Wednesday, November 28, 2018

NaNoWriMo Update #3: The Final Days, Last Links, and Putting the "No" in NaNo

And so did the heavens open up in joyful song, praise ringing throughout the land, with a heavenly host of angels proclaiming, "SHE'S HIT 50,000 WORDS!" 

Actually, it did not go like that, at all. After writing a total of more than 12,000 words in a 24 hour period, and waking up at 6 am to drive my brother to his high school in the rain, I stumbled over my 50,711 finish line at around 10 am on Monday. In case you're wondering why I didn't write this post immediately thereafter, it's because the contents of my brain had not re-congealed into anything remotely resembling intelligent life, until I woke up and had two cups of tea this morning.

In fact, you don't even want to know the amount of spelling and grammatical errors have already occurred in writing this post alone.

But despite my lack of victory dance - unless you follow my private Instagram account, anyways - the words are true: I won NaNoWriMo again this year. Now that I've bought my traditional tee shirt, made my traditional donation, and have actually entertained the idea of picking up a book to read for pleasure again, I can finally look back and reflect on my experience...

Namely, that this year was really not fun for me! 

But before we get into all that, let's do some other general recap sort of things that may need to be taken care of, first. If you'd like to hear about the idea, genre, and title I was writing in, check out my first post update from this year, first! If you'd like to learn more about how I pre-plan my writing outlines, fun links to NaNo posts from other fun people, or how I expertly use the library as a reality avoidance technique, check out my second. 

If you're waiting to hear about my process itself, as well as dealing with bad writing days, and how I eventually met the challenge, then you've certainly come to the right place. So, let's start with the positive stuff, first:

inspiration procrastination

Something that I've never really done for a writing project before, but have always been interested in creating, is a narrative-oriented Pinterest board. I always thought it seemed a little hokey: you're essentially making a fanpage for your own material... and the things you find might end up overly affecting the descriptions you use in your writing.

However, there are two points I use against those arguments:

  • first of all, you're supposed to be your own biggest fan anyways, and if you're not writing a book you can get this excited about, then why do you bother, 
  • and secondly, there are a limited amount of ways to describe things like a brownstone in Brooklyn, or the ways a rooftop garden can be organized. Don't worry about "cheating" on descriptions, because the words you use - and the ways people interpret them - will be individual, anyways. 

I used my Pinterest board to collect images of everything from Misselthwaite Manor's architecture and furnishings, to what Maria would bring to the Manor for breakfast, to the surrounding areas of Brooklyn and greater New York, to screen caps of my favorite parts of the movie adaptation.

YouTube, as always, ended up being a great help, as well. For instance, I would watch this video for inspiration of what it would be like for Mary and the other occupants of the brownstone to walk or drive around their neighborhood. Also, YouTubers like Elena Taber made it easier to imagine the vibe of a Brooklyn that my characters would conceivably occupy.

how to tell yourself "no" 

I'd won NaNoWriMo three times before, so when I say that I was coming in with a certain surplus of confidence, I'm not exaggerating. Every year, I've tried to step up my game in challenging myself, but this year, I was a little disappointed by the fact that I didn't have a whole lot else going on in my daily schedule to keep me from writing. It almost seemed too straightforward.

I've written NaNo through snowdrifts of school work and sorority life. I wrote it in double-time, after a lengthy vacation. I even wrote before and after surgery last year! But this year, the challenge that proved to be the most insurmountable... was me.

I absolutely lost my way... going days-long stretches without having opened my Word document, let alone having written anything at all, eventually falling to about 10,000 words behind schedule. Out of everything that I had planned for when it came to making sure I kept on par with my writing schedule, the one thing I didn't factor in, was how much of a roadblock your own overthinking, lack of motivation, and depressive brain days can be. 

