Shelley Widhalm

Archive for the ‘NaNoWriMo’ Category

A NaNoWriMo break

In Camp NaNoWriMo, NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month, Writing, Writing Inspiration on November 20, 2016 at 11:00 am

This month is National Novel Writing Month, when writers aim to write 50,000 words in 30 days.

I love NaNoWriMo, but this year I’m taking a bit of a break from routine writing.

I’ve done NaNoWriMo twice, in 2013 and 2015, and I’m editing my 2013 NaNoWriMo book and some of my short stories and having fun with the process of adding little details and cutting out large chunks (which I save, because I have a hard time letting go).

Basically each week, I’m doing lots of editing and a tiny bit of writing.

In the process, I’m finding that taking a break from serious, constant writing is necessary to get inspiration, to get motivation and basically to hit a mental Refresh. I’m writing in little flashes, instead of my regular routine.

Right now, I’m working on writing prompts and a short story that became a sort of novella but isn’t a novel. It’s just a big fuzzy mess I can play around with, because I’m not working on it with a specific goal in mind. It’s there to work on when I step up to the plate to write—meaning, I’m meeting with my writer friends for a write-in or doing some mentoring with writing students.

Basically, it’s keeping me in the game until I’m ready to go off break and “clock in” rested, relaxed and refreshed.

Writing requires a lot of mental work, processing sensory details from the world, developing character identities and creating plotlines, and this work can be tiring without the balance of a three-dimensional life. Writing takes a great deal of brainstorming, thinking, evaluating, creating and, of course, revising.

Doing NaNoWriMo is a way to speed write through a draft of a novel or part of a draft, so that the characters and storyline are almost happening like real life, because every day, writers show up to do the inventing and creating. It’s quite the opposite of taking a break, but going all out for a project. That’s why I admire anyone who takes it on, both for the commitment and for the magic that seems to happen with fast, furious writing.

I did Camp NaNoWriMo in April and July, when writers pick their word-count goals for the month. The first one, I did 15,000 words and the second, 20,000, which spurred me into writing a bunch of short stories, including the one that’s become a novella or something else that I haven’t figured out yet.

It’s all part of the process, going from rest and refreshing to serious, fully-engaged, fast, furious and also fun writing.

Taking on the Camp NaNoWriMo challenge

In NaNoWriMo, Writing, Writing Goals, Writing Inspiration, Writing Motivation on May 1, 2016 at 11:00 am

A friend of mine kept sending emails about signing up for the Camp NaNoWriMo challenge, and I was reluctant to even try, feeling burned out on writing.

But after half a dozen emails, I was like, “Fine, I’ll do it. I’ll take on the challenge.”

Camp NaNoWriMo is a virtual writer’s “retreat” in April and July where writers encourage each other on their personal writing projects, forming cabins or groups as a virtual writing group and community.

The camp is open to multiple writing projects, such as new novel drafts, revision, poetry, scripts and short stories. I decided to continue working on my short story collection, tentatively called “Coffee Shop Tales,” with all the stories set in the same coffee shop with something tying them together at the end (though I don’t know what that is, being a pantser writer).

Campers set a word count goal between 30 and 1 million. I didn’t get started until May 5, when I signed up and set my goal at 15,000 words. I’ve done NaNoWriMo twice before, meeting the goal to write 50,000 words, but I wasn’t up to that fast of a pace for writing. I was kind of tired of writing, but somehow by having a goal and just doing it I felt reenergized and excited about my project.

My aim became writing words, so I lost the editor and the insecurity and let the story come out as it wanted to (rough and sloppy with the idea that revision is for later). I loved seeing my words tally up, and that inspired me to keep going.

Camp NaNoWriMo keeps track of your average daily word count (mine at the end of the project was 520 words, though I wrote nine days with a count ranging from 550 words to 1,000 or 1,500 most of the days).

On my first day, I wrote 1,150 words. On day 10, I was up to nearly 5,000 words. I got kind of busy, so faced a time crunch on April 27, when I was at nearly 11,000 words.

The next day on April 28, I got to 12,600 words, leaving 2,400 words for April 29. Since my birthday is on April 30 and I wasn’t going to do anything but have fun, I had to get those words in that day—I divided the count into two writing sessions and wrote more than 2,500 words.

I concluded the month with what I thought was 15,135 words, but the device that tallies final word count said I had 15,090 words.

I wonder where the other 45 words went. It doesn’t matter, because I lost my burnout (and those words, too) and am inspired to write again.

Thanks Camp NaNoWriMo.

Final reflections on the 2015 NaNoWriMo

In NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month, Reflections on Writing, The Writing Life on December 13, 2015 at 11:00 am

I continued working on my novel past the Nov. 30 deadline for National Novel Writing Month.

