Monthly Archives: December 2015

NaNo On!

nano_logo-830912ef5e38104709bcc38f44d20a0dBy Rondi Sokoloff Frieder

“Writing is slow. If you want fast, bake a cake.”   Linda Sue Park

Crafting a book takes a very long time. As writers, we agonize over word choice and sentence structure, delete paragraphs, (and put them back in), change points of view, flesh out characters, and do tons of research. We write and revise, get feedback from fellow writers, revise again, submit to editors and agents, and revise some more. We spend weeks, months, even years doing this with no promise of publication. To quote Karla Kuskin, “It’s not so much about the writing as it is about the rewriting.”

For the past three years, this is exactly what I’ve been doing with my two middle grade novels. I’ve been intensely focused on the “re’s”: rereading, rewriting, researching, revising, repeat. And although I enjoy this part of the writing process, I desperately needed a break from the slow sculpting of my stories. I wanted to race, to fly, to write non-stop with sheer abandon. And so, in November, I took the plunge and signed up for that world famous writing marathon, NaNoWriMoNational Novel Writing Month. Its challenge: 30 days, 50,000 words, No excuses. It was time to hunker down, leave the laundry to pile up, and crawl into the speed-writing cave.

I know it sounds crazy. Why would someone like me, a total “planner,” not a “pantser,” spend an entire month spewing out words that might be twisted, tweaked, and possibly eliminated in the revision process? Why take my carefully plotted, five-page, single-spaced, 27-chapter outline and punch out a first draft in only 30 days? Hmm… why not?

Let’s face it; first drafts are messy. Whether it takes 300 days or 30 days, all manuscripts morph and change. But first, you must get that story out of your head and onto your computer screen (or on paper if you’re more old-school). So why not opt for the 30 day version? After all, it’s only ONE month of your long, slow life as a writer. What do you have to lose?

Many of my fellow writers think this manic activity is pure lunacy. But I say, don’t knock it ‘til you’ve tried it. (I’ve never run  a marathon, but I think the NaNoWriMo adrenaline rush might be just as satisfying.)

Okay, so now that I’ve convinced you to give this thing a try (maybe), here are a few helpful tips:

1. Go to the  www.nanowrimo.org website and look around. Watch out, there are graphs!

2. Read the pep talks. They are INSPIRATIONAL AND HILARIOUS.

3. Find some brave writing souls to join you in this madness (I mean writing endeavor).

4. Have a story somewhere in your brain that is screaming to get out.

5. Have a general idea of your book’s beginning, middle, and end. (Remember my 27-chapter outline?) And have a problem for your main character to solve (this may change).

6. Make plans to attend a “Write-In” near your house (or virtually) to meet other wild and wacky NaNos.

7. Do some timed word sprints to get into the speed-writing mode. My favorite is 40 minutes, timed on my phone, which actually gets me to crank out 1000 words!

This is what happened to me and might happen to you if you do this:

1. I was totally immersed in my story, night and day, for all 30 days.

2. My characters came to life and led me to surprising and unplanned places.

3. Everything in my story was more emotional than I had anticipated. I laughed, gasped, and even shed a few tears along the way.

4. The laundry  got done.

And here’s the best part. Because I finished before midnight on November 30, I am a WINNER! A group of NaNos even sent me a congratulatory video. (I also bought the tee shirt.) So now what? What am I going to do with this 50,000 word-ramble about worries, dream journals and friend problems? Go back to my “re” life, of course. I will reread, revise, research, and repeat. NaNo On!!

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Dropping Anchor – Details That Support Your Story

anchor

“Lizzie sat in her Algebra II class, trying to pay attention to what her teacher was saying. But she could see Brad sitting right there. She tapped her pencil. Focus, focus, focus. She saw Monica waving to her out of the corner of her eye. Monica mimicked writing in midair with her empty hand. Lizzie sighed, reached into her pencil bag, and tossed Monica a pencil.”

Ok, so that’s a quick little moment that could appear in a manuscript. In these 66 words, we have three characters who we likely place in high school (Algebra II) and we have an idea that we’re going to explore some relationships between the three people introduced.

But what this scene lacks is anchors: specific details that more accurately place you, the reader, in the scene that I’m starting to unfold. Weaving in those details, yes, at the expense of beloved brevity, gives your reader so much more about the scene. Let’s see how.

I told you nothing about the classroom. You could have easily assumed a large urban high school with at least thirty kids sitting in rows of desks, or maybe a small private school with fifteen kids in a u-shape. Even a lecture hall with stadium seating and a hundred kids. Does it matter? Well, it can if the action of the scene is going to reveal information to you about the characters (and it should!).

I told you nothing about where anyone is sitting. How does it change your opinion of Lizzie if Monica is sitting at the desk next to Lizzie… but Lizzie tosses the pencil to her anyway? Is Lizzie maybe making Monica pay a little bit for being forgetful? What if Lizzie is sitting across from Monica in the u-shape, so she had to toss it all the way across the room to get it to her. Is Lizzie just doing what she can to get a friend a pencil? In both instances perhaps “Monica fumbled to catch the pencil” starts off our next sentence, but what’s our impression of Lizzie (or Monica)?

Let’s raise the stakes even higher. What if in my writer’s mind, Monica is two rows away from Lizzie – and the person sitting between them is Brad. That’s possible, because given my explanation you have no idea where anybody is. Now Lizzie is tossing the pencil to avoid contact with Brad. But why? This could have hooked you in as a reader, made you curious about their relationships, but instead it’s an opportunity lost.

It’s important to find the perfect word, or to leave out unimportant details. Does it add richness to know that the pencil was a #2 Ticonderoga vs. a blue mechanical pencil? Unlikely, unless I have a theme about using natural elements, or Lizzie’s favorite color is blue. We do need to be on the lookout for extraneous information that can bog down a story and slow the pacing. But when the writer leaves some information out – the setup of the room, the placement and subsequent movement of the characters – the reader is missing out. And as a writer who wants to bring you into my story and have you get all cozy and comfortable, so am I.

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