Sunday, November 30, 2014

NaNoRetro

First of all, I'd like to thank all my friends, family, and readers of Potato Chip Math for putting up with me this last month. If you're not into writing it can be a bit much and I acknowledge that four or five straight blog posts and countless Facebook status updates may put a few of you off. Thanks for sticking around though and I promise things will get back to normal... starting tomorrow.

In case you didn't know, I managed to "win" NaNoWriMo again this year, my third victory in a row!


So, yay me! Though that's about all the celebrating I'll allow mostly due to the fact that I'm freaking exhausted. I tackled the project in a slightly different way this year, in that I planned on writing a complete story - one with "THE END" written proudly at the bottom of the last page - rather than just writing 50,000 words towards a novel and having half of the story to be written, someday.

I thought I had it all figured out, I even had FIFTEEN bullet points written down with some key plot moments, names and short bios for my main characters, and all my locations mapped out right down to the "L" shape of the MC's penthouse apartment (fancy schmancy!), the style and layout of the bank where he has a safety deposit box (ooooh intriguing!), and the location of the fax machine in the office where he shags his secretary (scandalous!). Even with all this prepared and ready to go by the time I went to bed on October 31 it was still a long, difficult journey to victory and I learned a few things along the way.

Days Off are Important (and Dangerous)

The plan was easy: write for twelve days and then take a day off. I had a workshop for a speakers event called Ignite! for which I am the speaker coordinator. I could not afford to take the day off prior to the event so that left me with no choice but to get ahead on my word count over the first dozen days and take a day off. 

It worked out wonderfully until I sat down to write on the 14th. By then it had been 44 hours since I had written anything and getting back on the horse was a challenge. I took two more days off in the month for various reasons (hockey game with my daughter on the 21st and the actual Ignite! event on the 26th and it was the same deal for the day after. I struggled to get words on the page. In every case I managed to at least keep pace with 1,667 words but I have a sneaky suspicion that those will be some of the first ones to hit the cutting room floor. It does bring me to my second lesson:

Just Keep Writing

I've said this before I'm sure, and countless others have said this before me, but the only way to get through the tough times is to just keep writing. Yes, you'll have to lean on friends for support and you'll be filled with self-doubt and worry, but that's the deal. That's what you signed up for, so suck it up buttercup and just keep writing. When in doubt, throw a curve ball at your MC. Think to yourself, "What would really fuck up his world right now?" or "Oh my god, wouldn't it be terrible if...?" and then run with it. 

If You're Going to Plan, then Plan Already

I thought I had prepared adequately. In past NaNos I never planned. I just started writing and kept doing the previous lesson until there were 50,000 words on the page. This time I had a plan, or at least I thought I did. It turns out I did not. My plan sucked. My plan was good for 15,000 or 20,000 words, tops. Next year I am either going  back to being a pantser or I am planning the living shit out of it. 

This year I ended up bloating my manuscript with who-knows-what to fill in the gaps that my sorry-ass planning left. Now, it's not all bad. I did manage to dream up some pretty nifty character interactions that would not have come to light otherwise, but it was a real struggle. There's a certain comfort in not knowing anything and having to make it all up as you go. There's also comfort in knowing so many god damned things that the only thing left to do is write it down. Word of caution: the worst place to be is one where you think you know everything but actually don't know squat.

A few other things I learned/noticed about this year's event:
  • I felt better about my writing on days were I could get in 500 words after dinner and before the kids went to bed. I usually did this when they were eating their desserts or playing Minecraft. I planned these in based on the schedules for events (volleyball, play dates, my events, wife's travel schedule, etc...). 
  • I made it rain on weekends, and starting NaNo on a weekend put me in a great position. I wrote almost double my target on every weekend (except this one, because I finished).
  • I kept a routine. I wan't scrambling to squeeze words in before work, or at lunch at work (I keep my day job and my writing quite separate), or anything like that. I designated times when I could write, and then that's when I wrote. 
  • I stopped writing most nights with enough time to watch an episode of Louie or Downton Abbey. Having 45-60 minutes before bed to wind down and enjoy some time watching TV with my wife really helped keep me sane. 
So there you have it. Another November come and gone and a brand new novel sitting in my "Writing" folder on my computer. Thanks again to everyone who helped me along especially my family (who is probably quite glad to have "normal" Andrew back) and those in my Writers Without Borders group on Facebook. 

