Writing the Camino…Walking the Camino

photo 3As I write this, I am walking the pilgrimage of Santiago, an arduous, 800-km trek over the Pyrenees and through Spain.

As with so many things, strong comparisons can be drawn between the journey I am taking and the writing journey. So many comments, judgements and questions asked of a writer are also asked of the pilgrim. Perhaps some of these will resonate with you, the writing pilgrim.

How can one walk 800 km? The same way you write a book, a novella, a short story or even your bio. It is achieved one step at a time. From experience, I can tell you that no one walks the same path. The goal is achieved with a little planning, a lot of planning, or even no planning. It is achieved quickly, or on a timeframe, or it is organic.

photo 2We all walk the journey by ourselves, but we are never alone. Gifts of inspiration and support come in the interactions with others, the snippets of conversations and brief connections you make. Writers and pilgrims may dwell for hours in their own worlds, but glimpses of enlightenment and clarity are only seen through the interactions had with others. The folk wisdom that a journey can only be achieved by starting is true with both writing and the pilgrimage.

“I could never do that, I have a family, young children, commitments (etc)”
If your passion is writing, then write; if for no one else but yourself. There is the question of what a ‘real’ writer is, just as what a ‘real’ pilgrim is. By whose rules do you set your writing life up? Whose judgement says what a pilgrim looks like or acts like, or for what purpose they walk their journey? If you write three sentences a day; you are a writer. If you walk three kilometres, you are a pilgrim. It will take you longer than others, but if you have no timeline, then does it matter?

photo 1The majority of writers have other commitments–family and paying jobs. Don’t let others fears stop you from following your dreams. Most pilgrims come alone or with friends; it’s rare to see children along the track. I am walking 800 km with a nine and eleven year old; who until last year, lived a comfortable, sedentary inner city life. By no stretch are we fit or sporty. We carry all our belongings on our backs and take life one step at the time. Our little threesome have gained minor notoriety already as we reach the 170-km mark. I am called brave, inspirational and amazing; and yet I feel I am none of these. My kids are awesome, but we all get tired, we all hate getting up early to strap on our walking boots.

photo 4It is the same with writing. We must push through the uncomfortable sentences, power over paragraphs and be prepared to weather the attacks of the editors’ red pen. Strap on your walking/writing boots and just… Walk… Write..

The miles spill out before me as my mind empties of the business which normally occupies it; just as the words will spill out under your fingertips as you continue to write.

Advertisement

Where is your line?

Over the years of blogging on a number of sites reaching varying audiences, I’ve been challenged with the question many bloggers have; “What, if anything is too personal to write about?”

My late husband didn’t like me to ever mention him or events around our family life which involved him, so I generally respected this; the closest I may have come was to write observations of a more general view on a topic or theme. But apart from that, not much was sacred.

I have more blogs than I would like to admit, some are kept more up to date than others, and some specifically for a purpose and left to stew for a time. I write under a few names, given the breadth of genres and audiences I have reached in the past. My reasoning siting my wish to market a certain brand of writing under one name and another under another, not wanting to water down or dilute the other should there be misunderstandings in the future. I know I am not alone with this reasoning as I have friends who may publish academic papers or articles under one name and fantasy or erotica (for example) under another.

Under these different blogs, I have shared some pretty personal things, my fears, guilt-ridden decisions, my doubts and my meltdowns. Although I have a thin line separating business and personal, its certainly not as strong, or defined as many others. Who I am, where I have come from, my experiences and all the nobly bits in-between is such a big part of my writing, that its difficult to separate. I do understand that this thought process doesn’t work for everyone and in no way am I suggesting that all writers need to be transparent with every meltdown they have, nor to hide every emotion they experience.

Where is “The Line”

I think I have hit mine, given the traumatic events from last year. I suddenly was unable to write – anything. It has taken me 9 months to feel confident enough to write articles, much less blog posts detailing emotions. Writing fiction seems a distant dream for me at the moment, as I struggle to deal with the raw emotions bubbling to the surface every day.

