Tuesday, November 26, 2013

2013 NaNoWriMo Wrap-Up: Victory, Reflections, and Things to Come

Blog posts have been a bit thin on the ground as of late, but with good reason—I've been busy, hard at work on my novel, The Third Face of Janus, striving to reach the NaNoWriMo goal. Or rather, I had been busy, working relatively hard on the novel. If you haven't been following on Twitter or the Fane's Facebook page, it won't take long to get caught up: In an effort that was so direct as to preclude any appreciable amount of surprise at the outcome, I succeeded in topping the 50,000 words required to call myself a victor in this year's National Novel Writing Month. While the novel is far from finished—I expect to spend the next few months finishing the task of converting my novel-length narrative outline into a colossal manuscript before beginning a months-long editing process—it has indeed been accomplished. The battle has been won.

Before moving on to the rest of the war for writership, I think it best to reflect on the WriMo that was. It has been, for all intents and purposes, a fantastic month. I feel thoroughly redeemed following last year's dismal non-attempt. I've gathered unto myself a bevy of fantastic new literary acquaintances on Twitter, particularly those who participated in Friday Night Writes' boisterous Write Club sessions. I rediscovered my love for the creative process, renewed the appreciation I feel for the talents with which I'm gifted, and properly blew myself away with the level of productivity I was able to achieve. 

As I remarked in the previous post, this year's WriMo felt a bit off, owing to the ease with which I tackled each day's writing. In my previous successful attempt back in 2011—my first NaNoWrimo novel, The Lesser of Two Earths—I struggled well behind the pace for the entire month, only reaching the goal after a furious, mind-numbing effort that resulted in the addition of 15,813 words over the final three days of the month: 

It seemed a Herculean feat, as I recall. I can't say I remember it well, as those days were a blur, and so too are the memories hazy. I remember feeling exhausted for days afterword, though thoroughl content with my achievement. This year's WriMo effort, in stark contrast to 2011, was composed almost entirely of days such as those. 4,000 words per day seemed the norm, sometimes in as little as two hours' time. The lack of struggle was discomforting, unsettling, and it's not hard to see at which point those feelings overwhelmed me:

I was well ahead of the pace during the first half of the month, and that's including the first half of a week in which I wrote nothing at all. The lack of suspense had taken much of the fun out of the process, and like a spoiled brat I set about procrastinating until, on the 20th day of the WriMo, my word count fell behind the pace for the first time. I decided this manufactured concern would have to suffice, and returned to the project in earnest. Perhaps too much so. 

If anything can be said about the writing of those last 16,993 words, it's that my hands and forearms were less than pleased. There's always a slight discrepancy between Scrivener's word count and the official tally on the NaNoWriMo site, and I was short some 75 words. My arms, however, weren't having it—they thought the task had already been completed, and had already checked out. The physical effort required to add another few paragraphs was greater than that which had brought me just short of the goal. But there it was, a full 9 days left in the month, and I'd reached my goal. 

I took the rest of the day off, resting my arms and cursing myself slightly for having proven just how productive I can be, when properly motivated. The question of why I'm not more often motivated as such, even half as much, remains to be answered. The "why" isn't even necessarily that important, it's the doing that counts, and will continue to count. After a few days reveling in all things Whovian, and as the holiday season finally dawns on the Fane, the real question is, will I continue?

I can say, unequivocally, and for perhaps the first time since embarking on the writer's journey, that I feel like a proper novelist. As my novel is largely a character study, I'm not building worlds or weaving threads to create a complex plot; I am, however, in possession of an overall narrative in which I truly believe has merit, weight, value. I may spend a few more days catching the few bits of Whovian lore missing from my education, or throw on some Christmas tunes and raid the closet for decorations, but mark my words: I will complete the first draft of The Third Face of Janus

With the lack of down-to-the-wire anxiety, all the anticipation built up over the months prior to the WriMo are left wanting, and I aim to give them the satisfaction they're due. And besides, after seeing what I'm capable of, there's really no turning back. I've a new mission, and a renewed sense of purpose—I'm a novelist, now. And I don't think I could have reached that point without National Novel Writing Month having set the stage.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

WriMo in Progress - Day 13

It's been an exciting month so far, but this year's NaNoWriMo experience has finally begun to settle into some semblance of normalcy, if one could call nearly 300,000 participants across the globe endeavoring to write 50,000 words by month's end "normal". I've done most of my writing at a blistering pace during group writing sprints on Twitter, composing as much as 1,945 words in a single half-hour run. In this way I've managed to top 30,000 words without difficulty. It's been so easy, in fact, that it almost doesn't feel right. I know, by this point and without question, that I could reach the 50,000 word goal by week's end if I wantedI could've already reached it, if I'd just kept sprintingand therein lies the biggest problem for me during this year's WriMo: without the fear of failure, the constant and anxious pressure to add to the word count, I've grown a touch lazy. Without the worry, is it really NaNoWriMo?

