Word count total

30K Done!

I have been a bit too busy lately to post my progress here, but I am still on track with Nanowrimo. I continue to be surprised by the way this new novel is unfolding. It’s so very first draftish. I can already anticipate some of what will need fixing or cutting, but it is so helpful to have written what I’ve written because it has been a process of discovery. As my protagonist moves through various situations in this new setting, I keep learning more about the setting and some of the problems she must deal with.

I have been surprised because there was a character who (in my very loose Nano prep plans) was supposed to be an antagonist in a fairly superficial way. He was supposed to misjudge and dislike my protagonist, and be generally annoying—yet he insisted on becoming relatable and even potentially an ally to her. In general, I know my story could use a bit more drama rather than what has been a quieter percolating tension, so his insistence on being an ally is toning down the conflict even more. But it has increased the way this novel keeps surprising me. I really don’t know what’s going to happen until it starts to happen, and then it leads me to new possibilities. And though the drama has been muted, the mystery and the surprises are still mostly working. I have had few chances to use the writing exercises that I had hoped to integrate in the drafting process somehow, but there will be time for that later.

At any rate, it is so much fun. And I have to say that again this year, Nanowrimo works best if I pretty much aim to stay at “par” each day—reaching at least the average word count needed to be on track to reach 50,000 by the end of the month. Some days I have written more than 1667 words, though usually not more than 3000 words in a day. Those extra days give me wiggle room for the days when I just can’t write as much.

I’ll share some of the Nanowrimo website’s charts so you can see what I mean. This first one is my progress on reaching the target daily word count.

My progress charts from Nanowrimo.org

The second shows my actual daily word counts, which vary more.

It seems to help that I try to never be under the target count—never to think, “Oh, I will do extra tomorrow.” Instead, I allow myself to write less when I have some extra words banked rather than writing less on credit, so to speak. The reason it isn’t so helpful for me to count on catching up later is that it seems to get harder and harder if there is more pressure for me to write more than 1,667 words.

Somehow, 1,667 words, more or less, is just about perfect. I get somewhere. I learn something. And then I get to stop and feel a sense of accomplishment even though I didn’t put in hours and hours.

I call that a win :).

10k badge

10k Day

10k as in 10,000 words, of course, nothing to do with kilometers or running, lol. I’ve been on track all week with my Nanowrimo work, though busy enough that it is all I can do to write an average, more or less, of 1,667 words per day. Which, to be honest, is the only way I can succeed with Nanowrimo: I just aim to stay on par every day for wherever the website (nanowrimo.org) says I should be by that day. Today, they say the “path to success” would be 10,002. Not to brag, but I’m at 10,181.

Much of what I’ve written feels like it may need to be cut or completely revised if I were ever to want to share this story with someone else. But I learn so much as I move forward. I come to understand more about the setting, characters, and situation, things I just don’t know until I try to write this story.

In other news, we had our first snow this week, just a strange steady snowfall that melted when it hit the ground, though it dusted some of the treetops, briefly. Still, I felt a burst of joy that I associate with snow days, when the world that was chugging along in one direction suddenly hits the brakes, and there is time to breathe and snuggle up with a story.

And I took this photo at a local grocery because it made me grin.

Wine under self-care sign
Day two badge

Two days in a row

I know what you’re thinking. Two days in a row doesn’t really sound like a lot. But it must be a lot because I got a badge on the nanowrimo website. And really, one of the deepest yet somehow also most obvious insights I’ve ever had is that daily effort, even the most minor teeniest tiniest effort, is probably the most powerful. This kind of work is certainly more meaningful to me than anything that I power through in one sitting. For me, at least, whatever I complete in one long session (writing any kind of report, for example), tends to lose meaning after awhile. I start to just go through the motions. There are exceptions, of course. But overall, small and steady daily effort FTW.

A few notes on today’s session:

I was in a much better mood, partly because I had more sleep, I felt better than yesterday, and I have more time to write on Tuesdays.

I actually did have to stop writing before I reached my word-count goal for the day because I needed to make some decisions about the setting for this scene. It led me to sketch out the location (and I use the word sketch very loosely here), which in turn led me to get more ideas for world-building, etcetera. So even though that added maybe 45 minutes to my writing time but no fresh words to my word count, it was super rewarding. I also engaged in some light research on the web that was fun and generative.

As I write, my previous efforts to edit/revise my completed novels have made me conscious of elements in this first chapter that will need to change. I mean, some of what is happening here, at the start of the book, is just slow. It’s important to me, to my protagonist, and to my story, but when I revise, I will have to find a way to crank up the pressure, maybe move some conflicts upfront so the protagonist has to deal with that while absorbing this slower unfolding of tension that is occurring now.

