National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to creative writing.
On November 1, participants begin working towards the goal of writing a 50,000-word novel by 11:59 PM on November 30.
There are rules, but I’ve always participated as a Rebel. But last year they dropped the one rule that kept making me a rebel.
- Write one 50,000-word (or longer!) novel, between November 1 and November 30.
Start from scratch.
- Write a novel. We define a novel as a lengthy work of fiction.
- Be the sole author of your novel.
- Write more than one word repeated 50,000 times.
It used to be that you were supposed to begin with a total blank page (or empty word processor file) and not type any words of the actual novel before November 1. Now the new rule is that you only count the words you actually write during November in your total. So since I was usually working on finishing or revising an existing piece, I was a rebel.
Now I’m not. Except that I still feel like a rebel, dang it! I’m just a rebel who happens to be following the rules this time.
I meant to post this earlier in the week, but kept getting caught up in other things. One of the coolest things about NaNoWriMo the last few years is that the makers of Scrivener, which is in my not-so-humble opinion the best writing software out there, make a special trial version available free for the duration of NaNoWriMo plus seven days. So if, at the end of the month, you decide you don’t want to buy the software, you can still export your work to a format that is readable by ordinary word processors.
You can download this special trial and a custom NaNoWriMo Novel template here.
The NaNoWriMo template is like the ordinary novel template, except that it contains links to free video tutorials, and it contains a macro that will output you novel in a scramble plain text form if you are paranoid about uploading your piece to the word-count verifying function later in the month.
Scrivener is not merely a word processor. The folks who make it (and it’s a very tiny company of, last time I checked, three people) describe it as a complete writing studio, or a content generation system. Scrivener has projects rather than single files. you can add scenes or chapters, move them around, view them in a summary mode where they look like index cards, and so on. Each project also has a research binder where you can save all your notes and scribblings and other supporting information. It’s all kept in the project, but won’t appear in the final product when you publish the manuscript in all the supported formats (include epub, of course).
One of my favorite features is that, from within the Research binder, you can select an “Import web page” function. Paste the URL of the page in question, and Scrivener will go out, copy all the text, images, links and so forth, and make it a “page” in the research binder or your project file. It’s not a link, it’s a complete copy. So if the web page goes away, you still have all the information from the page. This is really handy when you’re doing research on the web.
Scrivener is an awesome program that I’ve been using for years, and on top of all this content management and publishing functionality, it only costs US$45. That’s full price. If you download the NaNoWriMo trial (either Windows or Mac version) and set up a NaNoWriMo account, at the end of the month you can buy it for a 20% discount, no matter whether you finished your 50,000 words or not.
If, however, you do finish the 50,000 words and upload and get verified, they’ll send you a code that lets you buy Scrivener at half price. When I first started using the older version a few years ago, after just a week of the free trial I decided that the full price was a bargain, and I’ve never regretted it.
I’ve only used the Mac version. I have a couple of friends who regularly use the Windows version and they like it a lot. I should also mention that I have at least two friends who use both, and they both agree that the Windows version isn’t quite as slick as the Mac version. But the company is only a handful of people, so I can understand. Also, I know that the Mac version leverages a lot of functionality which Apple bakes into the operating system which simply isn’t there in the Windows OS (just because the companies have different philosophies on how to do things).
I really love Scrivener. They don’t yet have an iOS version, but I use a function they have to synch a project to an external folder, and I synchronize it to Dropbox (it will also sync to iCloud drive, and Copy and a lot of other cloud services), and then I edit individual scenes on my iPad using a word processor for iOS called Textilus. There are a lot of other word processors for iOS, and if you already have one, if it can read RTF files, you can do this, too.
There are some other special offers for NaNoWriMo participants, including two other writing tools I’ve never used: Ulysses (Mac and iOS) and Storyist (Mac, iPad, iPhone). There are trial versions available of the Mac versions, and discounts offered after completing NaNoWriMo.
The only tool other than Scrivener on the sponsor offers page that I’ve used is Aeon Timeline, which I have found very useful for charting out the events of the world I have created for my series of fantasy novels.
Anyway, whether you’re doing NaNoWriMo or not, if you’re a writer, I can’t recommend Scrivener enough. You can get the NaNoWriMo trial version at the link I shared above, or if you don’t want to be bothered with NaNoWriMo, but the tool sounds interesting, their ordinary 30-day trial version is here.
Either way, let’s get writing!
