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).

NaNoWriMo: Where to Go with your Story?

I had a chance to meet with one of my builders. Building a third home for myself, you see. They’re about a quarter of the way done, but the work’s on hiatus.

“What?” I ask. “You just stopped all of a sudden?”

“Sorry,” say the builders. “We don’t really know where to go from here. Didn’t have plans beforehand.”

That’s why we’re Writing All Wrong.

What do I do when I don’t know where to go with my story?
—Daphne Roberts, Cleveland

(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.)

Go back in time.

November comes every year (except for back in 1126, 1884, and 1902), so you should have planned ahead. Had an idea? That idea just got spent over your first 8,000 words. You needed more.

Keep going somewhere.

You only think you don’t know where to go. You probably do, but it’s that “finished product” mentality holding you back. If you hit that roadblock after 10,000 words, start writing the last 20,000, come back to patch the road later. If there’s a great patch of dialogue between the werewolf boyfriend and the vamp girlfriend, write that. If you have all these great murder scenes in your head, press that ‘Fast Forward’ button, kill people off, and write ‘em up.

Retrace your steps.

Chances are, since you didn’t plan, you got lost. Whatever it was that got you up to the thousands for words: find it. Your dashing and unflawed protagonist. That inane backstory teeming with minutia that only you will find interesting. The formulaic opening to introduce your cast of characters. You liked writing about something. If you can’t summon the willpower to progress a story, we can worry about that some other time. Not NaNaWriMo time.

Just end it already.

Like it is with finding your way somewhere, you know where you start, and you have an idea of where you’ll be ending. Writing isn’t linear. If your novel doesn’t have an ending yet, well, tough luck. Make one up. If it doesn’t work, pull a page from the prog rock playbook and make it a false ending. The more you write of the end, the easier it will be the get there.

Go somewhere crazy.

You subconsciously reject the outlandish, only because it doesn’t seem to be what your story needs. No, wrong thinking. It’s exactly what your NaNoWriMoManUScript needs. Young adult cyberpunk tech-thriller? Throw in a serial Tyrannosaurus. Zombie apocalypse? Have them start a religion, philosophy, academies. Suburban women’s lit dealing with emotional trial over a husband cheating on a trusted friend? Turn that tryst into a full-blown love octagon. High fantasy epic? You don’t need crazy, just drawn-out backstory, maybe a few extended alchemic footnotes, and maybe a sudden war.

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).

What to Write for NaNoWriMo

Remember, remember, the month of November 

The writing of novels a lot; 

I write not of knowing, but NaNoWriMo’ing 

An effort made for naught?

That’s why we’re Writing All Wrong.

What’s the easiest thing to write for NaNoWriMo?

—Katelyn Laek, Tigard, Ore.

(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’ll break it down by genre. I’ve listed levels of difficulty associated with each novel of 50,000 words worth. If you don’t face much challenge with getting the 50k down anymore, feel free to up the grade on this year’s entry.

GAMING THE SYSTEM: Dadaist hypertext, repetitive incantations, uniform texts found in Borgesian libraries, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy,” abstract language narratives.

ALMOST EASIER TO WRITE THAN READ: YA-fiction, middle-grade fiction, crime, mystery, low-concept Sci-fi, urban fantasy, romance, vampire/zombie anythings, horror, autobiography, fanfiction, time travelogues, erotica, Christian fiction.

AVERAGE FARE, BLAND BUT LABOR-INTENSIVE: High-concept sci-fi, high/low fantasy, (anything)slash, holiday, inspirational, memoir, thrillers, military, biography, cyberpunk, chick lit, Westerns, space opera, war stories, queer fiction, courtroom drama.

MODERATELY TAXING, TAKING IT SERIOUSLY: Historically-accurate romance, romantically-accurate history, alternate-history anything, literary sequels, chiastic narratives, technical fiction, Victorian steampunk, non-Christian religious fiction.