We now return you to your regularly scheduled Sunday blog posts about mostly writing but also about a tonne of other things. I'm thinking I'll keep it light and silly next week. Maybe crowd source a topic. What do you think? 

What would YOU like me to write about next week? Submit a comment and I'll see what I can do. 

~ Andrew.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Eyes On The Prize

So here we are. We're coming out of the third corner and into the home stretch. It's been a tough race so far, sloppy to be sure, but not to worry because you were born to slop. You're a mudder. Your father was a mudder. Your mother was a mudder.



So there it is, the finish line. The wire. The tape. THE END.

For some of you it's in your past. You found that extra gear. You turned it up a notch. You dug deep. [Insert another metaphor for overachieving here]. My message to you is simple: CONGRATULATIONS!* You've done what not many people can do and written a novel in less than a month. You should be quite proud. Your job now is to take a moment to feel as awesome as you can about and then turn and look those still in the race and cheer them on.

For some of you the finish line is so far away you're wondering if someone hasn't gone and made the track longer while you were running. That would be a thoroughly jerk move for someone to pull but I can assure you that's not what's happened here. Something did happen though, and that's okay. Life has a gnarly way of getting in the way of things you set out to do. Do not fret because you have a couple options at your disposal:

First, you can just pack it in. Put the pen down, close the laptop lid, open up your Candy Crush app. You gave it a good run and there's absolutely no shame in calling it a day. You started this thing for a reason and by golly you'll finish it at some point, or you won't because it was not meant to be. Hold your head high because you entered the race in the first place.

Next, you can forge ahead. Full steam. Get those legs pumping and crack that whip. Put your head down and go. Find the extra gear. Turn it up a notch. Dig deep. [Insert another metaphor for overachieving here]. If that's what you're going to do, I admire your efforts. You got moxie, kid. Now finish reading this post and get back to work.

Finally, you can find a way to make something else your goal. Remember what I said a few weeks ago about defining success. You're in charge of that, and no one else. Not some website, not your friends or neighbours, not even your mudder mother. Recreate your goal and work toward that.

For some of you the finish line is in sight and every stride down the home stretch brings it closer. Now, if looking at my NaNoWriMo buddy list and checking out the website is any indication, a great many of you are in this position. The finish line is unbearably close. Closer than two protons at the heart of a plutonium atom. Closer than that guy on the subway that has lots of room to his left but decides to stand to the right face to face with you trying to get your noses to touch. [Insert another reference for closeness here]. It is right there.

For all of you, there's only one thing to do. Sit down and write. Set your goal some time sooner than it actually is. Me? I want to be done on Friday so I can have the weekend to rejoice (also, on the 30th I'm taking the kids to see Mythbusters Behind the Myths so that day will pretty much be a wash). So take your remaining words and divide by the number of days and write that amount every day. Just write. It will be hard, oh yes it will be hard. You're tired, you've been running for more than three weeks, and your brain is starting to fail. You're seeing things that aren't there. Don't worry about it, that gnome hitting on your muse has always been there. She'll take care of you, don't you worry. You've been a good scribe for the greater part of a month. Just. Keep.Going.


Even if it's not a photo finish, I'll have my camera ready. See you at the wire.

~ Andrew


* Side note about that word "congratulations": I used to work at this place as a bus boy / dish pig / cleaner / etc... and part of the job was setting up the big sign out front with the message of the day. Every Saturday we'd have one or more weddings and someone would have to go out and put the message "Congratulations so and so" or "Congratulations to all the newlyweds". Well, on the inside of the lid for the container that held all the large plastic letters someone wrote the word "CONGRATULATIONS". You see, the job didn't exactly attract the kids competing in the local spelling bee. Anyway, I always thought it was strange they didn't have the big letter box sectioned off with some of the words that were just always used. It was mostly alphabetical but having a few of those words set aside would have been really useful. Plus, it would have made it easier to slip a "D" in there before the guy who always gave you a hard time and made you clean toilets went out to do the sign.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Mid Life Crisis: NaNoWriMo Style

If you're participating in NaNoWriMo, and close to keeping pace (or right on pace, or even slightly ahead of schedule) then you know exactly what I'm talking about.

Halfway.

Welcome to the saggy middle.