I liked the discipline of aiming to write 1,667 words a day toward a 50,000-word goal. I liked marking my progress, seeing the results and knowing I was part of something larger—a community of writers trying to write fast and get that novel started or going.

I worked on my novel, “The Heat of Trouble,” as if NaNoWriMo were a six-week deal of daily word counts, because I wanted to finish it prior to my Dec. 11 surgery on my left hand. I had a looming deadline of finishing the book, because I knew I wouldn’t be able to type (at least two-handed) for seven weeks due do doctor’s orders.

When I started NaNoWriMo on Nov. 2 (not the 1st for me), I was at 34,000 words. I wrote 51,000 words during November, and now am at 100,436 words and still have a couple more scenes to write.

In other words, my book’s a tad too long.

According to Chuck Sambuchino at the Writer’s Digest , a novel can be 80,000 to 99,999 words “to be safe,” but anything over 110,000 words is too long or below 70,000 is too short. A novel 100,000 to 109,999 words might be too long but would probably be all right.

So, is my novel all right?

Generally, I try to write in the 75,000-to-90,000-word range, but this novel was a pantser with little planning, the approach I usually don’t take. My plot strings became a little entangled, and the characters took on larger roles or new characters showed up, most of it without my planning and as little surprises.

As I wrote, I realized I liked the pantser approach, because my self-editor went away and I just let the characters take over, with one thing leading to the next. I wasn’t looking far ahead for the outcomes, but let the book unfold as it wanted to (at least I think that’s what happened).

Taking this approach, I kept piling on the words. During the first week of December, I worked on my novel nearly every day, averaging 2,000-plus words each day and totaled 9,100 words for the week. I wrote 7 ½ hours, about three hours less than what I was doing during NaNoWriMo. I guess I needed that daily goal to push me even more, but at least I wrote a little.

The second week, I wrote 4,100 words and only could write for two days and didn’t finish my novel. This will give me something to look forward to when I recover.

Third week of NaNoWriMo (and feeling behind!)

In NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month, Uncategorized, Writing Processes on November 22, 2015 at 11:00 am

I found the third week of NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, to be a struggle after two weeks of steady, easy writing.

I questioned where I was going with my novel, and I wondered if I was repeating myself, or just writing to be writing and getting in words toward a word count.

Because I have a full-time job, I’m used to writing one to three times a week, not every day. By taking on the 50,000-word goal for the month of November, I felt like I had to be on the ball with my next scene and think of ideas every day, because the current project is a pantser with the ending sort of planned.

As a result, it seemed like some of my scenes were forced, at least this week, but once I started writing, the characters and the story took over, so I just let it go as it wanted. One of my characters became a real snot, and I started disliking her, even feeling uncomfortable hanging out with her and seeing how she treated her sister, the main character.

Anyway, here is my progress for the week:

Day 15 (Sunday): I wrote 2,754 words in two hours, struggling at first and feeling stuck, but then once I got into it, I kept writing. I reached 24,725 words, short 275 words for the 25,000 goal at the halfway point. I didn’t have the energy to write more; plus, I had an errand to do.

Day 16 (Monday): I wrote 2,130 words in two hours, and again it was slow-going at first, but it picked up after a half-hour or so. I reached 26,855 words, getting ahead for the first time. The goal was to be at 26,672 words, meaning I pulled ahead by 183 words. At least it was something.

Day 17 (Tuesday): I returned to work and had so much going on after work, including my book club meeting, I didn’t have time to write. The result: I’m behind again.

Day 18 (Wednesday): Again, I didn’t work on my novel, because I mentored a student, and we did a short story writing exercise. At least I wrote something, but not for my novel.

Day 19 (Thursday): I finally had a chance to write and wrote 1,861 words in one-and-a-half hours. I reached 28,716 words, short by 2,957 words but getting back on track.

Day 20 (Friday): I wrote 2,056 words in nearly one-and-a-half hours.

Day 21 (Saturday): I wrote 1,073 words in 45 minutes, but then a poetry reading I wanted to attend got started at the same coffee shop where I like to do my writing. I reached 31,845 words, short by 3,162 words.

Up to this point for NaNoWriMo, I’ve remained behind, except one day, and then I got busy and got behind again. The thing is, once I set a goal, I try everything I can to make sure I follow through. I’ll keep plugging away toward that 50,000-word carrot stick.

Getting behind on NaNoWriMo (but still feeling good about it!)

In NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month, Shelley Widhalm on November 8, 2015 at 11:00 am

I actually hadn’t planned to do NaNoWriMo in 2015, but enough friends asked me if I was doing it I felt like I should at least try.

In 2013, I attempted NaNoWriMo for the first time, writing 51,004 words during the month of November, but in 2014, I didn’t have an idea for a project, so I decided to skip—plus achieving the writing of 50,000 words during National Novel Writing Month is a big commitment, requiring lots of time and energy.

