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.

When it happens it happens…

It’s a short and sweet one today because a lot of things are starting to move very fast on a couple of book projects. On the other hand… I decided to push off the post I’d planned on doing today because some of what’s going on is really exciting (to me at least…).

Some days you can’t see that far ahead…

This week I’m seriously started on Jamie’s Sacrifice, the third book in a series that started with Johnson Farm. I got chapter one written last week (at the dreaded reunion…), but that was as far as I got. So, I started this week with a hand written chapter one to transcribe, and no idea how to get to the events I knew were happening at the end of act one (apparently three act structure is a thing for this book…). I also had a ton of stuff that had piled up on my desk while we were gone (still digging out actually…).

Monday: I got the prologue and the first part of chapter one transcribed, but still no idea what came next.

Tuesday: I got the rest of chapter one transcribed and still had no idea what to do next.

Wednesday: I figured out what should be in chapters two and chapter three, but didn’t actually get to write much of it. I got about three hand written pages and conked out again because I wasn’t sure how to attack the next section.

This kind of thing can be quite disheartening. I know of more than one project that has failed at this point because the artist/writer/creator allowed him/her self to become invested in not knowing how to move forward. Things get depressing. You want to stop. But, you can’t let yourself do that.

Some days you can…

Thursday came and I transcribed the first part of chapter two. Almost immediately it became clear what needed to happen in the next section! I ‘pencil whipped’ nine pages in a burst of activity that persuaded more than one customer at my hangout of the day that interrupting the ‘mad genius’ was a bad idea…

Friday (today) started with basic (non-writing) ‘get it done’ stuff. Then, while watering the roses, I realized that not only did I know what to do with chapter three, but chapter four followed pretty logically.

By the time I could put things down and do something about my ideas I knew what had to happen in chapter five.

By the time I got inside and finished writing myself a note I knew what was happening in chapter six.

Between finishing that note and actually getting into the shower I knew what I had to do for chapter seven.

By the time I was out of the shower I had worked out chapter eight and had a pretty good idea about what was happening in chapter nine.

At this point I realized I had caught up to the end of the first act stuff that I’d already planned. And that I really needed to get all of this formally written before I tried to push further…

We all do have hard days and hard times on the projects we work on. Actually I have to ask… “If they didn’t challenge us occasionally would they really be worth doing?” I am not going to say “buck up and get going” because that’s both insensitive and stupid (it overlooks people’s reality and situation. It’s an attempt to get people going while not really paying attention to what’s going on). But, I will say that if what you’re working on is really important to you and one of those down points hits. Don’t give up! Hold on to the project. Hold on to what you want to achieve and keep trying to find that next step forward. If the project is worthy and you are willing to keep trying, the answers will come and you will be able to move forward.

The universe is a really big place dear reader. The answers are out there and they will come in their own time.

Until then, good luck and I’ll see you next post!

Would You Believe It Isn’t the Money (Why We Do This part 4)

Last Friday (a week before this post went live) I did a book signing thing with the cover artist for my novel Johnson Farm. The next day I got to hand deliver a copy to another beautiful and intelligent young woman who just happened to have been one of my most important helpers in this process. She was the first teen to read the manuscript (kind of important for a YA novel…). Both of these experiences are ones I treasure. Both of these experiences reminded me that there is a lot more than dollars and cents involved in being an author.

Before anyone accuses me of making excuses because my book isn’t selling… I’m not.

A first novel (like Johnson Farm) usually isn’t a big cash machine and I know that. Also, Johnson Farm has outsold my previous book already… Literally it brought in more in the first month than my first book brought in in its first year (and I’m not expecting sales for Johnson Farm to really take off until the second or third book is released). I’m not being bitter about money. I’m just saying that there are other rewards that are more important.

Non-monetary rewards…

Both of the young women I mentioned were excited to be part of something. They got to do something, achieve something that they hadn’t done before. Both got to be on the inside. Both received a tangible artifact that demonstrated that someone valued them for their talents and abilities.

And me? My reward? You could hear it in their voices. I touched their lives. I gave them something more than just paper with words printed on it. I honestly feel like I made their lives better, at least a little bit.

Actually there is no practical empirical measure of how much of an effect even a small nudge toward the good can have. A single pebble, a single sound, can start an avalanche that seems vastly out of proportion to the energy put in to start it.

If you choose to create (write, draw, paint, sculpt, whatever), or just in living your life; if your only purpose is money, yours is going to be a sad and shallow life. There are greater things out there.

In the scripture my religion holds sacred it is said: And if it so be that you should labor all your days in crying repentance unto this people, and bring, save it be one soul unto me, how great shall be your joy with him in the kingdom of my Father!

It’s not about huge numbers, it is about the one.

What I will say to you dear reader is: If you choose to create, if you choose to build or make something that helps others access and understand the beauty, greatness, and power within them, then you are a force for good in the universe. And that has its reward’s dear reader, rewards that you will not understand until you see them. And even then you might not understand the true measure of what you have done.

That’s it for this one dear reader. Go, do, create, and be a force for good. See you next post.

