NaNoWriMo: Coping with Defeat

Five more days. NaNoWriMo is about done, and yep, you’re still more than 10,000 words short? Tried writing during the turkey cooking, and both ended up in flames?

Great news! You’re done for, and it’s about time you celebrate!

That’s why we’re Writing All Wrong.

Writing A. Wrong:

Pretend its the beginning of the month. What do I tell myself since I didnt make 50,000 this year for NaNo.
—Caryn Lefevers, Dothan, Ala. 

(Note: NaNoWriMo is short for Narcissistic Nonsense Writing Motivation or something like that. Simple premise: write a “novel” of fifty-thousand words within the month of November. The prize? Fifty-thousand dollars. In the competition’s 197-year history, only five writers have claimed the prize.)

Since it’s the beginning of the month, here’s how you should plan when you come short of the goal. Planning the coping ahead of time — it helps.

—Use the material for writing your Christmas cards.

—Solicit some readership and see what kick they get from the “truncated ending.”

—Your unfinished NaNoWriMo opus: free wrapping paper.

—Shred and re-arrange: three month’s worth of beat poetry reading.

—Long-form status updates.

—Many, many, many Tweets.

—Condense into a short story.

—Condense again into a haiku.

Those cute little fridge magnets that you can shape into Dadaist interpretations of failed NaNoWriMo novels.

—Black hat SEO for your blog.

—Platonic sexting.

—Messages in bottles.

—Make an ePub and read it on your “Incomplete Works of Me” eReader.

—Print “NaNoWriMo Winner 2012” shirts, send to Africa.

—Start some cheesy “one line at a time” contest to see your story to completion.

—Send the last paragraph to WritingAllWrong@me.com to see what’s recommended for continuation, should you choose to continue.

—Print your work and use the pages to light yourself on fire.

Writing All Wrong can be reached via email (WritingAllWrong@me.com) and followed on Twitter (@WritingAllWrong).

NaNoWriMo: Just Quit Already!

Congratulations! You’re 19/30ths of the way through #NaNoWriMo, probably finished already, or you’ve given up, and you’re trying to spend this Thanksgiving week *off of work* justifying your existence as an “aspiring” author.

Of those who are 19/30ths of the way through, 29/30ths were likely quite eager about the whole endeavor, but only 7/30ths are feeling the same way at this point.

For the remaining 23/30ths of you: Make the call. Cut your losses. Quit with dignity.

That’s why we’re Writing All Wrong.

Dear Writing All Wrong,

How would you suggest finishing my #NaNoWriMo novel, when I’m halfway through the month, but not even a quarter of the way through the novel? Is there some kind of trick for taking ten thousand words and stretching them out to fifty by month’s end? Thanks.
—Jayson Ponds, Fleming, N. Y. 

(Note: NaNoWriMo is short for Narcissistic Nonsense Writing Motivation or something like that. Simple premise: write a “novel” of fifty-thousand words within the month of November. The prize? Fifty-thousand dollars. In the competition’s 197-year history, only five writers have claimed the prize.)

Nope, there’s no trick.

Unless you’re looking to extinguish your sleeping nights and days for the next two weeks, sacrificing your Thanksgiving week off for a futile goal, miring though spiteful word-slog you’ll be regretting as you wrote and forgetting within hours, then call it.

Quit.

You know that saying, “Don’t quit while you’re ahead?” There’s an oft-ignored corollary: “Do quit while you’re behind.”

Quit.

As long as there are Novembers, there are #NaNoWriMos. You might need to lick  your wounds, then lick them some more, lapping up the seeping blood, burning its taste into your mouth.

Quit.

Winners aren’t winners because they “never gave up.” No, they won. Losers are persistent. That will do. You’ll need it for when you learn to win. Then you win more.

Quit.

But quit with a lesson learned. A purpose for the next round. Competing just because your cadre of writing cheerleaders spurred you on? Contesting to prove your “credentials” as a writer? Chasing a thrill that turned into more chase than thrill? Challenging for the sake of fitting in and crowdsurfing along an imagined wave of significance?

Quit.

