Regarding NaNoWriMo

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Every year, NaNoWriMo comes and goes, and for the past several years I haven’t been able to make it work. Part of this is due to the ever-fluctuating changes in my freelancing schedule, part of it is due to the fact that I wasn’t ready to dive into plotting a novel for submission on spec, and the last bit (of course) is any number of excuses.

This year, I’m doing it because I’m ready. I know it might sound anti-climatic or even lame, but I had a lot to work through, personally, to get to this point. Now, it’s finally time. I’m participating this year, with gusto, and have the main story and its twists plotted out. It’s been unpacking, very slowly, in my brain through dreams and other mind pops. I can hear the narrator whispering, and I can see the characters; both of these things usually precedes a deluge of words for me. I’m excited about all my novels, but this story in particular is important because it’s a new step in a longer journey.

I’m off to a slow start, due to work, but as a full-time writer I feel it’s definitely time to get novels done and out the door to my agent. Yesterday, I tracked my word count and I wrote 5K and revised 8K for non-NaNo projects, but I know I can do the 50K this year, because I’ve produced that much word count before in less time. Just not in November.

Special thanks to my research crew (Eryn H.) and new friends (Jacqueline B., Crystal W.) for last minute help. I hope to do them proud.

If you’re so inclined, please feel free to friend me on NaNoWriMo. Let’s do this together!

    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: Starbucks DoubleShot Energy
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: I… Wow. Yeah, nothing.
    In My Ears: Tron soundtrack
    Game Last Played: Kingdom Rush: Frontiers
    Book Last Read: Howl’s Moving Castle. Starting on the sequel!
    Movie/TV Show Last Viewed: Once Upon a Time. OH, DARK SWAN!
    Latest Artistic Project: STILL EDITING.
    Latest Fiction/Comic Release: Gods, Memes, and Monsters
    Latest Game Release: Dread Names, Red List for Vampire: the Masquerade and Ghosts in the Black for the Firefly RPG.
    Current State of Projects: Read my latest project update and My Departure from the Conan RPG.

NaNoWriMo Prep from a Pragmatist. Yep, that’d be me.

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NaNoWriMo starts on Sunday, and I’m using this week to prepare for it. The 50,000 word count for a singular work will be on top of my writing, which includes some editing and spec work this month as well. Knowing that my plate is going to be full (and then some) means that I have to plan in advance for an insanely busy next couple of weeks. I’ve been through this kind of writing crunch before, which means I know I can do it again.

Here’s some of the steps I take to plan for an insane month. Your mileage will vary, as your living arrangements and family life might be different than mine.

1.) Remove or reduce day-to-day decisions. What I wear, what I’m going to eat, when I need to pay bills, chores…these are some of the examples of day-to-day decisions that take up headspace. When I’m slammed, I do a lot of meal planning/crock pot recipes and set out my clothes the night before. Yes, this means I am wearing pants(1) this month. Though I work from home, these types of decisions can impact both my health and productivity, so planning these things ahead of time means I don’t have to think about it. Mind you, this includes household maintenance tasks like chores and laundry as well, which means I have to communicate and sort out responsibilities with my partner. I might use my Sunrise app as reminders, or program my alarm at the same time every day, too.

2.) Eliminate distractions(2). You’ll probably notice that I’ll either be on social media a lot less, or at certain times. I’ve got a dual monitor along with my phone, and I’ve been playing around with how and when I post. For this month, I haven’t decided yet what I’m going to do, because maintaining it isn’t a huge priority for me for promotional purposes. However, there are other distractions that might occur. E-mails, phone calls, doorbells ringing… One of the digital solutions I use, is to schedule times when I respond and send out e-mails. I’ll sometimes be clear about when I expect to respond if a decision is required, too, because there is a tendency to expect one right away even when it’s not pressing. Of course, in some cases it is, but managing expectations for communication can go a long way to save time. I cannot stress the importance of sending clear e-mails enough, and I feel it is an art form. In addition to these tips, I’m shutting off my phone, wifi, as well as my second monitor.

