Oct 16

Realistic People Don't Become Writers!

For a friend who wants to write a novel I suggested doing National Novel Writing Month, telling him it was a joyful experience and November was coming up soon. Write-ins with fellow “NaNoWriMo” novelists are scheduled at your local libraries, coffeehouses, church basements, private homes, all 30 days of November—every day. We set word-count goals (about 1600 words a day). The discipline is heady. Your goal at the end of the month: 50,000 words of a first draft. You find depths of creative power you didn't know you had. Do it and feel great. By the way, it costs nothing.

He said, “Well, it might not be realistic to crank out a novel in one’s first try.”

I said, “Realistic people don’t become writers.”

Is novel-writing on your bucket list? Visit Nanowrimo.org and sign up. You get tracking tools, prep talks, pep talks, notices of meetings in your area. At meetings we got coffee, pizzas, and roomsful of novelists from age 10 to age 85, all typing like mad. More than anything, a writer needs support from other writers. If you’re isolated, scared, think it's unrealistic, or never got around to it, this is an opportunity to deal yourself a wild card.
Dec 07

11 Lessons from NaNoWriMo

As the days of November passed I actually kept writing, just a little behind the scheduled goal of 1700 words a day. And then for few days I really pounded it out for three or four hours at a shot and made the goal of 50,000 words of fiction to become a NaNoWriMo winner and veteran. Fifty thousand words is about half of a real novel manuscript. I learned:

1. Fiction writing is addictive.
2. Some days writing is better than others.
3. A piece of yourself must go into each of the characters or they are not interesting.
4. Characters really do come alive and start dictating what they want to do.
5. Can't be scared of the stratospheric numbers: word counts, pages, number of characters, number of chapters. . .
6. The great tasks of composition and revision are nothing but work. Work is all they are.
7. Those pages and pages of dialogue were the characters defining themselves.
8. Write anything; worry about it later.
9. While you're drafting, go there. Just go there.
10. Write the cliche (example: the harried, worrywart suburban mom) and then give her one of your own traits or values. Suddenly she's real.
11. The fourth dimension of any novel is its moral dimension.

Is what I wrote any good? Of course not. It's a draft. Drafts aren't good. Drafts are the first step on the way to making it good.

The time and trouble was worth it. Now I understand novelists better than before.
Dec 02

Coffee Makes You Fat

During November, National Novel Writing Month (NaNo), my waistline expanded two and then nearly three inches above normal, and I was uncomfortable and not happy. I wasn't eating more or exercising less. The rest of me didn't fatten. Just my waistline.

I was, however, drinking extra coffee, always black, usually a cup at about 4 p.m., to get eight more hours out of my day and energy to write more. The NaNo write-ins were held at coffee shops and I drank it there it when I normally didn't. My waistbands got tighter. I switched to elastic waistbands. Tighter and tighter. I exercised more. Weight was going up a half-pound every five days. I couldn't imagine what I was doing to encourage it.

My waistline hadn't been so big since, years ago, I was depressed and drank coffee in the morning to drag myself to work, and had a cup after work to try to pretend I was starting each day over again. When I felt better and didn't take that p.m. coffee boost, the extra pounds fell off. They just fell off.

Coffee gives you its lift by igniting your adrenal glands and producing cortisol, the stress hormone. You have heard that cortisol, if it isn't used for "fight-or-flight," creates visceral fat which is stored behind the stomach muscles, enlarging the waist. The constant coffee drinkers I know have significant bellies. ("Drinking four or five cups of coffee, for example, can cause changes in blood pressure and stress hormone levels similar to those produced by chronic stress" - NYT). From what I read, it's the afternoon coffee that's the most fattening. If you're already stressed and drinking coffee, it's a double whammy. Also, with aging, the body processes cortisol less efficiently. I will give you some links that helped convince me: Here, Here, and Here.

Coffee drinking has its benefits, and I love it, but as an experiment, in the third week of November I quit coffee. Within two days my waistline was down an inch.

This all sounds weird, even to me. We all know black coffee has no calories. Some say the stressor is not the caffeine but other substances in coffee. I might be particularly sensitive to coffee. I can't prove anything; I know only that coffee gives me a big middle. I am passing on this story in case it can help anyone.

Nov 18

Night of Scribing Recklessly

"I'm NaNo," I told the librarian. It was 4:30 p.m. on the National Novel Writing Month's ("NaNo" for short) Evening of Scribing Recklessly, which had started at 2. About 30 fiction writers were packed into the library's conference room, including teens and two children, with not a single seat open. Wedged into a corner I used a chair as a desk. Junk food was available and pizzas brought in. I was surprised that talking and banter were allowed ("Hey, anybody, what's a good family name to put on a mausoleum?").

After the library officially closed at 5 we NaNos were "locked in" (one could leave the library but not re-enter). Until 9:00 p.m. we could sit anywhere in the library and I set up near the front window and then moved back into the conference room for the final hour. I missed some of the "get up and stretch" moments and the raffle that repaid the leaders for their outlay on food. Participated in some five-minute "timed writes" during which everyone wrote as quickly and as much as they could.

I wrote 7,252 words this evening so my novel draft is at 24,111, almost half of the NaNoWriMo goal of 50,000 words during the month of November -- and there is less than half the month left! One should be writing about 1,700 words daily (about 75-90 minutes' worth) or, alternatively, attending organized write-ins all over the city to write in concentrated blocks of usually three hours. The seven-hour Night of Scribing Recklessly is one-tiime event. I just had to be there.

I value the pressurized and communal NaNo novel-writing experience, although the draft so far lacks shape and like most NaNos I have no idea what might end up in the book. NaNos (thousands, nationwide) are drafting, writing for quantity, bypassing our inner critics -- for now. We update our word counts on the National Novel-Writing Month website, nanowrimo.org. It's nonprofit and free and open to all. And, contrary to what I had imagined, it's not crazy: The discipline is sobering and sane.
Oct 22

NaNoWriMo's Free Trial Software

National Novel Writing Month and the organized effort by the nonprofit NaNoWriMo.org to get us all drafting a novel during the month of November: Intriguing, but I'd sort of brushed it off, and then asked myself "Why?". Yesterday a local NaNoWriMo workshop attracted about 12 people, mostly under age 30, to a library on a gorgeous October afternoon, and the GenXer in charge said she'd "done NaNo" -- that is, completed a novel draft in 30 days -- four times. That doesn't mean any of her novels are complete or published; she's still revising her 2008 manuscript. But she's doing it again in 2012 anyway.

The National Novel Writing Month movement began in San Francisco in 1999 with 30 people vowing to draft their novels, with each other's support, in November's 30 days. The goal is 50,000 words, or 1,667 words per day, about 10 double-spaced pages, and it's acknowledged that what you'll produce is maybe a draft of a draft. But those who complete 50,000 words ("weighed," but not read, by the organization's website) win the challenge. That's all they win, except for a 50 percent discount on book-writing software called Scrivener. The GenExer demo'ed it for us and I liked it and you can download the trial version here, Nanowrimo participant or not, fiction or nonfiction writer. Use it free until Dec. 7. Very intelligently designed for book manuscripts. Yes, you can export what you write in Scrivener to Word, or import into it what you've already written.