If you're like me this represents two moments of opposing emotions:
  • First, you've already written more words that you have yet to write. It's all downhill from here, baby! These are good times and certainly cause for celebration. Take a moment to soak it all in and realize that even if your laptop were to melt in some freak background microwave radiation solar flare electromagnetic accident that you would have around 25,000 words backed up somewhere and ready to use (thank you Dropbox!)
  • Second, you still have more than 20,000 words to write. This damn journey is uphill BOTH WAYS! Don't let that moment soak in though. For one, it'll mess up your mojo you just gained from the awesome milestone of passing the halfway mark. Also, it's too darn depressing and wallowing in it will sink your back end. 
Saggy middle. Sinking back end. What is this, a book about turning 40? This looks like a job for MOTIVATION!

http://www.passionsmiths.com/admin/images/motivation.jpg

Some people use the resources right from the NaNoWriMo website (profile inbox, discussion boards, etc...) Another good resource is another writer. There are tons of videos, articles, blog posts out there where famous faces like Anne Rice, Stephen King, and Chuck Wendig. 

Another good one is go to the mall. I'm serious, especially at this time of year when people are either gearing up for Thanksgiving in the U.S. or Christmas everywhere else. Sit on a bench or chair with your laptop open and just wait for all the wonderful character traits and ideas to walk past. Imagine the conversations of the people across the aisle. Find ways to shut up that snot nosed brat screaming for the latest whatever-it-is at a mother who looks like she just dropped her last nerve in the garbage with the empty cup from her Chai Latte. Plus, the sooner you get motivated and writing the sooner you can get out of the hell pit of doom, destruction, and despair that is The Mall in the weeks leading up to December 25. 

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dnews-files-2013-02-store-bans-screaming-children-660-jpg.jpg

Me? Keeping in line with my last post on community I have a standard go-to for motivation in my writers' group on Facebook. Others, they head straight to Twitter for words of encouragement and inspiration. Either way, what could be better that reaching out and commiserating with a group of people all facing the same sort of challenges. Reach out to them (remember, "Ask and you shall receive?" Well I'm not making this up, folks. That shit works!) 

Ask them for a boost, a shoulder to cry on, an empty face to yell at, an idea. They'll help you out and whip your saggy sinking ass into shape. Even if they're jerks about it, they won't be, but even if they are, don't worry about it. You've just been given a great opportunity to kill them off in your book!

~ Andrew.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Community

Welcome to NaNoWriMo Week #2!

At this point you're either way ahead of the game and feeling good, on pace and still clinging to a sliver of hope that you can keep it up for 20 more days, or you're behind schedule and looking at the chart on the NaNo website that reads: At this rate you will finish on March 13, 2016.

Regardless of which category you find yourself in I have something that can help.

Community.

No, not the show with Joel McHale and Gillian Jacobs. Actual communities. It turns out these things are everywhere, and they're all kinds of awesome. Communities, and more specifically the people that are a part of them, are worth their weight in gold, or diamonds, or even in some cases platinum-190.

These are the people, when you say, "I'm depressed" they mean it when whey ask, "Why are you depressed?" and when you respond, "I don't know" they're completely okay with that answer. They give you a hug and then ask you if you want to go get a slice of pizza. They're not trying to fix you. They're not trying to solve All The Problems. They are people who, when they see that you have the courage to ask for help, they help. They show up on your doorstep, or wherever else you need them to, simply because you asked.

Writing, which is largely a solitary exercise, can wreak havoc on a person mentally. No one else is going to get those words out of your head and onto the page. You're on your own for that, I'm afraid. But that doesn't mean you are alone.

http://i.imgur.com/t5UgvmR.gif
Twitter has dozens and dozens of hashtags you can search to find thousands of people, just like you, churning out words or looking for nuggets of encouragement, support, or distraction. During the month of November the number of hashtags and the number of people using them in tweets increases dramatically. Here's a sampling of some I keep in mind whenever I need to feel less alone:
#NaNo
#wordsprint
#NaNoWriMo
#wordmongering
#amwriting
There are also a whack of Facebook groups out there for you to join. Just search NaNoWriMo or just about any search term related to writing. You'll find groups aplenty, and then some. Join 'em all or just join one, but join something - and then participate. The number of people you will find for support and encouragement will blow your mind. 