I don’t remember when I first saw the 1931 film Frankenstein, directed by James Whale. I also can’t remember a time when I didn’t know the basic story of Frankenstein. I don’t know for sure what my first exposure was to the myth. I remember watching more than one of the Universal Studios Frankenstein movies with my mom when I was young. I remember one particular time watching it with my mom and my sister, my sister was maybe four or five years old and kept asking questions. I was getting impatient, and Mom told me I had been exactly the same way when I had been my sister’s age.
What I do remember, very clearly, is that I always felt sorry for the monster… Read More…
I was too busy being flabbergasted that someone who was smart enough to operate a keyboard, was apparently an adult, had survived many years of have to defend their love of this strangely polarizing candy, had never realized that the little candies are essentially caricatures of kernals of corn (sweet corn, maize, et cetera). Seriously? How can you never at least ask, “Why is it called ‘candy corn’?”
Okay, to be fair, I realize that there are people who go through life without ever seeing seed corn or feed corn. They may have seen corn on the cob and actually eaten it, but otherwise the only time they’ve seen corn is processed corn kernels cut-off the cob by a machine, then canned or frozen before being cooked and served. And those cut kernels don’t look like a full kernal of corn. It’s similar to the time when I was talking to someone about popcorn and discovered that they had never realized that the seed in popcorn were actual dried corn, the same plant (though a different cultivar or subspecies) as is canned and sold as corn. Or the time that I had to explain to someone what the phrase “seed corn” meant—they had never known that the vegetable they were eating were actually the seeds of the corn plant!
I don’t know what it is about candy corn that gets some people up in arms. I’m not saying that I don’t understand that some people like it and some don’t. What I don’t understand is why some people dislike it so much that they make other people feel defensive about liking candy corn.
I don’t happen to be one of the great fans of the candy. I don’t dislike it, but it doesn’t really do anything for me. When I was a kid, I liked the color and the shininess of the candy. It probably helped that it was a seasonal thing that was only available around Halloween time. But I would gladly let me sister eat nearly all of it herself and not feel that I was losing out. Yes, that means one of my sisters is one of those people who absolutely adore candy corn.
I sometimes take comfort in that fact that people can get militant about something like candy. Because when I read about things like this: Hate group (World Congress of Families) looks to criminalize gays on global scale my initial reaction is a combination of fear and depression. Then I realize that a lot of their supporters are just being as irrational as the folks who hate on candy corn. Which isn’t to say that none of this hatred is real: Dallas Police Seek Public’s Help In Solving String of Brutal Anti-Gay Attacks or Trans Woman Run Over With SUV In Possible Hate Crime Is 17th Murdered This Year or Study finds LGBT people not reporting hate crimes because they happen so frequently.
The kind of irrationality that makes people trash others over candy is part of the reason that folks either stand by silently while nutjobs at the World Conference of Families spout off their hate, or why people can look at death and rape threats hurled about by GamerGaters and make the ridiculous claims that there are two sides to the argument.
Hint: if a group is resorting to death threats, rape threats, doxing, and bomb threats, that isn’t an argument. It is a crime. That “side” is the perpetrator. Period. The other “side” are victims. Period. If you claim that it is a “side” then you are an accessory after the fact to a crime. Period.
And you’re being ridiculous and childish. As childish as someone getting angry at people over a candy preference.
And it’s so silly. It isn’t like we’re talking about something truly important.
But word count isn’t what it’s all about. It’s also about setting some goals (maybe very crazy goals) and pushing yourself through it. There’s something kinda magickal about getting to the end of the month after having written so much, commiserating with others trying the same thing.
My last couple of pep talks have been about just making yourself sit down and plow through, learning not to get paralyzed by the need for perfection, or fear that it isn’t good enough, and so on. A big part of writing is, indeed, a matter if putting down the next word, and the next, and the next, until you reach the end. In fact, for a project like NaNoWriMo, that’s what most of the month will be about.
But even though lots of famous writers say the same thing: all that matters is the next word, that isn’t really all that matters.
Before there can be a next word, there has to be a first word, doesn’t there? Getting started is more than just typing a word. If you are doing a novel, or a play, or writing a script for a comic, or writing a memoir, you need to have some definition of the story, and you need to have a starting point.
Novels don’t necessarily need the same sort of quick hook opening sentence that a short story does. Because the reader knows they’re going into a longer story, they will probably give you more than just the opening sentence to grab their attention. But the opening does still need to be a hook. And not just for the reader. It needs to hook you. Before you can hook yourself, you need to have an idea what the story is.