I’ve seen and read others blog and write about their experiences, whilst not exactly the same as mine, similarly horrific, and similarly heart breaking. I honour their bravery and had always thought I’d be the one to continue blogging and sharing myself; yet faced with the events from last year, I am unable to process and write about them on a private level, much less share it publicly.

I’ve been approached a number of times by various people suggesting that if I wrote my story, it would not only help others and help me in my healing process, but would stand the chance of being one of those great chic lit books many of us dream about publishing. I have no doubt it would break the hearts of readers as they journeyed though the character’s landscape; but I cannot begin to write it. I have hit my line… and I am as surprised as anyone to realise that I had a line.

I would suggest that the line is a personal thing, that there is no hard and fast rule as to what or where it is.  Trust your intuition as to discovering what and what it is and share only what you feel comfortable with.

Clarity and Connection

One of the beautiful things about blogging is the immediacy of connection with readers. Although writing has an intimacy, blogging, coupled with its networking ability provides feedback and best of all clarity

Writing will always be a part of who I am, and I understand that by expressing oneself through text comes strength and wisdom. I just wish I could flick to the end of the book and see if it all turns out ok.

Do you have a line? What or where is your line?  Do you share everything?  What the most weird or deeply personal thing you’ve ever shared on your blog or site with your readers?

The Writers File

One of the most fundamental challenges a writer faces is writers block. The major concern sited is the lack of ideas to write about. For this reason, I urge all writers, seasoned or beginner, to begin a writers file — a place to store ideas, characters and phrases for the times of “idea drought”. 

Like an experienced farmer,  a seasoned writer understands the ebb and flow of the seasons, that the rains flooding with ideas, characters and plot lines can gush forth, threatening to flood the entire room, but just as quickly dry up into a searing drought which appears to have no end. Similarly, they understand that the idea of tithing– putting a little away for the leaner times or droughts which inevitably come around– is a wise move should they wish to stay in business for the long term.

Just as the GoT Starks broodily shoot stares across the room and mouth “Winter is coming”, so ought writers take heed that the spring and summertime of abundant ideas has a short span of accommodation in their life.

A writers file can take on many guises, from a tatty notebook kept stuffed in a back pack, to a high tech electronic notes system on your i-thingy. It can be a manila folio of newspaper articles, maps, a list of names, odd photos and magazine clippings of interesting faces, rooms or environments. A writers file could be a shoe box of recycled (read – stolen) movie ticket buts, menus, postcards, theatre programs and timetables from around the world. Writers love to sit in cafes, snatch dialogue from passerbys and customers, reflect and imagine what others are doing with their day and about motivation for what they are experiencing on the streetscape going by. Wise writers will continue to collect prompts, ideas and springboards for their writing, even when they are focused on a specific novel or piece; understanding that they may need their hidden gems to nudge them out of writers block one day. 

Regardless of the format in which a writers file is kept, at some point it needs to be sorted into basic areas, if only to assist pulling oneself out of writers block. Sections titled , “setting”, “characters”, “events”, “props” and “dialogue” alone might prompt some ideas to begin with, should you have nothing to start your writers file up with. Never throw away a single “thing”. Every idea, no matter how strange or unrelated it may be from your current WIP or genre, may serve a purpose in the future. Sift through your notes and collected bits to file them roughly into these sections, and make sections which are more relevant to your own needs as you go along. 

Emerging writers are encouraged to write every day. Every writer should strive to write something every day. This writing can be a simple journal, a turn of phrase, a description of an emotion or words which capture a feeling, place or character. From these small things, a novel can emerge and blossom.  Writing regularly and as a commitment to yourself and to your craft will give you confidence to explore language and shape it alongside your characters. Keeping and maintaining a writers file will ensure that the flow of abundant ideas is kept at a constant, instead of a trickle, dominated by a temperamental muse. 

