Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Welcome to the World, Leilani

Today, September 30th, at 2PM, my cousin Mitchell and his wife Krystal, became the parents of baby Leilani Ishizu. Congrats to them both on their lovely little girl.

Weekly Update: 9-30-15 Schizophrenia and Taco Tuesdays

Announcement: I will be selling copies of THE CHANGELINGS as well as a few of my homemade cards at the El Dorado High School Holiday Boutique (1651 Valencia Ave., Placentia) from 10-11 this Saturday, October 3rd. Various local authors to sign from 9:00-3:00.

Announcement: On Saturday, October 10, NAMI is hosting a 5k Walk in William R. Macy Park (1810 E 17th St.,Santa Ana, California 92705) at 10:00 AM (check-in begins at 8:00) to raise money and awareness for Mental Illness.

* * *

 Since the beginning of September, my mom, dad, and I have been attending a "Family-to-Family" class hosted by NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness). The class educated people with a family member who is mentally ill about everything from the types of diseases and medicines, to communication and problem-solving techniques, to where to go during a crisis. 

My younger sister Jaime has recently been diagnosed with schizophrenia. This is only a small surprise as she was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder as early as high school and has since bounced around with everything from social anxiety, depression, and PTSD. Naming the disease is actually a relief, since it means I can sit down and research it.

(This website offers a good insight into mental illness by portraying them as pokemon-esque monsters:

I should have researched it in high school, when symptoms first broke out. That was the crisis time, when it first came to light that my sister heard voices telling her to do violent things. At that time, though, I was senior in high school and it was my first experience of life going off the rails and I didn't know how to handle it. Later, I went to college and then to Japan, and my sister's condition began to stabilize, and I just sort of assumed she was okay.

But even though she's managing her disease, it hasn't gone away. So my mother suggested we all take the free class to learn about it.

Every Tuesday, my parents drive down from Victorville. We go to Rubios for their $2 fish tacos and attend the class together. And I have to admit, it hasn't exactly been a breeze. Some of the people attending the class have family members who are homeless or in jail. The heaviness of their sorrows sink into the soul. At the same time, it frightens me, since schizophrenia is a degenerative disease, which means it may get worse.

But a few things have made it more bearable:

1. Tacos! It's actually nice to go out to dinner with my family and spend time together, just hanging out and talking. We're scheduling in family time weekly, something I haven't done in forever.
2. Doodling. During class, when either the instructors are speaking or other people in the class are sharing, and I start feeling overwhelmed, I just start sketching. I'm still listening, but the drawing acts as a pressure valve, alleviating some of my stress. And, as it turns out, doodling actually helps pay attention. So there you go.

3. Understanding. It didn't exactly happen all at once. After a month of info dump, listening to other people's stories, and reading on my own, I'm only just starting to piece things together. What really helped was hearing about it from my sister herself, which tied everything together. 

One of the saddest things about mental illness is the stigma society attaches to it. If were to say my sister had brain cancer, it would cause an outpouring of pity. Schizophrenia sounds scary. Yet it is a disease. It eats away at brain tissue and causes the body to deteriorate. What's frightening about mental illness is that it shatters our illusion of control. We figure that, if nothing else, we are masters of our own mind. But if we lose our ability to reason, if we start to hallucinate, if the words we hear no longer make sense, how much control do we have?

This seems like a heavy, depressing topic. I guess there's no way around that. But the awesome thing about humanity is how they can adapt to almost anything, even turning negatives into positives. My sister uses art to express how schizophrenia affects her life. For me, just learning about what's going on, forces me to deal with my own fears and insensitivities. Yes, I'd like to live in blissful ignorance, but facing a "hard" situation and walking away with knowledge, makes me feel powerful. If I'm not in control, at least I'm aware of what's going on.

