End of NaNoWriMo (and this blog…)

So, I have written 50,000 words in 30 days. My “novel” has just been validated on the NaNoWriMo website. I suppose I am called a NaNoWriMo winner.

Winner-180x180

I do have to admit that I feel a bit underwhelmed. I’m very aware of how few of the words I wrote this month will end up in my final novel. If I’m lucky, half, at best, will make the cut. Additionally, at this point, my novel (in terms of the timeline of the story) is not even half-way there.

To be sure, it was a great exercise in “exuberant imperfection,” and in getting out of my own way, getting things out of my mind and onto what was a blank page just a month ago. A lot of interesting things came out of the writing. The story took twists I hadn’t expected, and that was fun. The characters also developed in ways that slower writing may not have accommodated. All in all, I’m happy to be here, but also happy to move on. This is anything but the finish line.

I am really looked forward to the next phase of deliberate editing, fact checking, and most importantly rewriting. I am comforted by the words of other published, and renown writers:

Books aren’t written, they’re rewritten. ~Michael Crichton

The first draft of anything is shit. ~Ernest Hemingway

The first 8 drafts are terrible. ~Malcolm Gladwell

On a separate but not unrelated note: though I am considered a winner in NaNoWriMo terms, I certainly am no winner with this blog. It is, after all, not a good fit for me. During my writing time, I like to focus on my book. During my break time, it seems my favorite thing is to go on walks, spend time with family, or read books. So this novel writing blog will end here, along with the NaNoWriMo journey. (I am still online via Tumblr, Twitter, and in other ways.)

On to the next phase!

 

(P.S. Congratulations to all those who met their NaNoWriMo goals!)

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Day One of NaNoWriMo

Success! I got in 1,945 words today, and crossed a hurdle in my story that had made me pause for a while. It’s very liberating to write with “exuberant imperfection,” just enjoy the writing, freedom, and watching the story unfold. There will be a time for editing (A LOT of editing) later.

I even had a moment to stop and smell the roses as I walked my dog this morning.

 

A good start to National Novel Writing Month. One down, 29 days to go!

How did others do today?

I just saw on the NaNoWriMo website, that over 1.5 million words were written in the Los Angeles area today. Amazing. Glad to be a part of this.

 

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For Your Inspiration: Quotes about Writers, Writing, and Hard Work

If you are a writer, if you are embarking on NaNoWriMo, I’d like to share some of my favorite quotes for inspiration. I have collected them over the past few of years.

 

On Beginning

Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe. ~Abraham Lincoln (one of City Year‘s mottos)

To all who ask me about writing: “Begin at the beginning and go till the end: then stop.” (Alice in the Wonderland) ~Paulo Coelho

You have to surrender to the act of writing, give up to it, and trust that if you have anything, it will discover it for you. ~E.L. Doctorow

Books choose their authors; the act of creation is not entirely a rational and conscious one. ~Salman Rushdie

The hardest part is starting to write. ~Michael Crichton

The way to write a book is to actually write a book. A pen is useful, typing is also good. Keep putting words on the page. ~Anne Enright

Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on. ~Louis L’Amour

Writing is an exploration. You start from nothing and learn as you go. ~E.L. Doctorow

You start by imitating others, there is lack of clarity, there are many reasons to fail. But there is a seed that slowly grows. ~Octavio Paz

 

On Patience

Anyone who can be discouraged from writing should be. ~Ian Irvine

The beautiful part of writing is that you don’t have to get it right the first time unlike, say, brain surgery. ~R. Cormier

Books aren’t written, they’re rewritten. ~Michael Crichton

The first draft of anything is shit. ~Ernest Hemingway

The first 8 drafts are terrible. ~Malcolm Gladwell

A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit. ~Richard Bach

A small daily task, if it be really daily, will beat the labors of a spasmodic Hercules. ~Anthony Trollope

Each story tells me how to write it. ~Eudora Welty

Writing teaches writing. ~John McPhee

Writers get paid for what other people get scolded for: daydreaming. We’re supposed to wander. ~Richard Walter

Ever tried? Ever failed? No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better. ~Samuel Beckett

If you write a hundred short stories and they are bad, that doesn’t mean you’ve failed. You fail only if you stop writing. ~Ray Bradbury

 

Advice

Creativity comes from trust. Trust your instincts. ~Rita Mae Brown

In the planning stage of a book, don’t plan the ending. It has to be earned by all that will go before it. ~Rose Tremain

Do not hurry; do not rest. ~Goethe

Give yourself time to get better. ~Sue Grafton

If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. ~Stephen King

Read, read, read. Read everything–trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. ~William Faulkner

Don’t write about what y0u know—write about what you’re interested in. Don’t write about yourself—you aren’t as interesting as you think. ~Tracy Chevalier

Follow your inner moonlight; don’t hide the madness. ~Allen Ginsberg

 