I’m hoping this realization is a helpful one for me. I want to believe that I can make that fix later on. I also just don’t know how else to make sense of this novel but to write it out, find out what might happen, then revise it later to make a reader want to read it, too.

To my fellow writers, whatever you are working on this week, write on!

First day badge

Day One Done

Just thought I’d post a little shout here to say that despite having a super tired Monday today, I managed to write 1690 words for my first day of Nanowrimo (the goal is to average around 1667 per day, so check!). I’ve had better results on other Nanowrimo months. Usually day one is one of the easiest. But I was dragging today, so it was harder, and there were definitely some passages that made me think, yep, gonna have to cut or deeply revise that part someday. But even a not-so-great writing session has its great moments where I start to learn more about what might happen. Oh, and I just realized, I didn’t wind up using the writing prompt that I chose for today (which was this: Write about an unusual pet). I already figured out what I would do, and I realized that the pet might play an important role later in the story in some way. That’s always so cool, when I realize that something that I added as a kind of embellishment or description or to provide color can later become important to the story.

So not only did I get started, but also I have an idea ready to develop when I return tomorrow. And maybe I’ll catch up on some sleep, too, and be raring to go for Day Two.

Best wishes to anyone else nanowrimo-ing this month.

Writing books

Nanowrimo’s Eve

So Nanowrimo (aka National Novel Writing Month) launches tomorrow, and I am ready.

Reading those words, you might not hear the doubtful tone in my voice. But I am more ready than I was at the start of October, and progress is always something to celebrate.

So far, I’ve fleshed out notes on the gist of this novel, by which I mean one core problem that will drive the plot.

I spent some time jotting notes and ideas about the setting, which went from non-existent (even though I knew it would be critical to the problem of this novel) to details that will serve as a resource to me in writing the story.

I didn’t have to take notes on my protagonist because this novel is part of a series, so I just reflected on her possible internal and external motivators at this point. I then reviewed past world-building notes and identified existing characters who could be part of this novel. Some of them have been a bit flat, so this novel gives me a chance to develop them further. I also identified at least one new central character. Because these novels draw on mystery tropes, I have identified a few possible antagonists to serve as red herrings along the way.

Just fleshing out those notes helped me identify a much-needed subplot that will run parallel to the main plot. I love the way such ideas emerge in the process of asking myself who is in the story and pondering what they want.

I chose Katytastic’s grid available on this part of Nanowrimo’s NanoPrep site https://nanowrimo.org/nano-prep-101#week3 to give myself general goals for about 27 scenes (conveniently close to the number of days in November). I don’t enjoy plotting within a spreadsheet, so I transferred the categories to MindNode, one of several graphic organizer apps that help me feel more playful about brainstorming but that I somehow never use enough to know how to make the most of them. I did figure out this time how to add stickers so I placed little doodle images with several scenes to try to capture the feeling of the scene. I did not write a lot for each scene, especially for the later scenes because I suspect I will be learning more about what is going on as I write out these scenes. I mostly identified key players for the scenes, possible goals, and settings.

I think I read some wise person’s advice about it being helpful for writers to get a clear sense of direction when they write. I think that makes sense, and I suspect that what I have done so far doesn’t fall into that category. It is true that sometimes during the course of a Nanowrimo I fast draft a scene early in the month with specific actions that later in the month I pretend didn’t happen because I can see how they didn’t work.

So there are aspects of the pursuit of 50,000 words in one month that don’t quite fit with Serious Writing. As I thought about it, I realized that Nanowrimo feels a bit like a game for me. Can I dream up the novel with just a few ideas? It’s a bit like a game I recall from long ago called, Name that tune, when you had to bet you could name a song with as few notes played as possible, i.e. I can name that tune in five notes. So I’m challenging myself to “create that novel” with as few notes as possible. I may discover mid-month (or sooner) that I need more plans, so I will have to stop and take more notes and make more decisions, including, as I mentioned, possibly revisiting/changing something I’d already drafted. It may take more time, but I just love being surprised by what I am writing.

So this year I realize that I do this for fun as much as anything else. Which, if I’m honest, has become the best reason to write, especially as I learn more and more about the publishing industry. It’s not that it’s impossible to write for your career, one way or another. But if you want the act of writing to be rewarding in the deeper sense of the word, just write for fun (or for joy or for personal transformation or to tell a story you need to tell).

