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A Nano Defense

Nanowrimo 2013Well, last week I finished up Nanowrimo 2013 with 60,000 words of a book I’m calling TALON Force. It’s a middle grade urban fantasy with kind of a Warehouse 13 flare. Except instead of magical artifacts, Nate and his team manage magical creatures.

This year, through Delve Writing, I was in contact with a lot of writers who were new to Nanowrimo. I found myself explaining Nano and its purpose in a writing world, which made me look at the process in a new way.

There was still the argument that Nano is a way to help you get words on the page, especially if you’re a perfectionist or you struggle with commitment. But then there are the people who argue back saying, what’s the point, if everything you’re writing down is crap?

I have a rebuttal — but wait, Ernest Hemingway said it best: “The first draft of anything is shit.” Anyone who tells you otherwise has never written more than the first draft. So doing Nano just gets the crap out faster so you can get to the making it better part sooner. If you want to be a real writer, you’re going to have to suck it up and do that anyway. Don’t believe me? Ask E. B. White. “The best writing is rewriting.”

But that can be discouraging, too, to be told to have low expectations. I’ve always said Nano is about quantity over quality. Except this year, I started realizing it’s closer to finding quality in quantity. The more you write the better the writing will be. You’ll find genius ideas buried in the excrement, beautiful turns of phrase will pop up in unexpected corners of sludge. And it’s funny, but the more you look at the crap, the more you realize it’s actually a pretty solid foundation that just needs to be swept and mopped.

It is nothing less than amazing to write a novel. Even if you have to spend months or even years (guilty here) making it worth other people’s time. Never underestimate that experience.

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Nano Update

So, I’m deep in the third week of Nanowrimo, and with 20,000+ words still to go, the creative juices are spread thin (how’s that for a mixed metaphor?). I figured for today, I would share some of the diamonds that have appeared in the rough draft (get it? get it? oh my gosh, I’m so tired). The book I’m working on is called TALON Force for now and it’s about a fourteen year old hacker who is recruited into a covert government agency that protects magical creatures called phenomenals.

Enjoy.

                                                                                                                            

His mom looked up and squinted at him. “Don’t forget school starts tomorrow. Lights out by 11:30, okay?”

Nate’s stomach flipped. How could he forget? After five years of learning physics and calculus around this very table, he’d be headed to the local high school for ninth grade. But that’s what happened when your dad agreed to more hours with the Bureau and your mom was offered a position in the lab of her dreams.

“We’ve talked about it, I know,” she said. “But it bears repeating. No working outside the curriculum. If you’re bored, read the next chapter or something.”

“No reprogramming the computers,” his dad added.

Nate opened his mouth to protest but his dad waved an S tile at him. “Not even to make them more efficient,” he said.

Nate snapped his mouth closed and scowled.

“And no building killer robots,” Jessie put in with a smirk.

“That wasn’t my fault. If Vince Price hadn’t messed with my power regulator everything would have worked fine.”

“Tell that to Mr. Holland.”

“How is he?” his mother asked.

“I hear his therapy is coming along really well,” Jessie said.

                                                                                                                              

“Dr. Demarco, Mr. Demarco, your son has seen too much,” the man said.

Nate gulped. “You mean they’re real?” he said.

“What’s real?” his dad asked.

The men glared and Nate snapped his mouth shut.

His mom sighed. “We said no more hacking, Nate. You promised.”

He hung his head. Jessie had her elbows propped on the table and she was watching intently.

“So what are you going to do with him?” his mom said. “Hard labor? The gallows?”

The men eyed her sideways and one of them said, “He has two choices. The first is a maximum security facility designed to hold people like him where he will be locked away unharmed and he can never tell anyone what he’s seen.”

His mom raised an eyebrow. “Sounds cozy.”

“Mom,” Nate said. Even when things were dire she couldn’t help cracking jokes. It was embarrassing.

“Just be sure to feed him his vegetables.”