"Cup Full of Love and Happiness" by Jaime Lang

* * *

After ending last week with a couple of subbing jobs, I spent all of Saturday making cards. I've been getting digital stamps off Etsy, particularly from a seller called Aurora Wings. After the mess of colored pencils, paper, and glue had cleared, I ended up with 20 new cards, 5 of which were quickly claimed by my mother. Sadly, this is only the beginning of card-making season, as Christmas is right around the corner.

Some of my new cards.
Barreling round the corner like a monster truck without breaks is Nanowrimo. Although National Novel Writing Month doesn't officially start until November, I usually spend all of October brainstorming. This year, I want to try and lead a group to 50,000 year word victory, so I've got to organize that as well, but as usual, I've procrastinated. 

For anyone interested, this page has good resources for preparing for Nanowrimo:

Friday, September 25, 2015

Winning Nanowrimo: Gathering Support

But I don't need support? you say. I'm an independent person.

So am I.

But having friends helps, especially if you've never done Nanowrimo before. At the very least, it's good to know others are out there struggling with you. And at best, it could be the difference between failure and success.

What Do You Need?


Sometimes you need a little praise, a little inspiration, a little pat on the back. You need to know your writing matters and others are rooting for you to succeed. Find supportive writers, friends, and family to cheer you on when you meet a goal, to write you emails encouraging you to keep at it, or to plan a celebration with.



On the other end of the stick, sometimes it's good to have a person to remind you of your goals and to keep you to them. You can check in with a writing partner or even a strict friend every day or every week. If you don't report, they'll start asking you what's going on. Having someone to answer to can be a powerful motivator.


If you're just starting off, it might help to meet with someone who's gone before you, who knows the rapids. Maybe you need advice. Maybe you just need reassurance that the challenges you face are completely normal. If you don't know anyone personally, you can check the groups on


Extraverts thrive by being around others, and even introverts need to get out every now and then. Arrange meet times with other writers at your cafes or libraries to sit and write together. You can also talk about how Nanowrimo's been working out--but not too long. Remember, writing comes first!

A little friendly competition can create a push in the right kind of person. When I started off, my friend Michelle sent daily emails with the word count of all her friends. I began to quietly compete to have the highest daily word count and be the first to finish. (I came in second.) Another friendly way to compete: a word sprint. Whoever writes the most words in half an hour wins!

Free Time

If you have a busy schedule, you might have to draw on friends and family to help you out with chores and everyday nuisances while you put your energy into writing. It helps, for example, to have someone to babysit, so that you can have an hour to yourself to write. Maybe ask someone else to make that Thanksgiving turkey for you.

Whether or not you have a support group already, is a great resource to help you out. It's free. Sign in and create an account for your book. You'll then have access to the following:

Word Tracker

There's a little box at the top of your page for you to enter your accumulative word count. You can enter as many times as you want each day. Once your number is in, a little chart shows you how many words you've written, whether or not you're on schedule, and how many words per day you need to write to finish.

This little tool is my whole reason for registering. I'm addicted to entering my word count and watching my graph go up. I end up "competing" with the "daily word count," a rival graph that gets in his exact 1667 words each day. I always want to get ahead of it.

Pep Talks

You get pep talks now and then throughout the year, but once November comes, every single day you get a note in your Nanowrimo inbox with words of advice and encouragement. And some of those authors are pretty famous. I've gotten letters from some of my fantasy idols. It's not as personal as an email from your friend, but it's nice to know that published authors also share your pain.

Find Local Writers

You can find specific writers on Nanowrimo and join a local groups for write-ins, word sprints, raffles, and more. This is a great option for more social writers.


If you write 50,000 words at the end of the month, you have the option of verifying it. You copy and paste your entire text into the browser. No human eyes will look at it. They simply count the words and delete the document.

Once you hit 50,000 words, you get a badge and various writing-related prizes. I've seen anything from free online books to deep discounts on writing programs. I don't know how often I've used my free prizes... but it's nice to know I've got them, you know.


Thursday, September 24, 2015

Weekly Update: 9-24-15 A Normal Week

Announcement: A copy of my first novel, The Changelings, is now available in the library of Brea Olinda High School. For anyone who attends the school, please check it out.

