Tag Archives: Writing

Post NaNoWriMo: What I Learned from 30 days of Speed Writing

Thirty days of writing on speed. I mean speed writing. Whatever. The goal is to write 50,000 words in thirty days. The end. That is the only goal. The words don’t have to be wonderful. They don’t even have to make sense. You could literally write “this is the stupidest thing I’ve ever done” and variations thereof, fifty thousand times by November 30th and you, my friend, are a winner.

This is my third year, third attempt, and my first time “winning”. By the by, here’s exactly what it means to win NaNoWriMo- I thought I might get something semi-cool if I crossed the finish line; I wasn’t expecting a medal or money, but I thought it wouldn’t be horrible to get, I don’t know, a free t-shirt, or a coffee mug. A bumper sticker. A pencil? C’mon. Something. Here’s what you get:Winner-2014-Twitter-Profile

That’s a cartoon of me slaying the 50k Word Dragon. It’s a badge. Other prizes: you are invited to shop in their merchandise store. You are invited to donate money, which, sure, is probably worth some karma points, if you’re into that thing, as the donations presumably go to funding creative writing programs for “people”. I’m not really sure what this means or who directly benefits from this as I never got past the “give us some money” button. Turns out, I’m not really into karma.

Also, that’s not really a picture of me in the cartoon.

To be fair, I didn’t participate in this challenge for rewards. It’s something that a few of my writer friends get excited about every year, and the excitement can be contagious. The team that runs the NaNoWriMo promotional campaign know their stuff. They do a good job getting would-be participants pumped up and ready for the event. The time was right, my school term was over, and I thought it would be a fun activity to keep my brain busy, because my brain is a lazy asshole that would much rather watch The Walking Dead and cruise Facebook all day. (Speaking of TWD. Beth. Yeah, I know.)

So here’s what I learned.

What Is Good About It:

The Daily Grind: The best thing NaNoWriMo does is reinforce the ass in chair, get ‘er done, chug, chug, do it, do it, work ethic that is necessary to wrestle down that book idea that’s been floating around in your head since you were a college freshman.You won’t complete the challenge unless you spend A. Lot. Of. Time. at your keyboard throwing up words on the screen. Good writers got that way by paying their dues, that is, spending a gazillion hours at their keyboards or typewriters or notebooks, working it out, one word at a time, until they became awesome. NaNo sets you up to instill good writer habits. And at the very least, it gives you the perspective of the time and effort it takes to write a novel.

Limited Time: You have thirty days to get that story out of your head. There is some pressure here, which is good because it forces you to commit. To yourself. You can now see if that story you’ve been thinking about has any legs. Maybe it does, and grows and evolves into everything awesome you hoped it would be. Maybe it doesn’t, and fizzled out after ten pages and was better suited for a short story. But now you know.

Magic: Here’s my favorite thing. Because of the time limit, if I ever got stuck on something, which I did frequently, I had the power of the “Hell with this, I’ll fix it later” button. It is an awesome tool. Too many times, I’ve come across a problem in a story and let myself get sidelined by it. Here, because you only have X many more days to finish the story, you don’t have the luxury to wait and hope it will magically work itself out (and die by writer starvation in the catacombs of your word processor files). This button gives you permission to skip it and move on to the next scene, or another scene that is more manageable.

And just to be clear, there is no magical button. It’s a metaphor, okay?

What I mean is, although this isn’t a new trick, it’s one that I hadn’t taken advantage of before and I found it incredibly helpful to keep the momentum drum banging.

What’s Not So Good About It:

The Writing Sucks: It’s true. The stuff I copied and pasted into the validation machine to “win”, is first draft chum. Writing as fast as I could and not even slowing down to correct misspellings (Can’t stop! Must get to 5,000 words today!) is not going to be anything worth reading. Maybe not even by myself. Going back to revise is going to be like walking into a hoarder’s house. Piles of adjectives, bad grammar, run on sentences, and, what even is this? There is going to be crap everywhere. I will have to be brave and ready to work hard.  So what’s the preferred method? Taking your time to churn out a first draft that is more refined, or fast purging yourself of the story and then going back later? This is the flip side of that magical button. It may be more work to turn a NaNo first draft into anything salvageable.

It’s Easy to Get Behind: This is why I’ve only finished one year out of three. I was behind the suggested progress chart almost the entire time this year too. Stuff happens. Your mentor emails you and tells you that your essay needs to be redone (grrrrr…). Thanksgiving happens. The Walking Dead marathon happens. I spent a handful of 5,000+ word days, typing like mad in the middle of the night trying to catch up. After several missed days, it gets harder and harder and catching up and can seem almost impossible. Then you start feeling like a failure, which is dumb, because you’re not winning anything. Not even a t-shirt. Damn.

