Team Oxford Comma?

I know… It would sound weird to my younger self too, but the deeper I go into writing and editing I’m gaining an appreciation for the Oxford comma.

Once, as a youngster, I learned that that comma before an ‘and’ in lists really wasn’t necessary. It was optional and something the old guys did, so I didn’t use it. That approach works just fine if you only worry about eggs, bread and milk…

But, what if you get into lists that are longer? What if you want to put things that are actually interesting into your list?

If you want to talk about red flowers, jewels that shine like the moon, the smell of mature pecan trees, and the fine sand of a South Georgia beach, then that Oxford comma actually becomes more appropriate and important.

The Oxford comma, along with commas that went to less prestigious universities (and yes even that one that just got its GED…), are used to help parse sentences and add clarity. They help break things up in such a way that you can figure out what the %^&^&%^&%#$#@$#@%$#@$@$!!!! the author is saying. No, you probably don’t need it in simple sentences and lists with single word items, but if you want to add clauses to a sentence, or use conjunctions, or use parentheticals without the parentheses, then you probably want to ‘open up a pack of comas’.

The point of the thing is clarity in your writing, and big complicated sentences call for commas. And, that means big complicated lists need that Oxford comma. It really does make things clearer; except when it doesn’t…

Sometimes, when you’re making those big complicated lists, you want to create a list of things that already have commas in them. That is when you dig out another old and misunderstood friend of mine, the semicolon.

If you are making a list of items like: military uniforms, in a range of colors and camouflage patterns; fireworks, including bottle rockets and smoke bombs; lunch bags, preferably with cartoon characters printed on them; and all the other things you need for the new school year, you really need something to help break up and simplify that list. This time even the Oxford comma can’t save you (it is well educated, but it’s not a miracle worker…). This time you need to add another punctuation mark to help organize your list.

I know. I know. There are things a lot more fun than punctuation out there, and punctuation has all these fiddly little rules… But, when you’re a writer the point is to write in ways that help your reader get the point; to write in ways that help him or her to understand what the #%#%$#^#$^#^#!!! you’re saying.

And dear reader, that’s why we do it. That is why we spend so much time sweating the details of punctuation in our writing.

And that’s why I’m finding myself on team Oxford comma. Just like any of us, I would really like to be understood.

Thanks for reading today. Keep those sentences straight. And, I’ll see you next post!

Editorial Choices…

As always I’m working on a couple of my own writing projects. At the same time my wife and I have been working on some editing projects to help a couple of other writers. This has all gotten me thinking about the choices I can make and actions I can take as an editor…

You can’t dictate everything…

You can’t. Ultimately the individual piece is the author’s piece. You can help shape that piece. You can help refine that piece. You can help the author make it better. But, what you can’t do, is take it away from the author completely (obviously we’re not talking about the whole copy right/rights to the characters can of worms (we can talk about that another day but not right now…)).

In a lot of ways being an editor is to be an assistant. In a lot of ways being an editor is like being a teacher. You are guiding and supporting an author in the process of creating a work. You can put in a lot of work, and you should be rewarded for it. But the person who had the idea and did the writing needs her/his own reward as well (it was his or her baby!).

In this side of things you can advise, but you can’t dictate. You are helping the writer to create and improve a piece of writing that ultimately belongs to its author. If you try to take it away then you’re going to have issues (we’re back to that copy right thing again…).

There are choices you can make.

If your author comes seeking advice, or asks for your input, you can certainly give both.

If your author asks “should I do ‘A’ or ‘B’?” It’s kind of your job as an editor to give the best answer you can.

You can choose what advice to give. You can choose how to give it (actually it’s often a good idea to discuss and even negotiate what kind of advice your giving and how BEFORE you start working together).

You can choose to say “one or both of us need to think on this some more”, or even “Let’s bring someone else in on this”.  There are good reasons for making these choices actually. Some things need more thought and planning. Sometimes you really do need to hand things off to, or enlist the aid of, someone else.