Further Announcement: I'll be selling limited paperback copies of my book at a pop-up boutique in El Dorado High School on October 3rd, from 10:00-11:00. More details to come.

* * *

I'd love it if every time I wrote this blog, I could entertain you with fascinating adventures, beautiful description, or profound thoughts on life.  Unfortunately, I'm human and some (a lot) of my weeks are just plain boring.
I try so hard to be interesting, but then my true nature reveals itself.
Last week, for example, I attended a tax seminar on Tuesday. Now for a select few people in desperate need of information on sales tax in Orange County, it was fascinating. (And for those select few people, I spent most of Wednesday typing up a very thorough blog post, which I'll publish some time in October.) For me, it consumed my writing time and writing energy and was as pleasant as a toothache.

At least I got a short story out of a toothache.

By Thursday, taxes had gotten me so far off schedule, I just threw my hands in the air and yelled, "to hell with it!" (In my head, anyway. As a rule I try not to yell unless something truly atrocious happened. Like when a writer butchers a good book with a bad ending.) I read Three Act Tragedy by Agatha Christie. I should have known better. I have a Christie compulsion. I must read three of her books at one time, or bad things happen.
It's an addiction.
The bad thing that happened was me obsessively hunting down episodes of Agatha Christie's Poirot on YouTube.  All Friday and most of Saturday, I endured annoying side-screens and footage with the bottom layer cut off, but I didn't care. The reptile part of my brain had awakened and craved the blood-spatter of early 20th-century, polite upper-middle class British society.

On Sunday my dad had a retirement party at Ferrell's. I struggled to regain my sanity.

By the time Monday morning opened its bleary, bloodshot eyes, I knew I must atone. I hadn't written a word of my story since Thursday. The guilt weighed on my soul. So, forsaking all others, I toiled laborously on 8 chapters of Three Floating Coffins, until the pendulum had swung in the other direction. I'd worked and overworked myself. I felt balanced and satisfied.

Yay for work!
And that, I suppose, is a pretty typical week. Bouts of productivity, bouts of writing, bouts of procrastination. I thought to extract some moral from the last one: the virtue of solitude, the necessity of refreshing the soul. But, oh, why bother. I got lazy and felt bad about it. End of story.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Winning Nanowrimo: Crunchtober

Crunch what?

Crunchtober is a word that combines "Crunch" and "October" and has the general meaning of "October is crunch time." From what I understand, some Nanowrimo writers use October to practice for November's writing marathon by writing 500 words a day on random prompts.

But I usually eschew prompts in order to brainstorm my novel. I spend about an hour a day, five days a week brainstorming, and I need every bit of it.

My Approach

I start with a blank word document or a new composition book.

Day 1, I write a brief summary of my idea and everything I know will happen in the novel. Then I write down every question I have, every problem I'm concerned with. 

The next day I start solving them.

I look at the questions that might come up during the beginning of the story and I pick the most important one. Then I start brainstorming. I write stream-of-conscience. I throw out multiple solutions and see what sticks. I may even do some research. I might draw.

If other ideas or questions come up, I write those down as well.

If I hit upon a solution, I write a little summary of it at the bottom of the page, so that I can come back and read it again quickly. If I have extra time, I go on to the next question. If I get stuck, I go on to the next question.

If I don't find a solution that day, I may come back the next day and work on it—but usually no more than that.

In the second week, I should be moving to the middle of the story. By the end of the third week, I should be starting on the ending.

In the last few days of October, I read through all my notes and begin to put it together into a rough outline. Usually I do a "Table of Contents," and list what I think happens in each chapter. If I have any questions, I add those in as well, hoping that my subconscious brain will solve them somewhere in the frenzy of writing.

By the end of the month, I have a rough guide to my story.

And that's how I use October to prepare.

Know Thyself

Whether or not you use my method, the concept of practicing for Nanowrimo is an important one. First, it lessens the shock of writing, and prepares you physically and mentally. Second, as you write, you begin to pick up on your own habits and preferences.