Be a fighter second, a writer first. You can win #NaNoWriMo every year, and still rate a lousy writer, never having churned anything more significant than what will be chummed to the sharks of time. You’d rather be 49,999 words short of winning NaNo, while penning only what will sharpen your mind, engage your reader, and spur your own self on to polish your craft.

Quit.

Quit being the poseur you never wanted to be. Quit chomping at the tails and entrails of contests and retreating goals. Quit burning to burn, writing for no other purpose other than to write, driving yourself into a cyclic hole. Quit shooting for goals of numbers over goals of artistry, aesthetics. Quit letting the false ideal of quantity be your success, and the lack of wordcount your failure.

Quit.

Writing All Wrong can be reached via email (WritingAllWrong@me.com) and followed on Twitter (@WritingAllWrong).

Helpful NaNoWriMo Tips – from our readers

Last year, Writing All Wrong was the one to give, offering helpful primers on NaNoWriMo. You can read them here.

This year, we’re taking a different angle, a venue to “give back.” Seems as if readers have been more eager to offer their advice, their closely-guarded secrets, their winning tips to this thing we call NaNoWriMo. Since you’ve offered, I will be more than happy to post your helpful hints and reap the bountiful credit.

That’s why we’re Writing All Wrong.

(Note: NaNoWriMo is short for Narcissistic Nonsense Writing Motivation or something like that. Simple premise: write a “novel” of fifty-thousand words within the month of November. The prize? Fifty-thousand dollars. In the competition’s 197-year history, only five writers have claimed the prize.)

I have a great tip for #NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month); I made a Twitter for one of the characters in my #WIP (work in progress). Since I work a cake job that lets me Tweet at work, but not one that let’s me do as much writing :(, I then go back and add some of those thoughts to my manuscript. Cool huh?
—Bridgette Malkmus, Summerville, S.C.

Wow, I’m so sorry your job isn’t cake enough to let you write at work, like everyone else’s is. I admire your resourcefulness, though!

Last year, I came within a hundred words of winning NaNoWriMo. This year, I plan to win by writing just three extra words a day: IT WILL HAPPEN. That’s also the title of my book to, so it makes sense. 
—Charles D. Rasper, Norman, Okla. 

That’s going to leave you about ten words short. That will happen.

Can’t. I’ll. We’re. Y’all. It might make more sense to make dialogue sound natural with contractions, but I give myself a better chance of meeting my goal by breaking those contractions a part. It is much easier, and it does not take a way from the story.
—Soren Sjostrom, Sheridan, Wyo.

Nice work in taking this to the next level, by breaking apart “apart” and “away.” That is awe some.

For me, it’s all a matter of organizing my time. That’s the only currency that’s non-negotiable. You might have 30 days to write, but with so many other things taking that time away, I’m buying it back this year. For starters, I’m taking three days off of work. I’m also having a sitter watch the kids every Friday night. And to shave time off of having to cook, we’re ordering out every Saturday and Sunday and maybe a few days a week between. Hoping it works for me this time!
—Donna Milligan, Ft. Worth.

Three vacation days ($55 per hour [at least] x 3 days) = $1,320
Sitter ($25 x 5 Fridays) = $125
Ordering out ($40 x 10 days) = $400
Grand total = $1,845

Now there’s a negotiable currency: currency.

Writing All Wrong can be reached via email (WritingAllWrong@me.com) and followed on Twitter (@WritingAllWrong).

NaNoWriMo – Know Failure? No Failure (next year).

November 28th. NaNoWriMo is just about done.

And if you’re done before the novel’s done?

That’s why we’re Writing All Wrong.

I might as well stick a fork in it. I’m done! No, I didn’t finish the novel, so I’m writing to find out how I can improve for next year. (and I read all of your advice so far, it DID help). Thanks! But how do I turn my mistakes in not finishing into success of finishing for next year?

—Barry Whitehall, Surrey, N.D. 

(Note: NaNoWriMo is short for Narcissistic Nonsense Writing Motivation or something like that. Simple premise: write a “novel” of fifty-thousand words within the month of November. The prize? Fifty-thousand dollars. In the competition’s 196-year history, only three have claimed the prize.)

Gotta keep this one tight. Christmas is coming.