What’s an example of that last one? Here are a few…

My author client wants support in telling a good story. I can do that!

My author wants advice on how to present statistics in a piece. I can do that (I’ve tutored doctoral students in stats and written scientific papers…)

My author wants advice on how best to portray a bisexual Latina living on the U.S. Mexico border. Umm… Let me call in a friend from back when I was at San Diego State. In this case it’s not that I’m unwilling, it’s just that I happen to know someone with a much better skill set for that particular need.

An author (I won’t call this one mine…) contacts me to work on a piece entitled “ALL WHITE MEN ARE RACISIT SEXIST HOMOPHOBIC BIGOTS AND SHOULD BE SHOT OFF INTO THE SUN!!!!!!!”. This time I’m actually going to decline to work on the piece. I can sense right off the bat that there will be some problems in working on this one and I’m not the right person to work with this author (if nothing else the fact that the presented title is in all caps is a bit of a red flag…).

There are choices you can and should make…

Even though I come from the school that says “don’t take the piece from the author”, there are choices you can and should make.

You can, and should, make choices about who you work with. If you can see that the author in question is going to be a headache (or from the author side if you can see the editor is going to be a headache); then why would you choose to work with that person. If there’s not a compelling reason, then you might want to seek another partnership. And money alone isn’t compelling enough (for me at least!)

You can make choices about how you work with the person. One of the concepts we learn about in the seven habits of highly effective people is the idea of the win-win scenario. It might be a good idea to find ways to make your author/editor interactions win-win (from either position why are you going into this if you’re expecting to lose?).

And then there are some bigger ‘special case’ decisions…

So far most of what I’ve said has had to do with helping an author with a piece; you’re part of a team working to create something and make it the best that it can be. But, there is another hat that editors occasionally wear; being an editor you occasionally also serve in the role of publisher.

As an editor (and chief editor at that!) I try not to take my authors projects away from them. I’m not going to demand that they change the main character from a male to a female and species reassign the sidekick to be a bottle nosed dolphin. But at the same time if I’m going to be the one to publish the work, that does give me more of a say. The author can choose to write what he or she wants, but just because somebody wrote it doesn’t mean I have to publish it!

The difference is that when one steps from the role of editor to the roll of publisher one is transitioning from helping someone else to tell her/his story to actually using one’s own resources to put that story out to the world. Now that we’re talking about publishing I’m in a place where it is my name and reputation on the line as well.

What you write says something about you. What I publish says something about me.

(That’s why “ALL WHITE MEN ARE RACISIT SEXIST HOMOPHOBIC BIGOTS AND SHOULD BE SHOT OFF INTO THE SUN!!!!!!!” ain’t getting published at my company. It’s a message I don’t agree with and I’m not going to be forced to put my name on it. But, if the author feels like going somewhere else to publish it and that person/group chooses to publish it, then the fall out is their problem…)

I’m not for taking away anyone’s free speech (that would negatively impact my business), but at the same time I don’t have to give up my free speech by allowing people to use my company to say things that I can’t ethically agree with.

Summing it all up…

So there it is dear reader… Editors shouldn’t try to take away a writer’s work, or mutilate it in ways the author doesn’t agree with. But, at the same time, it is kind of the editor’s job to do his or her level best to help the projects he/she chooses to pick up become truly excellent.

Editors and writers can and should choose partners/coworkers that they can actually work with in an amicable way. And both need to work together to make the piece really good.

No matter what else happens, no one in the relationship: writer, editor, or publisher really has the right to force someone else to say something she/he/whatever else doesn’t agree with.

So that’s it for this one dear reader. Choose people to work with who will actually help the work to go forward, and don’t try to bully folks just because you don’t agree. And of course…

See you next post!

Lessons learned from editing and commentary

Yep, I’ve been quiet on the blog for a little longer that I intended, but things have been busy…

In the last couple of weeks I’ve been working hard on helping a client get his doctoral dissertation into shape for his defense and for eventual publication. It’s been hard enough going that I even slowed down on some of my other writing and editing projects to give that one more attention.

