Camp NaNoWriMo Frenzy (with STUDENTS!)

A FIVE STEP PROCESS TO NOVEL WRITING

camp cover photo

As if participating in NaNoWriMo during the month of November (and WINNING!) wasn’t a lofty enough task to take on, I’ve decided to invite my students to take the ride to CampNaNoWriMo during the month of April. While some had entered my second semester Writers’ Workshop class relieved to hear that November and the opportunity to write 50k words in one month had passed (after hearing of some of the first semester achievers and defectors), others were clearly disappointed.

Only last week did I hear of the Camp and the opportunity to write in whatever genre you want and set your own word count. So I put it up to a vote in my class. Two thirds elected to take the journey with me; majority rule, so even the unenthusiastic need to embark. I offered to set some guidelines as to how it will equate to a grade– as for many, that is always the bottom line. We came up with a 25k word count as a good goal to begin with (B-ish grade) and word counts in excess of  +10k will be in the “A” range and less thAn will be in the “C” range, so on & so forth. In addition to word count, they will need to submit a representative excerpt to be included with the grade along with a written reflection speaking to the process and what they’ve learned. I’d say, we’re well on our way.

camp lesson photo

 

So two weeks is NOT a lot of time to plan a novel; hence, I’ve condensed my usual fiction writing lessons and morphed them with some of the NaNoWriMo Ready, Set, Novel! Writer’s Workbook activities.

 

Lesson 1: The Inception

I. Brainstorm ideas, drawing from personal experiences, reading that resonates with you, fracturing stories (whether from novels, television shows, movies…).

II. Next, decide what genre your story will be told  in (fantasy, mystery, sci-fi, romantic, historical, literary fiction or non-fiction) and how you will tell it (linear/non-linear narrative, point of view, short/long chapters, exposition/dialogue/combination…).

III. Finally, create a loose timeline of how you see your story playing out (no details, just yet).

IV. Come up with a summary, perhaps a one sentence tag-line that you might use to sell your story.

camp dialogue

Lesson 2: All about Character

I. I provide my students with a four page dossier for them to fill out everything from what their protagonist looks like to his/her life experiences to what matters most and his/her worst nightmare, to how he/she cuts their toenails (I’m not kidding, it’s that specific). It needs to be. Every writer needs to know everything there is to know about their major characters in order to understand what motivates him/her and determine what choices he/she will make.

II. I throw a bunch of baby name books on the table and ask them to choose a name for their character that is symbolic to who he/she is.

III. Create a day-in-the-life agenda to learn what the typical actions of the character is

IV. Create a time line for the character’s life including where he/she lived and major life experiences

V. Write dialogue from your character to at least 3 other characters whom he/she might come in contact with to learn the nuances of character.

VI. Form the same knowledge of other characters in the story

camp conflict

Lesson 3: Creating the Story

I. Decide what your character wants. Every character is driven by conflict. Determine what conflicts (major and minor) your character needs to overcome to make a change.

II. Determine your story arc: inciting incidents, climax, resolution

Camp Plot arc

III. Make a more detailed outline of the events of the story including all major and sub-plot points

camp pt of view

IV. Determine the point of view your story will be told by experimenting with different points of view (ie. write part of it in the 1st person, then write the same part in 3rd person omniscient, repeat with 3rd person limited, then change the character…). Experiment, consider the pros and cons of each choice, and go with what feels right.

camp setting

V. Set the story where it needs to be. Consider your story arc. What will the major settings be? How will they be necessary to the character and your plot? Understand how setting affects your character and the story.

 

Lesson 4: It’s all in the Details

I. Given time, do some research on your situation. For example, the protagonist in my most recent novel is a 20-something young woman who hates her job and wants to find love. She’s a social network guru, so I needed to become one, as well. I researched blogs written by ppl. looking for the same as she in her demographic, I visited dating websites, I researched current relationship topics, I talked to people who are in similar situations… you get the gist. Uncover as many stones as you can; knowledge is power.

II. Write from what you know. Infuse aspects of your own experiences to make the writing rich and real. Not necessarily in the literal sense, but think about how you or people you actually know or know of would make decisions or behave in like circumstances.

III. Figure out the logistics. There are 30 days in April. Decide on a word count goal, divide by 30 to determine your daily minimum and stick to it, and, if one day, you fall short, plan on compensating the next day. Also figure out where/how you will keep all of your notes so they are readily accessible when you’re writing.

camp 5 senses

Lesson 5: Ready! Set! Go!