Nate really really didn’t want to go to prison. Especially one without computers or the Internet or Teen Titans. “What’s the other option?” he said.

One of the men crossed his arms and looked down at Nate who still sat at the dining room table, limp green salad pieces littering his plate and the floor under his chair.

“Join the agency that was created to protect and conceal what you saw.”

“Protect?”

“Yes, of course.”

“I’d be working with them? Like up close?”

The man inclined his head.

“But that’s, I mean they’re—” He looked at his interested family and rephrased what he was about to say. “Is that safe?”

“You could always choose the other option,” one of the men said. He looked kind of hopeful. Like he really wanted to lock Nate away in a little room with no Internet. “It is safer, as you say.”

Working with monsters? Real life ones? Nate had always thought it would be cool to get a job with a game developer programming the creatures he fought in video games but this was entirely different. He’d be coming face to face with them, maybe fighting them. No, the guy had said protecting. But that girl in the video had definitely been fighting that snake lizard that looked just like the one in Slayer.

The corners of Nate’s mouth started to lift as he thought about it. He’d be a slayer in real life. Maybe he’d even get a sword.

“Well?” his mom said. “What’ll it be?”

Nate grinned up at them. “I, uh, choose the not jail thing.”

“Really?” the one man said looking disappointed. “Are you sure?”

“Yeah,” he said. “I choose the agency.”

                                                                                                                                 

He realized he was sitting in water up to his waist, no big deal, but the hands were still clutching at him. He dug his own hands into the bottom of the bay and hung on so whatever had him couldn’t drag him any further.

The hands surfaced, long delicate fingers clinging to his jacket. They were attached to slim pale arms. A head covered in long blond hair appeared and a solid body pushed him back into the surf.

Nate found himself looking up into the most beautiful face he’d ever seen. Even Mei’s dark eyes and hair couldn’t compare to the perfect features of the girl who was lying on top of him.

Naked.

Nate flushed before he realized all the interesting parts were covered by her wet hair. Even still, he raised his hands, keeping them out to his sides where they wouldn’t touch anything by accident.

“Hi,” the girl said and smiled. Dazzlingly.

“Nate!” It was his dad who skidded to a stop beside them, pebbles showering both Nate and the girl.

Nate held up a hand. “It’s okay,” he said. At least he thought it was okay. She didn’t seem to be trying to kill him. Yet. But his encounter with the kelpie had made him wary.

“Hello,” he said.

She beamed even brighter, if that was possible, as if he’d said the nicest thing in the world.

More feet clattered on the beach behind him and he heard a gasp. He tried not to groan. Because he really needed his mom and his sister to witness his humiliation as well.

“I knew they were real,” Jessie whispered somewhere over his head. “I just knew it.”

Uh oh.

“Um,” he said to the perfect girl who now had her fingers twined in his hair. “So what are you?”

She ducked her head with a shy smile and he felt her weight shift. He saw a tail emerge behind her head. A fish tail.

Oh god, he’d found a mermaid.

“Are you a sailor?” she said.

“What?” He tried to wriggle out from under her, but apparently five feet of fish and woman weighed a lot.

“You look like a sailor,” she said and bit her lip coyly. “Will you be my sailor?”

“Nate?” his dad said again.

“Uh,” Nate said. “Give me a second. I’m not really sure what’s happening.”

“She’s a mermaid, gnat,” Jessie said with a “duh” she didn’t say but he could hear anyway. “They’re always seducing sailors to drag down into their underwater kingdom.”

The mermaid smiled again and nodded. “Wanna come?” she said.

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Nano Wrap Up

Today is the last day of Nanowrimo so I thought I’d give you guys a rundown on how it went.

I was pretty solid with my word-count for the first couple weeks and I even managed to get ahead before Thanksgiving (after four years I know full well that family plus turkey does not equal much writing time). But despite that head-start I somehow hit the second week slump in my fourth week. I managed to reach 50,000 words on Monday but it was an uphill slog. And since my personal goal was to write 75,000 words this month, I didn’t quite make it. At least I learned something. I have a very hard time working on two projects at once. Whaddaya know? I’m human after all.