While I have listed myself on the NaNoWriMo web page as a Planner rather than a Pantser (someone who jumps in and writes “by the seat of their pants”), I’m not big on elaborate plans and outlines before I write. My novel, The Trickster Apocalypse started as an opening scene that just came to me when I was supposed to be writing a story I had promised another ‘zine editor. Even when I’d finished writing a 3,000 word beginning that night, I didn’t think it was a novel. It was after I’d written a few more chunks that big that I figured out what it was.
Other times I’ve started with something like this: “Cheating death and the consequences thereof. M and J each seek ancient artifacts and forbidden tomes for very different purposes. L dies.”
Occasionally I put together much more elaborate outlines or charts. My charts have gotten a bit easier to make and edit since I bought Scapple, a program made by the fine folks responsible for Scrivener. But usually I don’t do that until I’ve gotten a few tens of thousands of words into the story.
M. Harold Page has a post up on the Black Gate website linking to a whole bunch of writing advice posts. This one, Find the Conflict: Unblocking (or Actually Planning!) your NaNoWriMo Novel is a nice overview of how to plan without making an elaborate outline. He includes some screenshots of some of his charts. Also, Ryland J.K. Lee has a nice post about some of the same tools and some others: Software and tools for planning a first draft: colored pencils, Scrivener, and more.
If you have a basic conflict: something your protagonist wants but there’s something in her way, you can take the classic reversal of fortune approach. Two steps forward, then one step back. As in: 1) A woman wants to be a concert pianist, 2) then she loses an arm, 3) luckily she meets another aspiring pianist with only one arm, 4) but it’s the same arm… It’s really easy to do, though it can get a little tiresome if you keep it only internal. Which is why it helps if you have supporting characters with their own thwarted desires.
But the important thing is to have a beginning in mind, even if it is a beginning that you know you will have to revise later. Once you are started, there are millions of ways to find the means to put down the next word, and the next.
But you have to start!
Start writing, no matter what . The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.
But I’m not good with scary movies. Now I should qualify that: I’m not good with a lot of horror films, particularly the gory and/or very intense ones. I wind up having nightmares. The kind of nightmares where I wake up other people in the house because I either wake up talking very loudly, or worse: I sleepwalk around the house, intentionally waking anyone I can find, and explaining very emphatically how we’re in danger and we have to do something to defend ourselves/thwart the monster, et cetera. The more intense the movie, the more likely I am to do this for several nights in a row.
There are exceptions. I do better when it’s a movie I’ve seen before. I also do better if I watch the movie on a TV or computer instead of going to see it in the theatre. Being able to look away at familiar surroundings whenever I want without the overwhelming presences of the enormous screen and THX sound seems to help a lot. Watching it with someone I know and trust helps. I have been known to physically cling to friends (not just people I am romantically involved with) at particularly scary parts of some films.
I own a lot of movies that I classify as Halloween/horror films. And every year, I select some to watch on Halloween (and sometimes nights leading up to it). But my collection isn’t full of things many people would think of as scary. Movies that appear in my Halloween fests a lot include:
- The Ghost and Mr Chicken
- Elvira, Mistress of the Dark
- The Addams Family
- Abbot and Costello Meet the Mummy
- Monster Squad
- Frankenstein (the 1931 version starring Boris Karloff)
- Bride of Frankenstein
- Dracula (the 1931 version starring Bela Lugosi)
- Young Frankenstein
- The Lost Boys
- Queen of the Damned
- Fright Night (the 1985 version with Roddy McDowell and Chris Sarandan)
- Haunted Honeymoon
- The Rocky Horror Picture Show
- Arsenic and Old Lace
- Teen Wolf (the original with Michael J. Fox)
- Hocus Pocus
- Edward Scissorshands
- Little Shop of Horrors
- The Man with Two Brains
- Forbidden Planet
I could go on. A friend posted a similar list on her blog yesterday. I’m glad to see I’m not the only person who likes this kind of less-than-nightmare-inducing spooky movie.
I have all of the “Abbot and Costello meet…” cross-overs with the Universal Monsters, as well as the Universal box sets of their classic horror franchises: Frankenstein, the Mummy, Dracula, the Wolf Man. And a bunch of the Simpsons “Treehouse of Horror” episodes on disc. I only recently acquired Munster, Go Home on disc, and it was a candidate for this year’s Halloween fest.
Since my husband has spent so much time converting the rest of our (nearly a thousand) DVDs and Blurays into the media computer and database, I spent a while scrolling through the list looking for films that maybe we haven’t watched in a while because they were on a different shelf than the other Halloween movies. I noticed, while scrolling through the sci fi section, The Black Hole (the 1979 version with Maximilian Schell), which I haven’t watched in many years. When I said that, Michael said that he’s never seen it.
