Tag Archives: goals

To NaNo or Not to NaNo

November is almost half over and all across the internet you will find writers and wannabe writers talking about NaNoWriMo. Some are gleefully extolling on and on and on about how they have been meeting their daily word counts and will make their 50k word goal for the month. Others lament about how they haven’t been able to keep up with their goal, but they are continuing to try. Some will tell you about the book they started in last year’s NaNo or the year before or the year before, etc. Then there are those who will boldly tell you that you’re a fool for taking part.

Each year, I see someone — usually several someones — condemning anyone who takes part in NaNoWriMo. These oh-so-superior authors are convinced that nothing good can come out of NaNo. They cling to the belief that no one can write 50k words of publishable material in a mere 30 days. To them, NaNo is a gimmick that does nothing more than make fun of their craft. And, yes, I have a mental image of these authors sipping tea, pinky fingers lifted, as they look down their noses at the peons laboring away in the writing trenches.

If you haven’t already figured it out, this attitude more than bugs me. It tics me off. First, it completely misses the point of NaNo (and full disclosure here. I’m not a big fan of NaNo for reasons I’ll go into later). Second, it assumes that every writer works at the same pace as these so-called authors and who are they to tell any of us what pace we should set when we are writing?

So, what is the purpose behind NaNo? That’s simple. Some years ago, a couple of friends got together. During the course of their conversation, someone said no one could write a 50k word novel in a month. These guys took up the challenge and NaNo was born. If you take part and if you follow the original concept of the challenge, you start a new novel on November 1st and work through the month with the goal of writing at least 50k words.

The goal isn’t to have 50k words of publishable content. It is to set a goal and meet it. To simply sit the butt down in the chair and write. Editing comes after that. This is what makes NaNo an effective tool for a number of writers. It is committing to a goal and working to reach that goal. It has been the impetus a number of writers have needed to move past writer’s block or the various distractions that all too often take us away from our writing.

There is another benefit to NaNo, at least for some writers. There is a huge NaNo community. During November, there are meetings you can go to, even write-ins. For a number of writers, especially beginning writers, this means getting to know in meat space others like yourself. That’s important because writing is a solitary profession and all too often our families don’t understand the demands of the career.

My issue with NaNo is that 50k word goal. There are a number of writers who are terrified of that number. They won’t sign up because they know they won’t be able to meet the goal. In other words, they aren’t going to give themselves the chance to “fail”. When asked about it by other writers, I tell them they don’t have to take part in the “official” NaNo. They can simply set their own goal for the month and then do their best to keep to it. One way of doing it is announcing the goal on social media, on their blogs, etc., and then doing daily or weekly upstages. That will keep them honest.

I hear some of you out there asking if I do NaNo. I don’t. I have in the past and, in most instances, I met the goal. However, with my writing schedule, I am rarely in the position any longer of starting something new at the right time for the challenge. That doesn’t mean I ignore the spirit of NaNo. I have weekly and monthly writing goals. Sometimes I meet them and sometimes I don’t. In November, I do my best to hit at least 50k words. It might be on a single project or on several different projects, depending on when I end one and start another. Sometimes, it might be an editing goal. There are times when it is both.

You might be asking about my goals for the month and how have I done so far? My goal wasn’t so much a word count goal as a project goal. I wanted to have the final version of Light Magic finished and ready to publish by the end of the month. I also wanted to have the final version of an untitled holiday short story/novella in the Eerie Side of the Tracks universe ready as well. Working drafts of both have been finished. I have also done some work on the expanded edition of Duty from Ashes. But, thanks to a knee injury, I am behind on my goal. Since the short story/novella and Light Magic are time sensitive, they are getting the bulk of my attention right now.

Here’s the thing. No one has to like NaNo. It isn’t for every writer out there. But just because it isn’t right for you doesn’t give you the right to decry it where every other writer is concerned. For those of you who haven’t tried it, or who have tried it and not met your goal, don’t discount doing it again. Remember, there is nothing stopping you from doing your own form of NaNo. If the 50k word goal terrifies you to the point you feel you will self-sabatouge and not meet the goal, set a lower goal. But give yourself incentives to not only meet but exceed that new goal. You might be surprised by how much writing you can get done.

