National Novel Writing Month 2016: Plan of Attack

In the course of going through my older blog posts and stats in order to write this post, I realized that I have only tackled National Novel Writing Month twice. I wasn’t working in November 2013 so my inaugural challenge went very smoothly. My brain was fried, but I won.

I didn’t tackle NaNo in 2014 because I was working full time and just couldn’t manage it; I had completely forgotten that. Last year, I was working 24 hours a week with a full day off in the middle of the work week. It was hard, but I won. Not as easily as in 2013, but who cares? Victory is victory.

This year, I’m terrified. I currently work 30 hours a week with no extra day off. I only work 5 hours Tuesdays and Thursdays but I have other tasks for those afternoons and mornings, respectively. I also have FOUR social engagements on days off, though I’m trying to get out of two of them. I do have a week of vacation that I planned for NaNo, like I did in 2015, but the month is still scaring me.

I’m going to backtrack a little for those who don’t know what NaNo is. During the month of November, the National Novel Writing Month, I am challenging myself to write 52 084 new words of fiction. Along with a horde of other people who are as masochistic as me. Traditionally, people write 50 000 words or a book over NaNo. I usually finish and start a project. Or two. Or write a bunch of short stories if I get stuck. And I’m trying to beat my number from last year.

In 2015 I discussed my prep plan here since I had never done NaNo around a day job before. Now that seems like old hat. Still, I am once again challenging myself not to cry. I’ve written up my Plan of Attack and it’s got me a little nauseas. Slightly hopeless. I’ve never worked so much, or made so many commitments, and tried to accomplish NaNo.

As is the case all year long, I do not and cannot write every single day. I do not have the stamina. Plus, life gets in the way. My work does not care that I have a word count goal, I need to be mentally present and functional while there. Not to mention I need to get up on time, so no late writing sessions for me. Furthermore, my cats do not care about anything I do that does not involve them. They’re patient with me most of the time but I can’t park myself in front of my computer indefinitely whenever I’m home. There would be furry rioting!

The truth is, it’s hard to manage NaNo around the basic necessities of life: eating, sleeping, cleaning up after yourself, taking care of dependents (animals and children), and leaving your work space for sanity reasons. It’s worth it in the end though when you see what you’re capable of accomplishing in a single month.

Life is life, hence my Plan of Attack factors in preventatives and surprises so that when November 30th rolls around I’m not sitting at my desk blankly wondering where 10 000 words are going to come from. I actually hope to be done by the 27th.

Math, though I detest it, is my main weapon. Here’s my breakdown, the Plan of Attack:

Over the course of November I have 14 full days of writing (weekends + vacation days). On those days I need to write a minimum of 3 000 words.

I also have 4 Tuesday afternoons/evenings (minus my vacation Tuesday). On those days I need to write a minimum of 2 521 words (and still fit in my workout, oy).

3 000 x 14 = 42 000

2 521 x 4 = 10 084

42 000 + 10 084 = 52 084

The math makes it look completely doable. As long as I hit my minimal targets I am home free. I also have “bonus” days factored into my tracking calendar so that I can stay ahead of the game.

However, and this is the part I completely forgot about until now, I know that I need to start big and end not quite as big. That means I need to have higher word counts earlier in the month so that when I start to feel weighed down I will be ahead and still able to hit a my target. Now I have to redo my tracking sheet. Darn it.

Finally, I work everything out into 30 minute segments. In 30 minutes I can anywhere from 500 to 1000 words depending on how the story is shaping up. I always say 500 when I’m breaking my time down because aiming low, knowing you can exceed it, is a great feeling. And telling yourself, “just another 30 minutes” does not sound nearly as bad to the writing mind as “just another 600 words.” You simply go until the timer makes noise. That’s all you can do, all you have to do.

NaNo is all about the mental game and discipline. I’m competitive. I want to win. Having a segmented plan from the get go seriously helps me win when I am too brain fried from writing to figure things out in the midst of it all.

I’ve got both blogs scheduled to the first Friday in December because I can’t have any other writing requirements taking away from my focus. Plus, I know exactly which writing projects I’m tackling and have outlines to follow in order to mitigate time wasted on such things. I have also let everyone in my immediate circle know that I am participating so they know not to be upset if I avoid them or (other) plans in November.

