Preparing for NaNoWriMo 2009

Write a novel in just 30 days? Yeah...right! But that is the basis of the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) website (nanowrimo.org) and it's annual writing challenge in the month of November: to write 50,000 words of fiction in just 30 days!

Okay, so I had heard this NaNoWriMo thing mentioned a few times in the past, but never understood it, or even bothered to look into it. Why? I don't know...maybe it just sounded a wee bit insane to me.

However, I finally went exploring the NaNoWriMo website, and what I found was pretty amazing, to say the least. From what started in 1999 with just 21 participants, has grown into a colossal challenge drawing continually greater numbers with each year. And make no mistake, it is a challenge, not a contest. There are no cash prizes awarded to those who reach the goal. But then again, the real prize in taking this on can be viewed as far more valuable than that. You could quite possibly walk away with the workings of a great novel you never knew you had in you.

How many times have you heard someone say "I could write a book!"? How many times might you have said the same? So, why not give it a try? The worst you can do might turn out your best. If you are planning to take part in this year's NaNoWriMo, or have participated in the past, I welcome your feedback.

And be sure to check out the Writers Forum and Gallery right here on Renderosity for inspiration. Headed up by Moderator jenx, the Writers Forum holds regular writing challenges to get those creative juices flowing.

In the meantime, I went and talked with a few past and present participants to get their take on the NaNoWriMo itself, and also on writing in general.

So, let me introduce a few of our own Renderosity members taking the NaNoWriMo challenge this year: Renderosity artist brynna, Renderosity's Artist of the Month for October, SusiQ, and Renderosity Contributing Columnist and author, Dee-Marie, who last year published the first of her trilogy "Sons of Avalon: Merlin's Prophecy". Also, fitting for the Halloween season, I'd like to introduce Bram Stoker Award-winning author, Lisa Morton, who recently published her first novel "The Castle of Los Angeles," and was also willing to share her experience in an interview. My thanks to everyone for taking time to answer my questions.


Interview with Renderosity Contributing Columnist and author, Dee-Marie

How often have you taken part in the NaNoWriMo, and how did you find the experience?

This will be my third year of participating in the NaNoWriMo event. I must love the torture, as I keep coming back for more. The best part, other than the writing, is the comradery from the other writers. If not for my NaNoWriMo buddies, I would never have made it through last year’s event.

Have you ever reached the 50,000-word goal yourself?

I am proud to say that both previous years I have reached my goal. The first year I could not stop writing, and my word count was well over 60, 000.

In doing the NaNoWriMo in the past, what came out of it for you?

Although, my novels run closer to 120K, NaNoWriMo jump started the second book in my Sons of Avalon saga. This year I will be working on the third book in the series.

As a published writer yourself with the first book of your Sons of Avalon trilogy, have you ever written so much in such a short period before, such as with this insane month of writing?

Even though I tend to ponder over every paragraph, every sentence, and sometimes each and every word…when I am in “writer mode,” I can easily put out several pages a day. Some chapters come easy, while others, like the main battle scene in Sons of Avalon: Merlin’s Prophecy, took over a month to write.

The NaNoWriMo event forces you to take off your editor hat and just write. The upside: you put out a ton of material. The downside: in December when you dig the editor hat out of the bottom of the closet, you tend to toss out about half of what was written during the NaNoWriMo event. Still, 25K worth of polished words is a great start to completing a 120K novel.

Do you have any tips on writing in general that you could share, and even possibly on how one might overcome writer's block?

The key to writing a full-length novel is to treat writing as a job. Committing to write a specific number of words (or pages), on a daily basis, is not an easy task, but it is a vital part of being a novelist. If you are truly serious about being a writer, you will find time to write. In fact, you have to find time to write. You must find time to write. To a novelist, writing is the substance for life.

As to writer’s block…I personally do not believe in writer’s block. If you are bored with your story, chances are your reader will be bored with it as well. The best way to get unstuck…is to write. Write something brilliant, or write crap…but keep writing…you can always turn crap into brilliant…but you can’t turn a blank page into anything.

