What is NaNo?

“What is NaNo?”

This is a conversation I had with my imaginary friend, Hazleton Chesterford, after a recent The Writing Journey™ (“ThWriJo™”) meeting.
“Well, obviously,” I said, “it’s short for National Novel, so when people ask, ‘Are you doing NaNo this year?’ they’re asking if you’re doing “National Novel,” as if that makes any kind of sense.”
Also, did you notice that if people do say WriMo, they say it like…”Rye-Mo,” as if they pronounce “writing” as “Rye-ting.” I certainly didn’t notice.
“But what IS NaNo?” Hazleton insisted. “Is it:
A) A kind of challenge/performance art where you see how much typing you can do within thirty days
B) An attempt to see if you can create something shaped like a novel that is not totally horrible, confined within the bounds of a thirty day parcel of time
I frowned at this point, possibly owing to the dodgy formatting of the question.
If it’s the former, then it makes sense to prepare. Make notes. Make outlines. Generate characters. Create plots. Perhaps type up a few practice drafts while you’re at it. Make it something that can’t be confined by the space of a mere thirty days. Scoff at the concept of a “month” and simply use that set of weeks to hone a vision to razor-sharp prefection.
If it’s the latter, then writing for word count on a strict time limit while celebrating and preparing for holidays is probably not going to result in the next The Great Gatsby. Actually, since The Great Gatsby is dreadful, perhaps it will.
“In my opinion,” I answered, after careful consideration, “it is what you make of it.”
Hazleton fell silent for a moment.
“I wonder if it’s related in any way to the fact that so many new novels appear on Smashwords in December.”

The Three-Legged Stool of Creativity – The Last Leg

Filling the Well -or- The Care and Feeding of Your Muse
Part Three of a three-part series on helping creativity flow

All three legs

You can only stare at your computer screen or scribble words on a page for so long before you start to go wacky. Ask Stephen King. Or his character, Jack Torrance.

Don’t let it get this bad, fellow writers!

There are a bunch of ways to fill the well/care for your muse (pick your metaphor). Julia Cameron, whose book, The Artist’s Way, was mentioned in the first post of this series, recommends Artist Dates. For an artist date, you set aside maybe an hour a week to do something fun, but you need to do it by yourself. No significant other, no kids, no pals. You explore some new, interesting thing without having to worry about what anyone thinks of you, or of the experience. It’s a great idea. It’s also more difficult than it sounds. It’s not usually hard to participate in your Artist Date once you get there. What’s difficult is committing to take the time to do it. It’s easier, as Cameron says, for most of us to work at our art than it is to play at it. I’m not that good at it myself, but I have actually tried this in the past. Some of my artist dates have included:

  • Sitting in a bookstore and looking at gorgeous art or travel books
  • Going to Naper Settlement, a local living history museum
  • Pulling out a kid’s set of watercolors and painting, even though I suck at it
  • Bird watching
  • Driving to Starved Rock State Park to hike and take photos
  • People-watching at Union Station while jotting notes about people and my surroundings

The Union Station trip was a particularly good idea. It was a week or so into NaNoWriMo, and I was hating every word I’d written. I couldn’t face the page anymore. After a few hours of writing about something other than my novel – something no one was going to read – I came back refreshed and ready to write on my novel again. It was like magic.

You don’t need to fill the well all by yourself. Hanging out with other, like-minded people can be energizing, too. There’s no way I would have stayed as committed to writing if I hadn’t found my writing group, The Journey. We support each other as a group. In addition to working on our craft together and commiserating, we also find ways to have fun. Various activities have included visiting The Art Institute or Morton Arboretum, seeing live theatre, starting our own reader’s theatre group to read Shakespeare plays together, learning archery, going out for drinks, and playing games. And when possible, we try to find ways to organize a potluck lunch or go out to dinner.

So there are at least two ways to go – solitary or social. I recommend both. If you haven’t already started a muse-feeding, well-filling practice, try the one that’s easier to manage, and try to do it at least once a week if you possibly can.

The Three-Legged Stool of Creativity


Daily Writing
Part One of a three-part series on helping creativity flow

Leg One – Daily Writing

The way to be any kind of writer is to write, and to write regularly. Just ask Stephen King, who writes about 2000 words a day, sun or rain, winter or summer. I think he might have missed a few days when he was hit by a minivan, but otherwise, he writes.

This blog is what you call a case in point. I started it largely because I need the practice, and vowing to post at least twice a week up gives me regular deadlines to meet outside of November (aka National Novel Writing Month).

Actually, though, I’ve been writing daily since shortly after my first NaNoWriMo. I write at least 750 words a day, thanks to the web site called, funnily enough, 750words.com.The guy who started it, Buster Benson, read a book called The Artist’s Way.

From Julia Cameron’s website

In case you’re unfamiliar with the book, the author, Julia Cameron, recommends that anyone who is having any sort of trouble with their creativity should make a practice of rolling out of bed (or not; you could just as easily do this in bed) and making a three page journal entry first thing in the morning. You needed to write, as fast as you could, making no judgment at all about what you were writing.

There’s something stress-relieving about writing pretty much any old crap that spills out of your mind. I tried this practice myself, back somewhere around 1995 or so. What I found was that once I was done writing those 3 pages, I was done writing for the rest of the day. Maybe that’s because it takes so long to write by hand and my penmanship is so gruesome that I could never make any sense of it later. I quit doing it for quite a while, but a few years back I heard about 750 Words which was started as a way to do your morning pages online, and it changed my life.

Okay, it changed my habits, but that’s a first step, right? Since September of 2011, I’ve written 842,346 words on the site. I never thought I’d keep up the habit, but the site lets you earn badges for writing streaks of varying lengths, as well as other behaviors like writing quickly or making a donation to the site.

My Latest Badge

I’m a sucker for swag, even the virtual variety. I have my eye on the Space Bird badge, which you earn for a 500-day streak. I should have it already, but I missed posting one day a year or so back. It was during NaNoWriMo, so I actually wrote that day; I just forgot to paste the words into the 750 words site so I could get credit for them. I had to start over again from the beginning. Boy, did I feel like a doofus!

750 Words also provides a lot of interesting metrics about what you’ve written; that’s how I know about the 842,346 words I’ve written there so far.

I’m sure there are other ways to help yourself get into the habit of the writing. One of my writing friends is trying the “Don’t Break the Chain” method, and other swear by HabitRPG. I haven’t tried either site, but they sound useful and/or fun. I never underestimate the power of fun little rewards, even if they’re as silly as badges, just to keep me going.

The point is: I write daily. I recommend it to anyone who’s trying to be both creative and productive.