I. Now, feel confident that you are ready to begin. Feel the adrenaline pumping in competition with the fear. It’s all there and it’s all good.

II. Just write… even write through the mundane and acknowledge when you’ve written something good! Your writing will ebb and flow. Expect it, never losing sight that you can go back later and make adjustments; in fact, editing LATER will be necessary. But, for now, don’t give into the urge to edit.

III. My best advice: never end a writing session at the end of something (the end of an event or a chapter), always end in the middle, so you know, upon the next session, where to pick up. This will help alleviate writers block. And I find what while in the writing zone, the flow maintains itself, at least most of the time.

IV. Expect to feel both euphoria and frustration. Experience it. Embrace it. Share it with your cabin mates; that’s what they are there for.

V. Expect the unexpected. Allow your story to deviate from your original plan. Writing should always be an organic process. Trust it and yourself, as a writer.

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And so, we are ready to begin. For one month, we will give in to literary abandon. We will become novelists, writing each class that we meet, and outside of class as well. As I mentioned earlier, I took the NaNoWriMo challenge in November and it changed me as a writer. I ended up far exceeding my 50k goal by the end of the month and writing well past that to complete a draft which ended up being 134k words that I’ve been editing ever since. When I sent my what-I-thought-to-be polished and edited draft to an agent, he said I’d need to cut 40k from the draft before he’d read it. So my goal for CampNaNoWriMo is to cut back and revise instead of write, and equally intense, perhaps more difficult process. Together, we will take this journey, whatever the outcome, supporting one another as writers.

Post NaNoWriMo: Thank You, Scrivener

So, you’ve written 50k+ words for NaNoWriMo… NOW WHAT?  It’s nearly a month post-contest.

Winner widgets

I’ve continued writing. I’m up to 96 K words, about 400 pages in– 200 ish more to go. Although, now, I really am not mindful of the word count at all; in fact, I just looked it up to provide you with an accurate update. I’m really feeling the momentum; I know where it’s all going, except for the unexpectedly welcome twists and turns I encounter along the way. My favorite part of writing is always when the characters make their own choices in what they do or say that even surprise me.

I’m no longer obsessed with getting it done. Instead, moving at my own pace while maintaining a do-able schedule for me which means writing 5 out of the 7 days of the week for at least two hours at a time. Flow is everything

Which takes me to a writing program, Scrivener,  I learned about through a fellow writing blogger. I’d heard about it before, even considered a novel-writing program, but never seriously looked into it. However, among the perks of being a NaNoWriMo winner are the deals you get. Scrivener.

Scriverner 5

I am a baby step kind of person. I’m pretty set in my ways. While I believe wholeheartedly in change, it’s still difficult for me. I always have that lingering thought… what if I regret it?… so I opted for the 30-day trial period before diving in. I’d had about half of my novel written, so I decided to play with the program, using my would-be novel as a guinea pig. Moving the files I’d already created over wasn’t difficult. And because I’d done such extensive brainstorming, character sketching, note taking, researching, outlining prior to November 1, it was really just a matter of organizing my notes into sub-pages. There’s actually a neat tutorial to work you through all of the features. I’m such a show me person, so using my kinesthetic skills to move around the program worked well for me. Two weeks into the trial, I took the plunge and bought the download.

One of the things I like most is the accessibility of which all of my notes and such are at my fingertips. No longer do I need to have 5 Word document screens shrunk to the bottom of the page at a time. With Scrivener, it’s all right there.

Scriverner 1

Another feature that works brilliantly is the notepad to the right of the screen. I am obsessive about writing notes along side my writing (formerly using a notepad to do so), but Scrivener allows me to have my notes visible in the corner of the screen. I note what I want to revise, where I want to go with a scene, what I have already revised, etc.: a good source for maintaining continuity.

Scriverner 3

Previously, in working on Microsoft Word, I’d have a file per chapter, so during the revision process I didn’t need to scroll through hundreds of pages. Then, I’d need to copy and paste each chapter into a final document. With the compile feature on Scrivener, I click a button, and the program compiles it all for you. The best part is you get to choose your own settings for the compiled draft.

Three other features that I’m making a good deal of use of are the character bio files and the research file, and the cork boards (for us visual types). Character Bio files are just that– they enable you to have a separate document for each character that you can refer to or add to with ease throughout the writing process. Likewise, the research feature allows you to capture a webpage and have it available with a click, so you don’t have to re-look-up the reference pages on the web you’d already found. The cork boards make it easy to see all of your note pages/chapters/characters/research sites on one screen.