As I dug into this commitment to pursue the joy of writing, I remembered how much I loved writing exercises with writing prompts. Again, it’s a kind of play or puzzle to see what arises in the moment. So the last stage of my NanoPrep was to identify three of my favorite sources of writing prompts (and I’ve barely scratched the surface with all three books): Everyday Creative Writing: Panning for Gold in the Kitchen Sink by Michael C. Smith and Suzanne Greenberg, The 3 A.M. Epiphany: Uncommon Writing Exercises that Transform your Fiction by Brian Kiteley, and Naming the World and Other Exercises for the Creative Writer, edited by Bret Anthony Johnston. Each day, I will pick one at random… or eventually pick one, in case I keep rejecting whatever I pick at random, and let that be what kicks off my drafting session for the day.

I saw a tweet by Erin Morgenstern that sums up my take on Nanowrimo:

https://twitter.com/erinmorgenstern/status/1454082114081673226?s=21

The only thing I would add is to clarify that “messy” drafts are accomplishments. As far as I’m concerned, that’s what we mean when we talk about drafting a novel. Revising a novel, that’s for later. (And of course, some people clean up the draft as they put it on paper, so you do you—I’m just saying that calling Nanowrimo a time for messy drafts is not a criticism.)

So to anyone else joining in the games and messes tomorrow, best wishes!

Countdown to November

It’s that time of year again. No, not fall, though that is my favorite season. No, not Halloween, though that’s fun, too. Nope, I’m talking about National Novel Writing Month, nicknamed Nanowrimo because why not.

Just a quick definition for the uninitiated: Nanowrimo comes across as a contest, but everyone can win, and winning is defined as writing 50,000 words or more in one month. There are “prizes” to celebrate reaching the goal, such as a certificate you can print out, and free trials or discounts for writing-adjacent products. You can choose to pursue the old school goal, which is to write a novel from scratch (planning is allowed) or you can go rogue and use the month to revise or update or write short pieces everyday. Most importantly, you get to chart your progress on the website to watch as you get closer and closer to the goal of 50,000 words.

I sometimes choose to blog about my progress during November, and I like to see if any fellow bloggers are trying it, too. It’s just fun to cheer each other on. Last year, I wound up becoming shy about posting on my blog about Nanowrimo because it felt insensitive to talk about this endeavor when I knew many were struggling with pandemic-related challenges. I also am aware that some writers, and I usually assume they are better writers than I am, find Nanowrimo frustrating because it’s just fast drafting, an approach to composing that might not work for them, and frankly, doesn’t result in a high quality novel by December 1.

Recently, though, I was thinking about how over the years (and I’ve “won” Nanowrimo nine times), I often approach the month of November feeling a bit of burnout from work or whatever, yet I am always in the best mood during November. While I regret that for some writers Nanowrimo is a source of guilt or some feeling of inadequacy based on the (inaccurate!!!) idea that so-called real writers can write novels in a month (lol), I want to explain that participating in Nanowrimo simply makes me happy. It reduces rather than increases stress for me.

I think it might be helpful to explain why. Again, this is for me. This is not so much an attempt to convince everyone that they should try Nanowrimo—it’s not a good fit for everyone, and for some writers, it might be counterproductive and/or a complete waste of time. I mostly want to explain why this works for me and why it is not a waste of time for me. Nanowrimo has helped me get writing done, including fleshing out full novels, that had been rarer for me before my first Nanowrimo. But I also always must thoroughly revise everything I’ve written during Nanowrimo, so the main benefit is the idea that it can help to write every day, and you don’t have to set arbitrary word count goals to get that result and you don’t have to sign up for Nanowrimo in order to write daily, either.

So really, for me, what makes Nanowrimo such a morale booster is that unlike the rest of the year, I don’t have to wonder, “what should I work on now?” Or “What is my top priority?” There are many aspects of writing that require a lot of gritting of teeth, such as some types of revising or what feels like endless problem-solving to figure out what isn’t working in a scene, not to mention my least favorite, publication and marketing endeavors. In November, I already know the answer to the question of what should I do: Work on the novel! I need to generate an average of 1667 words per day so that I can be on track to reach 50,000 words total by November 30. The words should be fresh writing on a novel, but that doesn’t mean they have to be perfect or keepers, so I can be playful about my approach. I can work for an hour or so to get in my words all at once, or I can grab a few minutes here or there to write parts of it throughout the day.

It’s fun. It’s writing without self-flagellation. Just get it done. Be creative. Be playful.

During the month, the daily effort means the novel is my main focus, so it starts to percolate in my brain even when I’m not writing. I get ideas when I take showers or go for a walk. I’m more open to the possibilities for this one specific goal. The focus on just this one novel, rather than the Everything that I normally need to consider, lightens the load on me so much, and I get to feel productive and creative for the entire month. I must be productive and creative because the bar graph on the website says I am, right? Ha.