 

The good (and bad) of NANOWRIMO (Part 1)

I know it’s still a long way till November, but since the book I just finished and the novel I’m editing right now are NANOWRIMO wins I might as well start talking about it now…

For those who aren’t familiar, NANOWRIMO means National Novel Writing Month. It is an event and an organization that can be a major help to fiction writers (especially those just getting started). It is also a major cause of stress. The idea is that during the month of November those daring few will sit down at their notebooks/computers and write the first draft of a novel (at least 50,000 words).

There is good and bad about this. There are reasons I have found it useful and reasons I won’t do it again unless I’m working with a writing partner I want to encourage through the process.

NANOWRIMO can help you commit to the act of writing. Through the website you have a way of tracking progress and sharing with likeminded people. You have a deadline to work against. You have a source of advice. All of these are proven to help at least some of us get through the process.

On the other hand…

Not completing could act as a depressant that impedes future attempts. Some people are legitimately busy, with “day jobs” and lives that make it harder to finish. And, when you get down to it a ‘write it in a month’ rush doesn’t work for every writing style, or every book.

The first two books in my Johnson Farm series were NANOWRIMO projects. The second book is taking a lot of reworking. The third book will definitely take a different process, so I’m not even trying to turn that one into a NANOWRIMO project.

There are challenges, and limitations on what you are going to be able to do in a single month. It is going to be a lot of work. You definitely shouldn’t mistake what you get out of the process for a finished novel (you’ll hopefully have a finished draft. But, a finished novel? Not the way to bet…)

NANOWRIMO should be treated as what it is, something to help you write and something to help encourage the growth and development of fiction writing. It is a tool to be used and a way to test yourself. It is also something that I will be talking about occasionally on the blog.

I’m not going to guarantee that NANOWRIMO will help you dear reader. I am not going to promise it will ‘work’ for you. But, I think it is useful and I look forward to discussing it more in the future… And I welcome any comments/questions/discussion you choose to provide on the topic…

See you next post.

Understand your rules!

With the completion of Johnson Farm I’m on to edits for the second book of the series Going Home the Hard Way. I’m also engaged in several nonfiction projects including projects of my own and some where I’m providing editorial support. As you might expect this leads to some meta thinking about writing.

Rules part 1: other people’s rules…

Every project has rules and if you’re going to succeed you need to understand them. Some rule sets are fairly obvious, like publishers rules for what they will accept and general rules for the kind of story you want to tell.

Sometimes these sets are fairly simple and clear. Your magazine publisher wants a particular format and word count. Your book publisher hates it when you send them a manuscript that’s printed on maroon construction paper and uses the six point wingding font. Your mystery novel needs to include some sort of mystery.

Sometimes the rules make less sense, but if you want to be published you still need to follow them. Your magazine publisher may insist on APA style, except for that one little detail that looks more like MLA. Or, your book printer may demand images be in CMYK instead of RGB format. You might not understand them, but there are reasons for the rules and knowing and keeping them helps you get published.  If you do a little asking and digging you might even find out why the rules exist and that will help you grow as a writer.

Rules part 2: you and your stories rules…

There is a second kind of rules for any given writing project; the rules that you create based on how you choose to write, and what you choose to write about.

Some of these rules are based on biology and other realities of life. For example I avoid writing anything late at night because the things I write late at night make no sense (even to me…). If you drive a cab for a living you probably shouldn’t write while trying to do your day job…

Other rules are created when you make choices about what you write. If your hero is riding with William the Conqueror in 1066, I’m sorry he did not just call Will up on his smart phone and he definitely didn’t find the Saxons by Googling them. If you’re choosing to write a midgrade novel it shouldn’t read like the letters column of a porno mag.

This gets more complicated as you progress through the story and into sequels. If your character has aged several years between books you’d better communicate that up front. If your character is allergic to shell fish in book one, sorry he or she should not be commenting on how good the shrimp cocktail tastes in book two.

Sequels and new situations can invoke new rules as well. In Johnson Farm my hero is on a farm. In Hard Way he is back home in San Diego. In Hard Way he also has his dad’s girl friend to contend with. Both of these changes affect what John can and can’t get away with. He’s back in school now so if I want him running around the mall at 10:00 AM on a Tuesday I’d better explain why he’s there and he may have some school complications as well.

Summing it all up…

No matter what you write, long form or short; fiction, nonfiction, or poetry, one of the things you have to do is learn the rules for what you’re doing. Sometimes this comes from looking up or reading, other times it comes from deciding or doing. Either way if you want to succeed as a writer you have to learn the rules. You have to learn how and when to keep them and how and when to break them (and what happens when you do…)

That’s it for this one dear reader. See you next post.

Keep going!

Years ago I was reading a book about USMC machine gunners in Vietnam. That was where I discovered the ‘Marine Corps way of doing things’: an artillery barrage followed by an advance, no matter how small, and then you did it all again. Well, sometimes writing is like that too…

I know this is true because, well, I was about 10 when I made my first attempt at writing a story (I’d been telling stories a lot longer…) and now I’m a writer and I’m running a publishing label. It takes time, effort, and learning to become a writer. It takes even more time, effort, and learning to become an author, one who has actually gotten something published. And, you really do have to keep working at it.