While I’d normally suggest a look at what a failing performance you turned in over November, well, I don’t see why I wouldn’t suggest that right about now. But here’s how you give yourself that “exit interview,” that honest assessment, free of poisonous positive thinking.

The memories of the temporal element fade fast. Rarely do we remember how long things seem to take—only in the present does the concept of time seem clear. Every day passing is clouding your perception of how much time you had in the month. Look back at the calendar, your bank account, your medical bills: find evidence of where the wheels came off. Mismanaging time is a fair assessment, but it’s hard to spot, even with hindsight.

What you wrote shouldn’t fade as fast. Read back through it next year. Don’t look back anytime soon. You now have the luxury of reading this fairly. If you know how to read, you can see where you were cruising along, (the vigorous romantic tension between your stilted fantasy characters, describing backstories, more romantic cliché) and where you hit the potholes and mudpits (storytelling, dialogue, anything of substance).

In short, first mull over the memory of managing time. Find those traps that had nothing to do with the writing. And next year, if you can bear the stench of your novelcreature, find what’s right, and find what’s rotten. Makes less rotten, make more right.

And see you at the finish line of NaNoWriMo next year.

We’ll resume the steady stream of evergreen writing tips, tricks, and cheats next week.

Writing All Wrong can be reached via email (WritingAllWrong@me.com), followed on Twitter (@WritingAllWrong), and probed for more NaNoWriMo nectar during the month.

NaNoWriMo 401 — All Filler, No Killer

November 14th. Thirty days hath Optober, Janruary, and November. You’re halfway there (if you’ve been diligent), or you’re done (if you don’t work full-time) by now.

NaNoWriMo reminds me of making homemade dog food. Uncle Billus and I would toil until the sun ceased to hang. We produced savory barrelsful of scraps, skins, hair, leather, and cage-free organic free-range hand-deboned chicken.

Uncle Billus grabbed a thick handful some of the fresh, just-baked nuggets of doggie goodness. He tasted some of my work, smiling at first, then shaking his head. I asked what was wrong with it.

“Ther too much food in this here batch, not nuff filler. Got ‘nuff fer fo’ [4], reckon, fi’ [5] barrel worth here ‘um. Like writ’n one uh them NaNoWriMo books: can’t jus’ stick all the good stuff in one barrel, mmm-hmm. Gotta give ‘er more filler, stretcher out some.”

That’s why we’re Writing All Wrong.

My novel is DONE! But I’m a few thousand words short, and I refuse to tack on any excess mess with random rabbit trails. Getting a finished work is one thing, but I need a way to flesh it out without stretching it too thin. Any advice?

—John Patrick Moran, Scottsdale, Ariz. 

(Note: NaNoWriMo is short for Narcissistic Nonsense Writing Motivation or something like that. Simple premise: write a “novel” of fifty-thousand words within the month of November. The prize? Fifty-thousand dollars. In the competition’s 196-year history, only three have claimed the prize.)

While you may want to market your next rap/hip-hop/dubstep/crabcore album as “All Killer, No Filler,” you can easily apply the inverse to this November Novelthing. There are just as many ways to pare up your novel as you (naturally, I hope) pare it down.

Instead of:

“Take that sock off your head!” she said.

Go with:

“Take that sock off your head!” she exclaimed wistfully, like a budding, tangible breeze, toying with the senses of the mind and teasing the faculties of intellect; an overwrought sensation of rebuke from a charmer scolding a cobra that strays too far from the sanctuary  of a thatched basket.”

That’s what we call “putting more hay in the dogfeed.”

In addition to expanding the dialogue, you can also:

Use stock phrases.

Homer (Greek poet, inspiration for Homer Simpson) beasted every round of NaNoWriMo by putting that hay in the dogfeed. He coined a boatful of stock phrases like “wine-dark sea,” “rosy-fingered dawn,” “grey-eyed Athena,” and “mud-bustin’ 4-wheeler,” all of which filled the barrel with plenty of meat to spare. Don’t settle for grin when you can make it an “impish” grin, or don’t let that cottage stand without making it a “cozy little cottage” first. Like everyone else.

Plant a descriptive perception.