Find out what style of writing works best for you. I tend to write in a linear fashion, with the story flowing from one chapter to the next. However, if I find myself pondering ad nauseam over a specific chapter, I will often use a movie director’s trick, and write out of chronological order. Not just writing future scenes, but also inserting chapters toward the beginning of the novel. Writing segue chapters, especially between a chapter that feels rushed or in need of a smooth transition, does wonders for the creative process.

Also, an outline is a great way to start your novel writing process. Not unlike looking over a map before you take a long road trip. The key is to be prepared, yet be flexible enough to let your characters take your journey on exploratory side-trips. Like a map, an outline can help you get back on track if the characters stray too far off of your original story line.

Are there any writers resources out there, whether books or online websites that you might recommend?

My favorite cyber writing home is on www.goodreads.com. Although it was originally conceived as a community for readers to gather, there is an amazing group of authors (published and unpublished) who are more than willing to share their writing expertise.

Of course I highly recommend both The Writer Magazine, and Writer’s Digest … both magazines and their corresponding websites provide invaluable writer resources.

A must have, is a book on writing effective dialog. Check out writing reference books at your local library, and when you find one the fits your needs, run to the bookstore and add a copy to your personal library.

Most importantly, read. Read novels in your genre. Read the classics. Read whatever is currently popular. To become a writer, you must first be a reader.

Further, for those looking at a career in writing, is there anything you would recommend? Anything you would say to avoid?

Again, I cannot emphasize enough, that if you have the desire to be a writer, you have to treat writing as a job, not as a hobby. Not as something you do when you “feel” like writing. You have to write, even when you are not inspired to do so.

Also, be leery of any publisher that insists you pay them to publish your book. That is not how the publishing business works! Oh, and on the same subject, if you do land a deal with a publishing house, make sure you read the fine print on the contract before signing your book away. Always keep in mind that a contract can be negotiated, but it is a contract, and thus it is legally binding…so read and understand every detail before signing.

As an official Oswego Regional NaNoWriMo Liaison, can you tell us a bit about what it means to be a Liaison for the NaNoWriMo and how it works?

When you sign up to participate in the NaNoWriMo event, you must also designate your “home-based” region. You are then assigned a Municipal Liaison in your area. Unfortunately, the closest regional chapter in our area was over forty miles away.

Attending the weekly write-ins became impossible due to our area’s tendency to be snowed-in during the month of November…so, I petitioned to start a chapter in our local area.

One of my favorite things about being a professional writer is the ability to help others. I love watching a fledgling writer take flight, or gaining wisdom from a veteran novelist. Being granted official Municipal NaNoWriMo Liaison status, for the Oswego area, was a great honor.

As to the duties of a NaNoWriMo Liaison: they are responsible for answering questions pertaining to the event, organizing group write-ins and fund raising efforts, and encouraging the writers in their region to make it to the 50K finish line.


Interview with Renderosity's October 2009 Artist of the Month, SusiQ

In doing the NaNoWriMo in the past, what came out of it for you?

The NaNoWriMo gave me the kick to actually get down and write a completed novel, even if I didn't take it further to be published (mine contained copywrited names from the WWE and was for my own fun). It taught me how to structure my writing and plan on how many words to write in a day, and to actually take my writing seriously. That is half the problem with writers in these times. They don't take themselves seriously and need to know that they can get published if they do treat their writing like a business.

Another positive about doing the NaNoWriMo are the members of the forums and the organizers of the NaNoWriMo. They are an awesome crowd, and if you battle with anything, they are there as a genuine, qualified and enthusiastic sounding board. There are also special offers to members of NaNo, such as new writing software, etc.

Do you have any tips on writing in general that you could share, and even possibly on how one might overcome writer's block?

One of my tips is to make time to write. Even if it is only 1,000 words a day (that is 30,000 a month!)! Many get so caught up in earning money to pay other's salaries (like the tax man!) and sinking into their armchairs in front of the TV exhausted at the end of the day that they forget the joy of seeing their words come to life. If you are doing something you really enjoy (I'm speaking to all those procrastinating writers out there) you glow with satisfaction, and life seems to take on new meaning. You have purpose again instead of just surviving. Plus, I found that when I am happy with my writing, it flows over into my relationship with my children and parents, which is all good!