I’ve also recently reconnected with the cartoon series Galaxy Rangers, something that I loved when it originally aired, but hadn’t seen for a while.

I have learned something about my own writing, and the writing of others, in both of these processes.

One of the reasons that we as writers should share with others, and one of the reasons we should actively partake in the genres we work in, is that we learn things as we are seeing and reading the work of others. In working on my client’s stuff I recognized that he occasionally has the same issues I do with making nonfiction stuff too wordy and ‘hemming and hawing’ at parts he’s uncomfortable with. Recognizing these behaviors in his writing makes me more conscious and aware of the same problems in my own work. Helping him figure out his issues helps me work on my own.

The same thing happened with Galaxy Rangers… I realized one of the flaws in my old favorite series was that they kind of rushed things and expanded the universe, and the cast, too quickly. It’s ok to have ideas for a vast universe, but if you’re spitting them out there before you can finish figuring them out that can lead to problems. And, even if you have them completely figured out you might want to pace things so that your reader/viewer has time to learn and get invested.

Now, that’s not to say that you need to move at a snail’s pace! In both cases it is about reader expectations. Whether you are doing fiction or non-fiction you need to work on pacing that works for your reader and you want to develop a voice that is confident where your reader wants/needs confidence, and is speculative when the time is right for speculation.

I can do these things dear reader. You can do these things dear reader! One of the best tools we have to develop these talents and figure out how to meet the challenges in our own writing is to help other people edit there stuff, and to analyze the work that other writers and directors have done and learn from their achievements and mistakes.

Writing isn’t usually done in a vacuum. Successful writing isn’t generally just done for the author her/himself. Because our writing is intended to reach and communicate with other people it helps us to look at the writing and communicating others do. It helps if we really analyze that writing and communication and learn what it has to teach us.

That’s it for this one dear reader. Get out there and read, write, learn, and live… And I’ll see you next post!

New projects

I’ve said we’re going to do and talk about some new stuff here and we talked about one last week. This week we’ve got another one that I hadn’t quite expected to be announcing.

Within the last week or so we have taken on a couple of new editing projects. On my side of the office I am helping a man true up, polish up and clarify his doctoral dissertation. On the other side of the office Dr. Kidder (my wife not my dad…) is working with a woman who wants to publish some quilting patterns.

Um Farangian you nut… I think you have that backwards…

Nope, I don’t… the guy with ‘just’ a masters is working on the dissertation because that project is more my skill set as a writer/editor for the word stuff. The craft project is getting the Dr. Kidder treatment because that one needs more of an instructional design touch.

The funny part is FMP is helping on the editing for these projects but we’re not the ones publishing them.

So why are we doing it?

Well dear reader, it’s because we like to encourage good ideas and truth no matter what the source. Sometimes it is more important to help good ideas to get out there; to help propagate knowledge; than it is to be the one inventing or discovering that knowledge. My wife and I get to do a lot of the inventing and discovering part and this is a chance to help others do the same. That’s part of what we’re about here.

The schedule is pretty full for the moment dear reader, but if you have something you want help with send me an email and if we can’t help out we might just know someone who can!

That’s it for this one dear reader.

Keep learning.

Keep writing.

And, I’ll see you next week.

Keyboards and pruning shears

Some people might not see how yard work ties in with the writing process, but it does. It’s not just in some strange scene or subgenre, and it’s not because I’m more or less always thinking about writing.

Step one planning and prep.

Sometimes you get really really lucky and a plant or story grows where you want it to without you having to do anything. But, in a lot of those case the ‘volunteer’ plant or story happens a side effect of what you or some other living creature has already done.

It happens but it’s not something that can be counted on to happen as often as we might like.

Usually we have to do some planning, to decide what we want to plant (or write) and how we want to go about it, both step wise and organization wise. This can include sketches, story boards, outlines, or whatever other planning tools you see fit. What matters is you figure out what you want to put where and have a plan that makes it possible.

