Saturday 31 October 2015

Not NaNoWriMo-ing?

November brings with it dark nights and a sense of escalating panic as Christmas and the end of the year loom ever closer. This is, of course, fertile ground for NaNoWriMo. It's hard to imagine anybody reading this blog and not knowing what that is, but for the avoidance of doubt, it's the (inter)National Novel Writing Month - when participants are encouraged to write 50,000 words over the course of the month.

I have mixed feelings about NaNoWriMo. I tried it a couple of years ago, with limited success, and I wholeheartedly support anything that encourages passion and commitment in writing. However, my reservations come from the way the thing seems set up as a flash in the pan - a month of concentrated effort and then you're left on your own. There's also a tendency for people (at least quite a few of those whose tweets and Facebook posts I read) to focus squarely on the word count for each day, and cheerfully talk about writing rubbish to fill that day's bar on the graph. Of course, the intention is to go back and edit it when it's all over, but I never hear about that actually happening.

There are some high-profile novels that have come out of NaNoWriMo, but I get the feeling these are the (extremely rare, considering how many people take part each year) exceptions. I worry that without the support and camaraderie of the NaNo site, the enthusiasm dries up and many participants file their 50,000 words away. And then start the process all over again when the next November 1st rolls around.

Writing is rewriting. It's an old cliché, but it's been around for so long because it's true. And I think that's what my main objection to (some of) NaNoWriMo comes from - it's all about the relatively easy process of first-drafting. And - in my opinion - writing a lot of first draft in a short time doesn't make you a better writer. At least, not in the same way that revising, editing, and all those other less exciting (and harder to measure) aspects of "the craft" do.

I think all I'm saying is by all means do NaNoWriMo if it appeals, just find a way to fit it into a broader habit of writing than just that one month-long splurge. If you genuinely only have 30 days where you can find the couple of hours required to write your 1667 words, there may be things you can do that will have a bigger and more beneficial effect on you as a writer.

For instance:

Finish that NaNo novel you started last year. If you made it to 50,000 words then congratulations, that's a terrific achievement. But you don't need me to tell you that's not a novel. Be a NaNo Rebel and get the rest of it written. Ignore the shiny new idea(s) bouncing about in your head and press on. Finishing things is difficult, a real slog. If it wasn't so hard there would be far more actual NaNo-written novels in the bookshops. But getting all the way through and writing "The End" is way more of an achievement than filling up those progress bars.

Write, edit, and submit one complete short story. This is perhaps more for novice writers than established ones, and admittedly there are significant differences between writing novels and short stories. But there is a lot to be learned from the short form. It's more manageable to work with something a couple of thousand words long, but even that can take as much time and effort as a first draft ten times longer. Additionally, as well as finishing and editing the story, you should aim to send it off somewhere. A competition is one possibility, but why not be brave and fire it off to a literary journal of some kind? It gets your writing out into the world, and whether it results in an acceptance (Yay!) or a rejection (Boo! Revise it and get it back out there!), that's something you can learn from too.

If you are already writing and submitting regularly, you could always write your 50K words in the form of short stories. Della Galton did exactly that last year, and her publication rate and financial results are impressive. Much better than half a novel lying untouched in a digital drawer somewhere, right?

Read, read, and read some more. I don't know if there's a NaNoReMo. There should be. I've never heard a published author saying they wish they hadn't spent so much time reading, and in any list of writing tips, reading will pop up. So put down that pen/laptop and pick up a book. Read stuff you like, stuff you've never heard of, something you enjoyed years ago (Is it still any good?), read the classics, read trash. Learn from it all.

Personally, I'm going to be doing a mix of all of it. Trying to tackle my to-read pile, working on at least one short story, and ploughing on with the novel. How about you?

Thursday 29 October 2015

Three Months Later...

With Halloween just a few days away I know it's really not the right time to be getting rid of cobwebs, but I thought I'd neglected my blog for long enough. To me, it seems like a lot longer than three months since I last had the time to put together even a quick round-up of what I'd been doing. So why haven't I posted anything since mid-July? It's partly because life in general got pretty hectic, and is only just starting to calm down, and partly because not a lot has happened to me writing-wise since the Cornbury Festival in my last post.
Admittedly, I'm writing this so post to try to get back in the habit of blogging, so its contents may well be of interest to no-one but myself. I'll return to material with a broader appeal as soon as I can, I promise!

Anyway, without further ado, here's a brief summary of the most significant things that have happened to me in the last few months:

I got married. Okay, so this is a pretty big deal, and anybody who's got hitched in recent years will know how much time and effort goes into organising even the smallest of Big Days. Beth and I tried to do away with a lot of the stuff that exists for tradition's sake and tried to focus on the details that meant the most to us, but it still involved a lot of work. We tried to do as much of it ourselves (with loads of help from family and friends, too, of course). And we'd made things hard for ourselves by only deciding we were, after all, the marrying type in mid-April and then finding the perfect venue that turned out to availability at the end of August. All the build-up was enjoyable, in a stressful kind of way, and the day itself was wonderful.

We had a literary theme, and it was fun thinking up ways to incorporate this into the various decorations and phases of the day.

Book Centrepieces

Book Cocktails!

I got a bit carried away with the wedding programme, and essentially ended up putting together a small magazine - it tipped the scales at 16 pages, including the covers. It was very rewarding, though, and was a nice excuse to employ skills I don't often get to use in combination - writing, photography, and graphic design. The result, in my opinion, was well worth the effort, and our guests seemed to enjoy it too.

I went on honeymoon(s). My wife had a business trip booked a couple of weeks into September, so we couldn't go away straight after the wedding. Also, with the rush to get everything sorted for the wedding, we hadn't actually had a chance to work out where we wanted to go. To mark the start of our new lives together, we had a weekend break in the Cotswolds, then set about deciding where our 'proper' honeymoon would be. In the end, we went for Costa Rica, which was fantastic. I might go into more detail in a later post, but suffice to say it's an amazing country with wonderfully friendly people, great food, and some astonishing wildlife.

I hardly did any writing. Something had to give. The day-job and wedding organisation seemed to expand to fill every available moment, and even when I did get a free minute or two, my brain was too fried to come up with anything useful in the way of fiction. It's good to take a break, I guess, and probably healthy too. I did feel a bit anxious about not getting any more novel editing done, or working on a short story, but it's left me excited about picking it back up again.

I got published. My story, The Four Funerals of Augustus Black, was published in issue 166 (the August edition, approximately) of Writers' Forum, after scooping 3rd prize in their monthly competition. With so much else going on at the time I didn't really take the time to register it, but I'm very pleased to get another story into the magazine (the last time was in January). I've now won two 2nds and a 3rd - I'm tempted to give the top spot another go, maybe in the New Year.

I've been shortlisted. One of my flash pieces is currently on the shortlist at Flash 500. I'm keeping my fingers crossed!

So, that's you up to date. Hopefully my blogging will be a little less erratic from now on, although real life isn't settling down quite as quickly as I thought it might after the wedding.