I took it a step further and once I found a bunch of wonderfully diverse and supportive people on Twitter and Facebook and I invited them to a Facebook group of my own creation. We're almost at 50 members now and it's one of the best places there is to be when I'm working on my writing. 

You won't find any of it unless you look up from your keyboard every now and then and ask. As with most things in life, if you don't ask you won't get. So buck up, swallow your pride, find your ouside voice, put up your hand... do whatever it takes to ask. Just ask. Ask. State it categorically: I need a friend. I need some help. I need some encouragement. I need some pizza!

Ask and ye shall receive.
(pizza delivery times may vary)

~ Andrew

Sunday, November 2, 2014

The Secret of My Success

It's November 2, 2014 and that means thousands of writers all over the world are hunkering down and trying to write a novel-length something before the end of the month. A "novel" is most loosely defined as: 50,000 words blarged onto a page of some kind. Our friends over at Dictionary.com have this to say about it:

"A fictitious prose narrative of considerable length and complexity, portraying characters and usually presenting a sequential organization of action and scenes."

NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) is an organization that exists to ensure more books get out into the world. They tend to lean more toward my loose definition of the word "novel" and simply ask for writers to jot down 50,000 words (roughly 250 double spaced pages using Times New Roman 12 point font) in one month. Do this and you will, by their definition, be successful. You will "win", and you will get a fancy certificate to prove it. Here are mine from the last two years:



The one from 2012 ended up being an entirely different book altogether when it was "done done". That is to say after the 50,000 words ended up on the page I needed to write another 30,000 words to finish the story. Then I changed the name of the book and took out a big chunk of it and wrote another 20,000 words before finishing the first draft for good. 80,000 words total and it still needs a lot of work. 

The one from 2013 saw the 50,000th word hit the page on November 26 and I used the last 4 days to finish off the last 5,000 words from the previous project. So where is it now? Collecting dust. I hate the story. It's taking forever to just get to the bloody point (pun intended: it's a serial killer novel). That's a bit of a lie. I actually like the story but I'm having a hard time actually telling it. So it will sit in a virtual drawer for a while and I'll revisit it. Some day.

So, the big question is: have I been successful?

Arguments for:
I have two certificates from the Office of Letters and Light that say I was. I have a full on completed first draft of a novel, that's actually being edited (or was until November rolled around again. I really want another certificate). 

Arguments against:
I don't, however, have a book for sale on Amazon, no one has read more than two short chapters, and I have not received a penny for either of them (reader tip: that's how most authors get paid. In pennies. Literally PENNIES a book. Remember that next time you think every writer eventually makes Anne Rice or Stephen King money).

Well here's the thing: you don't get to decide, at least not on my behalf.

You don't. It's as simple as that. When it comes to my success, you don't have a say. I frequent Facebook quite a lot, and sometimes dip my head in the Twitter stream and I see lots of stuff that tells me, "Successful people do this!", "How to succeed at this!", "This many steps to succeeding at whatever it is!", and do you know what? It's mostly just shiny people with good teeth telling you that to meet their definition of success you need to be more like them. 

Ugh.

Now let's be clear, if you are getting paid by someone to do a particular something then they get to decide. If you have a contract and the terms are laid out plain and simple (or as plain an simple as those things get) then that's what decides. If you have defined success as some number of sales or some number in your bank account, then other people may be involved (by buying your book and/or giving you money), but it's still your definition of success.

This year for NaNoWriMo I have defined success differently than in the past. Why? Because I can, that's why. I am going to try to write a complete novel from a story perspective in at least 50,000 words. That means by the end of the month I will have something that can be edited. No loose ends. No missing chapters. "THE END" boldly written at the bottom. Oh, and I will do one blog post on each of the Sundays in the month of November as well (five in total).

I will get a certificate for the novel and I will proudly display it. It will represent my success this year and no one will be able to take that away.

So go out and define your success and then do whatever you have to do (legally, please) to achieve it. If you're a writer then use NaNoWriMo however you want to help you down the road to success. Need to edit a few hundred pages? Good! Set daily goals and a monthly total and get to it. Need to finish off that novel you've been working on for the past 23 months? Good! Use NaNoWriMo to do it. Want to crank out 30 blog posts in 30 days? Good! You see where this is going?

You're in the driver's seat.

You get to decide.

If you will allow me a Yoda moment... In control of your destiny, you are.

Use The Force, Luke. Use The Force.

~ Andrew