It is also a good idea to do some fertilization. In the yard that means getting needed nutrients into the ground. In writing it means doing some reading and research. In either case it means you’re making sure your seed (story or plant) has what it needs to grow.

Sometimes you get lucky and a cool plant or story ‘just happens’. Most of the time you have to put in the initial work before the ‘magic’ really happens.

Step two growth

Hopefully our prework has gone well and our little seed starts to take off. The job at this point has a lot to do with making sure our seedling continues to have what it needs. In this first phase of growth (that’s a first draft for your fiction and nonfiction writing) a lot of what we are doing is trying to get the seedling to grow big and strong enough that we can start shaping it the way we want it, shaping it so that it can grow into what we want and start producing for us.

Usually we don’t’ want to do too much tinkering at this point, but the time is coming!

Step three training and pruning

And then the day comes that our first draft is finished. Our seedling story or plant is ready to start the process of being shaped and managed into what it needs to be in order to achieve the maximal, most beautiful and productive, success.

There is a lot going on at this point. We need to be filling holes caused by pesky gophers or plot points we missed; adding more fertilizer, protective chemicals, and other needed things (researching that one arcane point that’s suddenly important); and, possibly most scary, pruning.

Pruning isn’t a whole lot of fun. My roses have thorns that just love to stick me when I’m trimming. It hurts just as bad to accept that I need to trim out that bit of text or side character that I really like.

The truth is, if the bit doesn’t belong there or is going to cause problems it is best to cut it. Pruning helps get rid of sick, dying or otherwise problematic material that hinders the growth and productivity of our plants and our stories.

But, we don’t want to just trim willy-nilly. We need to put real thought into what to cut and what to keep. We don’t want to kill the best growth to get at one wonky stick…

Often when you’re working on the roses you need to get near and far views before you cut. This applies in writing as well: there comes a point where you need distance. Often in writing this distance comes from someone on the outside, someone who isn’t the writer (or even the main editor), someone who can read the thing and give you feedback to help you know if you are achieving the effect you want.

A bountiful harvest

Hopefully the plants and stories we nurture will reward us for our labors. They may do this with beauty, fruits and veggies, prestige, or even good old cash money. If this is what we want (and you know it is…) we have to put in work before the seed hits the soil or the pen hits the paper. And then we have to continue the process right up to the moment of harvest (and even do the finish work after…).

We can do this, but it takes time and effort. With plants and pages we need to develop our skills: our ‘eye’ to see; our understanding of techniques and subject matter; our ability to do the work; and all the things that are needed for success. Developing these things is what separates the winners from the losers at the state fair and the best seller list.

We can do this dear reader. It takes effort. It takes study and thought. But, we can do this.

Now get out there and do! (and I’ll see you next post)

Google docs voice input: useful but quirky

Recently my wife and I were talking with a friend who teaches in the area of special needs students and special education in mainstream classrooms. During that discussion I discovered Google docs has a voice to text feature. So naturally I had to try it. And while I can’t say I’m throwing away my keyboard for a microphone there are times that this feature could be worthwhile.

Why I like it

There are times, like doing video scripts, that I want to write things that sound more like someone speaking naturally. In these cases it is easier to say it than to type it. For some reason when I type or write long hand I get into a mode that is more rhetorical and “printed word/texty” than I want. When I talk into a mic it’s easier to avoid that.

Also, there are times when I want my hands free while I’m writing (like when I’m trying to write up a craft project and need my hands free to do making stuff). Google docs voice feature is a free tool that helps with this.

Actually when I tested it the voice to text feature worked surprisingly well. It was able to have a fairly good level of accuracy in translating what I was saying. It was actually able to translate phrases like four in one chainmail without stress.

Of course the feature did have quirks and it wasn’t entirely a solution to my problems.

