Shelley Widhalm

Archive for November, 2014|Monthly archive page

Benefits of NaNoWriMo

In Reflections on Writing, Shelley Widhalm, Writing on November 30, 2014 at 11:00 am

Though I bailed on NaNoWriMo and have guilt associated with that, I thought I would return to my old notes about last year’s experience of writing 50,000 words in 30 days by a Nov. 30 deadline.

I turned off the self-editor and simply wrote, knowing I had a goal to meet by writing 1,667 words a day or doubling up when I missed a day or two. I got absorbed in telling the story, developing my characters and carrying along the plot I briefly sketched out in order to keep moving forward.

The purpose of NaNoWriMo is about discipline and just doing it, not worrying about the final draft when it’s a rough draft with lots of potential. Writing daily, or nearly every day, allows the story to unfold more organically, one scene leading to the next as you let the subconscious and your speedy fingers take over.

Anyway, here are some of the advantages and disadvantages of writing daily (which I learned last year and not this year, unfortunately):

  • I didn’t forget the beginning part of my novel, my character identities or the plot strings after setting aside my draft because I got busy with life and excuses.
  • I got excited about writing after work and couldn’t wait to find out what would happen with my plot and characters.
  • I focused on word count, instead of on the story elements, and got lost in the writing, so that it felt like I was just typing away without worries about what I was producing. I just didn’t care, because all I cared about was getting to at least 1,700 words each day. Oddly, by not caring, I had more fun and let the characters take over.
  • I operated on adrenaline because I had to write my daily word dose, but I could take off a couple days because a few days I wrote 2,000 up to 3,500 words (well, that happened once). My least productive day was 700 words.

Anyway, it’s nice to see that NaNoWriMo had many benefits, so next year, I will participate in the writing event, hopefully with the real-life-experience-to-novel that got me stuck this year.


Journaling to self-reflection, story creation

In Shelley Widhalm, Writing, Writing Processes on November 23, 2014 at 11:00 am

A journaler since second grade, I find that form of writing to be essential to my day and to my growth as a writer.

I record what happens on a daily basis, summarizing events and the most important conversations, even putting in quote marks if I remember what was said, and writing out me emotions and responses.

Once I write these things out and read over my entries for a time period of a few months or even a year, I can identify patterns of behavior in myself and others close in my life. I can see where I haven’t made changes, continually engaging in the same ineffective patterns. I can see how much self-talk I do, starting with complaining and then moving into clichés that things will get better because they don’t stay the same, so what other way is there but up?

Journaling is a form of writing that isn’t as official as writing drafts for stories, playing around with language and ideas to get to a poem, or coming up with lists of ideas for stories, poetic images and character identities.

For me, it’s a form of self-therapy, a way to keep a record, while also digging into the self to deepen understanding of character interaction, dialog and inner thought. If I understand what goes on in my head, I can better get into the heads of my characters. If I know how to tell the story of my life as it happens, I can think about storytelling using characters as the action instigators.

Journaling has other purposes, too, such as:

  • Freewriting, a form of writing that involves writing nonstop for a certain period of time, say five to 10 minutes, without constraint or a specific goal in mind.
  • Coming up with ideas for poems, short stories and novels.
  • Writing exercises you want to try.
  • Notes from what you’re reading or the things you want to look up later, such as words, phrases and ideas.
  • Capturing snippets of conversation and recording details you observe in your environment.
  • Character sketches with magazine cutouts, found objects and written descriptions.
  • Photos of settings and the buildings and places in your story.

The key to journaling, as it is with NaNoWriMo, is to simply write without expecting anything. Don’t worry about quality or grammar or style. Just worry about wanting to write and loving the process.

NaNoWriMo Loser resorts to journaling

In Journaling, Shelley Widhalm, Writing on November 17, 2014 at 1:46 am

I gave up last week on National Novel Writing Month, but it’s because my journaling got in the way.

Or at least in part.

I believed I’d had a great idea for a novel based on a true life experience that I thought I had concluded, but I’m taking longer than I expected to work through and process it.

Instead of doing daily NaNoWriMo writing, I’ve been doing daily journaling that is getting longer and longer in length as time progresses. I typed up the journal entries over the past eight months about the experience I want to fictionalize to better understand the story I want to tell.