When I started Forever Mountain Publishing it was because I had something to say to the world and I wasn’t going to let anyone stop me. I have found in the process that I would like to help others say what they have to say. That’s why Forever Mountain does some of the things we do. I know we can make it on our own (I’m doing it…), but we’re stronger with others.

Recently I’ve been talking here and on my other blog about a book called Johnson Farm. This young adult novel was the first time that I really allowed someone other than myself to have a chunk of the creative work on one of my stories. I enlisted a talented young artist named Sariah Ann to do the cover.

JSFwordswood

Because we’re a startup company we used a Kickstarter to fund the publishing of the book, and the Kickstarter failed and didn’t fund. Even this cannot and will not stop us. If you have an honest desire to be heard and you are willing to put in the time, work, and learning things will work out (even if they don’t come out the way you initially expected).

My team and I did some rethinking and replanning. We found other resources. We found a way to get the book printed and into an E-book with a wide distribution. In fact the book is going to the printer next week!

The point dear reader is that if you want to achieve in writing, or any other field, you have to keep working at it. You have to find a way. As I’ve said, I know because I’ve done it. And soon I’ll be able to tell you where to buy a book that some people thought would never be published…

That’s it for this one dear reader. See you next post.

You should at least try…

At some point today a Kickstarter I set up for a Forever Mountain Publishing novel (worse, one of my own novels…) is going to close without funding. Yes, it is a temporary defeat. But, you can’t let the temporary defeats get in the way (Napoleon Hill said that back in the 1930’s…). In fact, as an author and as editor in chief of Forever Mountain Publishing, I have gained a lot through this process…

Since the Kickstarter got started I managed to get the website for FMP up and running; I found and started my plan to rework the social media presence for my company; my wife (who is graduating with her doctorate in Education this semester) discovered a part of the company that she could participate in; and I got to give a talented young artist her first shot at a book cover. A variety of other positives have come out of the process as well.

But, the Kickstarter didn’t go…

No, it didn’t, but the Kickstarter was an avenue, not the only avenue. In truth my wife and I had a backup plan in place a week or so ago. We could have pulled the Kickstarter last week and still had a way to publish the book (I am starting a publishing company after all…). I let the Kickstarter run because it gave more people a chance to feel like they were participating in the launch. It was an avenue to show support that resonated with some people, and it would have felt more like a defeat to admit defeat and pull the campaign than to ride it to the end.

Even though the campaign didn’t completely go the way I hoped, I gained ground. Positive things happened that outweigh the negatives.

Yes dear reader, sometimes we fail. Sometimes we are defeated. But, if we never try we never succeed. (For those who want to pull out “Do or do not, there is no try”, or any other variation I will be dealing with Yoda and Mr. Miyagi at another time…)

The saddest defeat is self-inflicted. The saddest defeat is caused because you never tried.

There are other elements, dear reader, knowledge, planning, resources and other factors all have their place, but you never succeed if you never try.

That’s it for this one,

See you next week…

Not alone!

As people who regularly read this blog know I’ve been working on a novel called Johnson Farm…

About the same time I started Johnson Farm I got a crazy idea. There was a talented young artist I wanted to help progress and find opportunities for her art. So, I made her an offer…

When the book was well enough edited that I was comfortable with her reading it I would give her a copy and ask her to design a cover.

The art!

In January, just over a year later, the book was in the right place.

I’m actually not sure which one of us was more nervous when we met to have a serious talk about the cover.  For Sariah Anne the project was something new, something outside of here comfort zone. On my side of the table I was in the rare position of being the one “behind the desk”. I’ve worked with people before, but this was my project. Johnson Farm was my baby that I’d been working on for a year, and now I was putting my baby into her hands…

Well, this week I officially got the result…

JSFwordswood.jpg

This is the cover Sariah Anne created for me. It wasn’t my vision of the place… But, that was the assignment I’d set for her, to create a cover based on her read of the book. And I actually really like it!

More than just a cover…

At the same time Sariah Anne was working on the cover I’ve been doing the finish editing for the story. It’s a strange feeling seeing it all this close to done (literally down to a couple of misplaced periods and a couple of quotation marks in today’s work!). It feels like it is really coming together and I love the story.

This leaves the next question: where do we go from here?

Well this is where I can use your help dear reader…

At minimum I will be putting the book out as an EBook with a completion date of late April or early May. I would really like to get a physical edition of the book put out, but that takes money and my little company is just starting. So, I’ve set up a Kickstarter (here) and am offering some premium goodies to people willing to pledge money toward the book (for those not familiar with Kickstarter: if the project funds you get the premiums you chose when you made your pledge, and if it doesn’t fund you aren’t charged anything and we all walk away).

So dear reader… I’m going to ask you to take a look and (maybe) buy some books! I you do, you aren’t just helping me, you’re helping Sariah Anne as well.

If you can’t (or won’t) buy at this point, I understand dear reader and I would ask you to share this post or the Kickstarter with those around you.

That’s it for this one dear reader, and until next time…

Thank you in advance!