Revision is next to godliness

To write is human, to edit is divine

Stephen King 

As much as I’d love to say that a perfect piece of prose can be obtained from a first draft, the truth of the matter is that good writing lays within the revision, editing, proofreading and analysis of a piece. Like a good curry, a well rounded piece of writing needs time to develop its own character, brew and settle. The following strategies may prove useful as you revise your next piece of writing.

  • Give it time. Revision over time will assist in organising your piece, ensuring that the theme and message you intended to share shines clearly. Even a few hours will give you a fresh perspective and draw you away from being too close to your work.
  • Start at the Start. Evaluate your introduction, ensuring that it grabs the readers attention, forms strong images or evokes the senses in order to draw interest.
  • Check the structure. Assess how you have organised your storyline and ensure that it leads your reader through a clear line of images and thoughts. Check you have done more show than tell!
  • Surf with the flow. If readers have to struggle up your stream of consciousness, its likely they will drown. Make it easy for your readers by creating smooth transitions and segues between paragraphs and interactions between characters.
  • Remove repetitive or habitual language structures. Particularly with flash fiction, every word must fight for its right to stay within the story. Every writer is guilty of favourite phrases and repetitive details. Revise any word repetition within sentences, replacing with alternative images or ways of expressing these ideas.
  • Evaluate the effectiveness. In a few words, write the theme or message of your work down on a separate piece of paper. Re-read your story and review its effectiveness in expressing this theme or message. Where could it be boosted? Where does it fall short of delivering?
  • Proofread. After you have made your initial content alterations, use a spellchecker to catch the errors and slowly read your work out loud to find grammar and syntax faults.  Printing your piece out will identify spelling and spacing errors quickly. 

Revision literally means to “see again” or to look at it from a new perspective. It’s an ongoing, organic methodology which gets easier with practice and experience.

Rewriting is the essence of writing well—where the game is won or lost.

William Zinsser 

The mechanics of effective writing

Much debate surrounds what effective writing is. Whilst I may side on the more free flowing functional style of writing, where words spill over one another in an attempt to convey a feeling, I nod with respect to those whose controlled sentence structure prance the grammatical lines with perfection. Irrespective of which side of the fence your writing may lean, being accurate with your vocabulary, spelling and punctuation is just as important as utilising the correct style and linking methods for a piece of writing.The intangible qualities of flair and creativity float uncertainly around the robotic mechanics of effective writing, but are as integral to it as the basic requirement of utilising a capital letter to begin the sentence.

Correct usage of grammar is important for both speaking and writing and something that native speakers of a language think little about. Its an easy trap for many emerging writers to write as they speak. Unfortunately, and perhaps a topic for future discussion, most people speak using simplistic grammar and incorrect sentence structure. When writing this down, every error stands out, which is why it’s essential to be familiar with the rules.

Vocabulary

The key for your message to be conveyed and understood by your audience is through the mindful choices of vocabulary. Overuse of niche acronyms, buzz words and slang may marginalise the appeal your writing has with a wider audience, but also may make it more appealing to specific groups.

Spelling

The English language has a number of strange spelling rules where the connection between how a word is spelled and how it is pronounced is less clear-cut than in many other languages. Whilst autocorrect can take care of many goofs, the dictionary, and its evil companion the Thesaurus aught to be desk-side pals in your writing arena.

Punctuation 

The correct usage of punctation marks helps the reader understand the intonation and meaning of the text. With so many amusing memes on the internet, I thought it more appropriate to  leave stressing the importance of punctuation to a pair of well-regarded writers.

“We have a language that is full of ambiguities; we have a way of expressing ourselves that is often complex and elusive, poetic and modulated; all our thoughts can be rendered with absolute clarity if we bother to put the right dots and squiggles between the words in the right places. Proper punctuation is both the sign and the cause of clear thinking. If it goes, the degree of intellectual impoverishment we face is unimaginable.” 