Here are some questions to ponder in October, so that when November arrives, you'll be ready to apply them to your writing life.

Where and when do you best write?

Do you have a certain room you like to write in? Do you prefer a cafe? Do you work better with other people present? Alone? Do you prefer music? Silence? Do you like to write in the morning? At night? 15 minute sprints or 5 hour marathons? Coffee or tea?
For example, I like to write at home, spread out over the floor. I prefer to write in the morning, from about 8:00 until noon. I like to do marathon sessions of at least three hours and find it hard to hit a flow in anything less than an hour. I prefer working 5 days a week and having the weekends off.

Can you adapt if conditions aren't ideal?

Hopefully, at least some of the 30 days, you will be able to write during ideal conditions; on those days, you milk it for all its worth. But if you're looking for the perfect hour, place, and mood, you won't have enough time to scrabble together your manuscript.

In that case, can you work in less than ideal conditions? Late at night? Early in the morning? Distracted? You might not be able to adapt to all conditions. If the TV is on, my writing suffers. Know what you can adapt to and what you cannot.

How efficient are you at writing?

A simple trick: time yourself.

Set a timer for 15 minutes, half hour, an hour, and see how many words you write by the end of it. Or, start at 0 words, set a clock, and see how long it takes you to get to 100, 500, or 1000 words. Bear in mind, results will vary based on how inspired you are at the time.

My maximum efficiency is approximately 1000 words in an hour, but it goes down to an hour and a half if I'm tired or stuck. This means that in week, I need to find between 12 1/2 to 15 hours for Nanowrimo.

How can you fit writing into your schedule?

Most of us don't have the luxury of infinite. I work as a substitute teacher, and if I can't get work that day, I write. Yet even with my flexible schedule, I still struggle to find enough time to write. Even without jobs, we all have commitments.

One writer described how she found fifteen minutes here, fifteen minutes there, and that these added up to quite a bit of time. That's definitely a good strategy. But for such a momentous task as Nanowrimo, that might not be enough.

What sacrifices will you need to make?

Obviously, you shouldn't sacrifice your first-born child or anything like that. But you may have to do without that guilty pleasure reality TV show or lose fifteen minutes of extra sleep each morning. You may have to live off quick cooked meals, live with a messy house, and hire a dog-walker for the month. You may have to cancel social activities for the weekend--yes, maybe even the ones relating to writing. You may have to... shudder... let your mother-in-law host Thanksgiving.

What kind of support do you need?

You might not be able to do it alone. In that case, gather your writing partners and your cheerleader companions close.

For more about that, tune in next week for: GATHERING SUPPORT

Monday, September 14, 2015

Weekly Update: 9-14-15 S'mores

Living in Southern California, you'd imagine that going to the beach was the easiest thing in the world. But perhaps because the beach is so close, I take it for granted. And so the summer passed, and I had yet to walk barefooted on the soft sands or feel the froth of the collapsing waves.

Then my friend Ashly invited me to a Meet-up Bonfire at Huntington Beach.

Photo by Chika
 What I wanted more than anything was S'mores. It had been ages since I'd properly roasted a marshmallow until it puffed and browned and then smooshed the sticky white puff between two squares of graham crackers and a stick of chocolate. I was in.

Ashley brought her light-up hula hoop.

Photo by Jeni
I'd never done a Meet-up before. With nearly a hundred and fifty people, it was quite a party, and I knew no one. But at least I had Ashley. She broke the ice by showing off her hooping ability. Everyone brought a pot luck dinner, and I scooped up udon salad, cheese and crackers, fried chicken, deviled eggs, chips and dip, and homemade apple cobbler with peanuts on top, which disappeared almost as soon as it was laid on the table.

Bonfires were lit. Some people put hot dogs on two-pronged skewers and roasted them over the flames until moisture dripped off the sausage like beads of sweat. Me, I was the first one to the S'mores table, fitting my marshmallows to a bamboo skewer.