My husband has never seen it!
So I said, “Well, that’s one of the Halloween movies this year, definitely!”
Then he asked me if I could remember when I last watched the Buffy the Vampire Slayer movie (with Kristy Swanson, Luke Perry, and Donald Sutherland), and I couldn’t remember, so we both said, “Guess that one’s on this year’s list, too!”
And, of course, the premiere of the new series starring Bruce Campbell, Ashe vs the Evil Dead is happening on Starz on Halloween. And Starz is a channel I have in our line-up, so I’d been planning all along to watch it that night.
I should mention that the Evil Dead movies are one of those cases where the gore is enough that normally I wouldn’t watch them, but I love work that Bruce Campbell does elsewhere (and was so, so, so happy when he was cast in the major supporting role in Burn Notice which went on for several seasons without getting canceled or jumping the shark before they ended it in a really good way). Plus, after being enthused at about it many, many times by our friend, Sky (who is one of those people who I know really well), in some ways I felt as if I had already seen them. So I finally watched The Army of Darkness and one of the earlier ones.
Sky was sitting on one side of me and my husband on the other. (I spent most of bloody-cabin-in-the-woods movie with my eyes covered, even then!).
I… will not be surprised if Campbell’s new series gives me nightmares. But I’ll probably watch the whole thing, regardless.
Because I love the mix of comedy and horror tropes! And did I mention that I love Halloween?
Interesting news keeps breaking after I put together my Friday Links post and sometimes it just needs some commentary. Houston Texans Owner Bob McNair RESCINDS His Donation To Anti-LGBT Rights Campaign. Quick background: Houston city council expanded the city’s anti-discrimination ordinance to include sexual orientation and gender identity. Since last election the people of Houston had elected an out lesbian as Mayor, this wasn’t a big surprised. But bigots were upset, and first they tried to run an initiative to repeal the ordinance, but made the very big “mistake” of collecting signatures in churches… outside of Houston. So a lot of the signatures were invalid. There are lawsuits and counter-lawsuits. Pastors gave sermons promoting the repeal effort (which ought to mean the churches in question lose their tax-exempt status, but that never happens when it is conservative churches doing it).
Despite all the evidence that the signatures were collected incorrectly and a lot of them were invalid, the Texas Supreme Court ordered the repeal initiative put on the ballot. So there’s a campaign going on, and the owner of the local NFL team recently donated $10,000 to the effort. Lots of people were upset about this, but the best response was from former NFL player and perennial LGBT-supporter, Chris Kluwe: Kluwe Rips Texans Owner Bob McNair. Besides the hilarious editorial, Kluwe also posted contact information for the Texans front office on twitter and so forth, so fans could let the organization know that they found it difficult to believe the NFL’s claims that it is not homophobic and that it welcomes all fans and all players when one of the owners does this.
The owner, who had made statements to the press (not other people speaking on his behalf, as he now claims) saying that the discrimination ordinance should be repealed, suddenly took his donation back. He can claim that he just wanted a thoughtful re-write, but his previous actions and statements don’t back that up.
Meanwhile, there’s more news in other parts of bigot land. Remember the Duggar clan, and the fact that one of their kids sexually abuses his sisters (and he was treated as the victim, not the sisters). And part of the family’s “treatment” was to send him to stay with a family friend who was later convicted of sexual abuse of children himself? Another part of the treatment was to send him to the Institute for Basic Life Principles, which is a rightwing religious organization that I have some experience with, as it used to run these big seminar things that I was enrolled in more than once. Anyway, that organization has transformed into a home-schooling thing and: Home Schooling Program Used By Duggar Family Sued For Sexual Abuse Of Minors and Five women sue Bill Gothard’s ministry that has ties to the Duggars.
The founder of the program has already been removed because of charges of sexual harassment of underage girls. His fetish for a particular kind of long curly hair is the reason the Duggars and all the other whack-o Quiverful people make all their daughters curl their hair that way, by the by. Also, the institute’s lesson plans for counseling girls who have been sexual abused or assaulted is all about convincing the girl it is her fault for luring the man to having impure thoughts.
None of this should surprise anyone, of course.
Like a lot of other genre-related shows, The Munsters went into syndication fairly quickly after being canceled, and promptly gained loyal audiences outside of primetime. I suspect most of my memories of the show are from this era… Read More…
It’s nearly time for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), which I’m participating in again. That means that I am encouraging (read: recruiting, nagging, pleading, conniving…) anyone that I can to take a shot at it. Last week I riffed on a quotation from Ray Bradbury, Overthinking is the enemy of creativity to talk about some of the most common ways we can self-sabotage creative efforts.