― Lynne Truss, Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation

“When speaking aloud, you punctuate constantly — with body language. Your listener hears commas, dashes, question marks, exclamation points, quotation marks as you shout, whisper, pause, wave your arms, roll your eyes, wrinkle your brow.

 In writing, punctuation plays the role of body language. It helps readers hear the way you want to be heard.” 

― Russell Baker

Linking 

Simply explained, linking is the glue which adheres all of your ideas into a cohesive text. Poorly formed paragraphing can distance and confuse the reader. Linking information across sentences and paragraphs develops an idea into a strong topic or argument.

Style 

There are a few guiding principals for written style and language used. The more formal the text or dialogue is, the more formal the language will be, the more likely it is to use passive structures and inanimate nouns as the subject of a sentence.  Conversely, the more informal or free flowing a piece of text is, the more likely it is to use verbal structures, active structures and humans as the subject of sentences.

The mechanics of writing covers the established conventions in which words are gathered together to convey meanings. Strong skills in the mechanics and grammar allows writers to get their message across in a clear and understandable way , but can still sound robotic. There is a fine line between being sentence perfect and losing the flair of spontaneous images.

When a reader encounters what they believe are mistakes, they will find more fault with your wiring, primarily through misinterpretation of your message, but in some cases, through frustration of being exposed to bad spelling, clumsy structure and poor grammar. It is important to remember that these mechanics are simply tools to mould words under our command. These tools help a writer beat and hammer out an idea and nail down a topic. It takes an artist to bring all the elements together to create something memorable, beautiful with words that touch the soul.

Paper Graves – being authentic when exploring character’s grief

Grief is an emotion which cannot be contained within a set amount of time, nor within a range of reactions, as it is experienced by individuals in widely divergent ways. Generally it is those writers who have experienced a loss close to them, if they then choose to share it, who will then be able to convey the myriad of emotions surrounding a grieving character. However, just as one does not need to have traveled to Greece to be able to describe its beaches or tavernas to an extent that their readers believe the setting, so too, arguably, a writer need not have experienced a close friends’ death in order to allow their characters to display grief in an authentic manner. By understanding the effect grief has on a family’s/social unit’s physicality and emotions, a writer can then explore ways to portray this in their chosen genre’s manner.

The western world, as a general rule, is not culturally set up for grief. There are few instances in which we accept or deal with it – for the most part, death is a secret and a dreadful surprise and shock for which no-one is equipped or prepared. Death tends to be surrounded by family emotional outbursts of guilt and loss; generally ending in arguments and misunderstandings.

For the most part, there are no rituals or formal acceptance of death or the time after a passing, especially with mainstream society steering further away from the stayed religious doctrine. If there are no religious or sanctioned rituals, then it leaves huge holes within the psyche of the individuals and this can lead to some interesting reactions and habits for characters to indulge in (and writers to focus on detailing).

The intensity of grief instantly brings all the past hurts and woundings to the top and is often fuelled by regret and guilt. Those grieving will tend to alienate those who are near and dear and become consumed with the event. If the person who passed on had been ill or old, there can be waves of relief and thankfulness that their suffering has ended. Though this is often replaced with guilt for feeling this.

Its important for writers to understand the complexities of the emotional roller coaster grief can have on an individual in order for them to authentically describe and convey it in their words.

There are technical challenges within writing about grief which other formats such as film or the creative arts are able to portray in more easily accessible methods for its audience. Don’t let this stop you from exploring ways to express grief and the process of bereavement. Grief is not naturally static and writers tend to find it difficult to convey it without getting bogged down in overly complicated descriptions of windswept moors or flapping curtains.  A writers challenge is to be authentic to the emotion but to also move the narrative along.

In understanding the relationships and interactions of grief, writers can then begin to weave their craft around the theme. Structure can reflect the grief in its various forms. Your story could begin headlong rushing into events with everything seeming a blur, the detachment and disjointed conversations from those around the characters; the jaggered edges, the rawness of the emotions through conversation and action. Your text can appear spontaneous; keeping it close or near to engage the readers’ emotions. A story can then slow down into the stillness of acceptance, utilizing imagery or metaphors. As an example from a number of novels which feature characters dealing with grief, water is often used as it holds a great deal of symbolism surrounding death and grief.