After all these years. Satisfaction at last.

Ashley and I went down to the shore right as the setting sun turned the sky pink. She hooped at the waters edge, practically daring the waves to push her down. It looked like a ritual. I just stood there. Ashley and I had been best friends since the age of five. If we were still kids, we would say that she was using magic to open a portal into the ocean's realm. We'd enter through the hula hoop, and she'd become a dolphin and I'd become a mermaid and we'd save a seashell castle from destruction.

When it got dark, we socialized with other people.

I went home with sand coating my skin and my hair smelling like ash.

* * *

Heat waves are awful when you have no air conditioning. Sitting in my house was like sitting in an oven. An oven set to 165 degrees, perhaps, but an oven nonetheless. Not being a wad of biscuit dough, I found that the heat did not inspire me to rise. I parked under the fan and tried not to move.

Surprisingly, I felt inspired to edit Three Floating Coffins. In a way, I was procrastinating the more odious task of researching my Fullerton credential. But if I had to procrastinate, it was a fine method. I re-wrote 2 chapters, line-edited 3 chapters, and typed in corrections for 2 chapters.

Editing is extremely time-consuming; you can easily spend an hour going over a single page. But while I was so focused on editing, I managed to "tune-out" the heat. Thus, by editing, I survived last week's heat wave.

I got some reprise from the heat when I got a subbing job on Thursday at Brea Olinda High School. It was awesome seeing the students again. And perhaps I'll get paid this month. Bonus.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Winning Nanowrimo: Creating an Outline

I hate outlines.

They remind me of essays in English class, with a thesis statement, three supporting arguments, and a conclusion at the end. What a bother. I'm what's known as a Pantser: I don't know what I'm going to write until I've written it; I fly by the seat of my pants. In English class, I always wrote the outlines after I finished the essay.

But for Nanowrimo, I write outlines.

Or rather, I brainstorm ideas for my novel, so that if I hit a blank wall during Nanowrimo, I still have something to write. And then I try to organize those ideas into a logical sequence, so I don't get confused. That's my outline.

Outlines don't have to be permanent. That's what I like about them. At any time I like, I can ditch them and go off script. But if I don't have a script and get stuck, that's when panic sets in and panic can be deadly.


My plot outline is simple. I need at least ten important events. These events should take the form of scenes and should, if possible, take place in the present. No flashbacks, no backstory.
Event #1 should be the inciting incident--the thing that gets the ball rolling. Whatever that first idea that popped into your head was.

Somewhere between Event #2 and #9, you should include two reversals. Things seem to be going along in a straight line, then, bam, the road turns. The lovers are about to admit their feelings, when, bam, in waltzes the jealous ex. The detective thinks he's discovered the murderer when, bam, that suspect ends up dead. Death, betrayal, loss, scandal, secrets... these things work well.

Event #9 and #10 should probably be the climax and resolution. The resolution is optional, but the climax is not. What is the high point in the novel? What's the big action blowout, the big reveal, or the heart-wrenching emotion?

  If you can figure out Plot Points #1-10 (or #1-20, or #1-64, or whatever) in one sitting, congratulations! You can outline better than I ever could. I get, at best, halfway down the list before I get stuck and then it takes me until the end of October to figure out the climax.

As a rule, the more specific, the better. Your climax might be: good guy kills bad guy, and that's great. But why does he kill him? And where? And how? What makes the scene new and exciting and dramatic?

I like to bombard my scenes with as many questions as I can think of, in order to give myself the clearest possible picture of what's going on. 

Once you figure out at least some of the events, the next thing to do is figure out what order they go in and how they connect together. This often takes a while. You might know for sure that Andy and Melissa meet in Oklahoma, but two scenes later, they're dodging assassin’s bullets in Paris. Great! Just figure out how it happened.

Have ten key events? Know how they fit together?

Congratulations. You have an outline.


Of course, a novel is more than a plot. There should be solid characters at the heart of any good stories. In fact, the more you know the characters, the better chance you have of getting the plot to work.