I dismissed one of the usual excuses, that what you write isn’t good enough, by pointing out that no first draft is perfect. Which is true, but incomplete. The only way that anyone can learn to be a better writer is to write. That means writing badly. A lot. Just like the only way a baby can learn to walk is to try, and fall down, then try again. It is a slow process of slowly getting less bad until we reach a point where we literally don’t remember what it was like not knowing how to walk.
When I said last time that humans are natural storytellers, that was also true and also incomplete. Yes, humans tell stories to ourselves and each other in order to make sense of the world, to communicate, to persuade, and to commiserate. You have years of experience doing that. But if you are a typical person, most of your experience is storytelling through the spoken word—usually face-to-face. Your narrative depends on a lot of nonverbal supplementary material. You sit down with friends and explain about your day, for instance. You may imitate the voice of one of the other people involved in your tale. You might gesture with your hands. Your facial expression changes to convey emotional context. Your tone of voice varies. You slow down at some points and speed up at others in order to draw out suspense of convey a sense of urgency. You will pause dramatically.
And you have none of those tricks available when you write.
What many people never fully grasp is that, while written language is based upon spoken language, they aren’t actually the same language. It’s because spoken language has all that non-verbal stuff going along with it. It has all those non-verbal communication tricks that we learned the same way a baby learns to walk: by observation followed by trial and error. Which means we do it without thinking. But we don’t know how to convey all that with words on screen or on paper.
That’s one of the things we have to learn in order to become a writer. How do we tell our story compellingly without those non-verbal bits? How does sentence length correspond to verbal pacing? Are compound-complex sentences the equivalent of a long aside, building up dramatic tension while providing hints of what is to come so that the listener anticipates where it it going, yet does not become impatient? And what of fragments?
All of that is hardly scratching the surface. It isn’t just about technique. It isn’t just about vocabulary. It isn’t just about structure, or theme, or scene setting, or characterization. It is all of those things, yes, but the whole is also more than merely the sum of the parts.
The only way to learn how to do that is the same as any other skill: observation followed by trial and error. That’s why you need to read as well as write. You can’t simply think about your story ideas. Or talk about them with other people. You have to sit down, just you and the blank page (and it doesn’t matter whether the page is paper or pixels), and write it. Then later, read what you wrote. And let someone else read what you wrote to see how they react to it. And read other stuff by other people. Then sit down again and write again. Revise, rewrite from scratch, write something else for a while to take your mind off of it. All of those things are part of the learning process.
What isn’t part of the learning process is explaining to other people why you don’t have time. What isn’t part of the learning process is playing video games because you aren’t feeling it just now (except when it is, but that’s another post for another time). What isn’t part of the learning process is whining to your friends that you don’t have any ideas.
It’s tough. I know. Though, full disclosure, I don’t really remember just how tough it is. I literally tried to write my first book when I was six years old. Which was 49 years ago. By the time I was ten I was in the habit, every month, of reading the new issue of The Writer magazine at the public library from cover to cover. I checked out books about writing. I copied out whole sections of the books and articles that made the most sense to me so I could re-read the bits later after I turned the books back in to the library. From the fourth grade on I spent so much time in my bedroom banging away on the typewriter writing short stories, attempting novels, and so on, that sometimes my father threatened to burn all my books and take the typewriter and all writing implements away so I would be forced to go be a “normal boy.”
Now I routinely sit down at the keyboard with only a vague notion of what I’d like to write about, and an hour or so later I have over 1,000 words of a relatively decent essay on learning to write by trial and error (that includes the time it took to find the Le Guin quote, open Affinity Designer, and create the graphic to go with this post). Or I sit down at the keyboard looking at a big hole in my plot, click the plus icon in Scrivener, and a few hours later I’ve written a new scene or three which have at least pushed the story forward. Yet, I still can’t write quite as well as I’d like. But I know I write better today than I did last week. And better last week than I did a year ago. A better last year than I did five years ago, and so on.
I got here the same way every writer does: I wrote, it wasn’t as good as I wanted it to be, so I wrote again.
You can do it, too. Don’t give in to the excuses or self-doubt. Don’t compare yourself to other writers. Just sit down, look at that blank page, and then fill it up!
All I can say is, it took me about ten years to learn how to write a story I knew was something like what I wanted to write. In the sixty years since then I’ve learned how to do some more of what I’d like to do. But never all.
—Ursula K. Le Guin