3.) Plan downtime. This often gets missed, but it is hugely important. Often, I see people scheduling what they’re doing on the calendar. It is equally as important to schedule when you’re not doing anything, or when you need to take a break. This might include coffee and drinks with friends, or it might be to watch a movie or make dinner. I am also not going to sit for hours and hours at a time, because this isn’t healthy. Instead, I’m going to set up a schedule for the first week and then adjust from there. It also means, however, that I am planning for some flexibility and additional options for downtime than I might normally. Examples of mini-breaks range from origami to playing Tetris to taking a walk outside or stretching.

4.) Manage noise and song selections. Okay, so I’ve often mentioned how focused I am on sound. I have a pair of noise-canceling headphones, but I also have instrumental playlists set up on Pandora and my iTunes account. The other thing I do, when I’m in a heavy production month, is eliminate the amount of media that has words in them or, alternately, new words. I’ve listened to Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy radioplay a thousand times, for example, and it fades into the background for me. One app and browser that replicates coffee shop noise is Coffitivity, but honestly? Video game soundtracks are fantastic to listen to, because the compositions are interesting and I don’t visualize a scene

5.) Say No to Research. The story that I’m writing for this doesn’t require any research, other than a few questions that I’m clearing up ahead of time. Even if I did need to do some research… That rabbit hole can wait. It is a time sink to click on links and read more information, and while a normal (e.g. non-insane) work day might allow for a certain percentage of reading, a high word count month does not for me. Mind you, a high word count month is not sustainable all the time for obvious reasons, including the physical strain it can take on your hands and wrists, but cutting down on the time I’d normally spend reading means I’ll be a lot more focused on my manuscripts.

6.) Devise a Two-Month Business Plan. This is basic business planning 101 for me. By putting together a two month business plan, instead of a 30 day writing plan, I’m thinking above and beyond NaNoWriMo. Now, for me this is completely necessary. My plans incorporate smaller projects and larger initiatives that I am writing for other people and pursuing on spec. However, I am not just thinking about November, because if I focus solely on this month, then I’ll be completely unprepared for December. This technique circles back to eliminating distractions, and it means that I’ve got a foundation to work from the following month. I don’t expect to be married to next month’s business plan, mind you, but it removes any overlap so I don’t miss anything.

7.) Factor in Flexibility. Things are going to go wrong. I might run out of mac and cheese. I might get suckered into a doorstop novel. Brain might revolt and ooze out of my head. It could snow. Anyway, my point is that there a lot of things that might go wrong, and factoring in a disaster recovery plan for me helps keeps words flowing. However, there’s always that chance that I have to stop, and I need to know that’s okay. I got really sick one year, and that pretty much ended my ability to keep writing because I had medicine head for two weeks. I can still write, mind you, just not as much nor as good. I picked it back up after NaNoWriMo was over, so I still finished my initial goals, even if it took me a little longer.

8.) Outline, List, and Plot. When I know what I’m writing, I tend to write faster. Even if I don’t adhere to every aspect of an outline, coming up with a bucket of potential “up the stakes” possibilities, motivations, etc. and having that handy ahead of time is hugely useful for writing. Thus, I’ve explored possible options for this particular story by capturing them in a list of words I can leverage while I’m writing, or to further brainstorm and use those as a jumping off point. It’s a little bit like plotting, but it’s less tied to the specific story structure and more focused on aspects of a character or a scene. If I got REALLY crazy, I might put together word lists, but that sort of thing usually happens after for me, during the revision process as I refine.

…and that’s it! Those are some of the things I am doing to prepare for NaNoWriMo. To the word mines! With a large, bloody axe!

(1) Not wearing pants is so overrated. I keep this regulated to casual Fridays or slothy Sundays.
(2) My agency will be doing a month long series of posts, including an article from me about your writing workspace. I’ll be sharing more information as we proceed.