Scriverner 4

So now I find myself with roughly a third left of the novel to write. I’m moving back and forth from editing mode to writing mode. I’m making goals for finishing the first draft of my novel and even tentative goals for having the final draft done– ready to put out there.

THANK YOU, Scriverner  logo

NaNoWriMo 2012: OUT!

Nano Winner 50k 2012 certif

Well, I made it through the month of NaNoWriMoing w/ my final count at 65, 256. Not too bad. Not anywhere close to completing my book, but well underway. I’m thinking best seller! 😛 “If you dream it, it will come.”

The most important lesson I learned is that, even during one of the busiest months of the year, I can carve out time everyday for my craft, and so I shall.

I’m kind of sad to see it end, as it’s something I looked forward to everyday. The daily, “So, what’s your count?” from various people in various walks of my life was encouraging and I gained a sense of pride everyday, when I was able to say a higher number than the day before. Looking forward to blogging about my progress, entering a thought on one of the NaNo FB groups I belong to, reading about everyone else’s progress whether it be on FB or a blog, was inspiring; it kept it fresh, helped me to look from a new perspective, try things that others suggested. Being part of a writing community is something that was wholly reinforced throughout this process. I also liked giving myself permission to step outside of my comfort zone because I pleasantly am surprising myself with the product. This will prompt me to challenge myself more often to write outside the box or throw a new wrench into my process. I always think “change is good” which is reaffirmed every single time I embrace change, but in between my leaps has always persisted the fear of it.

Would I do this again? Absolutely. Perhaps not annually, but certainly again. This served as a welcome jump start for me– between projects, not knowing where I wanted to go. Now, I have direction. And I’d like to publicly make a vow that each time I participate in NaNoWriMo, to change something up, challenge myself in new ways– use it as a platform for growth.

Thank you to Megumi for inspiring me, my NaNo buddies for keeping me going, my family for allowing me the-month-long-excuse of “Mom is writing her novel,” my blog followers for reading my progress & maintaining interest,  and, most of all, myself for finding it in me to be self-disciplined in reaching my goal.

NaNoWriMo 2012 OUT!

Winner widgets

Day 24 :Reaching Goals, NaNoWriMo Style

I was turned onto NaNoWriMo by a colleague, who was challenging her Writers’ Workshop class to set a writing goal for November in the young adult division; she suggested I participate too, since she knows I love to write novels. I was ambivalent, at first, for two reasons: it occurs during a busy month (Thanksgiving and the month before Christmas– shopping time), and I would be looked upon to succeed because I had written novels before– the pressure was on.

Now, I’d never before written so intensely or routinely as I have over the past 25 days. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to keep up the momentum. I do have a process, which I needed to alter significantly in order to meet my 50k word goal within the time allotted. Normally, my process involves doing some preliminary work– some pretty detailed character sketches, a sketchy (at best) outline/plot. With NaNoWriMo, however, I needed to nearly quadruple the time spent on the brainstorming phase– not only would I need to brainstorm, I’d need to plan, even tediously plan because I couldn’t give into becoming stuck. I needed to have the foresight to also know what kind of research I’d be using because I wouldn’t have the time to stop what I was doing to spend on research. Luckily, and perhaps skillfully, I chose a topic that didn’t require as much research as my previous writings.

During my writing season, usually Spring & Summer, I write habitually, but not on a schedule, and, when I hit a block, I walk away for a couple of days in order to return refreshed. And, usually, that does the trick. Writing when I’m off from school enables me to write in the morning, my writing time. It’s the part of the day I feel most refreshed and creative. During school (November, when I’m waking at 5:30), I needed to find a new writing time, most often right after school and before dinner prep time. It didn’t turn out nearly as bad as I’d envisioned; perhaps, I just hadn’t given afternoon writing a chance.

Prior to this exercise, and I viewed the entire time as an experiment of sorts, I wrote with purpose, and I’d tediously read back what I’d written the day before, every day, editing as I went. If something wasn’t good, I’d scrap it, altogether. I’d become stuck in editing mode until I felt it was good writing before moving on, even if I was working on one chapter for days. For this exercise, I didn’t have the time to edit as I was going. Instead, I had to retrain myself to write through the crap. But what I learned was that, there will be crap, and there will be whole sections, when, upon completion, I feel thoroughly satisfied with how my writing turned out. I’ve been noting where I’ve written through in order for the purpose of moving my story forward, so I can go back at a later time to develop, alter or scrap it, altogether. I think these sections will pop out at me during editing, screaming at me to work on them.