The best way you can get to know the characters is by asking them questions. You can find some thorough character questionnaires out there, asking you to fill in everything from their favorite music to their blood type, but we don't have all day, so I've boiled it down to the essentials.

What do they look like?

Age and gender are always good. After that, focus on any physical trait that might be crucial to the story. Like if, say, your girl has wings. Or if your warrior is missing a hand. Even things like height and build might be important in an action story.

Who/ what do they love?

When a character loves someone, anyone, they become very relatable and we empathize with them. Love also gives them stakes. What are they willing to do for the person they love? How will they act if that loved one is in danger?

For a villain, you might twist this around into, "Who do they hate?"

What do they desire?

This gives the characters motivation. Motivation is crucial to the story, because it forces the character to take action. Without action, a story dies.

What do they fear?

If the character isn't motivated by action, they may be motivated by fear. Also, knowing the character's fears gives you a good idea of what kind of obstacles to present them. Putting a character with a fear of heights on a cliff adds to the drama.

What do they believe in?

Belief helps when it comes to developing a book’s theme. Usually a belief will be tested, and either triumph or lead the character to change. A minor example might be the heroine who thinks she'll never fall in love, right before Prince Charming sweeps her off her feet.

What's their background/ history?

You don't necessarily have to share this with the readers (and you certainly don't need a big flashback) but a little personal history will help you understand why the character acts the way he does. Look at family and defining moments in his life.

What’s their greatest secret?

Secrets are so useful. Hint that a character has a secret and your audience will be fascinated. Reveal a secret, and you cause shock, scandal, betrayal, angst, and other fun emotions.


When you look at setting, you might want to start by getting a broad view of where and when you are. For example, you might consider thinking about:

Time Frame

how long does the story take place: days? months? years?
any noticeable time gaps?

Physical Landscape

city, suburb, or country
the shape of the land: mountains and valleys
bodies of water
nature: plants and animals
buildings and man-made environments

Era/ Culture

clothes: how does it express their culture?
objects: what things are commonly used?

Seasons/ Weather

clothes: how does it protect them from the elements?

But after you have a general idea, it helps to take a closer look at three specific places where scenes take place. This could be anything from a house, a room, a cafe, a fortress, a spaceship, a volcano. Whatever catches your interest.

Try developing three specific places. You might already know how these places play a role in the plot or you may not. It might help to develop the place first and figure out what to do with it later.

Look around your specific place. What objects surround you? What can be used to help or hinder the hero? Is there anything that holds metaphoric value? How might landscape and weather affect the hero's actions?

 More Information?

If you want to learn more about my brainstorming techniques, see this article "Brainstorming: Finding Where Your At"

If you need more to go on for an outline, Book in a Month by Victoria Lynn Schmidt gives a pretty good map.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Weekly Update: 9-8-15 Tragedies, Shakespearian and Otherwise

This week might have been a tragedy.

Hermoine, my aunt's the Sheltie/ German Shepherd mix, had been hobbling and limping the previous week, looking as pitiful as could be. They took her to the vet, and the vet said that her disks were fusing together and pinching a nerve. My aunt and uncle spoke of putting her down by the end of the week.

Even though Hermoine isn't technically my dog, I'd lived with my aunt and uncle for roughly four years, during which time I'd formed a strong bond with the dog. I had petted Hermoine and brushed her long fur and walked her and used her as an eager garbage disposal for my leftovers. The thought of losing her cast a depressing pall over my week.

Fortunately, as we steadily administered medicine, we saw Hermoine become more energetic. Her slight limp didn't stop her from jogging up to us at the slightest sound of food. My aunt and uncle decided that, even though her medical problems hadn't gone away, she didn't seem to be in too much pain. So, for now at least, the decision to put her down has been delayed. For how long, I don't yet know, but I'm much relieved.

There's still life in this old dog yet.

