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.

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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.

IWriNo

Yes, I am. I’ve committed to writing a novel through the NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) project. This means I have exactly one month (from November 1- November 30) to write a 50,000 (or more) word novel. I was turned onto the project by a colleague who has challenged her Writers’ Workshop students with the project; there is a site dedicated to young writers for all of you educators out there.

While a daunting task, I think this is just what I need to get me out of my writing slump. I’ve been between projects for some time, now. So many ideas are swirling through my head, some I’ve brainstormed on paper, but I haven’t been able to commit to one. Aside from keeping up with my blog– I’ve been in limbo for too long. I’m hoping my NaNoWriMo commitment will be just the jump start I need.

I’ve already come up with a sketchy idea which is still ruminating. Instead of using one of the ideas-on-hold, I want to do something completely different. I’m thinking a sassy, sarcastic tone, something light and fun– maybe even funNY! I don’t usually write funny. Bridget Jones’s Diary, Helen Fielding, is what comes to mind.

I’m going to blog about my process, so feel free to keep tabs on me. And if you need your head examined, like me, I challenge you to give it a try, too! We could be NaNoWriMo Buddies. ON YOUR MARK. GET SET. GO!