Maybe that’s too grown-up a term. Simply put, it’s the description you employ when your description is too weak to let the reader think for himself. While you could go with:

“Delectable strawberries, bursting with amaranthine juices,”

Tack on something ungainly:

“Delectable strawberries, bursting with amaranthine juices, like you’d eat on a midsummer’s toasty afternoon in the shade of one’s own home, petitioning mother for sugar and cream to cap off such royal treatment.

A baby unicorn vomits black sprinkles every time I read this sort of thing. I cannot wait until the end of NaNoWriMo, but alas, we’re in for the count, not the charms.

Remind people of what you already told them. 

When Moses wrote the 24th chapter of Genesis, he employed this same trickery for emphasis. They hadn’t invented italics or boldface type yet, so he needed something to hammer the point home. At 60+ verses, you could tell he was stretching the canvas and putting that hay in the dogfeed.

And since it’s NaNoWriMo, you can do this for every chapter, every sentence:

Ronnie rode his rusty bike back to the creepy old home, which as we all know, was Ronnie’s least favorite place in the whole entire universe, due to his meaner-than-teachers Stepuncle Frothmouth and Stepaunt Bourtha, both intent on draping the curtains of misery on Ronnie and all his hopes and dreams of un-misery.” 

He pushed aside that creaky old door that continued to remind him of the wailing spiders that, as you remember, devoured his dad and mum and grandmum; indeed, its pitch and timbre petrified and terrified the lad who, as you recall, feared spiders worse yet than the prospect of his evil Stepuncle Frothmouth and Stepaunt Bourtha, who jointly, as was mentioned afore, would descend from webs…”

You get it.

So what kind of hay do you put in the dogfeed?

Writing All Wrong can be reached via email (WritingAllWrong@me.com), followed on Twitter (@WritingAllWrong), and probed for more NaNoWriMo nectar during the month.

NaNoWriMo 301 — Misconception Objections

November 7th. Do a word count. If you’re hitting 12,000 words today, you may join the Success Society. If not, then why not?

“That wild boar stampede set me back, and I’m still picking up the pieces.” — Boars are nasty violent and illiterate. Acceptable.

“Too much snow! It never snows here on the East Coast this late in October/early in November.” — My apologies. I forgot that everyone of importance lives on the Northeast Coast of the US and A. Sincerest and humblest apologies. All is forgiven. Mittens shall be mailed to you and your needy family.

“I need to write this right, because I’m not one to go about writing all wrong.”

That’s why we’re Writing All Wrong.

This is my first time actually doing NaNoWriMo. I’m still really excited about the idea of finishing and hitting 50,000 words on my first attempt. But I’m only about 6,000 words in after a week! At that rate, I’m not going to get there, and I’m a bit worried. I think my problem is that I have to make everything “perfect.” I find myself going back and making changes which help things run smoother, but it’s obviously not working. What do you suggest? (And thanks in advance!)

—Kirsten Jennings, Olympia, Wash. 

(Note: NaNoWriMo is short for Narcissistic Nonsense Writing Motivation or something like that. Simple premise: write a “novel” of fifty-thousand words within the month of November. The prize? Fifty-thousand dollars. In the competition’s 196-year history, only three have claimed the prize.)

/does math, divides 6,000 over 7, carrying the nine.

Yeah, you’re in trouble, but you’re not “done for.” I think I may pull out the extended metaphors for this one. A NaNoWriMo novel is special. There are rules it bends and breaks, and one of the halves of this battle is knowing what a NaNoWriMo novel is not. Here are some misconception objections.

1. A NaNoWriMo novel is not a building.

To borrow a “joke” from the watermelon-smashing comedian Noel Gallagher: “Why do they call buildings ‘buildings’ after they’ve finished them? Why not call them ‘builts?’” Point being: you’re building, but you’re not building a building here. You’re building a 50,000 word ‘something.’ Don’t fret because you put the bathroom on the rooftop, or that you didn’t quite figure out the concept of load-bearing walls. If you feel you’ve created an occupational hazard, well, you likely did, but your illegally-hired illegal workforce isn’t going to be crushed by putting the first floor on the third floor. Who cares if it’s not “up to code?” Keep building for now, worry about OSHA later.