With many grieving characters there is the need to go back and touch things as a way to remember the passed one or to capture the moments shared. Grief is also full of secrets. A writer can use these to introduce backstory through flashbacks or explanations.

The keenest loss is the loss of senses – the touch and smell of the person who has passed. This can be a great tool utilized by the writer. Tactile and aromas have sturdy anchors within peoples’ minds and will bring the reader closer to the text.

When writing about or portraying grief, things other than the emotions the character is experiencing can reflect their journey. Details of clothing (in some cases a meticulous care or in others a slovenly approach), the environment, particularly the weather, the order and tidiness of the house or places of work can echo how the character is dealing with bereavement and grief without actually telling your readers.

With grief there is the muteness and immobility of the person deeply entrenched in the emotion. However, there is also the drudgery and dreariness of just getting on with what is left of life and the loss of joy and the profound sadness. Anyone who has had an Italian or Greek widow as a neighbour or relative will understand the stoic nature and identity grief can take on for years after the passing. Characters who cling to rituals can become hermit-like, though this can be broken as the accumulated grief explodes as anger and all ritual or normality of routine is thrown away.

Writers, desperate to portray their characters’ emotions in an authentic manner, often steer clear of writing too extensively about grief as there are too many hackney and tired interpretations. Grieving characters experience a range of emotions and none can be classed as “normal” as grief, intrinsically, is individualistic. It is a time of consideration, consuming all physical and emotional time where the character is often unable to do anything else but stare.  Even if a writer has no direct experience with grief, by using the experiences they currently have, coupled with a keen empathy of humankind and their observations skills, it is still possible to depict a character whose grief is raw and real and will connect with the audience as authentic.

Approaching a Creative Life – every day

Creativity is not only an integral part of a writers make up, but is a mindset and skill in high demand within the work market, regardless of the career path. Having worked within HR and recruitment, I understand some of the mindset of employers who are seeking candidates with that ‘little bit extra’ – the skills they don’t ask for, but all want. While many of us would love to make our living from writing, the reality remains that we head out most days to a job which has very little to do with writing and we become despondent with the small amount of time we afford ourselves in pursuing our creative outlets. Most of us blame the lack of time and disappearance of our muse for the lack of writing. There are ways, however, to boost and uncover creativity and perhaps after reading this post, you may integrate some of these tips to enhance not only your work life (thus freeing time up for your other pursuits) or your job search prospects but it may also release the muse and allow you to fully indulge in your creative side.

Any manager will tell you that a valued employee is one who can work independently, but also one who can solve problems creatively. The key aspect in releasing creativity is seeking the calm within the crazy of our normal lives. Whilst many of us may ‘know’ this, it’s the execution of being mindful during our daily lives which can prove more difficult.

Be self reflective and mindful

It is easy to be distracted and connected by constant social media distractions, office politics (gossip) and community fluff (gossip). In all the time spent in responding and reacting to other influences not in our immediate environment, or not immedialty relevant to a project, it’s easy to become disconnected with the present.  Not only do these distractions take your focus away from the task at hand, but it sucks what creative energy you may have away.

Solutions

Take a breath and slow down. If you feel your life is like a train rushing ahead; make the choice to step off; even if its for a moment every day. Open your eyes to the space and time you have, as though its the first time you have seen them. Pretend for a moment that you are a young child discovering the room or an item for the first time. You may be surprised at how much detail you see or the different views you uncover.

Reconnect with nature and fine tune your senses by taking a walk through untamed beauty. This walk doesn’t need to be an 800 km trek in order for your inner creative voice to begin to speak to you. The key is to be surrounded by quiet in order to hear it. Being alone in nature is one of the quickest ways to do this.

