Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Another NaNoWriMo author discusses her project

The first time I ever heard of NaNoWriMo was through a college acquaintance of mine, Carol. Most people can conjure up those they knew as acquaintances at some point in their lives, always liked and found interesting, but through chance and circumstance, never became closer. It turned out that Carol is a cousin to Mr. Library Diva, and will soon be official family of mine, so it's nice to get a do-over with someone like that.

Carol is a NaNo vet, as you will see from the interview. Her longtime experience makes her one of the best people you could possibly ask about NaNo. Here are her thoughts!

How many NaNoWriMos have you participated in? What keeps you coming back?
This is my ninth year doing nanowrimo. I've done it every year since 2003. I really enjoyed the reckless abandon of the thing, the ability to push out a novel in 30 days and keep all of the prose, good and bad. It was a very hard debate this year, whether or not to do nano again.

Part of me was just tired. I tend to put everything else on hold during nanowrimo and focus solely on the process. I spend all of my creative energy during this time of year. Part of me was afraid I was only doing it because of tradition; I've been doing it so long it would seem strange not to do it again.

For whatever reason I tend to pass the finish line on odd years. That was a big push to do it this year (because last year I came within 100 words, but couldn't pass the finish line in time). I also had the right project to work on this year. In the end I opened up googledocs on November1st and wrote 4000 words. At that point I wanted to prove to myself that I still have the passion I did nine years ago. Nanowrimo is as important to me now as it was then.

Describe your current novel project. What is is about, how long have you had the idea, and what inspired it?

Funny enough, this year's nanonovel is a complete reboot of my 2004 nanonovel. I decided I needed to rewrite it, mostly because I borrowed too much from books I was reading at the time, but also because I've matured as a writer. I have the ability to write the story properly this time. Originally it was titled Shades of Purple, but I've retitled it Book of Threads.

I always struggle to describe my writing projects, but I was thinking about this one the other day. This novel is about various people who live in a world that they see is deteriorating around them. They see their government making decisions for the people that no one is happy about. They decide that they need to do something about it and set themselves on a round about path to fix it.

Originally this was just a story about one girl trying to live up to her destiny, but since then it's become something more to me. It's more politically driven this time, but there are other messages tucked in the prose. It's about finding your way no matter how old you are, finding your family among your friends, loyalty, regret, and the choices we make that shape our future.

If you were an employee at a bookstore that is organized thematically, where would you shelve this novel?

I don't know where I'd put this novel. It would probably get relegated to the fantasy section, since it's set in a world where magic exists. My issue is that I tend to write fantasy novels that aren't categorically fantasy novels. For the most part magic takes a backseat to the characters and their personal drama.

The week we're heading into is usually where the slump starts to come in any similar projects. Where do you turn for support when you're stuck?

I have a group of nano-cheerleaders that have helped me through past projects; they keep me going if it gets bad just by asking me how it's going and offering support. If I notice the slump happening I try to step away from the novel for a bit. Sometimes it helps to go do something else and then come back to it. A lot of time I have to write out of order and just follow what wants to be written. One year I actually stepped away from the project altogether and started writing a new one.

Can you describe your NaNo routine? What time of day do you like to write, where do you like to write, do you use a computer, typewriter or pen and paper, and do you like to have any particular food, drinks or music on hand to help you write?

I'm doing it a bit differently this year. In previous years I'd write in msword and then post finished chapters to my livejournal for friends to read and comment as I was writing. This year I'm using googledocs as my word processor and I'm not sharing on LJ. It's just as well because I'm writing so far out of order I wouldn't have posted much.

I tend to write in the wee hours of the morning. Since I work evenings, it's usually the end of my day and it's how I wind down. If the writing is really good I end up staying awake a bit too long, but I'd rather be tired than put the book away when some good writing is happening.

I'm comfortable writing anywhere, but when other people are around I tend to get distracted. I either need headphones or I have to shut myself up in my room.

I prefer using a computer because I type faster (and my handwriting tends to get sloppy and illegible as I write quickly). My hand can't keep up with my brain. I will jot down notes on paper when I don't have access to a computer and type them up later. Sometimes it's nice to have the weight of a pen in my hand.

Since I quit coffee, tea is my favored nano beverage. I like herbal blends, but chai is my all time favorite. Chocolate is also my great sustainer during nano, but I tend not to snack much while I'm writing.

As for music it's different every year. I tend to make a playlist of tunes that remind me of the characters, or songs that suit the themes of the novel. This year it's a bit Queens of the Stone Age, Stornoway, Ani Difranco, Florence and the Machines, Radiohead, Telepopmusik, and a lot of Jimmy Eat World.

What, in your opinion, makes NaNo special and worth doing?

Before nanowrimo I struggled to finish stories. I found that nano helps me finish projects (most years at least). It's the one way I've been able to get a story out; it really works for me. It's because of this that I keep coming back. It's important to me and my creativity has somewhat synced up to thrive under the pressure of it.

The people in my life also expect me to do nano. Silly as it seems it's become "my thing." I gear up for it every year and even when I dread it I'm really looking forward to it.

NaNo ends in about 17 days. What is your next step with this novel?

I don't know if the novel will be finished when I cross the 50k line. I'm going to keep writing otherwise, but I might need a bit of a break in December. If that's the case I'll come back to it in January and once it's finished I'll be posting it on my livejournal for my friends to read and critique. My goal is to publish this novel at some point, but it's going to need some edits and work put into it before that happens.

What is the most surprising reaction you've gotten from your participation in NaNo? Do you find most people are generally supportive, generally believe you won't make it, or somewhere in between?

Probably the best reaction is having my sister join me. We have word wars where we try to beat each others daily wordcount; it's been the most effective way to keep my count up (because there's no way I can let my little sister beat me).

For the most part people are very supportive, or they think it's a cool idea. The only time people have been negative is when the writing comes at the cost of everything else. Like my brother and his girlfriend constantly trying to get me out of the house when they know I'd rather be writing.

What advice would you give to someone who's contemplating doing this next year?
Do it. You can't know if nano will work for you unless you try it. My first year I was doing it by the seat of my pants. My second year I planned my novel a bit more through the course of October (mostly world building and jotting out character profiles). I discovered I'm a bit more of a pantser (as fellow nano-ers call it).

Don't give up if you have a bad day (or a string of bad days). It's never too late to start over. Get out of the house for a bit or do something else for a few hours. Relax and refocus, and if you can try to avoid forcing it.

Keep every word, even the stuff you hate. If you hate it so much you don't even want to look at it, make the font white so you can't see it. I highlight all the stuff I'm going to get rid of in red so when I do a second draft I can delete it right away.

If it's going really poorly there are some little tricks that help boost your words. You can stop using conjunctions. Write out full names of characters. Borrow songs/poems, have a character describe their favorite movie from opening credits to end credits. Title your chapters.

If you're really struggling, go hang out in the forums or go to a local write-in. You might be surprised to find that you're not alone and there are plenty of people who are willing to help.

And hey, it might go beautifully your first time. If that's the case, feel free to share the love and support other writers you know.

How have you seen NaNo change over the years that you've participated?

Nano has been through different website designs. This year's roll-out has been slow, but I like the new site overall. A new t-shirt design for every year I've been doing it (and any year that I have some extra money I buy one).

To be honest I think I've changed more than nano has. I've grown as a writer over these past nine years, grown in ways I might not have if I didn't embark on this insane literary journey every November.

Thanks very much, Carol! Wishing you all the best with NaNoWriMo!