One of the main difficulties I had to overcome, was the issue of genre and audience. My past NaNos have fallen into similar categories: thriller/satire, and horror shorts. This year was a leap of faith, with writing for a young adult, contemporary base. I kept this blogpost, from Vicky Who Reads, saved on my dash while I was writing, as a measure of being intentional, and to remember who I was writing for.

While this kind of thinking did guide some of how the narrative structure was formatted and outlined, it kept getting in the way when it came to things like writing dialogue, or description, especially with things like my character's relationships with fashion and technology. I had focused in so specifically on writing for a particular audience, that it bogged me down when it came to trying to write organically, and eventually, at all.

The mindset that cleared my path the best ended up being the most simplistic: I just had to let the self-imposed perspective-taking go. Keeping audience in mind in this way would absolutely help with guidance in editing, but it was seriously messing with my ability to just get the words out on paper. By removing those kinds of strictures from my own paradigm, it helped free up the mental space necessary to get the narrative taken care of first. Everything else can come in second drafts.

final days 

As you might imagine, by the time I was halfway through the month, I had worked myself into such a stress ball about missing out on so many writing days, that I actually thought, "I'm not going to make this deadline." It was especially painful to acknowledge to myself that this attitude was due to something as pedestrian as lack of motivation, or writer's block.

So, genre and audience wasn't the only kind of mental check that needed to be cleared away. I also had to give up this idea that every NaNoWriMo I took part in had to be some kind of huge triumph. I had already had my big wins... maybe it was time for a little one.

It was only once I let go of the perceived audience, the self-imposed expectations, and the frustrations of a rapidly approaching deadline, that I finally found myself able to write. With my head firmly back on my shoulders, I set small, but doable, frameworks in place to help get me to each new milestone, and eventually, back on track:

  • first, I broke things down. If I had to write a minimum of 2,500 words a day, that doesn't mean all at once... instead, I began to write at least 500 words in one sitting, five times a day, which made the goals a lot more attainable. 
  • second, I started focusing on non-word-related count goals. Instead of saying, "I'll write until I get to 500 pages," I started prompting myself to reach physical landmarks instead, like "I'll write until I reach the end of this page," or "until I have to move to the next bullet point in my outline." 
  • third, I paid more attention to what ways I write best. This may sound silly, but it's the way Virginia Woolf used to do it, too: it's easiest for me when sitting in my bed, propped up on pillows, with my legs serving as a table for my laptop. (Well, maybe it's not the exact way Woolf wrote.) Once I stopped trying to be a *writer* - working at the kitchen table with my outlines scattered around me, music playing, a mug of freshly brewed coffee at my side - and just let myself start being a lazy, tired, pj-wearing writer instead, it got a lot easier to just, you know, write. 

final thoughts 

And by that, I meant writing over 12,000 words over a 24 hours period, in order to cross over the finish line five days early, as I've already mentioned. Just thinking about performing that kind of a task again makes me want to leave my house completely, or at the very least, stay far, far away from my laptop.

In some ways, achieving my NaNo word count this year really is a victory: I mean, I finished after all... something I didn't think was possible only a matter of days earlier! I banished the function of editing-while-writing, and got back into the groove of writing through my voice, versus it being mediated through any other lens. I succeeded in trying out a completely new audience and genre.

At the same time, I can't dispel those feelings of disappointment, of the idea that no matter what I ended up doing, it still wasn't the kind of win I was used to. Clicking "purchase" on that winner's tee shirt almost felt like a shallow gesture... and in a weirdly self-flagellating way, I almost wish that I hadn't ended up winning at all. I wish that the Universe had taught me a lesson or something. (Isn't that a crazy way to think?)

That's why these couple of days off have been a little necessary, and why reflection on this year's NaNo challenge resulted in such a long final update. It's been a weird ride, but I made it through... now all that's left is to try and puzzle over how things can go better next time.

Regardless, thank you to everyone who helped support me this year, and especially those - namely, my little brother - who puzzled through all of the narrative translation with me! I didn't know if I'd get it done, but your expectations never faltered, so thank you for helping me pull through to the other side.