On Writing

Writing is thinking. To write well is to think clearly. That’s why it’s so hard. ~David McCullough

A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song. ~Maya Angelou

We do not write because we want to; we write because we have to. ~Somerset Maugham

 

On Courage

What would life be if we had no courage to attempt anything? ~Vincent van Gogh

I believe the most important single thing, beyond discipline and creativity, is daring to dare. ~Maya Angelou

The single most revolutionary thing you can do is recognize that you are enough. ~Carlos Andrés Gómez

Whether or not you write well, write bravely. ~Bill Stout

If we had to say what writing is, we would describe it essentially as an act of courage. ~Cynthia Ozick

When you’re a writer sometimes you have to spend time poking at part of yourself that normal, sane people leave alone. ~ Vikram Chandra

 

(I’m afraid I’ve lost track of where I got all of them from, but I know quite a few of the quotes about writing came from  @AdviceToWriters and @Quotes4Writers).

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Getting Ready for NaNoWriMo

Tomorrow is November 1, the first day of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). I am so excited to be participating in this national communal writing spree. The goal is to write 50,000 words in 30 days. This amounts to a short novel, about the same length as The Catcher in the Rye and The Great Gatsby, among others.

So, tomorrow I set out to write 50,000 words. It amounts to about 1667 words a day. I will be following the NaNoWriMo rules, except for one. You are not supposed to work on a novel you have already started. I am, as you know, doing just that.

I tried to do NaNoWriMo last year. It didn’t work for two reasons. First, I was in a grueling graduate program at Columbia University, and it was all I could do to keep up with my schoolwork and part-time job. Secondly, and more importantly, I wasn’t ready. I need to have plans, outlines, background information, etc., before I can do any serious writing.

With that in mind, I set out this summer and the first half of this fall doing just that. I did my research, put together a basic outline, and wrote a solid opening, with my main character introduced. I planned to have the first pages of my book ready by today, so that when NaNoWriMo hits, I am ready to fly.

This month of fast paced writing has multiple goals, but the main one is simply to write. Based on my own experience so far, nothing breeds writing or discovers the details of your story like writing does. That is why I am participating in NaNoWriMo. It is a month of free flowing, almost stream-of-consciousness type of writing, with a strict deadline at the end.

As Chris Baty, the founder of NaNoWriMo puts it, this is a month of “exuberant imperfection,” an acknowledgment that NOBODY gets their novel right in one draft (more on this tomorrow). It is also an acknowledgment that much of what is written during NaNoWriMo may later be discarded or will likely be rewritten and pruned, but it fleshes out a story and helps get you out of your own way.

Your intuition knows what it wants to write, so get out of the way.” ~Ray Bradbury

Today is a day of calm, reflection, and inspiration to get ready for the month ahead. I am going to spend much of the day reading: finishing up a little bit of background research to iron out one of my settings; reading blogs like Draft; reading interviews with writers that I’ve saved in my reader for a day like this; and revisiting some of my favorite inspirational quotes that I’ve compiled over the past two years about writing and writers (I will post these in a separate post in about an hour for writers and fellow NaNoWriMo-ers to access as needed).

How are you preparing for NaNoWriMo?

Or, more generally, how do you prepare for a big writing project?

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Who is a writer?

In my last post, I hinted at this question. Who can call him or herself a writer? Can anybody decide they are a writer? When can an individual legitimately call him or herself a writer?

I’ve struggled with these questions for a while. I was reluctant to call myself a writer at first. I felt that someone should give me the title, based on successful published work for example. Additionally, I felt you could only legitimately call yourself a writer if you were making a living through your work. The latter obviously makes no sense. How many artists and writers created some of their best work before they began to make money?

When I made the decision to focus on writing a novel for a while, when I began to wake up and write almost every day, or think about writing almost nonstop, or do research and readings that nourished my writing, that is when I became comfortable calling myself a writer. I think that you are a writer when you say you are one, when you believe you are one.

It is by sitting down to write every morning that one becomes a writer.” ~ Gerald Brenan

I also began to notice a distinction between the terms “writer” and “author,” especially in one-line biographies. I’ve noticed that those who are published often call themselves “authors.”

The simple truth is, you have to be a writer to be published, not the other way around.

Inspiration from one of my favorite movies:

SPOILER ALERT: The video clip below is from the end of the Pixar movie RATATOUILLE. Please do not watch you haven’t seen the movie and do not want it to be spoiled.

What do you think?

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Physical Nerve

You need a certain amount of nerve to be a writer, an almost physical nerve, the kind you need to walk a log across a river.

-Margaret Atwood

I love this quote. I came across it a couple of months ago, and it really resonated with me. In fact, I have it displayed on my desk.