    Mood: La la la!
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: Thar be coffee
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: Um. Sorry, yo.
    In My Ears: Beats for Studying playlist on Pandora
    Game Last Played: Diablo III
    Book Last Read: Um… Well, I’m starting Howl’s Moving Castle.
    Movie/TV Show Last Viewed: Once Upon a Time
    Latest Artistic Project: STILL EDITING.
    Latest Fiction/Comic Release: Gods, Memes, and Monsters
    Latest Game Release: Dread Names, Red List for Vampire: the Masquerade and Ghosts in the Black for the Firefly RPG.
    Current State of Projects: Read my latest project update and My Departure from the Conan RPG.

Light Bulbs and Measuring Sticks

Big Giant Sword Fighting Avatar

It’s winter here. Cold, blustery, and dark. I love winter — especially snowflakes — but sometimes too much dark gets to me. Had to go on a cleaning meltdown for that reason. Washed the curtains, the rugs, did a little house maintenance, got an architect lamp to add some full spectrum lighting to my office — the whole bit. Also celebrated new phase of my career with a FitBit to keep me on track.

Now that I’m back from the U.K., I’ve been diving back into the pile and loving it. Getting a ton of words written, projects completed, outlines sent… Yesterday, my short fiction for Hunter the Vigil: Mortal Remains had been accepted. It’s interstitial and connected in a series, so each piece builds off of the other. It was a LOT of fun to write and I can wait to see it in print. Tying up the Episode Guide for the Firefly RPG corebook while the other pieces are being edited and proofread. We are very close to calling it a day. Phew!

But in the midst of all that, every once in a while I catch a whiff of the drama. You know the kind I’m talking about. The “You’re not a real writer until…” Or “If you write, it’s not really work.” Kat Richardson recently talked about this on her blog a little bit in the context of NaNoWriMo. And I laughed when I saw the “It’s not really work.” I never STOP working.

To me being a writer is one part craft, one part business and my job is to balance the two by making smart decisions that impact me now and in the future. (Here’s a financial snapshot of this career’s sustainability through the lens of self-publishing, traditional, and hybrid models.)

More to my point, there’s a lot of magical thinking out there about the craft. I get frustrated when the measuring stick gets pulled out. I’m sure you’ve heard this before. The “you’re not a real writer” unless you:

a) publish an original novel that person has heard about
b) publish a series of novels on that first book
c) have a graphic novel/comics based on those novels
d) sell movie/TV writes based on those novels
f) roll in the dough
g) have a million Twitter followers
h) etc.

Gah! So why does the measuring stick exist? Jealousy and insecurity, sure. That’s natural and going to happen. But deeper than that, our personal qualifications for success are putting those tick marks on the ruler. Take 50 Shades of Gray for example. I can’t tell you how many people came to me and said: “This was badly written, but I had to keep reading.” And then I found out how this book came to be published, and well… I know so many erotica/romance writers who write high-quality prose. This runaway hit blew my mind because it broke my rules of what I feel deserves to sell that many copies and get all the licensing, etc.

Obviously, my opinion is just that. Does it have a bearing on the future of that property? Sales, etc? Nope! It’s just “talk.” My point here, is that a stranger’s opinion shouldn’t make you feel bad about what you’ve achieved as a writer. Half the time they’re saying: “I wish I was as success as you.” or in my case “I don’t understand your success.”

To me, the lesson to be learned about measuring sticks is that they’re useless. Success is, to be perfectly hokey, in the eye of the beholder. Measuring sticks are just opinions that can get in the way or attack your confidence as a writer so you freeze up and avoid the blank page. Success is always best viewed in context, anyway. Don’t let anybody take your happiness away from you. If you’re pleased with what you’ve done? Then that’s really all that matters. If you’re not, well… That’s a whole ‘nother conversation.