TOUGH BUFF STUFF: Epistolary novels, continual stream-of-consciousness regurgitation, pre-Victorian steampunk, literary fiction, Gothic, saga, New Greek tragedy

TOP-SHELF DIFFICULTY: Christian erotica, Christian queer fiction, fictional literary criticism, prehistoric legal cyber-romance, modern Elizabethan drama, elementary school readers, medical texts, absurdist plays, Apocrypha.

WELL-NIGH IMPOSSIBLE: Preschool readers, ad copy, character sketches, haiku.

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 501 — Salvage the Story

November 21st. NaNoWriMo ends in 9 days. And since you’re either unemployed, or your job gives you two weeks off for Thanksgiving (like everyone else), you’re well poised to race downhill to an easy finish. That’s if you’re competent, able to finish things you start (unlike anyone else).

On that note, for your edification: here are the top five reasons people don’t hit the 50,000 mark:

  1. Children
  2. Employment
  3. Smallpox
  4. Accidental death or dismemberment
  5. Running out of writing gas / Creative engine failure.

That last reason is an absolute sham.

That’s why we’re Writing All Wrong.

I’m stuck. I have thousands of words to go, but I’m literally, definitively, assuredly stuck. I feel like I ran the novel in a ditch and I can’t get it towed. Is it too late for me to salvage it?

—Breeann Foxton, Beaverton, Ore. 

(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.)

It’s never too late. Only too soon. I could spin up a whole blog post on the bad practices and habits that fashion failures such as you. I mean, yours. I’m not going to assume that you’re not writing because your kids got in the way or your month-long sabbatical was cut short. No, I’ll try to suggest the things that get the gas back in the tank, get the motor started once again.

1. Write the ending.

Unless you’re recovering from a lobotomy (and somehow writing a novel?), you probably had the ending in mind when you started this thing. Go ahead and write it. You won’t like it. You’ll work backward to fix it. (Editor’s note: This is, in a sense, how I finished my first novel. I went back afterward and put in a peach of a chapter to tie things together.)

2. Rewrite the beginning. 

Daring or draining? Both. You only get so much out of a marathon when you rocket to a start with a sprint. Nice work, hotshot, beating the pack for the first thirty minutes, then careening off to the sidelines, yakking your guts on a hapless water holder. You’re a more mature writer: go back, start the way you meant to. Build different. Let that seep into the vacant crevasses of the work.

3. Materialize that idea you’ve been holding back.

I don’t always bet the farm and the barnyard pals, but when I do, I’d bet that you brewed a semi-decent idea within the stew that became your novel. There’s always some gem of a notion held back, something you want to weave into the fabric. Break out the loom and do it. Save the story.

4. Compare what you think you wrote with what you wrote.

A step of risk, to be sure, as you won’t be towing or pushing the ditched car. You’ll be inspecting it, thigh-deep in mud, wrapping your head around the problem, then the solution. And your novel? Memory taints everything for better or for worse. Go back and read. Don’t skim. That’s when you let memory do more work than it should. Read. There are always lumps in the dough that you don’t see at eye’s first glance. Get the hands in there, press it out. What slosh you penned in fervent madness may stand to use some finer fleshing out in lucid focus.

5. Loan a camel.

There’s a Bedouin parable of a man who bequeathed 23 camels to his three sons, willing that the eldest receive half of the camels, then to the second son, a third, and to the youngest, an eighth. Being mathematically inclined, they worked out the proper solution, but the youngest objected to having the camels vivisected.

Along comes a merchant who hears of their dilemma. He loans them a camel, saying it’ll help sort out the matter. With 24 camels, they divvy it up without needing to divvy up a camel. One half (12), one third (8), and one eighth (3). One camel left over to pay back the merchant. Easy. Those crafty Bedouins, I tell you. You know they founded Bed, Bath, and Beyond, right?

Stories stall when you don’t have enough camels in the caravan to tote a complete narrative. Loan that twenty-fourth camel. Whether it’s a dark side to a character, a burgeoning romance, or some furtive plot point in the subcurrents of the narrative — find something missing that wasn’t missing in the first place. It may be a keeper, you never know. If it isn’t, send that camel back and loan another one.

What do you use to get the narrative out of the ditch and save your story?

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