What I’m not happy with

The core engine driving the feature seems to be the same one that converts phone calls to texts for google voice. If you have ever seen the ‘creative’ resolutions that happen with that google feature you can imagine what happens if you cough, mumble, or pause mid word. You may also run into problems with more unusual idioms, phrases or words.

You will definitely need to do your editing because the software also occasionally swaps words for other words. In my test case the voice to text feature kept using the word ‘cloths’ for the word ‘close’…

The system is also light on punctuation and formatting options so you may need to put those in later. I was able to get a period by saying the word period, or a comma by saying the word comma. But if I said the word semicolon I got the word semicolon and not a punctuation mark.

Similarly you get a new line by saying “new line” unfortunately if you want a blank line between paragraphs you have to add it in later or say “new line”… wait… and then say “new line” again. This does tend to slow things down a bit. So you may be better off just accepting the fact that you will have to do your formatting later.

I found myself wondering what would happen if I wanted the word ‘period’ instead of a punctuation mark. I experimented and my results were mixed. If I talked about a woman’s period I got the word period. If I said “periods” the software would write “periods”. But if I talked about a trial period, or the colonial period, or said that the program “was the best software period” I got a punctuation mark.

 

And… Things kind of went downhill from there…

After finding the program’s selectivity about the word period I found myself wondering what would happen with other words.

Naturally the first place my mind went was the old F-bomb…

When you use that particular word you get f***.

You will also end up with c*** and a variety of other similar items when you use words that might be offensive to women. But oddly enough the word ass is apparently ok.

At this point I was feeling a bit wierd swearing at my computer, but hey if you’re going to go you might as well go all the way…

Oddly enough while Google docs voice tool seems to want to “bleep you out” if you say something insulting about women; it seems to be just fine with racial epiphytes against blacks, Jews, Italians and others.

At this point I was both surprised and offended and decided to stop.

Summing up

There are times that the voice to text feature is really useful. And I will use it in those cases; however, the feature does not have a full range of punctuation and text formatting features (and you know how much I love those parentheses…). This part makes it even more important to take the time to reread and edit the things you write using this feature.

And of course watch out for those wrong word situations…

I also find it odd that the software actively filters things that might be insulting to women, but seems to be fine with users insulting blacks and Jews (as long as they’re male of course…).

It’s also a good idea to remember that Google docs are stored online and may be more easily observed or pirated than things you keep resident to your machine.

In the final analysis I would say that if you think the idea of talk to text could be worthwhile for you, then give the Google docs voice tool a try. But realize that it does have its quirks and will increase your editing load. You may want to move on and try other speech to text software but the google docs voice to text feature is a starting point.

I would also love an explanation of what they will and will not censor (it’s a free tool so they can make their own choices… I just find the choices that have been made interesting).

That’s it for this one. See you next week

The importance of time

One of the things that drives my wife crazy about my writing is time. Not that I spend time doing it (she gets that part…”). Sometimes it’s not even really about how much time I spend writing. Instead she gets frustrated with how regimented and monitored that time can be. I can honestly tell you how many pages I can typically write in an hour. I know how many pages I can transcribe in an hour. I can estimate how many hours it will take me to write a given thing and when it will be most efficient for me to put those hours in. I’ve spent a few years doing this and I’ve figured this stuff out. And sometimes my idea of what I need to do just doesn’t work for my wife…

The thing is, my wife has things that she wants to do too (and other people and things in the lives of us writers usually have the same kind of needs). And sometimes the amount of time, and the actual moment in time when things need to happen, conflicts with what we as writers want and need to do. And this really does lead to problems.

While there are those that will try to pass off a ‘system’ for writing as ‘the right system’ for everyone; I for one don’t really buy into any of it. In my estimation you have to learn the best way and time for you to write by your own experience and adjust for your own situation. A professional writer with no kids and a full time mom with three kids don’t have the same situation (and they may have wildly different writing styles, subject matter, and/or genres as well…). And don’t even get me started about my friend the funeral director (who is basically on call 24/7).