Wherever you are, whether it be sitting in your dull little office, or taking a walk down a busy street, focus on your surroundings and, in your head, describe it in words. That may sound a little crazy, but it really does help. It allows your mind to focus on words and descriptions using the real world and, in turn, when you sit down to write you find that your writing turns 'real' as well. It is basically training your thought processes like you would train your muscles at a gym. It is better if you have a voice recorder (even the one built into your mobile phone) to record some of the descriptions, or a little notepad you can write them down in. And, if you ever get writer's block, just by browsing your notes or by listening to your words you may overcome that block.

Another thing the NaNoWriMo taught me was to not worry about spelling as you write. You can always go back and edit it afterwards. You really need to keep your train of thought going by focusing on the story and not allowing yourself to get distracted with spelling errors.

As to overcoming writers block, there are a few other options to think about. Take a break from the story you are blocked on and write a short descriptive passage, or hit the forums of NaNoWriMo and take up one of the word challenges they hold there regularly. It really does work to have a 'change of scenery.'

You can also see if maybe the last paragraph of your story doesn't fit. Most times my characters tell me where they want to go when I deviate from their train of thought... they stop speaking to me, hence the writers block. You can save your page as another name, then rewrite the last paragraph to include another direction and see what happens.

Are there any writers resources out there, whether books or online websites that you might recommend?

A few of the websites I frequent myself for help are: www.NaNoWriMo.org, writersblock.com (another forum with great people), http://rhyme.poetry.com/ (for rhyming words for poets, synonyms etc...), and http://www.freelang.net/dictionary/index.php (free downloadable dictionarys in many languages). I hope this helps and brings a breezy breath of fresh air into your writing life.


Interview with Bram Stoker Award-winning author, Lisa Morton

When was it that you took part in the NaNoWriMo, and how did you find that experience?

It was 2005, and it turned out to be a great experience. Although I'd written (and published) lots of short fiction, I'd never written a novel before, and it was a good way to learn I could do it.

Did you get the "win" that year (the 50,000-word goal)?

Yes, although I should qualify: My goal was to write the first 50,000 words of a 90,000-word novel. I actually managed the first 60,000 words, and finished the book about two months later.

What was the story that took shape (I hear it went on to become a published novel)?

Actually, that novel hasn't been published yet - it was the next novel I wrote that will be my first published novel. That first book was called NETHERWORLD, and was very episodic (which made it easier to rewrite quickly) - it follows a globe-trotting British noblewoman in the late 19th century.

As a professional writer and winner of the Bram Stoker Award, have you ever written so much in such a short period before, such as with this month of writing?

As a screenwriter I had (you get some crazy deadlines in that profession), but no, I'd never written that much prose that quickly.

Do you have any tips on writing in general that you could share, and even possibly on how one might overcome writer's block?

I've never really had writer's block, so I'll skip that question! In terms of writing, I'll pass over the usual "read a lot" and "keep writing" and offer this up: Don't forget the basics like good grammar, spelling, punctuation, and formatting. I'm amazed at how often people hand me "finished" writing to look at, and it's nearly incoherent. I'm sorry, but it's not going to matter if you've written The Great American Novel if you can't punctuate it in a way that makes it readable and presentable.

Are there any writers resources out there, whether books or online websites that you might recommend?

Strunk and White's "The Elements of Style" is a must. For horror writers, there are two books I'll recommend: The Horror Writers Association's own "On Writing Horror," and a new one that's just come out called "Writers Workshop of Horror."

Further, for those looking at a career in writing, is there anything you would recommend to avoid (even in regards to finding a publisher)?

Don't self-publish. It's as simple as that. Yes, your work will be out there - but without a publisher's distribution and marketing behind it, you won't get reviewed and you'll be lucky to sell 50 copies. Yes, that means you'll have to work harder and spend (probably) years finding an agent first, but if you're serious about a writing career, it's the only way to go.

Congratulations on your new novel just recently published, "The Castle of Los Angeles." What can you tell us about it?

Thanks! It's a riff on the traditional Gothic novel, right down to the haunted castle and the orphaned heroine. It's about a young theater director, Beth, who moves into an exclusive community of artists housed in an ancient building, "The Castle", in downtown L.A. Not only does Beth develop a strange relationship with the Castle's celebrity artist, but she also discovers - of course! - that the Castle is haunted, by some rather unusual spirits.