I’ve never lost NaNo following my segmented plan. It’s hard, but it works.

I have a lot riding on National Novel Writing Month 2016. I’ve discussed it repeatedly on Anxiety Ink. I need to win this month because I need to know that I can create while working. I’ve failed myself this year and I need November to turn my spirits around.

Wish me luck! And I wish you the best of luck if you’re taking up the challenge. And if you do try my Plan of Attack, let me know how it goes.

The actual Plan:


The Genesis of a Project

It’s no secret that I sit on stories for a long time. Like, a ridiculously long time. Longer than anyone I know. And when I say “sit on them,” I mean I will maybe write down a few details and impressions so I don’t lose them while all the moulding of the story takes place in the confines of my brain. I rarely sit in front of a blank screen without having thought about the story I intend to impart.

I’ve got one such story churning right now, inspired by events that occurred in December 2013. Yet another is spinning into shape sparked by a dream I woke up to in March 2015. A third has been haunting my mind for months and months, the dream I had made such an impression I didn’t mark down any notes, so I can’t give an exact date. The fourth has been swirling far longer than the others but I hadn’t felt prepared to write it before.

For the record, dreams are very rare for me. Especially those that I remember. And even rarer are the ones that inspire any kind of artistry. But that’s not my point.

Initially, I thought that each of these stories would be their own full length novel. Yet the more I mull them over, the more holes I see in a long arc. For all of them. Filler would weaken the power I felt in each of these stories, but I didn’t know what complexities I could add to make them work. Then the other night I had an idea.

Short stories. Common themes. One collection.

So I’m now making plans to write stories for my collection, currently called Mind and Body. I have four stories in mind; I’m not sure if there will be more since this idea is in its infancy.

I love having a solution to a problem though. Now that I’m not anxiously trying to make each story longer and stronger, I can worry about making their themes have greater impact via brevity. I can’t wait to get writing.

The genesis of every one of my projects amuses me to no end. I never know where they’re going to come from.


*Featured image source: Cocoon by Internets_dairy via Flickr

Who Are You Jealous Of?

Winsor McCay, 1930 by Alan Light via Flickr

Winsor McCay, 1930 by Alan Light via Flickr

While meandering the multitude of articles covering aspects of writing earlier this month, I came across one that presented something I’d never heard before. While the article is called How to find your voice, I didn’t take much away from the topic of voice because not only do I agree wholeheartedly with the author, but it’s nothing new.

However, he covers a workshop, and in part of the transcription provided, is this little gem:

Read widely, read all the poetry you can get your hands on. And in your reading, you’re searching for something. Not so much your voice. You’re searching for poets that make you jealous. Professors of writing call this “literary influence.” It’s jealousy. And it’s with every art, whether you play the saxophone, or do charcoal drawings. You’re looking to get influenced by people who make you furiously jealous.

Read widely. Find poets that make you envious. And then copy them. Try to get like them.

I’ve heard of finding writers you admire and emulating them. I’ve heard of writing the books you want to read. I’ve heard of rewriting books that you think you can write better. This idea of jealousy is novel and exciting as far as I’m concerned.

Because Collins, the lady transcribed, hits the nail on the head!

The stories that stay with me, and I mean really stay with me, are the ones that kind of make my chest swell. I read them and get helplessly absorbed in them, to the point I wish real life didn’t exist so I didn’t have to eat, sleep, or all the other necessities, so I can just keep on reading. The ones where when they end I feel like a piece of me has broken off and I don’t know if I’ll ever find it anywhere but in the pages of the book I have to put down. The ones where if someone says they’re name my heart ka-thunks. I’m sure if someone were to scan my brain in the middle of reading my synapses would be flashing like fireworks.

There have been very few books that I’ve finished and stared at the ceiling wishing I’d written them. Hell, wishing I could write anything half as amazing. I used to think this was admiration, but it’s jealousy.

I’ve tried to do the emulating thing and I come off sounding like a hack. But that’s a good thing. The story wasn’t mine, or at least didn’t have the proper flavouring to make it mine. Yet it still let me learn something new. And I’m not going to stop trying, because obviously the goal now is to make some future writer equally jealous with my work. And that’s no small feat.

What stories have inspired this reaction in you?