In the last two weeks, or the time frame of NaNoWriMo, I noticed that I’ve become wordier and lengthier in my journal entries. At first in my journaling about this experience, I wrote a few lines to a half-page that’s single-spaced, but now am writing one to two single-spaced pages a day. For the first time I wrote two single-spaced pages on Saturday, Nov. 8, holding steady to one to two pages over the past week.

That could be because I’ve been making the switch from more labor heavy handwriting to typing.

For my journal, I typed up nearly 83,000 words in 121 pages and since Nov. 1, 14,700 words in 21 pages, or about 700 words per page. My result for NaNoWriMo is an average of 980 words of journaling a day, not quite two-thirds of the 1,667 words needed a day to reach the end goal of 50,000 words by Nov. 30.

I noticed as I journaled more in depth and did it daily instead of every few days, because I had more to write, I could remember more. As I wrote, events of the day and even specific conversations came to mind and I became aware of details I’d forgotten about, at least at the conscious level.

But then as I tried to capture those specific conversations, I realized I found it more difficult to remember the actual words, as if I was trying too hard. I realized it was easier to summarize and put down the main interchanges, because in real-life conversations, what’s said often gets repeated. Alternatively, the idea in dialog in short stories and novels is to get to the core of the interchange, leaving out greetings, pleasantries and repetitions.

By switching from a paper journal to my laptop, I’ve been writing more and longer, and I’ve had more to say. So in a backward sort of way, I have let NaNoWriMo influence me, though I won’t be reaching the finish line. At least not yet.

NaNoWriMo Loser

In NaNoWriMo, Shelley Widhalm, Writing Processes on November 9, 2014 at 11:00 am

I planned on doing NaNoWriMo this month, but the word No got in the way. My problem this past week was my excuses, so instead of blogging to encourage fast, furious writing, I’m commiserating with those of us who bailed.

Last year, I participated for the first time in National Novel Writing Month, an international challenge to write 50,000 words in 30 days, or 1,667 words a day.

I wanted to take part again this year, but I wasn’t prepared to write a novel I prepped for based on a true-life experience. I realized I was still too close to what had happened and wasn’t ready to write. I wasn’t being realistic giving enough time, thought and distance to process what had happened.

And yet I didn’t come up with another idea, so yet another excuse.

Here are my excuses for not trying a new writing project (I even considered doing a bunch of short stories): I am tired. I’m not disciplined enough to write daily (though I did it last year, so what’s my problem?). And I don’t know how to do pantser writing, or start in on the writing without a plan.

I know that the idea of NaNoWriMo is to do fast writing, not actually to write something perfect. I know that I can give myself permission to write a crappy first draft and just let go without the self-editor getting in the way.

But here I am blogging about avoiding National Novel Writing Month. As I do this, I wonder if other NaNoWriMo bloggers (or non-NaNos like me) are questioning their non-participation and avoidance tendencies. Is that like negating what’s supposed to get you writing in the first place?

NaNoWriMo Procrastinator

In Motivation, Shelley Widhalm, Writing, Writing Processes on November 3, 2014 at 12:44 am

Yes, it is that time again for fast, furious writing without worry about quality with the goal to type, pen or pencil quantity of words.

It takes 1,667 words a day to complete the NaNoWriMo challenge, or National Novel Writing Month during November.

NaNoWriMo brings together writers worldwide who aim to write 50,000 words in 30 days. The daily challenge of 1,667 words is totally doable, because when I write I aim for 1,000 to 2,000 words. The problem is I haven’t started, so I’m behind 3,334 words already as of today.

The goal of NaNoWriMo is to do fast writing, not actually to write something perfect. You can write a crappy first draft and just let go, expelling the cranky editor, procrastinator and creative excuse maker.

But already I’ve let the procrastinator hang out with me, and I don’t know how to get rid of her. That’s because I’m not sure if I want to participate in NaNoWriMo. I took part in it last year but had done some prep work beforehand. This time, I prepped for something that I’m not ready to write about, not just yet, so I am empty handed, literally.

I could be a seat-of-your-pantser writer instead and just start writing to see what happens, freeing myself of the planning and outlining process I usually rely on to get into the writing and storytelling process. But even without a plan, I always have a core idea, not quite a theme but a main character and something he or she wants.

So if I do this, each Sunday, I will check in and let you know about my process for daily writing, as well as give tips on daily dedication, motivation and inspiration. I just have to get out of my procrastinator’s chair and sit down in my writer’s chair and join thousands of other writers who are serious about getting and going and doing writing.

So, here’s to NaNoWriMo!