Did you participate in NaNoWriMo this year? What was your writing experience like? Let me know, in the comments below! 

Thursday, November 15, 2018

NaNoWriMo 2018, Update #2: How I Pre-planned, Fave Links, and How I've Been Using the Library

I feel like somewhere along the way, every year, I forget how hard the challenge of writing 50,000 words in a month actually is. I mean, it doesn't really help that I've won three times already, because now, it's like the expectation has been already set that I'm going to be finishing it.

That sort of attitude is exactly what gets you more than 7,000 words behind schedule at a time, by the way. Really, take it from me... and by "take it," I mean, "take away my WiFi and my library books, because I really need to concentrate on writing my NaNo novel right now."

My name is Savannah, and on this November the 15th - the day I'm writing this - I am officially more than 7,800 words away from where I really thought I would be today

As you might remember from my first NaNo update post this month - its author in cheerful ignorance of the absolutely ridiculously difficult time she would have in trying to motivate herself to continue - I talked about how much of a challenge this year's writing project would be, and I wasn't prepared for how accurate that statement was. Writing Young Adult is an audience I wasn't prepared to engage, and jumping back into a chapter-by-chapter basis, after living in the wonderfully brief, succinct world of short stories for the past year, has been a real doozy.

Not to mention that I kind of undersold how much the material I'm adapting means to me. I knew I was in deep trouble that first day, when I started rereading Frances Hodgson Burnett's The Secret Garden again for the first time since I was in high school: this book helped me get through some hard stuff, and its main character, Mary Lennox, is still someone who, as a 25-year-old, I still identify with very strongly. Revisiting it brings me right back into that head space where I see so much of her in myself, and honestly, identifying with a main character like that makes her pretty damn hard to write. 

I thought I had done a decent amount of pre-planning, but in actuality, I haven't been using much of it: I find it distracts me from really connecting with the narrative and literature, so I've been focusing more on the source material text itself than any summaries or outlines I drummed up myself. I prepared so heavily, that I didn't think about whether that kind of planning fit in line with how I work.

That being said, I did want to shout out some of the links that I have used in my planning for NaNoWriMo, that I thought were pretty cool and beneficial: 

  • Whatever Bright Things' 2018 Word Count Calendars have not only been a lifesaver, in terms of connecting with and keeping track of my daily incremental successes, but they've made my book journal and planner just a little more colorful. I'm incredibly thankful for them, despite the fact that I haven't had as many fun news to write on them as I'd thought. 
  • Soggy Musing's NaNoWriMo prep list blog post from this past year, really gave me a few good ideas that actually have helped me get into the writing mindset, even when not actually writing. For instance, making a mock-up of my novel cover has been something I've done for the past couple of years now, but creating a playlist to write to, or building a reward wish list, are things I haven't tried before this year. 
  • Amy Allen Macleod's 2016 post on practical tips for survival has really stepped up my game, too. Using your phone's dictation app, to easily record and remember book notes while on the go? An absolute game changer. 

Resources that I've been relying on for NaNo, that you can't find online? My local library branch. In the fifteen days I have been taking part in NaNoWriMo, I have visited my library a total of three times, almost none of which have served a meaningful purpose in my writing process, besides providing me with a modicum of happiness, and the promise of actual social interaction over the course of my day.

The first trip, resulted in, what? Seven library books? Only a handful of which had any bearing on my project, but all of which looked so nice and shiny that I decided I really needed them on my shelves. No, I cannot read them right now -  I never let myself read during NaNo if I'm running behind schedule - but that's beside the point.

However, afterwards, I was absorbed by guilt, and on impulse, went into the online categories, and placed holds on five books that actually did have some sort of tie to The Secret Garden. I got too impatient waiting for them, and went in again, returning one book, and coming home with two that, once again, had nothing to do with it.