* * *

"I hate Shakespeare," said twelve year old me, who had never even attempted to read it. "All those fancy, pretentious words. And what's with Romeo and Juliet falling in love and killing themselves over it? That's the worst play. Maybe MacBeth might be interesting, but Romeo and Juliet? Yuck."

Ah, irony.

It gets you in the end.

This Sunday, I went to see Romeo and Juliet in Griffith Park--of my own free will. Actually, that's too mild a phrase. I canvassed to see it. I dragged my parents to see it.  And I enjoyed it. Mushy stuff and all. The production was really well done. The actor playing Mercutio wrung humor out of the famously long-winded "Queen Mab" speech, and the actress playing Juliet captured the vulnerability of a young girl.

I've begun to appreciate Shakespeare in my old age. I don't think Shakespeare was pretentious--I think that five centuries of changing language makes his stuff difficult to read. But if you can get past that, the man knew how to write. Love, sex, violence, drama, humor, poetry--he could do it all. It's funny how reading his plays can still shock me--me, a jaded Millenial from the Internet age. 

Take King Lear, for instance, which I read for the first time in August. In one scene, an old man's eyes are gouged out. On stage. My mouth hung open. For some reason, we expect our classics to be clean and civilized. But read any Shakespeare tragedy, and blood will sput like an anime sword cut.

Was Shakespeare the anime of it's time?
Shakespeare is a great thing when I want to feel smart, but I don't want to be bored or expend that much effort at reading.  So far, I've read Romeo and Juliet, Julius Caesar, MacBeth, The Taming of the Shrew, Othello, A Midsummer's Night Dream, Much Ado About Nothing, King Richard III, The Merchant of Venice, Hamlet, As You Like It, The Tempest, and King Lear. (I've also seen The Merry Wives of Windsor and Twelfth Night.)  This looks good and impressive, but it's not even half of what he wrote. 

Should I attempt to read all Shakespeare's work?


I still need to finish Jane Austen and Agatha Christie. But it does seem like a fun goal. Let's see, if I read three plays a year, I'll get through all of them in, hm, seven years or so? Wow. That's a lot of work. Guess I'd better get reading.


Saturday, September 5, 2015

Winning Nanowrimo: The Challenge

Are you a perfectionist?

Do you agonize over every detail of your prose, but find you can't fill up more than fifty pages?

Do you have many ideas and half-started stories, but have yet to finish any of them?

Do you simply want to write a rough draft of your novel quickly?

If so, perhaps it's time for you to give Nanowrimo a try.

What is Nanowrimo?

Nanowrimo is the abbreviated word for National Novel Writing Month. Writers who accept this challenge attempt to write an entire novel of 50,000 words (or two hundred pages) during the month of November.

That's it.

But, of course, that's not it, because that's crazy! It means writing 1667 words (6 pages), each and every day, or 12,500 words (50 pages) each week. It means coming up with a beginning, middle, and end. It's impossible.

Or so I thought, until I sat down and tried it myself.

My Story

I first heard about Nanowrimo in college. Given that my major was Creative Writing, you'd think I'd jump at the challenge. You'd be wrong. The prospect of writing an entire novel in a month terrified me. Subsequently, I avoided Nanowrimo for seven long years.

During those seven years, I noticed a disturbing trend in my writing. I'd write a chapter, edit it until it met my high standards, and move on to the next chapter. Then I’d discover that the new information canceled out the earlier chapter. I'd have to go back and re-write it. One step forward, two steps back.

That was me for seven years.

Eventually, I decided I needed to see a full draft of my novel. But how to get an ending quickly? I remembered Nanowrimo. Since I didn't want to wait until November, I picked up Book in a Month by Victoria Lynn Schmidt and tried it on my own.

It worked… and it didn't. I did write 100 pages and found an ending to one character's arc. But I made a few mistakes along the way.

Mistake #1: I plotted out my book, using suggestions from Book in a Month, during the time I was supposed to hash out the manuscript. The suggestions were helpful, but brainstorming and writing at the same time was too much.