I won’t try to give you ‘the’ system dear reader; however, I will pass on a couple of things I have learned.

You have to actually put time into it…

Not a whole lot to say on this one. You have to actually devote time to writing if you want to write. If you don’t there will always be something in the way. You have to choose to write and make time to do so.

You have to learn about you…

You need to know a lot to figure out what kind of time you need to write, and how to use that time. Some of that knowledge can be found in books, blogs (like mine…), and other sources. But, some of that knowledge can only come from you, and you can only obtain it by experimentation. You can only obtain that kind of knowledge by actually trying different writing times and keeping track of how you spend your writing time. It really is a ‘learn for yourself’ situation, and in some ways it has to be. No two writers are alike, and neither are their situations.

You have to be reasonable with others in your life…

As much as we may want to climb into our hole in the ground, office, booth at our favorite restaurant, or whatever, and just write the world away; husbands, wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, children, etc. all do need some of our attention and time. None of us live in a vacuum and there are people to see, bills to pay, and things to do. Even (especially…) if we don’t want to, we need to be aware that we will spend time outside of our writing.

Some of that time can be handled and dealt with through planning (get out your calendar and plan a time to pay that light bill…).

Some of that time happens unexpectedly, and you really do need to put down your writing and deal with something else (if my wife is crying I might just want to find out why… If my desk is on fire who cares if I’m almost done with chapter four?).

Some of that time… Well sometimes you have to make a decision. Do you really want to go to that concert, play that golf game, or go see those in-laws? (It could happen…) If you do, then you have to figure out how to make that happen and still have time to write. Or you choose not to do one or the other, and suffer the consequences…

You have to communicate (and sometimes teach)…

I know this one isn’t always fun, but for the 100% of us in real life; sooner or later you need to talk to someone about writing and the time you need to write (note: I don’t mean “explain to” but actually have a conversation with). Often the person you’re needing to talk to is someone important in your life. These conversations can be challenging, some people have little experience in the writing world. Sometimes the people you’re talking with work differently than you do. Sometimes the people you’re talking to really haven’t thought about what you’re trying to do. In any case you need to communicate with them to help them understand, and to understand their side at least a little bit as well.

Communicating about writing isn’t always easy, but doing it is easier than not doing it. Communicating effectively can save a lot of ‘hurt feelers’ in the long run.

Time is an important part of writing dear reader. You need to learn about it: how to use it and how to communicate about it. If you don’t, then you’re headed for problems (if you do anything at all…)

That’s it for this one dear reader. Next week…

Chaos… Panic… Scented pine cones??? It must be the holidays!

My NANO Kit

As I mentioned last week I will be doing NANOWRIMO next month…

For those who don’t know yet NANOWRIMO is a yearly event in which writers try to write an entire 50,000+ word novel in a single month. I’ve done it twice. I can tell you it isn’t easy. You have to be committed and put in the work. You also need to know a little about your habits as a writer (and you may learn more in the process). Today I’m going to talk briefly about my “NANOWRIMO kit” and the process I use.

The bulk of the kit is actually in the front picture for this post. I’m one of those oddballs that likes to write by hand before I put the story one the computer, so I depend heavily on pens and seventy page college ruled notebooks (some of the ones this year are predecorated by a friend and will be used for the female pov in the story). Doing things this way has advantages and disadvantages. On the plus side my writing speed (by hand) and my thinking speed are closer together for long stuff like this, so on a flow basis the notebook works better for me. The notebooks also make it easier to strike through and go on if I take a wrong turn.

On the other hand it’s harder to do word count on a physical copy, and the final count is computer verified. So, ultimately it has to be transcribed onto the computer to ‘win’.

Here’s the thing though. This ‘weakness’ in my style is a strength in disguise. Usually when you pick up for a new day’s writing it’s a good idea to review what you were working on last time (or at least the pages leading up to what you will be writing). When I start a day’s writing my first step is to transcribe what I wrote the previous day. This gets the information into the computer, allows me to review, and serves as my first editing pass. It takes time, but it puts me in a stronger place to write the next section (and gives me that all important word count…).