Interview with Renderosity Artist, brynna

How long have you been a member of Renderosity?

A little over nine years.

How long have you been writing, and what genre do you prefer to write in?

I've been writing in one fashion or another since I was about ten. My preference is Romance, by far, and I tend to work that into both original and fan fiction.

What is your favorite work in your own gallery here (whether written or not)?

The "Sunset at Turley" series. Partly because I can see my improvement over the years, and partly because I love the variations on the Old West - classic and Steampunk.

Do you have any tips you could offer for other writers, whether how to approach it, or even how to get around writers block?

Funny you should mention Writer's Block, since I've had it for longer than I care to mention. In fact, I am hoping that by joining NaNoWriMo that I'll be able to push the block aside. Without the pressure of having to get it perfect on the first go-around, I can just cut loose and relax - and I feel that's the key.

As far as other writers go, one of the best things you can do for yourself is get support, perhaps someone that will also proofread (termed "beta-read" in the fan fiction world) your work. If you don't use outlines (I don't) then at least block out the plot with the key points (which I do). Draw, if you have to visualize; use Poser, or anything that will help you bring your characters to life.

Have you participated in NaNoWriMo before, and if so, did you manage to win?

I was going to last year, but Real Life ate my soul.

Are there any tips you could pass on as to how to approach NaNoWriMo?

Having never actually done this before, I can only guess as to what the best approach would be similar to what writers normally do with their craft, only on hyperdrive. Realize that if you're banging out 50,000 words in a month that there is room for error. That's fine, and expected.

Also, I've joined a local NaNoWriMo support group, which will be meeting on November 2nd, and then weekly throughout the month.

Stock up on healthy snacks in case you need a carb boost. Of course, don't forget the coffee and tea.  :-)

Have you ever been published?

Almost. In 1994 my Molly, my co-author, and I completed a Harlequin-style romance novel that we sent to an agent. She sent it back, requesting some revisions. I was about halfway through those when my ex and I decided to get a divorce. Once that happened, I found myself with no time to rework the novel.

Two years ago I dug it up and put it through a series of revisions to bring it up to date. Rather than sending it to an agency I posted it out at Fiction Press, the original fiction twin of Fanfiction.net. So far the reviews have been wonderful. The matching artwork is in my gallery.


Editor's Note:

Be sure to check out all of the available Writers resources here on Renderosity:

NaNoWriMo officially kicks off on November 1st! If you would like more information about National Novel Writing Month, visit the website at www.NaNoWriMo.org.

Please note: If you find the color of the text hard to read, please click on "Printer-friendly" and black text will appear on a white background.

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Member Opinions:
By: deemarie on 10/28/09
Hey Nick,

Thanks for including me in you NaNoWriMo article. I look forward to watching your word count grow throughout the month of November.

Prepare for some word-wars along the way {insert waaaaaaaay evil laughter here}

Dee Marie

By: FALCON2 on 10/28/09
Fascinating and intimidating information :) I think I just might need to pop over to the NaNoWriMo site and take a closer look at this event. THANK you for the insights and the heads up !

By: brynna on 10/29/09
Word Wars? bwahahahaha! You're ON! ;-)

(great, now I really gotta do this...)

And yes, thanks for including me! It was fun reading about how everyone interviewed had reached this point, and the varying degrees of publishing (or non, in my case) experience they had.

By: SusiQ on 10/29/09
Ha ha ha ha.. That laugh was pure halloween style Dee!
Thanks Nick, for the opportunity to share my WriMo insanity. It is always a great time to be had. And my 14yr old daughter has just decided to join me! At least the juniors can set their own targets - she has chosen 30000 words.

Word wars? Those two words bring back memories of frantic stress for me.... lol

RenderWordWars (RWW for short), let's bombard the forums!

By: deemarie on 11/2/09
Hey if anyone else on Rosity is doing NaNoWriMo this year...how about posting your NaNoWriMo homepage and we can help each other get to the winner's circle :]

Mine is:

http://www.nanowrimo.org/eng/user/232187

By: SusiQ on 11/4/09
Hey Dee. I'm a bit late but have sent you a friend request. My Nano homepage is http://www.nanowrimo.org/eng/user/124071

Cheers!


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