The key isn’t whether you write 200 words or 50k words. The key is that you write. You don’t have to write every day, but you have to write. So many of writers stop writing, not because they have run out of ideas but because they fall out of the habit of writing. Yes, real life gets in the way. The challenges of work, family, school, etc., all have to be dealt with before we can sit down and put ideas to paper. Once we get out of that habit, it is often almost impossible to get back into it.

So, here’s my challenge to each of you. Set a goal for the rest of the month. It can be anything you want. But set the goal. Then set secondary goals. Goals that, if you reach them, you treat yourself to something special. Before you start telling me you don’t have time, give your daily schedule a hard look. Is there some way you can change your schedule or crave out an additional five or ten minutes a day or an hour over the weekend? If you ride the train or bus to work, can you grab your tablet and stylus and make notes (or even just an old-fashioned steno book and pen)? How about giving up five minutes of gaming at night or getting up five minutes early?

You’ll note, I didn’t say you have to write a story. In fact, if you have been having problems focusing on a plot, don’t force it. Do free-writing. When you get up (or before you go to bed), grab a piece of paper and a pen or pencil and just write. Write down whatever comes to mind. It can be your shopping list or it can be journaling. It can even be that letter you wish you could write to your boss or your neighbor or whoever but you just don’t dare. The key is to write.

The key is to write.

And, on that happy note, I’m going to go do just that.

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NaNoWri. . . why?

Ah, the first day of November is here. The little ghosts and goblins of Halloween are a memory and now is the time when many of us sit down at our computers with shiny faces — okay, mine’s a bit bleary right now but go with it for a moment — and eagerly poise our fingers over our keyboards, waiting for the words to pour out. NaNoWriMo is officially here. Just like New Year’s Day when we are sure we can live up to all the resolutions we’ve made, now we are convinced we can write 50,000 words in a month. We can do it, we tell ourselves. We can.

And, yes, we can.

Too many of us — and, yes, I’ve been one of them — start out with the best of intentions but we wind up focusing on the big number and not the more realistic daily word count number. So let’s break it down.

50,000 words in a month. That is a novel in some sub-genres. It is most definitely a good rough draft word count. But still, that looks like a lot of words. But is it?

Yes and no. Yes, because it is more than many of us write in a month. No, because, when you look at it in smaller increments, it does become more doable.

50,000 words in a month. That breaks down to 12,500 words per week (if my math is right. Never a sure thing since I haven’t finished my first mug of coffee). That still looks a bit scary so lets break it down a bit more. It breaks down to 1,667 words daily. Hmmm, that doesn’t look so bad, does it?

For those of you who blog, consider how many words your usual blog post runs. Mine rarely come in under 1,000 words. Now, add in the number of words you input into your various social media accounts PLUS the time you spend checking Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, whatever. That daily word count suddenly starts looking more doable, at least to me.

Okay, Amanda, you’ve proven that the word count is doable, but why should I do NaNo?

I’ll be honest, that’s been a question I ask myself each year. Each year, I come up with the same answer: accountability.

Writing is one of those professions/avocations/activities/whatever you think it is where it is easy to find a reason not to put butt in chair and just write. There is always something around the house that needs to be done. Most of us reach a point in any book we’re writing where we’d much rather be writing something else. NaNo holds us accountable, even if only to ourselves, to push through the distractions and finish.

And finishing is what’s important. No one expects what comes out of NaNo to be publishable without additional work, be it filling in the details or editing or all of the above. What is encouraged is meeting the 50,000 word goal. In other words, finishing.

Now, NaNo isn’t for everyone, at least not the “official” NaNo. However, for those of you who want to sign up and get the daily or weekly encouraging e-mails, who want to find local groups to meet up with, mosey over to the official site and sign up. It’s quick and painless. You choose a screen name, name your project, fill in as many details as you want and off you go. Each day (recommended), you input the number of words you wrote.