There are easy writing days and there are hard ones, yet the challenge is, for me, just enough that I can usually push through as long as nothing extremely stressful is going on in the rest of my life. (A certain amount of stress and distractions are always going to be there, but some Novembers are better than others.)

So anyway, this is my apology and explanation about why I love Nanowrimo so much, and why I might mention it now and then in blog posts ahead. Whether this is your writing goal or something different, write on, my friends.

Keep it short?

I recently skimmed through an old copy of Writer’s Market, where a section described blogging as best when the posts are short. It occurs to me that I don’t always approach my own blog posts that way, yet as a reader, I am rather grateful when one of my WordPress buddies posts something short because I rarely have a lot of time to read blog posts.

It feels like a good goal to explore what is possible with shorter posts, and I wonder if I would post more often if I didn’t conceive of the post as a form of essay.

How short is short, I wonder? Should I stop now? (Yes, you say. Nice try, I reply.)

I wanted to add this thought that came to me. Shorter posts make me think of what happens on Twitter or Facebook, sometimes called micro-blogs. Those spaces feel to me like highways, constantly in motion with the benefits of speed as well as the dangers. This WordPress blog feels more like a pasture. Quiet, almost peaceful. There is less to see unless I take time to notice what’s around me, to be open to what the day brings.

Alternative Facts About my W-I-P

Dear Publishing Professional:

This book about aliens wearing fuzzy orange hats compares well with your favorite book, which turns out to be Little Women, and I’m going to get back to you on exactly how this is the right fit.

My protagonist is indeed grappling with a life or death decision that will keep you up at night and cause you to wonder if anything is real anymore. You will need intense therapy after you read this book. No, no, I mean it, there is no way that this book is just an entertaining story with a few subtle and not-so-subtle themes. No one wants to read that any more, do they? They want to be scarred for life by the act of reading, or so your mswishlist led me to believe and I am here for it.

My novel is exactly 75,000 words long, the perfect length, I know, and that was made possible once I added the word “very” 10,000 times. I never realized how very helpful that word could be. Because I am a creative (which turns out to be a noun now, and I am fine with that), I also added the word “so” a few thousand times too.

I would tell you my favorite books except that talking about favorite books is a bit like telling someone my favorite music, and there is nothing that sparks disdain more than finding out someone likes the wrong kind of music. Let’s leave it at this—I love to read and write, and some of what I read are books.

This book will be so easy to sell because the truth is that I don’t even need any help selling it. I am just writing this query for the fun of it. No, wait, how about this—I am doing it to give back to the publishing community out of gratitude for the many books I have loved over the years, and now that I’ve written that sentence I admit there is some truth to that.

Of course, everything I’ve written so far is completely true or at least is similar to things that have sometimes been true.

With warm regards and possibly a plate of chocolate chip cookies,

Me

To be good at something

Over the years, my children have at times sought to identify what they were “good at,” or some “special talent,” or perhaps complained that others seemed to be at ease with tasks that were for them more challenging.

Some of my children have shown interest in art and music, for example, and this has led some well-meaning relatives to ask if I thought my kids had talent in it.

I bristle at the question (but try to mind my manners). In some analytical, statistically-driven way, it is possibly true that there are qualities that we could call talent or that there are individuals born with an affinity or proclivity for certain tasks. Even in those situations, I sense a bit of a “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” dilemma because individuals who are surrounded with the opportunity and encouragement to engage in a task have a good chance at improving at that task. If one has some kind of “natural tendency” to build on, so much the better, though at some point whatever was natural gets replaced by skills that are acquired through years of practice.

The point of my bristle is that I don’t think we are fated to be artists or writers or musicians or athletes or teachers or doctors or marketers or whatever. A natural affinity combined with opportunity to practice may increase the odds of one of these outcomes, sure. But too often people take the inverse to be true, concluding that they must not be “good at that,” and they will never get better at it because they did not have an immediately detectable affinity and/or plenty of opportunity. To be an artist, to be a writer, to be a musician, to be a (fill-in-the-blank) is reserved for those lucky other people, not them.

I disagree. I believe if you want to pursue any art or skill, if you work at it, you can get better. You should not close the door on something you might enjoy just because you aren’t yet “good at it.” It may take time. It may not turn out the way you imagine. But don’t give up without giving it a fair try (whatever “it” is—the arts, sports, academic subjects, specialized skills).

I should clarify that I am not giving career or financial advice here. Many wonderful artists, writers, musicians, athletes, etcetera make money in ways that have little to do with that pursued art/skill. So it may be that you will need a day job, as it is called. Or maybe not. You don’t know what the future holds. So don’t close doors on yourself just because something is hard at first.