Mistake #2: I made plans to write and edit other stories while doing my version of Nanowrimo. It turned out that one major project was enough to twist my brain. Two nearly turned it into mush.

Mistake #3: I tried to go at it alone. While I was able to keep myself disciplined and on schedule, I lost the enthusiasm and positive energy that comes from a group effort.

These lessons didn't become obvious to me until my second attempt.

By then, I'd moved to Brea and met a writer named Michelle Knowlden, who told me she led a Nanowrimo group. I signed up early on They recommended that I spend October preparing. I used the month to brainstorm, an effort that yielded me a rough outline. When November came, I knew exactly what to write. Spurred on by Michelle's daily November emails, I banged out close to 60,000 words by the end of the month.

Since then, I've completed 5 other Nanowrimos. It's become a vital part of my writing routine.

How It Works

First, you make a commitment.

During the month of November, your novel will be your top priority. You will carve out time to work on it, and you will sit down and write, whether you're tired, hungry, frustrated, uninspired, lonely, bored, or brain-dead.

You will let go of quality and focus on sheer quantity of pages. "I'll re-write it later," will be your motto. You'll take heart in the fact that if you write enough pages, valuable ideas and insights will come to you.

You will abide by these rules of thumb:

No tangents. As much as possible, steer away from backstory, minor characters, and subplots. Focus on the bare necessities to move the main plot forward.

No research. Research eats up hours you don't have. If you're not sure of something, make a note to look it up later.

No corrections. No one cares about grammar. No one cares about pretty sentences. No one cares if you misspell your main character's name.

No going back. Once you've written a section, do not go back and re-write it. Do not add on to it. If you need to change something, make a note and move on.

No reading. Don't show anyone your writing until the month is over. I also strongly suggest not reading your writing yourself. Such things make you self-conscious and you don't have the psychological energy for that.

No judgement. If you meet your word goal, you win.

Writing will test your discipline, focus, and endurance. When it's over, you will hopefully have a rough draft of a novel, a major accomplishment. Even if you don't succeed, you'll learn about yourself as a writer: your strengths and your weaknesses. You can apply the lessons and try again next year.

Initial Steps

If this sounds like something you might want to try out, you can get ready for the November adventure by taking a few quick and easy steps now.

Set a Goal

Do you have a half-written story or a shining idea you want to get on paper? Make a commitment to work on it for Nanowrimo.

Even though Nanowrimo is traditionally supposed to be 50,000 words and a novel, I think that any challenging goal can be fitted to this formula. My fantasy novels are often upwards of 200,000 words, so rather than trying to cram the whole thing into 200 pages, I commit to writing an arc.

If, on the other hand, writing 50,000 words is either too intimidating or too unrealistic given your circumstances, change the word count. Try 25,000 words. The point is to stretch yourself, not stress yourself out.

Think of a Reward

This is my favorite part.

Writing 50,000 words in a month is no easy feat. It deserves a reward. And not something abstract like "the satisfaction of writing a novel." Something tangible. Something you can dream about when you're 5000 words behind and wrestling with Writer's Block.

Personally, I like to treat myself to a nice lunch and dessert and/ or splurge on $30 worth of books. Last time, I bought myself The Phantom of the Opera soundtrack.

The point is, you need to celebrate. Don't try to get around it. Embrace it.

Is one reward enough? For me, it's fine, but you might prefer multiple little rewards to help you along the way, like a gold star for the day or maybe a Starbucks coffee. You can reward milestones: 5,000 words, 10,000 words, 25,000 words. You can reward effort—sticking through it for the whole month.

Make a Plan

Although it sounds easy enough to sit down and write, it often isn't.

You need to figure out what you're going to write. You need to carve out 2 hours a day from your busy schedule for writing. You need to mentally prepare yourself for the onslaught of writing.

Don't worry. Don't start feeling overwhelmed.

That's what I'm here for.

Each weekend in September, I'm going to go over different ways to plan for Nanowrimo, so that when November rolls around, you're in the best position possible to win.

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