I’ve tried NaNo officially once and real life interfered. Most years, I set the goal for myself and run with it. I’ve succeeded more often than not. However, what I’ve found is that I tend to work on more than one project when I don’t do the official NaNo. There’s nothing wrong with that. The writing is what’s important. But still. . .

So, this year, I’m doing it officially. The main reason is I have a book due to come out the end of the month and I have to put the butt in gear to finish it. I’ve had the rough draft finished for some time but something about it kept bothering me. It was a good book but there was something wrong. It took me a bit to figure out what it was and then, when I finally, did, I wanted to pound my head against the wall.

You see, I’d made a fundamental mistake. I had forgotten a thread I’d woven into the first book, Sword of Arelion (Sword of the Gods Book 1). Worse, it wasn’t a thread that I could do a quick nod to and everything would be all right. I’ve made notes about how to fix the problem but it comes down to this: I have to add a new section to the beginning of the book, one that looks like it will be approximately nine chapters. Then I have to go through what I already wrote and rewrite a lot of it to fit the new opening. So, this book is now my NaNo project.

Do I have a full 50,000 new words to write? Probably not on Dagger of Elanna. But it will be close to it, especially when you look at editing. Besides, there will probably be one short story being written this month as well. So, yeah, I’m aiming for a minimum of 50,000 words and will be tracking it on my blog. I’ll try to remember to update it here throughout the month.

Now, all of this is a long-winded way of saying I blame Sarah for this. Don’t listen to her when she says it is my own fault. You see, we were talking the other day and I told her I was setting a new goal for myself, something I was going to try for the next six months to see how it impacted my sales. My goal is to try to bring out at least one new title a month. Don’t look at me like that. I’m not crazy enough to try to bring out a new novel a month. However, I do think it doable to bring out a short story or novella one month and a novel the next.

Why? Or maybe, more importantly, how?

It’s simple really. I can pound out a short story in a day if the plot is already firmly in mind. If not, it may take a couple of days. So that doesn’t take any real time away from the novel, especially not if I’m disciplined and use the time I’d normally be browsing the web to write it. The purpose is simple. I want to see if bringing out something new every month helps stop the sales dip that happens approximately 6 weeks to 2 months after a new book comes out.

Oh, getting back to blaming Sarah. I expected her to tell me I was insane. Instead, she said she needed to do the same. So it has become a mutual butt-kicking deal. She is supposed to kick my butt when I slack off and I get to return the favor. Since it also corresponds with NaNo, it just seemed reasonable to add that to the “encouragement” chain.

So, NaNo, here I come.

Oh, btw, to show you that it isn’t impossible to meet the daily word count, this blog post is going to come in at approximately 1400 words. It has taken me half an hour or so to write it.

Here’s my challenge to you. Even if you don’t officially take part in NaNo, set yourself a goal for the month. Post it in the comments below and, when the month is over, let us know how you did. For those of you who have done NaNo before, post your impressions and any suggestions you might have for those who are newbies to to. Finally, tell me why you are — or are not — doing NaNo.

One last thing, here’s a post from Pat Patterson that I love. He hits the nail on the head when it comes to what being a writer means. You don’t have to write novels. You don’t have to write in a certain genre. What you have to do is write. So, my friends, go out and write. If you don’t think you can, then read and do the author a favor. Leave a review. (Do that often enough and you will realize that you are a writer. You might not be a novelist but you write reviews and authors will thank you for it.)

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NaNo is over. What now?

That collective sigh of relief and groan of frustration you heard yesterday came from the hoards of authors who met — or didn’t — their NaNoWriMo goals. Now they are looking at those 50,000 words and wondering what to do with them. Should they put them aside for a bit and then come back to see if they are anywhere close to a book or if they more resemble a cabbage. Others are wondering why they couldn’t meet the deadline and wondering how they can ever be an author if they can’t successfully complete NaNo. Then there are those who know they finished their 50,000 words, that they have a book (of sorts) as a result but aren’t sure it is worth the work they will have to put in to bring it to publishable standards.