I also don’t know that it is necessary to be the best at something to find the work rewarding or of benefit. If I am honest, I am weary of the clamor and pressure within the culture to be best, perhaps because I find that this sends the signal that if you can’t be best, don’t bother. As if only the best are the ones who matter.

I reject a scarcity mindset in determining who matters. Everyone does. Period.

Instead of the pursuit to be the best, I embrace the goal of getting better. Am I getting better at what is important to me? If so, good.

So perhaps don’t worry about finding what you are good at. Focus on finding what you want to get better at.

Font of wisdom

Today I want to kvetch a bit about fonts. You see, I am super partial to serif fonts. To be honest, I love all fonts, even the ones that make me shudder at the thought of actually using them in anything someone else would have to read (I’m looking at you, Western font). But my favorites have serifs.

So a few years ago when someone I respected told me that we should only use sans serif fonts because they are easier for people with dyslexia to read, I bristled, and of course, felt a bit guilty about the bristle. I mean, I am on board with accessibility. But also I was trained years ago as a reading specialist, and there was no talk of fonts back then (plus there were questions about dyslexia as a specific diagnosis versus the more appropriate and all-encompassing phrase ‘reading disability,’ for which direct support in word knowledge, fluency, and comprehension matter more than worrying about fonts, especially once the reader has advanced past primary reading levels, which was true for the college-age audience we were discussing). I made a few doubtful sounds, and the person told me I was out of touch with the latest research, which was likely true, but I wasn’t 100% clear that my colleague’s sources were grounded in reading research, so I continue to prefer serif fonts but am open to using sans serif sometimes just in case he was right.

Fonts came to mind again recently after listening to a podcast where one of the speakers was an agent complaining about writers pitching using Courier font. She suggested that the default Arial was much better.

I had to take a few breaths because I really resent the way my Pages app tries to force me to use Arial on anything because it feels like such a lazy font to me, skipping serifs and breakfast as far as I can tell. I even created a special template called 14 point Times New Roman for when I refuse to even look at Arial. And don’t get me started on WTF is going on when I copy and paste text into a Google email?? Or make edits to the email before sending? These emails sometimes show up with strange variations in font type and size, and I feel as if I was walking around with my underwear showing if my email gets sent in that mixed font state.

While I would never send Courier to anyone (except maybe back in the day when I submitted a story to Marion Zimmer Bradley’s magazine and she wanted it in Courier— she of course rejected the story, but I loved having the rejection letter signed by her), I have an affection for it because it heralds for me old school typewriter writing (though not as well as the American typewriter font, which is the one I use in my online journal :)). For me, Courier evokes writers like Stephen King sending out zillions of stories to publications that no longer exist today.

Anyway, this is a long way of saying that I decided to take a peek at recent research on fonts. I found some imprecise information online, including the fact that the British Dyslexia Society recommends sans serif font, but sources tell me it is unclear why they took this stance.

I then came upon an article in the International Journal of Psychology (citation below) that looked specifically at the impact of serif versus sans serif fonts when college students were asked to evaluate research articles. Now granted, this study is limited in scope, but it included some findings that resonated for me. First, their review of the literature was helpful. It showed what I (who just recently upped my eyeglasses prescription) would agree—font size affects readability and even reactions to what you read. Also, letter recognition is a base skill, acquired well before word recognition and likely less of a concern for intermediate and advanced readers.

The review of the research and this study found that sans serif fonts support faster reading speeds. On the other hand, for smaller font sizes, serifs were helpful because they cause the letters to be spaced out more, making it easier to read.

The study also yielded this result: serif fonts may have slowed the readers down a bit, but the readers found serif font texts easier to understand, and the serifs font increased the readers’ interest and appreciation for the texts.

Do I feel vindicated? A little. Should I? Probably not. It’s just one study. But it did strike me that when I pick up a book to read, it’s almost always in a serif font. When I read a book or article with a sans serif font, it often feels less professional to me. So there seems to be some kind of cultural vibe at work here, and one that may say more about my age or for the academic audience, than a strictly cognitive response.

Still, go team Times New Roman, American Typewriter, and Didot. And I still love you Helvetica Neue, Marker Felt, and Noteworthy.

Article discussed:

Kaspar, K., Wehlitz, T., von Knobelsdorff, S., Wulf, T., & von Saldern, M. A. O. (2015). A matter of font type: The effect of serifs on the evaluation of scientific abstracts. International Journal of Psychology, 50(5), 372–378.

Postscript: It may be time for me to change my blog so I use serifs again :).