Then, finally, when my books actually came in, I returned to the library for the third time. In fourteen days. If you were wondering whether my local librarians know me by name, they all do now. Because when it comes to my preferred forms of productive procrastination, going to the library really ranks high up there.

SO, that's my story of woe, both as in "woe is me, the ding dong running way behind schedule," and "woah, dude, that's a lot of library books."

If you have any sort of recommendations for someone significantly lacking in motivation or output, let me know... but you might need to wait a little while for a response from me. I'm most likely not writing, and at the library.

Are you taking part in NaNoWriMo this year? Where are you at in your writing journey? Let me know, in the comments below!

Thursday, November 1, 2018

NaNoWriMo 2018, Update #1: Let's Get It Started!

I've participated in NaNoWriMo several times in the past, and each has been its own individual experience. From writing while an active student, sorority member, and fashion website contributor in 2014, to completing the whole challenge in 17 days after a week-long vacation, and ensuing sickness, left me sidelined for the first half of the month, in 2016. Last year I won on Day 21, after having taken only two days off: one for a major surgery, and one for recovery from that surgery!

Each time I write for NaNo, I try to use it as an chance for something new. The best example of that was last year's challenge, which I took as an opportunity to tackle both a genre I had no experience writing in - Horror! - and a format that I wasn't familiar with - short stories! - in order to push my writing experience to the next level. By the end of the challenge, I had written three and a half horror shorts that I was justly proud of, and had accumulated such a slush pile of other soft ideas, that I ended up writing one and a half more stories on my own time throughout the rest of the year... as well as about fifteen full outlines for others.

But no matter how difficult or different I found that project, the time has come to choose a new one, and while I'm going back to the standard formatting of a novel, the genre and audience I'm writing for this time might be even more intimidating than last year's. 

Young Adult Contemporary. That's what I'm writing. A genre so completely outside my wheelhouse that my younger brother - and one of my favorite reading buddies - could not even muster it up as a guess when I prodded him into trying. A genre I don't even really read on my own time, at least since I was about in high school.

Not that that's stopped me before: the first two books I wrote for NaNo were both highly-satirical thrillers... something else I don't really read. And it's not like I seek out short form horror for the most part, either! So far, that writing advice of "write something you'd like to read" is a little wonky, in my case, and YA contemporary definitely fits that quota.

But its the idea I fell in love with first. It's something I haven't been able to evict from the residency it's taken up in my head, since I first spit-balled the idea during a random Top Ten Tuesday post from last year. The more I thought about it, the more I felt sure the idea was a good one, that could work, and was the sort of thing other people might want to read, too... until now, I am left with no other choice, than to pursue the whole thing myself!

And so this year's project is going to be an adaptation, which is new for me, too. I've never even written any meaningful fanfiction, and yet, here I am about to jump in on a novel that not only I love, I've never really felt prompted to focus in on, from a writing standpoint, all that much. Here I am in the past week, doing deep dives not only into historical and pop culture context, but major themes and motifs, authorial intent and personal life, but even a gosh-darned Tony-winning musical adaptation.

At this point, to decide not to pursue it, would be like acting against my own instinct. It would be denying the part of my brain that's prompted me to take part in these crazy writing challenges all along. The only way to keep developing my writing abilities, is to keep leaning in to the organic parts of the creative process... and I, like Mary Lennox, will "[become] stronger, by fighting with the wind."

And that, ladies and gentleman, is the book I am adapting to a YA contemporary audience: Frances Hodgson Burnett's The Secret Garden. The above quote also provided the inspiration for my working title, Fighting with the Wind. 

As of the moment I post this, I have not written a single word of it yet. I haven't even written a single word of the synopsis for my NaNoWriMo author's account yet, beyond the title. I just wanted to take the time to honor where I've come from through this yearly reflection, and how excited to find out what it's willing to teach me this year.

Happy National Novel Writing Month, everyone! I can't wait to see what we come up with this time.

Are you participating in NaNoWriMo this year? What is your story? Let me know, in the comments below!