All of those reactions — and more — are why I don’t particularly like NaNo. I’ve done it. I’ve failed more often than I’ve successfully concluded it. I’ve seen the faces of those in my writer’s group go pale, their features slack, when I ask if they are going to take part. I can’t blame them. For most folks, writing 50,000 words in 30 days sounds next to impossible. For a lot, it is. Real life always seems to find ways to keep them from the keyboard and adding the pressure of an artificial goal only compounds the pressure to write to the point that the muse not only goes quiet but she goes somewhere far, far away.

Still, I recommend NaNo to almost everyone, especially those who have had a dry stretch. However — don’t laugh. You knew there had to be a but to all this — I tell folks not to let the 50,000 word goal put them off. If they don’t think they can do that much, then they should set a more reasonable sounding goal. Then, during the course of NaNo, they need to do their best to stick to their goal (and be ready to tell the crit group how they did and what they think helped them meet their goal or what caused them to miss it). What I have learned over the last few years is that NaNo can and does serve as a good kick in the writerly butt for some of them and it also lets them see what sort of distractions they have started allowing into their writing time, many of which they can learn how to ignore or at least postpone until they get their writing in for the day/week/month.

I’ll admit, as I already have, that I usually don’t meet my NaNo goals. That’s because I know I can do 50k in a month and don’t adjust the word count. That is when Real Life tends to kick me in the teeth. Whether it is illness, either of me or a family member, or death or something around the house deciding to go MIA, something always seems to happen. It did this year. The difference was that I still managed to not only meet my 50k goal but I exceeded it.

So what was different?

A couple of things. First, I didn’t start with a brand new project. I had one project I was close to finishing and another I had been messing around with for a year or so that I wanted to finally put to bed. The first project, Nocturnal Challenge (Nocturnal Lives Book 4) , had been one of those books that fought me every step of the way. Using NaNo, I finally got it finished and it is currently available for pre-order. Publication date is December 15th for the e-book and shortly after that for the print version.  I honestly feel that if I hadn’t had the double deadlines of NaNo and of the pre-order drop dead date of December 5th to get the final version uploaded to Amazon, I might still be fighting the book. Not because I didn’t know what to write but because I started the book thinking it would be the end of the current story arc for the series, only to find there is one more book left. I don’t like change and this was a big change for my writer’s brain to take in. Any way, I did 20k words on Challenge and it will go live in a little more than two weeks.

The second book, Slay Bells Ring, is a departure. Before I get into the heart of Honor from Ashes, the next book in the Honor and Duty (2 Book Series), I needed to do something that wasn’t as intense as Challenge had been or Honor will be. So, I went back to Slay Bells Ring, a romantic suspense novel. It will be finished in another day or two, coming in at approximately 90,000 words or so. Of those, I have written 60,000 this past month. Even for me, that (added with the 20k from Challenge) is a lot to do in a month. But this past month has been one of those where the stress had to be countered with something else and that meant writing. The only downside has been that my blogging has gone by the wayside. I’ve discovered that when I go on a writing jag like I have been on this month, I don’t blog. Not even about my writing. There is something about having to switch to the blogging mindset more than once a week (MGC) takes me out of the creative mind. So . . . . the result is that I will be releasing the e-book of Slay Bells Ring Christmas week. Two books in one month is a record for me and not particularly one I want to repeat any time soon.

So, what’s the purpose of this post other than to blow my own NaNo horn? Part of it is to encourage those who didn’t manage to make the 50k goal of the “official” NaNo rules not to give up. Adapt and adjust the word count next year to what you think you can do and then add a little to it. It is also to say not to get discouraged if you didn’t meet it this year. Real life happens and, as those of us who post here can tell you, it happens more often than any of us would like. NaNo is a great kick in the pants, if you let it and if you don’t take it too seriously. Just remember that there will be times when you meet the goal and times when you don’t, times when you blow past the goal and times when you don’t come close. It doesn’t really matter as long as you keep writing.