This time around, on Nov. 1 during the first day of the month-long endeavor, I had other plans that didn’t involve writing—excuses, excuses—but on Nov. 2, I procrastinated but by 5:30 p.m., I was ready to go and wrote 2,182 words in one-and-a-half hours, making up for a few words from the day before (the idea is to write 1,667 words a day). It felt good to write, especially since I hadn’t touched my novel since mid-October while working on editing another novel.

On Nov. 3, I planned to put in another day of writing, but I worked nine hours and got off at 6 p.m. when it was dark. I was so tired all I could think about was going to the gym and to bed. Then on Nov. 4, I returned to writing, feeling way behind. By that day, I should have been at 5,001 words and by the end of the day at 6,668 words.

Instead, I was at 2,043 words by the time I finished my one-hour, 15-minute writing session, bringing my total to 4,225 words, short by 2,443 words. But I knew I’d catch up soon.

By day 5, the on-track count would have been 8,335 words. I wrote 1,904 words in one-and-a-half hours, bringing my total to 6,129 words. On day 6, I wrote 1,058 words, and on day 7, 1,053 words, almost the same as the day before.

My writing for the first week totaled 8,240 words. To be on track at the same daily word rate, the number of words would be 11,669 words, so I’m short 3,429 words (though it’s the work and sense of accomplishment that really counts).

With each day, I found the writing becoming easier and easier. Maybe because I allow myself to make up whatever comes along, not worried about the outcome.

Writing daily and fast turns off the editor, causing me to get lost in the story, almost as if my fingers aren’t typing. By writing daily, I become immersed in the story, not having to go back and review what I wrote the day before or in earlier chapters.

The flow becomes more immediate by taking on consistency from the continual input, instead of from a scattered, occasional approach. I’m more cognizant of my story and the story details, so I don’t mix up names and places, even though I do write them in a separate notebook. And I take on a more consistent tone, pace and voice.

Though it’s a lot of work, NaNoWriMo helps the writer get into the story quickly from the focus on word count, instead of thinking of excuses or getting that separation of time and space from a work drawn out over months or years.

Gearing up for NaNoWriMo (with some hesitation)

In NaNoWriMo, Shelley Widhalm on November 1, 2015 at 11:00 am

Welcome National Novel Writing Month, when first-time and seasoned writers write 50,000 words in 30 days, which equals to about 1,667 words a day.

I debated whether or not to do NaNoWriMo again this year and hesitated doing so, because I’m in the middle of a project and have to get surgery on my hands in December. But then I decided to do what I can—50,000 words or half that, as long as I keep plugging away at my literary, character-driven novel, “The Heat of Trouble.” It’s about a waitress who can’t play her music because of underlying trauma.

As of mid-October, the last time I worked on my novel, I was at 34,302 words (plus another 820 words of planning, though this is a pantser novel despite my tendency to plot). I worked steadily on the project since I began in June, putting in one to three writing sessions a week, but in October, I began editing my young adult novel, “In the Grace of Beautiful Stars,” for about the 12th edit, though I’ve lost count.

I became focused on the editing and just wanted to finish, so I put my writing on hold. I completed the nearly month-long project on Oct. 28, three days shy of two years when I started writing the young adult novel about a 15-year-old girl who relies on money finding to solve her family crisis. I wrote the novel, which I originally called “The Money Finder” and later realized the title didn’t quite fit, during NaNoWriMo 2013, plus another two weeks in December, finishing the first draft in six weeks. I worked on editing over the next 22 months.

In 2014, I decided not to do NaNoWriMo, berating myself a little for not participating, but I didn’t have an idea for a new project, though I do plan to write a sequel to my YA novel and redo my memoir about growing up shy and awkward. Instead, I did more editing.

By 2015, I felt like something was missing—that was writing—and so I returned to my love of writing (editing is fun for the first couple of drafts, but after that, it feels like more work and less play). Being in the middle of a writing project, I can’t start a new one (with a full-time job, I need to focus the few free hours I have each week on one project, or I feel distracted, scattered and unfocused). Hence, my goal is to reach 84,302 words by Nov. 30. (Or at least 59,302 words.)

Why? Because the novel will be done, or close to it.

And then it will be back to editing. And more editing.

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?

Reflections on NaNoWriMo (and Writing in General)

In 52: A Writer's Life, Blogging, NaNoWriMo, Shelley Widhalm, Writing on December 8, 2013 at 10:00 pm

Every year, I come up with an excuse explaining why I don’t want to do NaNoWriMo, or participate in National Novel Writing Month in November.

The main hangar for me is I work and after work, I like to do a little writing, read and play. At the same time, I want to be with all the other writers meeting together to write like crazy or working alone, writing like crazy.

So this year, I told enough friends that I’m doing NaNoWriMo and put it on my Facebook account, so that I would be accountable. I didn’t want to tell people, “Oh, I quit after Day 2.”