Don't get me wrong--I'm still having an unbelievably good time. It's so easy to forget how enjoyable writing can be, when one falls out of the habit. And for it to have been going so well, I can't really compare it to any previous experience. NaNoWriMo '11 was won by the skin of my teeth, after a three-day blur that I still can't recall properly. That was tremendous fun, if exhausting, but despite the success of making goal I can't say I felt as confident in my novel or writing ability as I do now. That anxiety made the experience, thoughit's what everyone goes on about year after year, the desperation, the struggle. To borrow from a pop cultural entity whom I refuse to name, it's about the climb. With The Third Face of Janus, it's less of a climb and more like Superman zipping straight to the top, faster than a speeding bullet. It's exhilarating, but it's just not the same.

Obnoxious whining aside, I do feel particularly good about this novel. I've enough notes and source material to exceed the 50,000 word goal well before month's end, and continue on to at least 200,000 words before the story's been told. I honestly have no idea how long the first draft will be, but imagine I'll wind up culling half the words, if not more, before I have a workable second draft. The tone of the novel is beginning to resonate soundly, and I'm starting to see in this effort more than a writing exercise. There really is a novel here, or at least there will be eventually. That's not a bad feeling, and I'm sure I'll more than make up for the lack of WriMo pressure when it comes time to find beta readers in preparation for someday querying agents. 

So what if I don't have the same experience as I did during my first run? Maybe I'm just chasing the dragon, so to speak. Maybe that first time can only be had once, like so many things in life. Maybe every year's different. Maybe this year I'll actually continue until the novel's finished. And maybe someday, I'll have more than a victory t-shirt to my credit. I have a habit of beginning each year claiming "This is gonna be my year!", and for the past 5 years, it's held more or less true. Maybe this novel is the start of something bigger, and it's time instead to declare "This is gonna be my decade." Time will tell, best to not get ahead of myself. But, for the moment at least, I feel really good about this novel. Maybe that can be enough, for now.

Monday, November 4, 2013

WriMo in Progress - Audio/Visual Edition

My pace is slowing, but the quality of the writing has vastly improved. I feel as if I'm finally into the swing of things, and so today feels like the first day of proper Writing. I know I should be working on the novel, but it's a lazy sort of day. I've been a bit distracted, taking bites out of the day's goal rather than tackling it as perhaps I should. But I'm up to 9027 words, so I'm still on track. I thought an update was in order, and I'd be remiss if I didn't mention some of the A/V aids I've been using to help get the job done. I've already touched upon software to some extent, but there's more to writing than where the words go. 

When it comes to preparation for a project larger than a few pages, I find an outline helps. Usually, I'll worth with a narrative outline, or something more like a summarizing -play-by-play. I've read Tony Buzan's Make the Most of Your Mind, and while the majority of his methods have proved invaluable over the years, I never could get the hang of "Mind Mapping". Something about translating the abstract into a visual medium, perhaps; it's as if the instructions I've read were missing a few integral steps, the whole process eluding comprehension. Nevertheless, being a fan of Literature and Latte as I am, I just had to try their latest offering, the "Mind Map Plus" program Scapple.

Scapple is an extremely simple application, which is what makes it so tremendously useful. There's an array of options--the style of the notes, the way in which they're grouped and connected, even little things like the background and note's colorswhich help the user tailor the program to their needs. It's essentially a means of jotting notes, as one would in a notebook, but more convenient.

Photo from LiteratureAndLatte.com
My attempt to plot the timeline of my novel, to be quite honest, looks a mess. You can lead a writer to software, but you can't make him organize his thoughts with it. It's still useful, however, to see which portions of the story originate, feed through, or connect to other portions of the story. The above example, presented by the folks at Literature and Latte, is understandably a tad more presentable, but I wouldn't give up my nightmare of a Scapple file for the world.