It’s my way of doing things and doesn’t work for everybody. Part of the fun is learning what works for you (and, by the way, that may change from story to story).

One thing that does change story to story is where I write. I virtually never do the actual writing at my desk. Editing yes. Writing not so much. Instead I tend to go out to write. For some projects it may be the public library; for other’s it’s my traditional writing hangouts. Last year I wrote about half of the book in a mall food court and rewarded myself with CCG cards.

This year I have two pov characters and things might get even more complicated.

The final piece of the kit (other than time) is also not in the picture. That would be the vast amounts of my favorite soda I’ll be drinking (another reason I don’t write on my computer…). Like so much else the choice is up to you. But I do recommend finding a lovely beverage to support you through the process. It helps.

Because I am going to be going all out on the book I will be quiet in the blogosphere next month (I’ll be writing, just not here…). I look forward to talking about the experience after NANO and I hope to hear from a few of you as well.

That’s it for this one dear reader. See you in December.

Until then: Um…

Yes, can I have several packs of pens, a case of notebooks and all the (product name withheld) delivered to…

NANOWRIMO an avenue and obstacle to success

I know NANOWRIMO is still a couple of months away, but to really do it is a commitment and that means some of us need to start thinking about it now…

Let me say at the outset that I am a NANOWRIMO fan. I like the idea and the organization. Johnson Farm, my first published novel, was a NANOWRIMO ‘win’, so was the sequel. At the same time the third book in the series is one that I wouldn’t even attempt as a NANOWRIMO project…

Depending on what you want or need to do taking on a NANOWRIMO project could be the best, or worst, thing to do. The key is to understand what NANOWRIMO is and what it does for you (and what it doesn’t do for you…).

NANOWRIMO is an organization {link} and an event. The idea is that during the month of November writers will go all out and write a full 50,000+ word novel. I can tell you it is a challenge, but it is a ‘doable’ one. I’ve succeeded in ‘winning’ twice and reaped the benefits.

The benefits of NANOWRIMO, what you really get out of it, can include:  experience, opportunities and potential contacts (with other ‘REMOs and supporters), and (hopefully) a completed first draft of a novel.

Things you do not get (directly) from NANOWRIMO include: prize money (maybe side bets…), a guaranteed writing contract, or a finished book. You could get any of those things, but additional work is required.

NANOWRIMO really is an avenue to success…

By definition completing a NANOWRIMO project gets you writing. To do 50,000 words in one month’s time you kind of have to put your head down and start writing. You have to put away the ‘somedays’ and the fear of the blank page. It is a small window in which to act rather than thinking about acting. That is the first real benefit, if you actually do a project you will get words on the page.

Second, if you ‘win’ (finish) you have a book manuscript, the raw material that is edited, crafted and revised until it becomes a finished, novel length, story that you can publish if you choose.

You also get contact, support, knowledge, and potentially goodies an opportunities thanks to other ‘REMOs and supporters. ‘Winning’ NANOWRIMO can be a good way to build your network/community; as well as proving to your friends, family, and neighbors that you really can write something that big.

Basically NANOWRIMO is an opportunity to build your writing community (or start one if you need to) and create a manuscript that you can then turn into a book. This is great if those things are what you need, but…

NANOWRIMO really is an obstacle…

The thing is, writing 50,000 words in a month is hard. If you’re not already experienced as a writer; if you don’t have a plan when you start; if you don’t have the time to throw at the project; you may struggle. If you let yourself give in to depression over not being up to ‘average’ on word count, or any number of other factors, you may even fail.

Also stemming from the tight time line, it can be hard to build in the features you want. It is a lot simpler and easier to do a story with one continuous voice than it is to do a polyphonic story. Chances are if you are trying for a more complex structure, and trying to meet a NANOWRIMO timeline, you will end up with some big holes that will take a lot of work to fix during the editing process.