    Mood: How did it get to be December again?
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: COOOOOFFFEEEEEEEEEEEEE
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: Meh
    In My Ears: Electronical buzzings
    Game Last Played: Dragon Age II
    Book Last Read: A modernized version of Mallory’s King Arthur
    Movie Last Viewed: RED 2
    Latest Artistic Project: *Still* *still* *still* need to take pictures… It’s on the list!
    Latest Fiction/Comic Release: Last Man Zombie Standing
    Latest Game Release: Friends in Low Places
    What I’m Working On: Primarily tie-in games work and novels.

GalleyCat, Vampires, and Yours Truly

Vampire Avatar

What does one of the most popular blogs about writing/publishing have in common with Varney the Vampire? Well, pull up a chair and listen closely, for you, too, can feel the scare, the absence of breath, and sharp fangs sinking deep into your neck.

GalleyCat has hosted a contest of indeterminable size — hundreds of writers, including myself, are re-writing sections of Varney the Vampire in a variety of flavors. My particular taste of choice happens to be inspired by a stellar vampire flick: Shadow of the Vampire.

Each entrant was assigned a chapter. Now, many of you know how I feel about wasted words — and my entire section was about the decision (or not) to pick up weapons and where to meet next.

So, I had a little fun. Hee. What better way to highlight the sordid decision and the absurdity of (the equivalent of) half-an-hour’s worth of conversation than to drag Hollywood, kicking and screaming, into the mix?

Ah, yes. I am evil, but I’m not the only one! GalleyCat is doing the entrants proud, by publishing each section on both their blog, which is available here, and their Tumblr account. (The book will also be available in its entirety later on. More to come on the new tome.)

Grand fun! And so far, the entries have thrilled me with their creativity in both form AND function. regardless of who wins or loses, and I got to write about a vampire who closely mirrors that which I know in my heart to be true – a blood-sucking fiend, a predator who can easily mimic its mortal counterparts for his/her own nefarious desires. But to what end?

Well, read my section and find out! There are two ways to do that, visit GalleyCat on Tumblr or be sure to keep up-to-date on the GalleyCat blog.

P.S. — I’ll likely blog about this later, but is hosting a NaNoWriMo contest. Comment there to win!

    Mood: Nom nom. Nom. Nom nom nom.
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: More water than caffeine. WHAT HAVE I DONE?
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: Strollin’ through the dog park.
    In My Ears: Nuts and honey.
    Game Last Played: Dragon Age: Origins
    Movie Last Viewed: MirrorMask
    Latest Artistic Project: In progress!
    Latest Release: “Fangs and Formaldehyde” from the New Hero anthology through Stone Skin Press

NaNoWriMo by the Numbers

Celtic Wheel

Wondering how to write 50,000 words in a month? Well, here’s some estimated numbers for you:

  • There are 30 days in the month of November. If you write every day, you’ll need to write 1,667 words per day.
  • On average, 3 to 400 words can fit on a single-spaced page in 12 pt Times New Roman font. That means, you have to write between five to seven pages in Microsoft Word per day to reach your goal.
  • If you skip one day, you need to write 1,725 words per day (or an extra fifty-eight words) to make up the difference.
  • If you skip the three-day Thanksgiving weekend, you need to write 1,851 words per day (or an extra 185 words) to achieve your goal.
  • If, for some reason, you decide to take a week off? You need to write 2,174 words per day to reach 50,000 words. That’s an additional 507 words, or an extra page and a half of text.
  • Edited words will slow your progress because they don’t count as new words. In some cases, you could lose words and put yourself back into the negative territory — SO DON’T EDIT WHILE YOU WRITE.

Though I am not doing NaNoWriMo, I am slogging away. I must. After all, no one else is responsible for my career. . .no one else is going to help you with yours, either. Get the words out, forget about quality woes, and revise AFTER you’ve hit your goal.


    Mood: I am consumed by words.
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: Not enough.
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: Airport jaunts.
    In My Ears: Going Through The Motions from Once More With Feeling
    Game Last Played: Dragon Age: Origins
    Movie Last Viewed: Looper
    Latest Artistic Project: In progress!
    Latest Release: “Fangs and Formaldehyde” from the New Hero anthology through Stone Skin Press
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Monica Valentinelli >

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