Redacted because *Spoilers*
As for audible assistance, I haven't yet settled on a "soundtrack" for this year's WriMo. During my first effort back in 2011, I listened exclusively to the score to 2002's psychological scifi movie Solaris, composed by former Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Cliff Martinez. Based upon Stanislaw Lem's 1972 novel of the same name and directed by Steven Soderbergh, the movie stars George Clooney as a psychologist sent to investigate the situation aboard an observatory space station orbiting the titular planet. The film is described as a "meditative psychodrama", and Martinez's score matches brilliantly in tone.

As my novel, The Lesser of Two Earths, was to be an exploration of psychology and sociology set against the backdrop of a post-apocalyptic dystopia of sorts, the score set the mood perfectly.

In the case of The Third Face of Janus, however, I've found it difficult to settle on a single source of musical inspiration. John Brion's score to Charlie Kaufman's 2008 masterpiece Synecdoche, New York could work, at least for some scenes, but Janus is of two minds, and I need more freedom to switch between them than listening to a single score will allow. I'm a firm believer in the ability of music to boost productivity, however, so I had to employ something to that effect. In the end i decided on two somethings: Focus@Will and Coffitivity.

Focus@Will offers a number of themed music channels purported to be "attention amplifying", "scientifically designed to engage with your brain's limbic system." There's been some talk recently on the web about the benefits of particular types of music, at low volumes, facilitating creative output. Focus@Will was the first example I'd come across, due perhaps to the fact that their site is so well constructed, user friendly, and effective. Not only do they provide the aforementioned music channels, they also provide (to subscribers) customizable session lengths and productivity trackers. It's the science of personal soundtrack, boiled down to its most simple. 

Coffitivity, born of the same science as Focus@Will, and geared toward the same audience, presents an alternative to music. Enjoy working in coffee shops and cafes? Now you can enjoy the auditory ambiance of those places without leaving home. Choose between 'Morning Murmer', 'Lunchtime Lounge', or 'University Undertones', whichever variety of background chatter suits you best. Both sites offer streaming to smartphones as well, for anyone writing on the go. Maybe the chatter at your favorite coffee shop just isn't doing the trick, or the Zen channel on satellite radio is throwing too many of the same tunes your way. Focus@Will and Coffitivity have you covered.

Whatever your methods, writing at home or abroad, to music or in silence, keep writing the good write. Have any you'd like to share? Leave a comment below! For now, I think I'm going to make a pot of Earl Grey tea and loop my personal theme music, Eric Satie's Trois Gymnopedies, for a while. I've got the 10k word mark in my sights; best to strike while the iron's hot.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

WriMo in Progress - Update, Day 2

Although it's still very early on, so far it's been an amazing start to National Novel Writing Month, 2013 Edition. Things kicked off at midnight Friday morning, and I spent those first few hours participating in #WriteClub writing sprints led by the folks at Friday Night Writes (@FriNightWrites on Twitter), who have been hosting a 48 hour marathon since the WriMo began. NaNoWriMo has also been hosting official sprints through the @NaNoWordSprints account. By the end of day one, I'd reached a total of 4,211 words, which happened surprisingly quickly though I'm not foolish enough to expect that rate of progress to continue the entire month. I would, however, prefer it if I were able to complete the novel within a month's time, which would require at least doubling the NaNoWriMo goal of 50,000 words. It will, for the time being, have to remain to be seen whether or not this can be accomplished. 

Where my novel, The Third Face of Janus, is concerned, I feel things are coming along rather nicely. There are multiple overlapping elements, and despite the absence of a standard story arc I've identified a theme that the novel should, in the end, address to a satisfying extent. There's even subtext that, with any luck, will remain subtle enough to avoid obscuring the story proper. For now, I'm content to find myself writing what amount to episodes, to be linked together as the novel fleshes out over the course of the month.

I decided to make a celebration of Day 1, once my daily goal had been met and exceeded. It's been overwhelmingly awesome in the classic sense of the word, witnessing the fun and excitement of this event. Having taken that first day easy, I feel ready to tackle the task with gusto here on Day 2. Time to bite on the old nail, as Hemingway would say. There's writing to be done.