It makes me feel better when I slump back on my chair, completely exhausted after writing just one  paragraph. It surprised me the first time it happened. How could a few lines take so much energy? There are things you expect to take the wind out of you, like exercising vigorously, or taking one flight of stairs too many. There are jobs that you expect to be physically exhausting. But writing?

I’ve discovered in the past few weeks that writing full time, especially long-form writing, is a lot like running a marathon. (Just to clarify, I haven’t run a marathon myself, but from what I hear, it seems like an accurate comparison). You need to dedicate several strenous hours to get it done. Unlike marathons, which are often an event people do about once a year, plus or minus, writing is something you have to do consistently every day if you are a writer (or trying to be one. More on this tomorrow).

I don’t just mean this metaphorically, as in it feel likes the mind has run a marathon, or you get emotionally tired. I mean actual physical exhaustion, down to your bones. Some days I can write several pages easily. More often than not, I need to rest in between paragraphs, like I have been doing something that requires a lot of strength and stamina.

This quote is a reminder that it isn’t just me who feels this way. It is also a good reminder to keep going. If you were on a hike and walked a log across a river, you might sit down to catch your breath afterwards, but you have to keep going all the way to the end of the trail– and back.

 

Who has experienced this too? What have you found surprisingly exhausting?

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Why This Blog

You may ask, when you are writing a novel, why spend time on a novel writing blog? Doesn’t it take up precious time of your day that might otherwise be spent working on your book?

I carefully considered these questions before deciding to start this blog. My answer has three parts. First, it is a completely different type of writing. It is much shorter and takes much less time. I often feel the need to take a break from my work. I spend it exercising or walking my dog or reading a chapter from one of the books on my nightstand. Now I can add this blog to the list. It can be a good release too. Since a novel is something that takes months and years to finish, instantly publishing a blog post can be quite gratifying.

Secondly, though I love working alone, and I greatly appreciate that I have the opportunity and the time to focus on my book, it can sometimes be a lonely, quiet job. As I wrote in my previous post, I think the blogosphere (and even Twitter) can be a good way to connect with other writers, exchange tips and ideas, and in general create a sense of community. Finally, in the same vein, I think it’s a great way to create a bit of public pressure to stick to deadlines, track my progress, and share my journey.

Many writers keep writing journals or logs as they work on a long project. I instead have chosen to keep a blog. About three years ago, my dad asked me what the word “blog” stands for. I didn’t know the answers, so I proceeded to explain what it meant. I later looked it up online, and discovered that the word’s origin is the phrase “web log.” That makes a lot of sense when you think about it. And that’s exactly what this is, the web log of my project.

Why did you start a writing blog, or a blog in general? Do you think blogging is a waste of time or a good use of time?

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Where I Am

So, for my first progress update:

The idea for this book began to sprout in May 2010. It solidified in March 2011, developed last fall, and I wrote the first words of my novel last October. During the past summer, I did some necessary background research, planned out the first part of my book, and began to write in earnest.

This fall, I plan to finish the first draft (I expect there to be about six drafts, based on the advice of accomplished authors. I’ll have a post on this in the next few days too). I’ve learned that creative work progresses best with a set deadline on the horizon. The firm due date for the first draft of my first novel is December 20, 2012.

I have decided on my title. I don’t expect it to change. This was one of the first decisions I made in March 2011. I have also written my dedication page, and I have an outline for at least the first half. I am keeping it flexible after that, for now, to let the story meander as it pleases.

I am currently editing and rearranging the first two chapters, which I worked on over the summer. I will continue to do this over the next ten days or so. My deadline to finish this round is October 31st. I plan to have a solid (but by no means unchangeable) foundation of 40 pages by then. That will get me to November, National Novel Writing Month which I will be, of course, participating in (making a few adjustments to the rules so that it works for my writing goal and needs. More on this in a few days).

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What I Write

Today is the National Day on Writing. I can’t think of a better time to write the first post on this new writing blog.

My novel writing blog will be the fifth blog I have launched. Each one before had a different purpose and tone, as my ideas grew and my goals developed. They all, ultimately, fed into this one. It was only a matter of time.

I have wanted to write a book for as long as I can remember. I have wanted to be a writer ever since I got lost in the worlds of Roald Dahl, then J.K. Rowling, and other great novels and books after that. Last summer, I decided to rearrange this sentence: changing “I want to be a writer” to “I am a writer.” (Come back next week for a post about calling yourself a writer. When do you think can fairly do that?)

This summer, I committed to writing my first book. (More on this decision next week.) That will be my primary focus for a while. I am announcing my commitment here, for the world to see. I’ve noticed that when goals are declared openly, they are more likely to get done.

Here, I will share my progress, struggles, challenges, thoughts on writing, and who knows what else, as I go through this journey. Since writing can sometimes be a lonely job, I thought it would be great to have a blog through which I can connect, for about an hour a day, with other people. Social media is at its best when it is used to build a community and share information. I hope to make the most of that.

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