Writing energy boost # 1—Ink & Blood

CrossedQuills When one of our writing meetup members—I’ll call him Rafe*—mentioned that he was planning to participate in an Ink & Blood writing duel, my first question was “what’s that?” followed closely by my second: “why would you ever do it?” Answer the First: Ink & Blood/Chicago holds writing duels at G-Mart Comic Books on the third Saturday of most—if not all—months. Writers are paired off and given a writing prompt and ten minutes to write something based on it. At the end, the winner is decided by audience vote. Heckling, Rafe said, is encouraged. Answer the Second: Why, I asked Rafe, would anyone volunteer to write something off the top of their heads in front of other people, only to be heckled? And how does the “loser” feel once the winner is declared? He shrugged. “It’s a good exercise.” He’d done it before, and had not been declared the winner; he still planned to do it again. I decided I had to see this for myself.

The Event

BK keeps one eye on the TV schedule during college football season (the Vols were on TV the night of October 18), so I begged Cookie to go with me. As she’s the definition of a good sport, she not only agreed, she drove. The duels started at 8 p.m. There were costumes (because, you know, October). There were also masks. I got the impression there might be masks even if it wasn’t October. Writers were identified by such catchy monikers as Writer A, Writer B, Writer C, etc. There was also beer, which was pretty much free, though they did accept contributions for it. I’ve discovered a stout I like: New Holland Brewing Company’s Oatmeal Stout. But that’s beside the point. The point is: writing duels. You’re still wondering how they work. Two writers sat at laptops behind a large screen so the audience couldn’t see them. In front of this masking screen were two monitors, each linked to one of the writers’ laptops. Also in front of the screen stood the evening’s emcee. The emcee’s job was to get the audience riled up and to elicit writing prompts from the crowd. It being the Halloween-themed event, there were many prompts along the lines of blood and graveyards and ghosts. The emcee would choose one, and the writing would commence. Three preliminary match-ups ran, after which we drank (more) beer and voted for the writers we wanted to see in the final round. Then there was a costume contest. The winner was ghost in a white tuxedo and top hat, wearing a monocle. (S)he looked fabulous! One of the writers who made it to the final round had written a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure-style narrative in the first round, which simply begged for audience response. Great tactic. The other writer did an excellent job sticking to the topic and finished her writing with a flourish which tied everything together in a satisfying way. For this final round, each writer ran true to form. The Choose-Your-Own-Adventure writer wrote in that style again, while the other writer went for unity and stuck the landing. The Choose-Your-Own-Adventure style was fun, but when the same writer did it again, it felt gimmicky to me. If the second writer had a gimmick, it was artistic unity. I always like that, so she got my vote. I know this writer was a woman because in the end she won and came out front to claim her accolades. All the writers were good, though. She might have been the named winner, but I wouldn’t call any of the others losers.

On the topic of heckling

When Rafe first described the event, I told him I couldn’t imagine participating in a writer’s duel on account of the heckling. He said it didn’t bother him and afterwards I understood why. The audience behavior didn’t seem exactly like heckling. It was more like egging the writers on and offering “helpful” suggestions, like “don’t correct your typos!” The advice not to correct typos came in particularly handy in one instance. The writer had one character offer another character a cup of cider and then wrote that there was a strange odder coming from the cup. A few people called out variations of “don’t drink the cider!” (assuming the writer meant odor rather than odder), but some more ironic audience members said things like “What kind of otter? River or sea? That must be one big cup of cider, if it’ll hold an otter!” The writer used these comments to advantage, explaining in subsequent paragraphs that the creature in the cup was a miniature sea otter, and so adorable that many people preferred to call it an “awwwder.” I can now see how heckling, if you’d call it that, could energize a writer. I’m thinking of giving writers’ duels a try. After November. Because as we all know, November is National Writing Month, and I’m woefully underprepared. However, events like Ink & Blood duels have really pumped some writing energy into me lately. I’m definitely writing more than I have for a while. I’ll talk about my other writing energy boosts in upcoming posts. We’ll need that because, you know. November.

NaNoWriMo—what I learned, plus—perks!

Winner-2014-Web-Banner My final official total was 65,594 words
This year during NaNoWriMo, I had the opportunity to beta-read the first draft of a professional writer’s novel while writing my own. As I slogged along in my poorly organized story, this writer dashed off elegant prose and posted a new chapter of it every day or two. She knew the setting. She knew what was coming next. She knew her characters inside and out. She knew how to write all of the above so it showed up on the page. By contrast, I had only the barest notion of my setting. I had a beginning and an end in mind and only a bit of an idea how the characters got from one end to the other. I knew a few of the characters pretty well, but was spitballing all the others. As for knowing how to write it—I can’t say I know how to write something when I don’t have it firmly in mind, can I? I’ve now completed five novels during previous National Novel Writing Months—if by completed, you mean that I’ve written at least 50,000 words each time. Some Novembers were more successful than others. Maybe two of them gave me novels that felt more or less whole. Beginnings, middles, ends, character growth. All that stuff. For those two, I was well organized and had clear goals. The other years were more about discovery writing, aka “pantsing.” All writers have their favored ways of working, falling somewhere along the Pantser/Plotter continuum. Now that I’ve had a chance to process my process, I think I’m happier being a plotter. It’s not that there are no discoveries (AKA surprises) when I write from an outline, it’s just that the discoveries seem more useful when I’ve defined the context better. Which brings me to an offer I’m about to pass along. Since I “won”, I’m entitled to several winner perks and goodies from some of NaNoWriMo’s sponsors. There’s one perk that I’m not going to use, and which I have permission to pass along to anyone who would like it. showcase-scrivener_header If you want to try the writing software Scrivener , you can get a free 30-day trial through the web site, Literature and Latte. If you’ve already tried it and know you want to own it—or if you just want to own it without checking out the trial version—I have a code that will allow you to buy it at half price. Right now (12/9/14) the Windows version is selling for $40 and the Mac version is selling for $45, so that means that with my coupon code, you can get it for either $20 or $22.50, depending on which version you want. This 50% off code is good until May 30, 2015. I’ve been using Scrivener for the past few years for novel-length work, and I really like it. It gives you a place to organize information, research, and inspiration as you’re working, and makes it easy to find these support materials when you have questions later—questions like, “What was I thinking?” So please, if you’d like to know more about the program and/or would like the coupon code and information on how to use it, contact me. If we know each other via Facebook, Twitter, or some other way, please message/email me. If not, please leave me a contact method in the comments section below, and I’ll get in touch with you.