2. A NaNoWriMo novel is not a jigsaw puzzle.

Whether you think about it or not, you may be writing to “make the pieces fit.” “Oh, I need to use 50,000 pieces, put them together, done!” No. The more time you spend putting pieces together, the more time you lose creating. You should have the story in mind, the completed image. But it shouldn’t be the image on an M.C. Escher® Impossipuzzle™ box containing 50,000 pieces. You’re making pieces from scratch with this. You’re putting an image on cardboard. You’re cutting that sheet. The goal is making those 50,000 pieces. Even better if they happen to fit together here and there.

3. A NaNoWriMo novel is not an “un-kangaroo.”

Well, now that I’ve painted myself into a corner here: a few kangaroo facts—they’re the world’s largest marsupial, got their name from the Aboriginal phrase for “dude’s got hops,” smell like curry, taste like tarragon, sprout miniature kangaroos from pouches containing spatial portals, and don’t move backwards. Yes, for a kangaroo, it’s “one way or the highway,” and that way is either forward or onward. Your NaNoWriMo novel should be the same, moving ever forward, hopping along, meter by meter, eating eucalyptus and doing all that fun marsupial fun. Forward only. None of the backwardness. It is not the “un-kangaroo,” an animal that’s moving backward and being un-marsupial.

Yeah.

So what NaNoWriMo misconceptions did you have to destroy to break down that dam and get the 50,000 gallons of water rushing upon the plain?

Writing All Wrong can be reached via email (WritingAllWrong@me.com), followed on Twitter (@WritingAllWrong), and probed for more NaNoWriMo nectar during the month.

NaNoWriMo 201 – Enough for 50,000 Words?

November. NaNoWriMo begins tomorrow.

You have a plan, picked direct from the last post. On to the story.

Wait, not sure on the story yet? Oh dear.

That’s why we’re Writing All Wrong.

Still debating on a few story ideas, but how do I know if my story will last 50000 words? 

—Jansen Wheeler, Boca Raton, Fla.

(Note: NaNoWriMo is short for Narcissistic Nonsense Writing Motivation or something like that. Simple premise: write a “novel” of fifty-thousand words within the month of November. The prize? Fifty-thousand dollars. In the competition’s 196-year history, only three have claimed the prize.)

Simplest way: use one of your monthly time-travel teleports to zip to December and find out.

If you don’t want to burn one of those, try a few of these handy-dandies.

Summary time:

“Oh, yeah, it’s about (something something soooomething yeah).” If you can sum it up neatly within 10 seconds or in a simple sentence, you may be in trouble. Pull an anti-Inception here: the simplest, rawest form of the idea is not what you need. A two-second, five-word summary might not be enough concentrate, bub. But a two-paragraph, five-minute presentation of a summation? Maybe.

Digressive potential: 

While I normally discourage the abuse of this, NaNoWriMo isn’t about quality. If your narrative is too compact, loosed up the threads a bit. Writing Sci-Fi? Come on, Sci-Fi is nothing but digression. You can spend 10,000 words on why bipolar tachyon vortices work in prehistoric vacuums, but not in postpositive bended reality. Add a <tech> tag and move on. Same with fantasy. Spells, potions, the Codex Magicus, arcane histories, backstory that won’t advance the narrative: it will advance you to the finish line.

Characters: 

Quick: name the longest Charles Dickens novel, then name the Dickens novel with the most characters. Yep, it’s the same one. Then you have The Tale of Genji, featuring over four hundred characters. It’s long enough to win you NaNoWriMo for half a year. Point being: stick in enough characters to consume 50,000 words worth of treatment.

Flashbang flashbacks:

Did you know that, according to science, we humans spend up to 27% (!) of our day either rehashing the past, reminiscing, or dwelling on things we’ve done in the past? NaNoWriMo doesn’t care if you drive the narrative into a temporal ditch to go back in time and give your story some story-behind-the-story. Same thing with looking forward. Dreams and ideals to come are part of our existence. Feel free to imbue the narrative with the same. Give it the time trifecta.

Any other handy-dandies work for you?

Writing All Wrong can be reached via email (WritingAllWrong@me.com), followed on Twitter (@WritingAllWrong), and probed for more NaNoWriMo nectar during the month.