From the start, I viewed this as a writing project versus writing a novel. I knew that I wanted to write something that wasn’t so inherently based on personal experience as what I’ve written in the past. I took this on, initially, as an exercise of moving outside my comfort zone. I chose a character who is unlike anyone I really know (perhaps very loosely based on a mixture of people I’ve heard about or read about or seen in movies)– but I wanted to see if I could develop someone who mostly came from my imagination. I also set out to create a situation for her that was made up– from start to finish. I have drawn upon what is opposite from what I know, or attempted to. In the writing, however, I found myself infusing aspects of my day and morphing them into something completely different. I questioned a lot, thinking well what if she reacted this way or that way– and often chose the more/most outlandish of the choices. Now, roughly two-thirds into what has shaped itself as a novel in the making, I’m finding that while the premise is completely based upon imagination, there are, in fact, facets of my reality that appear there. So, my original hypothesis, if you will, did not exactly come to pass; instead, I’ve realized, no matter how my characters are unlike me or anyone I know personally, or how the plot can be something I only remotely am familiar with, I cannot, no matter how hard I try, separate the writer from the writing. And, I’m okay with that.

Because writing has been a hobby for me, I’ve been writing for myself, primarily, for years. There have been a handful of occasions, that I’ve tried to publish my work, and once I even got really close, then I back away. So, because I haven’t been forced to meet deadlines, I’ve been working at my own pace. The only goals I’ve set are the goals for the content of my material. As far as a time frame is concerned, there has never been one for me. This project forced me to attain daily goals and ultimately big goals. The first being to thoroughly plan prior to November 1st, the second being the daily word count of 1,667 words or more per day, the third being reaching 50k words before November’s end, and now that I’ve accomplished all of those, my goal is to complete the first draft of my novel prior to the month’s end. A lofty goal, I know, and one that I may need to modify. But, if nothing else, I’ve learned that goal setting is something I can and, moreover, should adhere to because I want to take it to the next level by becoming a published author.

As an ad hoc member of the Writers’ Workshop community of writers, I was invited to participate in writing activities such as the Kick Off party and café dates, in addition to being a member of the group Facebook page. Writing this blog has also led me to making other acquaintances who have NaNo-writing in common which led me to belonging to another group Facebook page. Really, the last time I felt a sense of the writing community was when I was in college writing workshops (poetry and fiction). I’d forgotten what a force of support a writing community can be. What also feels good as a writer is having the ability to share my own experience/advice with others. For example, I told the student writers the best piece of advice I could give them was to never end a writing session at the end of something (a conversation, a chapter, an event or thought); always end in the middle, that way it gives you something to come back to which allows you to easily and fluidly settle into writing mode. It was so nice that, now 25 days in, one of the students thanked me, telling me how useful it’s been through this project for her. From herein, I will seek out a community of writers (whether it be fellow bloggers or tweeters or people in my physical world)– a writing tribe, of sorts.

Thank you, said-Colleague and NaNoWriMo and inspirers from many walks and my family/friend supporters (who monitored my progress often– because it made me feel like what I was doing matters). I took on this project with not a lot of expectations– certainly not with the expectations that really have proven to be useful and surprising results. I got so much more out of this project than anticipated, and I can only hope that is evidenced in what I produce as a result of it.

Day 14 Update

Day 14

32k words

3 chapters

106 pages

I’ve been writing for four hours because over the next two days, I won’t be able to work much on my novel. I know I should look at these next two days as a reward, which I do and I’m looking forward to them, but I’m also a little sad to miss a day or more with my characters and their story. I’m finding that when I write every single day, I’m feeling a stronger affinity to my characters. I’ve taken copious notes, so I don’t forget where I wanted them to go and how I wanted them to get there.

Claire is hopelessly looking for love and failing miserably at it; she’s nearly exhausted online dating and is now looking into other methods. Meanwhile, her job is looking up. Through the play she is creating with her students, she’s getting to know them (by default) and becoming involved in their lives– finding herself more invested as a result. She didn’t mean to care about them, but somehow she does, and it’s not as bad as she thought.

17 Days to go

18k words left to write

7 more chapters

1 completed draft

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Switching Gears

With more than 50% of my count in and more than 50% of time left to get there, my focus has turned from just trying to get to 50k to trying to complete the first draft of a novel.

I have to admit, that I’m completely invested in my characters as they are really taking shape now, and they have a story. While at times, I’m writing through a particular event, making a note to go back and develop it further or tweak it or revisit it altogether, I’m still resisting real editing temptation. That said, it is becoming increasingly more difficult to resist. I find myself taking more copious notes than usual because I’m allowing myself to just write through my trouble spots.