Take longer and linger over breakfast, a shared coffee or take a walk in the morning to reset your mind and be open to the opportunities of creativity. I hate getting out of bed earlier than I need to more than anyone I know, but even five mins of quiet reflection and freeing the mind will allow a flow of uninterrupted thoughts and clarity, making the rest of your day not feel so rushed.

Don’t engage in gossip; be it on social media or face to face. Apart from the negative energy it creates, it takes up precious would-be creative space, which would be better used in plotting the world’s next bestseller. Allow yourself a full day a week which is social media free. Notice the resistance you may feel, and question the validity of it; and then try a social media block out – even for a few hours.

We operate in highly volatile and uncertain environments within our workplace and in our presence online as writers. Being creative and uncovering our creative spirit may be the best avenue to navigate these unsteady seas. Paying attention to the small moments which occur during your day will often lead to a treasure trove of idea gems and in turn give you clarity. Perhaps this clarity will uncover the next biggest bestseller; perhaps it will shoot you straight to employee of the month. Either way, a dose of creativity in your life enhances and balances the craziness we tend to experience normally.

Now and Then

I’ve always been a social advocator through the written word. At the age of ten, I submitted an angry letter to the editor of our local newspaper,  highlighting the increased instances of domesticated dogs being dumped into rural areas, which tragically led to their deaths as hunted feral animals. I was driven to write to reach a wider audience with the hope I could instigate some sort of change.

Upon reflection of the types of writing I have undertaken since then, I would have to admit that this drive has not changed. I write for a range of audiences and markets; from travel, social commentary and mumsy articles through to speculative science fiction, chic lit and magical realism fiction. The theme through all of these is my passion to inform my audience, with the view it will challenge beliefs or thoughts and begin a small change in behaviour or outlook.

For many writers, finding that drive or motivation ranks as one of the biggest blockages of expression.  To overcome that writers block, you must first recognise the key things which motivate you. They are most likely to be feelings, rather than a single word; but everyone is differently wired, so explore this for yourself.

According to Maslow, if your physiological and safety needs (the needs which are at the bottom of his pyramid) are not being met, you will be motivated to change your environment and situation. Though this may be a little extreme in the context of writing, the theory is still strong.  Unless you have a strong enough reason to climb out of your funk or rut, you will stay there, in writers block hell.

One of the most direct ways to uncover your motivation is to first identify what you are grateful for. Everything else will fall into place once you have dug deep enough into this list. (You haven’t tried hard enough if you have less than 100 things on your list.) Around the eightieth entry, you will begin to recognise the small things and will come closer to your core motivation here, more than the larger more grandiose ones earlier on.  It may also help to write a list of lists of things you are grateful for. After all, you are a writer, and your access to words shouldn’t be a problem.

It’s been said on many occasions that writing is the cheapest form of self discovery and counselling around; and I’d have to admit to agreeing to that. Some days are harder than others to draw on that motivation to put words on the page. I have found the inspiration from my gratitude lists; and hope you find your way out of writers block through them as well.

Annie’s Anti-Resolutions for 2014

With the new year still in its infancy, its time to dust off the lists we all made about a year ago and groan, realising that there were very few actually pursued and less with any intent to complete.

For many years, I have participated in an Anti Resolution campaign, firstly with writers in Write Stuff, then to its successor, Write Anything; finally with Todays Author, made partially from a group of writers who have known each other from these writing sites. It is a light hearted look at the promises we solemnly make each year at this time. The main idea is to commit to NOT doing something. Why not try a list of your own?

