If you are so inclined, you can help to fund Martian through its current indiegogo campaign. This will not affect whether or not my story is published, but might affect how many more stories Martian is able to buy and how quickly they are published.
I’m unable to take part in NaNoWriMo this year, but now seems like a good time to reflect on taking part last year.
First and foremost, NaNoWriMo is about getting words down. It’s about getting used to writing every day. Sitting in the chair and doing it. Inevitably that might mean the words aren’t as good as you would hope for, and the story is not as coherent as you would wish. That’s ok. There are limits to what you can do in a month. But the main goal is to write 50K words and that’s the one thing you shouldn’t compromise on.
At the same time, I do not believe it is a good thing to write 50K words of utter crap. You can aim higher than that. You can try to push the idea in a more exciting direction every day. You can try to discover a story that you can someday stand behind and publish.
Every time you write something you learn new things about what makes a story work or not work. You learn about your own strengths and weaknesses as a writer, and see where you can improve. Most importantly you learn that you can do it. Self-doubt falls away, because you are, in fact, writing a story, and not just thinking about it.
What then if you fail? You might find that 50K words is actually too difficult for you, or that life intervenes in some way you could never have anticipated. Well, as soon as you’ve written one sentence, as soon as you’ve made a start, then you’ve succeeded to some extent. The glass really is half full with NaNoWriMo, or any other kind of actual writing. Actual writing always takes you forward. Even if you later scrap it and write something better.
But try to hit that 50K target. Have a plan. Write 1700 words every day. Or write less on weekdays but more on weekends. Track your progress. Know whether you’re ahead or falling behind. If you’re ahead keep going. Maybe even edit a little. Or think about how you would pitch this story to a publisher. What would make it stronger? If you’re behind, can you somehow devote more hours per day to the task? Or are you being too self-critical, too much of a perfectionist? This is a first draft, not a final manuscript.
Oh now I am wishing I had time for NaNoWriMo 2017. I don’t but I do have other goals for November. Best of luck to you if you’re giving it a go. Give it your best shot.
This morning I’ve been working on the first paragraph of a story. The draft I’d written earlier did a bit of scene setting but wasn’t as polished as a first paragraph needs to be, and certainly didn’t grab the reader as a first paragraph needs to do.
At this moment it is much improved, but it’s something I will return to, probably many times between now and the day the story is published.
Last weekend I was a guest on the Time for Cakes and Ale podcast, episode 15, chatting about short fiction in the science fiction and fantasy genre. We also talked about my own writing, and the shortlisted stories for the BSFA Award. The episode is online now. Much thanks to Eeson and Becks for inviting me on. 😀
Had a great time at Eastercon. The time flew by. The ale was good (if expensive). Thanks to everyone who chatted. Special thanks to Eeson and Becks – I guested on their podcast, which will be posted soon.
So I did NaNoWriMo, and it was good. 50K words written during November 2016 is a big deal. It’s a big deal for anyone and I take my hat off to everyone who managed it. To anyone who tried and didn’t quite get there, I sympathise. Success is definitely a mix of hard work and good luck. If I’d lost even a few days for any reason I doubt I would have reached the target, but fortunately it all worked out.
Apparently there were 7 million words written by NaNoWriMo participants this year in the Brighton area alone. That is a mind-boggling statistic. And it’s obvious that the vast majority of these stories will never be published. But everyone who took part did it for their own reasons.
For me, there were a number of reasons to take part. Writing has always been a slow, meticulous process for me. And publishing is often an even slower process. I wanted to get out of my comfort zone and write something really fast. I’ve heard many other writers say that a first draft should be written as quickly as possible. It is the best way to get a real understanding of what the story is, or could be. If you haven’t spent too much time doing it, then the book could potentially be completely rewritten for the second draft, with a much greater sense of clarity and purpose.
Well okay, I get that, but I have to say I am not completely convinced. Still, I’ve been writing for long enough now that I can say with some confidence, there is no one way to write a story. If it worked this time, the only conclusion you can draw is that it worked this time. The next idea might require a different approach to get it done. You have to always be open to that.
Another reason to take part was just the fun of writing something brand new. The idea for this book only occurred to me somewhere around the middle of October. To just sit and come up with new pages of story every day through November — that really is the fun part of writing. The revision process that follows is a whole other kind of thing. There is much satisfaction to be had, but it’s not fun in the same way that writing a first draft is fun.
NaNoWriMo removes the editing part from the writing process. There simply isn’t time for it. It was interesting to spend a month doing only the fun stuff!
Another reason people take part in NaNoWriMo is for the sense of community. If your word count is lower than your friends’ it can be very motivating! I recorded my word count every day and blogged it once a week. Here’s a picture of how it went through the month:
That “You won!”with an exclamation mark makes me wince. NaNoWriMo is about “doing”. The notion of “winning” feels weirdly inappropriate. Maybe that’s just me.
The orange bars are when I hit particular NaNoWriMo milestones (eg 25K, 40K…). For most of the month I was behind schedule, and it was only in the last 4 days that I got ahead. I think the whole experience would have been more relaxed and enjoyable if I could have got ahead of schedule in the first few days and had a sense of coasting through to the end. Hah! Maybe next time…
What did I just say? Next time? Am I mad? Well, maybe someday. I somehow doubt I will be doing this next year. It would mean putting my life on a hold for a month (again). And it would mean it is the right time to write something new. I might be in the middle of revision on another project when November 2017 comes around. I kind of hope so because I have a backlog of work that needs revising, and needs to be published.
What the experience has given me, more than anything else, is a reminder that writing is the most enjoyable when it is all-consuming. When it is undertaken with purpose, rather than fitted in around the periphery of a busy life. So, whether it is November or any other time of year, I’ll be getting on with it. And once in a while, that will mean a mad crazy scramble to write something brand new.