One of my favorite parts of Nanowrimo is the community. My writing partners and I get together once a week at the library and have our own write-ins. Hard at work above are my sister and Rebecca Green Gasper, who was kind enough to answer some questions for us last week along with Susan Oloier. Becca’s been one of my critique/writing partners for a couple years now. If you haven’t checked her out yet, you should take a look.

So, I’m coming out of this side of November with half of a new novel and about 8,000 words of a devotional (that was supposed to be 25,000, I told you the dual projects thing didn’t work, right?). Not bad all things considering, and I’m really looking forward to finishing up The Robber Bridegroom. So far it’s been a blast to write. The devotional has been more of a battle but just as rewarding. Looks like I’ve got my work cut out for me this next year.

 

Here’s a sneak peek at The Robber Bridegroom:

“The building was large and imposing. Until now it had always meant fear and danger to me. Along with the rest of the Reaper’s crew, I had avoided it for the last ten years. I swallowed and mounted the steps. One, two, three, four, five steps separated my past from my future. Such a small distance for such a huge leap of faith.

I couldn’t keep myself from turning one last time to glance behind me. Across the street, Clarence and Aalan stood watching. Clarence’s lips were twisted in a contemptuous sneer but Aalan’s eyes were wide with horror and disbelief. Like the Reaper, he didn’t believe I would do it. He didn’t think I had it in me to throw away my whole life, everything I’d ever known, all the family I had, just for an ideal.

This was the end. If I took this step, I’d be hunted. I’d go from being the Reaper’s employee to being his next target. No forgiveness, no leniency, no second thoughts. I’d made my decision a long time ago but this was the moment it would become real.

I lifted my chin and stepped into the police station.”

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Nano Pep Talk

So, how is everyone doing on their nano novel? I figured it was time for an update myself, and time to spread a little encouragement to my fellow writers.

Miraculously, I’m on target. But the next couple days are going to be hard as I try to get ahead for Thanksgiving. We have family coming into town and I know myself well enough to recognize that I won’t get any writing done while they’re here. With that on the horizon: full steam ahead.

We’re coming up on the end of the second week, which means we’re still making our way up the hump. Week two is probably the hardest part of Nanowrimo. You’ve lost some steam after week one, you’re staring at the blank page thinking “I have no idea what happens next”. And in week three everything starts to sound like it was written by a drunk zebra. But don’t despair. Remember it’s quantity that counts in this race, not quality. If you’re behind, there’s still time to catch up. And it gets better. By the end of the month you’ll be taking charge again. In that rush you’ll remember exactly why you wanted to write this novel in the first place, and the going will be easier.

So, keep plugging along. Don’t let the mid-month slump discourage you. And above all. Keep writing.

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Ready, Set, Nano!

So, if you haven’t been paying attention, yesterday was the first day of Nanowrimo. I got off to a good start, met up with some friends for a write-in, met my word quota (though didn’t get any extra written like I’d planned). If you were thinking about joining in but feel like it’s too late now, think again. In 2008 I started my first Nanowrimo nine days late. I heard about it at church and decided that afternoon that it was something I couldn’t miss. I finished on November 30th with about 50,200 words of a book called In the Company of Pirates. Still hoping to do something with that one someday.

My point is, you can still take a flying leap onto this bandwagon. Roll call in the comments, who’s in? If you’re already taking a chance with all the rest of us, you’re probably feeling excited and maybe a little overwhelmed already. Here are some last minute tips I forgot to include two weeks ago.