So, judging by my list here, I have three good things vs. two sucky things about NaNoWriMo, so I guess it was a mostly good experience. Will I do it again? Probably. In the end, I can’t begrudge something that gets thousands of people around the world “going for it”, writing their book, and seeing what happens. Even if they never read a word of what they wrote ever again, its not a bad thing to give someone a goal and tell them they’re a winner. And I’ll admit, I kind of like the badge up there. I smiled when I saw it. And then I kept clicking around their website to see if that was all I was going to get.

-Avy Packard

What I’m reading now: Scrivener For Dummies (don’t judge me) by Gwen Hernandez

Also, a good read (advent calendar style, which was fun) to get through NaNoWriMo is 30 Days in the Word Mines by Chuck Wendig


Suspension of Disbelief- What “The Walking Dead” can teach amateur writers

large__5597079641Fantasy and Sci-Fi give your imagination a work-out. Which is precisely why we love them. Living in the vanilla of the regular world with mortgage payments, deadlines, taxiing kids, housework, homework, work work can be, well, obviously terrific and fulfilling and challenging, but damn, it can also be boring as hell. This is where and why we turn to entertainment, and where the entertainment industry, by visual or written medium, excels at transporting us into an alternate reality. We thank them. But it comes with a slight cost: in order to enjoy it, we must be willing to give the creators a little creative elbow room.

For instance, unless you are living off the grid and do not communicate with anyone living on the grid, you may have heard of a little television series called The Walking Dead. For demonstration purposes of this post, I’m going to assume you have no idea what I’m talking about, so here goes. The concept of The Walking Dead in a nutshell:

It is present day America and a group of diverse characters are trying to survive in a post-apocalyptic ZOMBIE infested world.

Okay then.

So, if I were an AMC exec, I would have stared down whatever dumbass pitched me this television show, showed them the underside of my shoe, and gone back to playing Castle Story on my iPhone. I would have said, “Screw that stupid idea, because I like my entertainment real, okay? Monsters and especially zombies aren’t real. Or Scary.” We can give a silent amen that I am not a television executive, because I would have been mostly wrong (the show is bloody brilliant) and a little bit right (zombies are merely the second scariest creatures on the show).

Which brings me to my point, and I do have one.

As writers, especially of the fantastical sort, but really anyone who creates fictional life on paper, we need to understand the concept of SUSPENSION OF DISBELIEF like a motherfucker.

It means to believe the unbelievable, and people will do just that under the right circumstances. Apparently, a century ago, give or take, a guy named Samuel Coleridge coined the term and said something along the lines of (paraphrasing) “for entertainment purposes, people will go with whatever bullshit you throw at them as long as there is human interest and a semblance of truth mixed in.”

Yeah. What he said. And that’s why this goofy show works:

1.   Despite the concept, the show is really about how regular human beings interact with each other after all shit has hit the fan. Sure, zombies are a pain and an inconvenience, but are mostly manageable. The still living humans are the real troublemakers, because, surprise, even in the zombie apocalypse, people are sometimes lying, conniving cheats and jackasses, often by a factor of ten. This isn’t so hard to believe after all.

2.  There are rules. A dead body, a “walker”, in any degree of decay, can reanimate and walk around and use their regular non-carnivorous teeth to bite into people like they were made of room temperature Jello. Fine. BUT, if the brain stem of said walker is scrambled by either shotgun or toothpick, it is destroyed and can finally rest in disgusting peace. There are some other rules regulating the undead, such as noise attracting zombies, and a loose understanding of how one actually becomes a zombie, but the point is the writers have not created an anything goes world, because that would be stupid. So even in zombie infested America, there are some things that just can’t happen. A zombie that hates noise and scurries away in fear when confronted by it? C’mon, that’s just silly. The audience lives in a world governed by rules of society and physics. We understand rules. As long as the writers live their story by their own rules, we can live with them too.

What amateur writers can learn from crazy awesome shows like The Walking Dead, or Supernatural, or Dr. Who, and all the other shows that I’m not cool enough to know about yet, is that no matter how fantastical and logic defying they are, as long as the writers develop a system to tether their audience to reality, they will fight zombies side by side with them anywhere.

-AV Packard

What I’m reading now:  The Witches of Eastwick by John Updike

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