First, I decided to write 50,000 words, cutting down my normal aim of 75,000 to 90,000 words for a full manuscript. However, I am back at the 70,000, maybe 80,000, words for my young adult novel, because I either write short – i.e. short stories – or long up to 100,000 words.

I usually don’t write with much of a draft either, but this time I planned ahead, mentally sketching out plot, character and setting. I wrote a 3,000-word short story for a 10-week Meetup class I took this fall that served as a starting point, so that I could fill in areas where I alluded to or glossed over possible action and character interaction.

I came up with a title, so that I already had a topic and an identity for my writing.

Add in that I didn’t have to find different subjects to blog about for a month, so I liked the idea of already having a template to use.

Now, I’ll return to blogging about writing and the writing life.

(Check out Zoey the Dachshund’s reponse to NaNoWriMo at zoeyspaw.wordpress.com)

NaNoWriMo: Not the Finish Line

In 52: A Writer's Life, NaNoWriMo, Shelley Widhalm, Writing on December 1, 2013 at 11:00 am

I arrived at the NaNoWriMo finish line on Nov. 29, one day before the end of the 30-day challenge to write 50,000 words in one month.

As of Friday, I wrote 51,004 words in my young adult novel and am about two-thirds of the way through. I estimate that my novel will be 70,000 to 75,000 words and that I’ll finish it before Christmas Day. (I’m continuing NaNoWriMo into December until I reach the end of my very rough draft.)

I got so caught up in meeting my goal, I gave up a few things for the month, such as going out with friends (I went out once to see “Catching Fire” on opening weekend), spending lots of time with my dog, Zoey (she is mad at me), and blogging. I skipped two weeks of blogging despite my goal to blog weekly in 2013.

Anyway, here are some of the advantages and disadvantages of writing daily:

• I actually wrote every day, except for five days of the 30, something I never do because I write for a living and come up with lots of excuses.
• 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 1,600 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 dose of 1,600 words, 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.

As far as the disadvantages, I can only think of one: I didn’t have time for much else. I made sure I went to the gym every other day – I wanted to be in physical shape for all the time I spent sitting in front of my laptop.

NaNoWriMo is now a yearly mission.

Next time, though, I’m sending my dog to my father’s house, where she’ll have a big back yard for a month. That way I won’t have to feel guilty when I look at her pouty face.

See Zoey’s blog: zoeyspaw.wordpress.com

Loving, Hating NaNoWriMo

In 52: A Writer's Life, NaNoWriMo, Shelley Widhalm, Writing on November 10, 2013 at 11:00 am

I’m having a love-hate relationship with NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month.

Initially, I wasn’t sure I wanted to participate in the annual novel writing challenge during the month of November to write 50,000 words in 30 days, or an average of 1,666 words a day.

The love part is I’m doing it, while the hate part is I have to do it. I told my family and friends about my challenge goal, plus announced it on Facebook and in my blog. I don’t want to report at the end of the month that “Oh yeah, I just didn’t feel like writing after all.”

On the first day of the challenge on Friday, Nov. 1, I had a bit of a head start with a 3,250-word short story that I plan to expand into a 60,000- to 70,000-word young adult novel, a genre I haven’t tried before.

The first three days went perfectly, when I wrote 1,300 words the first day and another 1,300 words the second day, followed by 2,500 on day 3.

I turned off the self-editor and simply wrote, knowing I had a goal of 1,666 words, even if I didn’t reach it initially. I got absorbed in telling the story, developing my characters and carrying along the plot I briefly had sketched out, thinking, “This is a really good book that I’m writing.”

On Day 4 I had excuses for not writing: 1 million errands to do, a day with my mom and a birthday dinner with my brother; plus, I felt too tired to open up my laptop after a dozen hours of constant moving.

Day 5 was better. I wrote 1,800 words, feeling the vibe of my continual writing flow. There wasn’t any time lapse between writing episodes (like a few days or weeks filled with excuses, as is my normal routine), so I had my plot, characters and setting forefront in my mind. I wrote fast in two hours and felt quite proud.

And then on Day 6, I wondered if what I was writing actually was crap. Did I really understand how a 15-year-old thinks, and did I know how being a teenager has changed over the years? Why was I working in a genre I hadn’t studied seriously enough, only reading a few young adult books and being a reporter in schools, but only occasionally?

I still wrote anyway, because I had 1,666 words to write. I wrote 1,800 because I wanted to finish the scene I somehow had developed. I closed my computer, hoping that what I wrote wasn’t really awful.

I kept on writing through the rest of the week, logging in a total of 17,348 words for days 1-9. I figured I had started, so I wasn’t going to stop because of a few insecurities.

After one week and a couple of days, I get the purpose of NaNoWriMo. It’s 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.

Because it’s all about the numbers after all. And, of course, the words.