And you have to edit. During NANOWRIMO you probably don’t have the time to do a lot of editing. But, you will have to come back and edit before you really have a finished story (we’ve talked about editing here before and we will do so again…).

As much as I like NANOWRIMO I’m not doing it this year. Why? Because I have a couple of manuscripts on my desk. So, right now there are other tools I need to use.

 Other things, other tools…

NANOWRIMO can be a great thing if you need to create a manuscript to work on, or the experience of creating a manuscript. NANOWRIMO can really be a good experience if you’re willing and able to commit. It can even help you build your community. But it really isn’t the only thing you need.

Don’t underestimate the value of education and preparation. You might want to read a few books in a genre before you try to write one. You might want to pick up a ‘how to write’ book, or take a class. You might even want to do some ‘real world’ research.

You also might want to do some planning. I have a lot of respect for ‘pantsers’, at least the ones who actually pull it off and create novel. I’m also not entirely sold on outlines (for reasons we will talk about another day…). But, you still might want to put in some planning for what you’re going to write. You know, so you have an idea of who your audience is, so you can have someone besides the butler do it, that sort of thing. Preplanning never solves everything but it helps.

You also need to edit (yes we talked about it already, but somebody out there needs to hear it again). Sometimes a new manuscript is the last thing you need. Currently I have three manuscripts, three partial manuscripts and a couple of non-novel projects on my desk. I’ve ‘won’ NANOWRIMO a couple of times now. It’s time to get the manuscripts off my desk and get them published!

I am a fan of NANOWRIMO. I think it can be really helpful to writers, if you understand what it is and how to use that ‘win’. The thing I want to avoid is people thinking that winning NANOWRIMO is all you have to do to be a successful writer.

There’s a lot more to be done, and I for one should get back to it.

See you next week dear reader. Until then

  1. Find a dream.
  2. Figure out how to make it happen.

You have to commit

Honestly the hardest thing I had to deal with during my wife’s family’s family reunion was the owners of the property where we stayed.

The husband (who seems to be the one detailed to actually maintain the place) was quite evidently not committed to the operation. He had another business that he was interested in and was quick to write off issues and problems with the property as being his wife’s ‘thing’.

The wife (who I have not met in person) by all appearances is trying to run the business, but she really doesn’t seem to have put the learning and thought into really running things. I could be wrong in my diagnosis, but it was very easy to identify problems. Even when you filter out the maintenance issues which she sent her husband to deal with there were business end items that the husband was quick to put squarely on her shoulders.

But what does this have to do with writing?

Well, writing is a serious business. Writing is something that there aren’t a whole lot of people who are actually going to be pushing you to do (at least not in a way that is helpful). Writing is something that you personally have to put the time and effort in on if you want to succeed.

You can get help (I’ve discussed it here), but ultimately writing is a vocation that requires personal effort. It takes time, learning, thought, and heart. Writing is something that you have to commit to.

In The Karate Kid Mr. Miagi said, “Karate is like road. Karate Yes, OK. Karate no, Ok. Karate maybe so? Squish.” In Think and Grow Rich Napoleon Hill teaches us to decide what we want and what we will give to get it. Both of these apply to writing one hundred percent.

To write anything worthwhile, long or short, fiction or nonfiction, you have to pay the price. You have to put in the work. If you are just going to ‘try’ you will fail. If you commit and do you have a chance to succeed.

I’m not always perfect. We all have off days and days we can’t give 100%. But, if you want to be a writer and you want to have a product that is worthy, you have to commit. You have to put in the time and effort. You have to read, learn, write, and edit with real intent and effort. You have to do what you need to do to succeed.

If you do all that you can and fail. Well, you failed while daring greatly. If you failed because you didn’t do enough. Well, that’s on you.

If you choose to be involved in this endeavor I do want you to succeed dear reader. That’s why this blog is here. The idea is to assemble what you need and the rest is on you. See you next post.