afternoon in the shade of one’s own home, petitioning mother for sugar and cream to cap off such royal treatment.

A baby unicorn vomits black sprinkles every time I read this sort of thing. I cannot wait until the end of NaNoWriMo, but alas, we’re in for the count, not the charms.

Remind people of what you already told them. 

When Moses wrote the 24th chapter of Genesis, he employed this same trickery for emphasis. They hadn’t invented italics or boldface type yet, so he needed something to hammer the point home. At 60+ verses, you could tell he was stretching the canvas and putting that hay in the dogfeed.

And since it’s NaNoWriMo, you can do this for every chapter, every sentence:

Ronnie rode his rusty bike back to the creepy old home, which as we all know, was Ronnie’s least favorite place in the whole entire universe, due to his meaner-than-teachers Stepuncle Frothmouth and Stepaunt Bourtha, both intent on draping the curtains of misery on Ronnie and all his hopes and dreams of un-misery.” 

He pushed aside that creaky old door that continued to remind him of the wailing spiders that, as you remember, devoured his dad and mum and grandmum; indeed, its pitch and timbre petrified and terrified the lad who, as you recall, feared spiders worse yet than the prospect of his evil Stepuncle Frothmouth and Stepaunt Bourtha, who jointly, as was mentioned afore, would descend from webs…”

You get it.

So what kind of hay do you put in the dogfeed?

Writing All Wrong can be reached via email (WritingAllWrong@me.com), followed on Twitter (@WritingAllWrong), and probed for more NaNoWriMo nectar during the month.

NaNoWriMo 301 — Misconception Objections

November 7th. Do a word count. If you’re hitting 12,000 words today, you may join the Success Society. If not, then why not?

“That wild boar stampede set me back, and I’m still picking up the pieces.” — Boars are nasty violent and illiterate. Acceptable.

“Too much snow! It never snows here on the East Coast this late in October/early in November.” — My apologies. I forgot that everyone of importance lives on the Northeast Coast of the US and A. Sincerest and humblest apologies. All is forgiven. Mittens shall be mailed to you and your needy family.

“I need to write this right, because I’m not one to go about writing all wrong.”

That’s why we’re Writing All Wrong.

This is my first time actually doing NaNoWriMo. I’m still really excited about the idea of finishing and hitting 50,000 words on my first attempt. But I’m only about 6,000 words in after a week! At that rate, I’m not going to get there, and I’m a bit worried. I think my problem is that I have to make everything “perfect.” I find myself going back and making changes which help things run smoother, but it’s obviously not working. What do you suggest? (And thanks in advance!)

—Kirsten Jennings, Olympia, Wash. 

(Note: NaNoWriMo is short for Narcissistic Nonsense Writing Motivation or something like that. Simple premise: write a “novel” of fifty-thousand words within the month of November. The prize? Fifty-thousand dollars. In the competition’s 196-year history, only three have claimed the prize.)

/does math, divides 6,000 over 7, carrying the nine.

Yeah, you’re in trouble, but you’re not “done for.” I think I may pull out the extended metaphors for this one. A NaNoWriMo novel is special. There are rules it bends and breaks, and one of the halves of this battle is knowing what a NaNoWriMo novel is not. Here are some misconception objections.

1. A NaNoWriMo novel is not a building.

To borrow a “joke” from the watermelon-smashing comedian Noel Gallagher: “Why do they call buildings ‘buildings’ after they’ve finished them? Why not call them ‘builts?’” Point being: you’re building, but you’re not building a building here. You’re building a 50,000 word ‘something.’ Don’t fret because you put the bathroom on the rooftop, or that you didn’t quite figure out the concept of load-bearing walls. If you feel you’ve created an occupational hazard, well, you likely did, but your illegally-hired illegal workforce isn’t going to be crushed by putting the first floor on the third floor. Who cares if it’s not “up to code?” Keep building for now, worry about OSHA later.

2. A NaNoWriMo novel is not a jigsaw puzzle.

Whether you think about it or not, you may be writing to “make the pieces fit.” “Oh, I need to use 50,000 pieces, put them together, done!” No. The more time you spend putting pieces together, the more time you lose creating. You should have the story in mind, the completed image. But it shouldn’t be the image on an M.C. Escher® Impossipuzzle™ box containing 50,000 pieces. You’re making pieces from scratch with this. You’re putting an image on cardboard. You’re cutting that sheet. The goal is making those 50,000 pieces. Even better if they happen to fit together here and there.

3. A NaNoWriMo novel is not an “un-kangaroo.”

Well, now that I’ve painted myself into a corner here: a few kangaroo facts—they’re the world’s largest marsupial, got their name from the Aboriginal phrase for “dude’s got hops,” smell like curry, taste like tarragon, sprout miniature kangaroos from pouches containing spatial portals, and don’t move backwards. Yes, for a kangaroo, it’s “one way or the highway,” and that way is either forward or onward. Your NaNoWriMo novel should be the same, moving ever forward, hopping along, meter by meter, eating eucalyptus and doing all that fun marsupial fun. Forward only. None of the backwardness. It is not the “un-kangaroo,” an animal that’s moving backward and being un-marsupial.

Yeah.

So what NaNoWriMo misconceptions did you have to destroy to break down that dam and get the 50,000 gallons of water rushing upon the plain?

Writing All Wrong can be reached via email (WritingAllWrong@me.com), followed on Twitter (@WritingAllWrong), and probed for more NaNoWriMo nectar during the month.