So, to answer my question at the top of the post. What comes next? Write some more.

 

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Write. Just Write – a guest post by Patrick Richardson

So I’m not officially a writer, well, not a fiction writer anyway. (Yes yes, Sarah, I know, finish the bloody thing.)

I actually am a professional writer, some of you have even heard of me. I’m a journalist, which means over the last 20 years or so I’ve probably written as many words as most fiction writers, I just do it shorter.

I’ve also spent much of the last few years mentoring younger writers, trying to teach them a few things about the news business. I think some of these are applicable to fiction as well. So as Sarah and Kate have dragooned me into this post, I shall share a few.

First, writer’s block happens. It happens to fiction authors and it happens far more often to journalists on deadline — usually when there’s some pug ugly editor (I resemble that remark these days) standing over you checking his watch and tapping his foot demanding “where’s my copy” every five minutes.

Meanwhile you can’t figure out the lede (yes that’s spelled right, long story) let alone the body copy.

So here’s a hint: Write. Just write.

Most journalists, and I suspect fiction authors get stuck on the lede, that first part of the story, the catchy part that gets the reader’s attention. When you’re blocked forget the lede, write something boring that’s a place-holder and move on. I don’t care if you rewrite paragraphs three times or more. Bang away until something breaks, eventually the story will be done and you can go back and fix that boring lede. Writer’s block is a pain and it can cause you to panic and think the muse has left you — it hasn’t.

Write.

I don’t care what existential angst you think writers are supposed to have or how noble it is to suffer with block.

Write.

What you’re writing may be pure drek, but sooner or later the block will break and the words will flow again. This post is a prime example. I had no idea what I was going to write about when Sarah asked me, so I sat down and started writing. See, simple.

Lesson two — your words suck. Seriously.

Your writing is not perfect. Ever. Stephen King’s writing is not perfect. Sarah A. Hoyt, Kate Paulk, Tom Clancy, pick your favorite author. Their writing is not perfect. Someone had to edit it.

I’m not saying the reign of the gatekeepers is justified mind, but everyone needs an editor to look their stuff over, make sure the copy makes sense, that the story flows and is consistent, that there are no holes in the copy and that awkward constructions are cleaned up. And no, you can’t do this yourself.

The reason for this is actually fairly simple. You know what you meant to say. It makes sense to you. The problem is, no one else can understand it. That’s not really true, but you really DO need someone else to look your work over. Several someones in fact. By the time a story in my paper of say, 500 words — which is about 10 inches in the way we measure stuff in the newspaper business — a medium length story, hits print at least four sets of eyes have been over it.

So don’t you think a 180,000 word novel should have at least that many?

Which brings us to point three — don’t fall in love with your own words. Your editor is going to change them. If he’s good at what he does he won’t change your voice or meaning, but he will clean up your awkward constructions, your bad grammar, lousy punctuation and other foibles. That’s his job, same as yours was to write it. Let him do it.

Point four — write to a sixth grade audience. “Do what!?!”

No I’m not talking about dumbing down your writing. I’m not talking about writing “see Spot run.”

I’m talking about not writing over the heads of your audience. This entire post has been written using words that any sixth grader should be able to understand and yet I haven’t talked down to you once.

But a novel, or a newspaper article, is not the place to show off your command of obscure portions of the English language. That sort of mental masturbation is the province of scholarly papers on the mating habits of the Lesser Prairie Chicken where idiot academics compete to prove how big their PhDs are by the use of ever more arcane and florid language.

Save it for love poems to your sweet babboo, folks.

Keep your prose light and simple. Not stupid, but easily readable and understandable. The point is not to show how big your, er, vocabulary is, but rather to tell a story — to communicate. Florid prose gets in the way of that and should be disdained. (See what I did there?)

So that’s it in a nutshell folks.

Write, let others read it, accept editing and don’t write over your audience’s head.

Simple as pie.

 ***

Patrick Richardson is a 15 year veteran of the newspaper business and a well-known blogger on the national stage. He’s also an aspiring fiction writer who has several projects started but can never seem to finish one.