One strategy that is really working is jotting down some notes about where the next phase of the story is going upon completion of writing each day. Just a couple of bullets at the end of the writing does the trick for me. It really helps me to focus more quickly than my usual routine which would be to completely re-read the day before’s work.

There are also sections/chapters that upon completion of them, I recognize as good writing. Ahh… and that feels REAL good! At least, there will be substance to work with when this insane writing race commences and it’s time to noodle.

I am thoroughly happy that I decided to tackle this project, even though it is amidst the end of one marking period and the beginning of a new one, xmas shopping, 1 child returning home from school for the month of November and picking up the other (4&1/2 hours away by car) on Friday for a week, and Thanksgiving. Yes it is a crazy busy month, but I’m making it work and so proud that I am able to do so. I began this task mostly excited but also scared that I was biting off more than I can chew. I was thinking I’d just do my best (translation: it’s okay if I can’t meet the daily word count). Now, I’m thinking I’m doing my best (translation: exceeding my own expectations). Thank you, NaNoWriMo for giving me the push I needed.

NaNoWriMo Strong

I’m a week in and going strong.

This is what I’ve learned so far…

1) I can be self disciplined when I want to be

2) I can exceed the goals I set for myself

3) I need to give up the idea of “just right” and instead “just write”

4) The support of family and friends (and, even more so, a community of writers) fuels creativity

5) Taking on this seemingly overwhelming challenge is quite do-able, not to mention FUN!!

Day 5: Coffee, Write, Run

Somewhere, I read some suggested rules of successful NaNoWriMo-ing which included writing abundantly, eating healthy, drinking plenty of fluids, sleeping well and exercising. At the time, they all seemed pretty obvious– good daily practices whether you are writing 1,667 day (or more) or not.

Sub-consciously, at first, I’ve been heeding them. While exercising is not normally part of my daily routine (as I know it should be), I’ve been feeling great about it.

13, 877 words in (count clocked yesterday)– I’d say I’m off to a great start and feeling really good about not only my writing but myself– an ancillary benefit I hadn’t counted on.

The words do seem to be coming abundantly. I’m feeling “the flow” of the story which doesn’t normally happen this early into a project (albeit that I’m not normally this far in only 5 days). I also have curbed my inclination for editing while writing. Although, I am noting where I know, now, that I need to return at some later date.

My concern at this point is that I’m more than 1/5 of the way to my goal (or the goal set my the program), but I don’t think I’m 1/5 into the whole of the novel (in fact, I can almost guarantee it). Yet, I’m committed to stay true to the story and not simply to fulfilling a word count. I’m realizing this story has a lot more to it than what can be said in 50k words.

I’m also already feeling like I need to tweak my synopsis some. Claire isn’t as undatable as I had originally perceived her to be– at this juncture it’s more about her inability to find the right person. I could work with that.

My favorite part about writing is discovering the story through writing it. For me, it cannot be absolutely planned because it takes on a life of its own.

Now back to writing… with a hot cup of coffee at my side and a nice run on the treadmill to look forward to.

Day 3: Quantity over Quality

3 days into NaNoWriMo 2012: 6757 words. While I’m pleased with my progress, I’ve hit my first obstacle today. Writing quantity over quality is a near impossibility for me. I write. I edit. I write some more. This writing sans editing is killing me. For the first two days, the words just flowed. I was able to write through where I wanted to edit. Today, not so much. Quantity over Quality GOES AGAINST MY PROCESS AS A WRITER. Yes, I’m screaming, pulling-my-hair-out-of-my-head, having a hard time with this. Today, I actually, took the time to look back at my notes, fill in some gaps for keeping track purposes because already new characters have found themselves into my story that I hadn’t planned on. I also confess to researching a little bit more. I’ve resigned that I need to find the balance between quantity and quality. I will not compromise the quality of my writing for word count. I can do both! I tell myself.

Can you tell that I feel guilt over this? I’m feeling all of the time I have needs to go toward writing because if I have it in me to and have the time, now, to overwrite my daily averages when Thanksgiving rolls around and I can’t find the time, I’ll be ahead of the game, so there will be no need to worry. NOTE TO NANOWRIMO: June would be a much better month for this project. That said, one of the aspects I do like about the November month is that it IS a challenging month for me– hence, part of the appeal. I CAN DO THIS, I keep telling myself. So far, I feel continued inspiration and well supported by my family and colleagues and friends. I know, it’s only day 3.

I’m wondering your stance on Quantity over Quality… please, comment!!