  • Don’t write in OpenOffice. OpenOffice has this weird word count voodoo where it counts quotation marks as words, inflating your word count and causing a panic on the last day when you realize you’re three hundred words short. Not a happy moment. Don’t do it. Use Scrivener or Microsoft Office. Avoid panic whenever possible.
  • Update your word count on Nanowrimo’s website often. Multiple times a day if you can manage it. This can be a bit distracting (especially if you get sucked into the “procrastination station”) but I find it really helpful to see progress and Nanowrimo makes this tangible with a handy dandy status bar. Super cool to watch it fill up. Scrivener’s project targets dialogue box is great for this too.
  • Word padding is a completely legitimate, accepted, touted, effective, and overall not cheating strategy. This is your chance to get away with all those pesky things you’re not supposed to let sneak into your writing. Throw in as many adverbs as you want, give your readers a lecture about the mechanics of REM sleep, repeat descriptions until you’re so sick of them you can’t help but come up with new and interesting ways to say flying, purple, gyrating kangaroos.
  • Tell everyone you know what you’re attempting. That way you’ll be too embarrassed to quit halfway through. Sounds kind of shallow but it works.
  • Never end a day not knowing what comes next. It feels all nice and neat to wrap up at the end of a chapter or a thought, but it’s very hard to get started the next day when you have no idea what the next scene or even sentence is going to be about. Some people say end in the middle of a sentence, but I have a little OCPD in me that makes this maddening.

So, what are you waiting for? Get busy and I’ll see you in a month.

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A Month of Nuts

Two Thursdays from now is November 1st, meaning Nanowrimo is less than two weeks away. Aah! For those who don’t know, Nanowrimo stands for National Novel Writing Month. The challenge is to write a 50,000 word novel (really more of a novella) during the thirty days of November. That’s 1667 words a day or approximately six double spaced pages. If you hit 50,000 words by the end of the month, you win! Your prize: the right to say “I’ve written a novel”.

I know it sounds daunting – 1600 words a day? Are you nuts? Well, yes, some of us are a little nuts when November rolls around. But you can be nuts too. What about that idea you’ve had burning a hole in the back of your head for year? Maybe it’s about time you go it on paper. Even if you have no idea what to write about, you’ve just always wanted to write a book, this is a great opportunity to get started.

And you won’t be alone. With over 300,000 writers participating around the world, you have a great support network and a community to cheer you on. You can check out nano activity in your region and join other local wrimos for write-ins. Once or twice a week you’ll get pep talks from other writers and published authors.

If you’re still in school and 50,000 words really is too much, there’s the Young Writers Program designed specifically for kids who want to write a book. They can participate individually or with their class and they set their own word count goals.

Thinking about jumping on the band wagon? Here are some tips to help you get started.

  • Get in the habit of writing every day now. You’ve still got a little less than two weeks. If you get used to writing just a few paragraphs a day, it’ll make those 1600 words seem a lot less daunting come November.
  • You can’t start writing the book until Nov 1st, but you can do as much planning as you like. You can jot down ideas, figure out major plot points, you can have the whole story outlined in color-coded marker if you want. I’m a pantser (I write by the seat of my pants). I go into Nanowrimo with very little structure. But even I benefit from doing a little research and getting the big stepping stones figured out before setting pen to paper.
  • Don’t edit as you go. The whole point of this is quantity, not quality. You’re trying to see what happens when you just let go. This is going to drive you nuts, guaranteed, but you have to ignore the little voice wailing in your head, otherwise you’ll never hit 50,000.
  • You’re going to get stuck. It’s a fact of life. The key is not to panic. Find some tips for writer’s block – here’s a couple to get you started. And if you’re really hurting, there are some tricks of the trade. Like adding something unexpected. How about a flying purple ninja. You can play with your character’s reaction for a couple pages until you get back on track. Who knows maybe the flying purple ninja will end up saving the day.

So, who’s going to join me on this crazy endeavor? If you need a writing buddy, look me up on Nanowrimo’s website. I’m kendramerritt85 and I’d love to see you there. I’m still on a fairytale kick. Last year was Beauty and the Beast. This year it’s going to be The Robber Bridegroom/The Singing Bone. Well? What’s yours going to be about?

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