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Goals for the New Year

by Amanda S. Green

As the year draws to an end, I’ve seen a lot of blog posts and news articles about the “Year in Review”. I guess I could do one of those today but, frankly, I’d rather not. I’ve written all I could ever want to about the Borders bankruptcy and what locally owned bookstores need to do, in my opinion, to survive. I’ve been vocal in my opinions concerning those who automatically damn Amazon for doing things other retailers have been doing for years. After all, it is so easy to attack the 800 lb. gorilla. My thoughts on the ability for authors to release their back-lists or publish their books on their own through programs like KDP from Amazon and PubIt from Barnes & Noble are well-known. So, what to blog about today?

I guess I could blog about writing resolutions for the New Year. The only problem is, I hate resolutions. They are so easy to break. So how about some writing plans for the New Year? Why plans instead of resolutions? That’s simple. As writers we have so much more control over our careers now that we have to plan. It isn’t enough to just write anymore. So, what should we, as writers, plan for?

First, we have to write. Whether you set a word count by day/week/month or butt in chair time, you have to write. That’s a given.

Going hand-in-hand with writing is the need to finish. It is so easy to just write, jumping from project to project without ever finishing one. So, that is the second plan or goal. Something has to be finished. Preferably seveeral somethings.

Then there is the need to know what to do with that finished project. It is very easy to say, “I’m just going to self-publish all my work instead of going the traditional route.” While I’m not saying don’t do this, I am suggesting you consider all your options. There are good and bad points to both traditionally publishing your work and self-publishing it. So research and determine which route will work best for you.

Edit. Whether you are submitting through traditional routes or not, your work needs to be edited. And this comes after the beta readers.

Promote. Tell your friends what you’re doing. Blog about it. Tweet. Facebook. You get the idea. If you aren’t getting word of your book or story out there — and it needs to be beyond your immediate circle of friends — your chances of making back your initial investment (which includes your time to write it) decline.

Research — not only your market and publishing options but research what you are writing as well. Whether you are writing romance, fantasy, historicals or whatever, there is always research involved. It can be making sure you know what a certain restaurant serves for dinner or the history of a region. Believe me, if you make a mistake, someone is going to tell you — usually AFTER the book or short story has come out.

Study — study the market, and not just the numbers put out by Publishers Weekly or the best sellers lists from the New York Times. Study what readers are saying in different fora. Study what is selling in hard copy v. what is selling in digital version. Study what other authors are doing to promote their work.

Learn — learn where your local indie bookstores are and who the owners/managers are. Go in and talk with them. Build a relationship with them and then brainstorm ways you can help one another.

Learn – how to build your own e-books that are properly formatted for all the major e-book readers as well as smart phones. That means remembering that just because something looks good on paper — or looks “pretty” — that doesn’t mean it will translate well for an e-book reader. (I’ll start the “How to” series on e-publishing Sunday).

Network — Get out of your house and to cons that are both writing oriented and also fan oriented. The writing oriented cons are necessary to meet and greet — and brainstorm with — other writers and editors. Even with publishing in the upheaval it’s in, this is still necessary, especially if you are considering keeping a foot in the traditional segment of publishing.  The fan cons are necessary to connect with the fans and in getting word of your work out to them. (If you haven’t been to a con before, and especially if you haven’t attended as an author, find Sarah’s post about con behavior. It’s a must read.)

Write. Yes, I know I’ve already mentioned it. But this is the base of how we earn money. So, along with all the other things we have to do — and I haven’t mentioned family, “real” jobs, sleeping and eating, just to mention a few — this is the one thing we have to do all the time. So, write. Then write some more.

Set a goal. My goal for this upcoming year is enough to make my head spin. I have at least one title, either short or long, due every month. It means I have to force myself to be disciplined enough to do my work for NRP and to find time for writing as well. Do I sometimes wonder if I’ve gone crazy? Nah, I’m a writer. That means I’m halfway there anyway.

So, what are your goals for this upcoming year and what steps are you going to take to meet those goals?

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