Stepping into My Character’s Head

Last month I talked about stepping into my character’s body, so of course this month I had to think about stepping into my character’s head. Getting into a character’s mental space is where I excel. I have a real knack for empathy –not for displaying it, I should note, but feeling it. I think most writers have a gift for feeling empathy as that’s what allows us to see from the perspectives of our heroes and villains even when our values don’t align. It’s also why we’re a hypersensitive lot, but that’s a topic for another day.

Aside from my empathetic abilities, I also harbor a compulsion to play devil’s advocate. I’m skilled, most of the time, at being able to see all sides of an argument even when I am staunchly on one side of it. Yes, it can be a pain to argue with me when it’s something I know quite a lot about. No, I don’t know how people spend extended time in my company some days.

My point is, it’s usually easy for me to step into someone else’s head, whether they’re real or imaginary. Besides the fact that I love doing it in a fictional setting. As long as I know the parameters of a character’s existence, really a lot of nurture aspects and a few nature ones, I’m good to go. Occasionally, I can be surprised by organic actions and choices, but that’s half the fun of writing.

Elgin Mermaid 202... by Darron Birgenheier via Flickr

Elgin Mermaid 202… by Darron Birgenheier via Flickr

It’s also important –and helpful– to write what you know when you can. The main character I was talking about previously may be wholly different from me body-wise, but mentally we are very alike. Our different life experiences have shaped us differently, as have our needs, obviously, but our core selves are similar.

In that way, it’s easier to write her because I know what choices and reactions I’d make in similar situations she’s put in. However, she’ll occasionally buck when I push her the wrong way. Furthermore, because of our physical and experience differences, she’s able to respond in ways I never could to certain situations.

Conversely, sometimes it’s extremely difficult to write her because when she goes to a dark place, I have to as well. Over the years I have pulled myself out of the emotional tailspin my character is currently wallowing in. It was hard. And I’m not used to dipping a toe in and not taking it away with me when I’m not writing. That’s part of the reason I walked away from my WIP in the first place.

I’ve been grappling with how to write but not live the darker emotions and have had some great feedback from fellow writers. I feel prepared enough to dive back into my story.

Writing another’s mental space is kind of a balancing act between rational response, natural response, expected character response, and what the story needs. It’s so much fun when it all comes together.

Stepping into My Character

Every time I sit down and just think about the main character of my WIP, I am amazed and overwhelmed about the places my brain goes. I guess it comes with the writing territory, but the novelty has yet to wear off.

For instance, I was thinking about bodies the other night. My character’s body is an important tool to her. She has honed it, trained it, pushed it, and tested it beyond limits conceivable to me personally. With her military training and the line of work she is in, her body is a key factor in keeping her alive. Sure, she’ll have human moments and experiences in her body, but when it really comes down to it, it’s just another tool in her arsenal.

This is not the case for my body or my lived experience. Over the years I have not been very good to my body. I’ve cleaned up my act over the past 7 years and I’ve come a long way from where I started, but my body will never be able to do what my characters can; and I don’t mean just because we exist in different realities. It’s not even a mental block on my part. My body literally will not –cannot– do what hers can. I’m ok with that.

My little workout space.

My little workout space.

I’m happy being a writer with a day job who walks/runs/bikes 23 km on my basement equipment each week. Throw in the occasional hike and 5 K and I’m a happy camper. My character hunts and tracks in her job. She regularly fights to the death.

Beyond job requirements, she lives a life of body maintenance while I live one of healing. Ask any person who is recuperating from some sort of physical problem, they can tell you how hard healing is when you want to hit a certain physical peak.

Anyway, my point is it’s fascinating for me to use the few truly quiet moments my life affords me to put myself in my character’s skin. I imagine our physical differences and similarities inside and out and extend my thoughts to the whys and necessities of them. She must be strong and fit because her very existence depends on it. I need to be fit because it affects my quality of life. Not quite the same thing, and this effects choices down the road for her.

The National Guard by New York National Guard via Flickr.

The National Guard by New York National Guard via Flickr.

I couldn’t tell you if all writers do this, or whether I take my story thinking too far. Regardless, I find it fun and fascinating. Writing and reading my character will be the only time I’ll ever get close to feeling like someone who can make their body do damn near anything. Some days when I crouch down I have to convince my bad knee it’s in its best interest to get back up.