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).

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).

Why I’m Not Reading Your Book

I dabble with the idea of having a Reading All Right week here, but I can’t quite make the stab. This post gets close.

Speaking of close, that reminds me: I tried reading a book the other day. Couldn’t do it. It was as if the writer beckoned me not to take him seriously, such was his degree of fail. And I’m not the only one. People won’t read what pains them to read right away.

That’s why we’re Writing All Wrong.

I want people to read my book. What should I do?

—Brandt Bassett, Cadillac, Mich. 

Sorry BranBass, the path to self-discovery is not given by one who is not oneself. While I won’t go into what keeps people reading your book, I’ll do you one better.

Here’s what’s going to close the door on people trying to read your book. Do these things in the first few pages, and you’re done. Book closed, back on the shelf.

Clichés

“Avoid clichés like the plague.” Truer words may have been spoken, but the truth of that little cliché doesn’t ring as loud as it should. They stick out of your first pages like cankers, cold sores, and zits. Kill them all.

Pet words and phrases

If you like an uncommon word or phrase, and you brandy it about like it’s a word of common use, your reader will notice. A discerning reader will notice long enough to slam shut the book and whip their wallets and time at the more deserving. Found a great word plaything? Good for you! Stop using it over and over again right up front. Specificity. Vis-a-vis. All but [whatever]. Sinecure. Shut up.

Mirrors

If you describe your character by having him/her/it looking into a mirror, I will not read your book. You can do better than that. If you settle for the gimmick, I will settle for another work besides yours.

Weather

If I wanted a weather report, I would watch the Weather Channel. Unless your novel is about a meteorologist or weather conspiracies, then there’s no use for elaborating on the weather, unless you want to show off your lack of skills in opening a novel.

Waking up

If you begin with your character waking up, he’d better be an insect, and you’d better be Franz Frickin’ Kafka. If “no” to both of the above, please rethink your tactic.

Stage setting

Yes, you must set some sort of stage eventually. But if I’m reading a story, and there’s no story—only a stage—then I’ll read something that is a story instead. Thank you.

Opening the opening

You know it when you see it. “Our story begins with a herped derp…” “This tale begins with some dumb something…” “Our narrative unfolds in a classic fairytale princess castle…” If you’re stating the obvious, I’m shutting the book, turning off the Kindle, or deleting the iBook then and there. Insult your reader’s ability at your own peril.

Please tell me you aren’t making these mistakes. If you’re going to make them, make them later on.

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

When to Say “No” to a Good Idea

Training an ice-cyclops to freeze over Florida’s highest peak into a popular ski resort. A blind poker player on the run from America’s casinos. A zombie writing an apologetic on zombiedom. Church pastors teaming up to overtake the local mob with an alternate crime underworld.

What do those ideas have in common? They’re all great ideas, but they would all make poor stories.

That’s why we’re Writing All Wrong.

I have a great idea about a house that becomes sentient after a homeowner “cracks the code” by stirring his coffee with a fork and not a spoon. Faced with the prospect of having a dweller exist more efficiently than the house, the house turns on him, trying to squelch his innovations and everything. So how would I make a good story out of this?

—Violet Naumann, San Diego, Calif.

Ah, a great idea. I agree with that much. Making a good story out of this? Hate to say it (OK, no, I don’t), but the best story you can make of it is no story at all. 

Some great ideas aren’t meant to be fleshed out. Ideas both good and bad make awful tales, short and long. Takes the rare material to stretch a good idea, solid concept into a narrative. Diamonds? Valuable, shimmering, pricey gem: unmalleable. Then there’s gold. Still worth your dollar, yet you can press it out for construction, just like the city of Denver did in erecting their Capitol building entirely out of an orange-sized ball of solid gold.

When to say “No” to a good idea:

1) When the idea shines brightest in its purest form. 

“Zombies bite into brains, seeking the Holy Grail of flavor.” (STOP THERE) You can go on and on about the strains of succulence in brain tissue, but that is ‘polishing the diamond,’ nothing more. It’s a fabulous thought: Tweet it instead.

2) When it delves into idiosyncratic interests.

I would read a story about the underworld dealings in Ty® Beanie Babies™ – picking up on the endless inside jokes about the “pellet density” in the Princess Di bears and the alchemy involved in creating dye to fabricate the rarest version of “Peanut, the Royal Blue Elephant.” And your readership would be me, and me alone. Don’t waste the effort.

3) When it works better as part of a grander idea.

Don DeLillo’s concept of a college professor serving as the chair of Hitler Studies is almost a story unto itself. The concept? Marvelous. But does DeLillo take this and run with it? Not quite. The genius is in its restraint, its tucking away into a larger fabric that works as a narrative. Even if that narrative (White Noise) puts the “stmo” in “postmodern.”

When have you benefitted from saying “No” to a good idea?

Writing All Wrong can be reached via email (WritingAllWrong@me.com), followed on Twitter (@WritingAllWrong), and tossed into the wide-mouthed rubbish bin of fantastic ideas and fantastical narratives.