  1. I will not enter stationary shops under the pretence that I am buying journals, fountain pens or glittery anything in order to coax my muse out to write.  I already have drawers full of magnificent leather bound journals which I have deemed far to pretty to write my rubbishy thoughts down into.
  2. I will not push my children to the front of the line in order to see fairy lights and Christmas displays, squealing with delight when Santa comes out. Although they edge away from me now rolling their eyes, they still can’t escape my steely grip. It is all for the kids, after all.
  3. I resolve to continue my avoidance of gyms, running tracks and exercise programs; after all, statistically 100% of people who exercise regularly also die.  I don’t like those odds much.
  4. I will continue to stay up too late, continue to connect with other writers round the world in the name of networking and moan loudly in the mornings when I have to get up. This resolution works nicely with number 1 as I can compare unused writing journals with other authors and swap writers bock solutions as an extra avoidance technique to actually write.
  5. I will not carry chalk or permanent markers around in order to correct common signage faults, which I believe form the basis of the disintegration of our language. I will leave signs which shout “4 sale”, “your so great” , when “who’s” and “whose” are swapped indiscriminately and the over usage of double negatives.
  6. I will not offer the answer to peoples questioning looks when they look at my business card – announcing that I am a Writer and a Thaumaturg. Nor will I look apologetic when they don’t understand my sense of humour when I attempt to explain it. Get a dictionary, you uneducated plebs.
  7. I will continue my avoidance of rushing over to teenage boys and offering to buy them a belt for their ever-lowering pants. I couple this with my resistance in contacting fashion manufacturers to demand the return of braces for said teenage boys, and the ban of all fluro material.
  8. I will not indulge in writers block thoughout 2014. After all, I have a stack of pretty journals and enough glitter pens to arm a small platoon of tweenage girls; not to mention countless tips on how to overcome said writers block.
  9. I resolve to continue not to stress about getting a real job and settling down. Anyone can work 9 – 5 behind a desk for a big corporation or stand in front of a class in a public school, allowing their life and creativity to be sucked dry by the emotional vampires haunting the hallways, meetings and boardrooms. Instead my kids and I have no plans as we travel around Europe, bouncing from one menial job to the next, not knowing where we will be the next week. This sort of gypsy existence will not only build character, as if I need any more of that, but should boot said writers block in the pants (or at least provide fodder for a short story).

Perhaps to get you going, you’d like to gather some despair from this site; specialising in demotivation posters.

I wish you and your writing every success as the new year continues.

Oh No! NaNo

Writing blogs and columns have begun their frenzied panic leading up to NaNoWriMo.  There are a myriad of excellent reasons for a writer, regardless of where they are on their journey in their writing career, to enter and participate in this pressure pot of madness.  Having participated and completed a number of times, I believe there is a great deal of worth in focusing on this event and giving it your fullest intentions. However, this post will explore some reasons why a writer can give themselves permission NOT to enter the fray.

Whether you participate or not, its important to have clear reasons.

What are you hoping to gain?

By participating in NaNoWriMo, are you hoping to gain

  • a publishing contract?
  • experience in writing?
  • connections with other writers?
  • respect as a writer?
  • recognition that your book would transfer perfectly as the next blockbuster on the big screen?

Whilst it is possible to achieve any one – or all of these- unless you have your purpose or goal clearly stated, you will not reach it.

Be at peace with your limits

A mild hysteria builds in the writing world from around August. Many measure ‘worthiness’ or ‘true commitment’ to participation in NaNoWriMo, with a certain level of snobbiness attached to a writer’s involvement (or non involvement).

Understand your personal limits, time frames and accessibility to the workload and stress involved. Juggling a young family, work, household duties and community involvement doesn’t simply stop for the month of November. Something has to ‘give’. Unless you have plans for outsourcing duties or postponing a great deal of activities, seriously revisit your commitment to participation in NaNoWriMo. Don’t get sucked into the hype and peer pressure.

Dedication 

It doesn’t mean that you are any less dedicated to your craft or any less serious about following a career path as a writer, if you choose NOT to participate in NaNoWriMo. Thirty days of dedicated writing – 1667 words per day – might not sound like a big deal; but miss one or two days, and the pressure begins to mount as your word count fails to rise. This sort of pressure is not creative or supportive, particularly if you have family and community commitments also pulling at your priorities.

Choose to write 500 well chosen or crafted words per day.

Choose to pull out those first drafts hidden away in a drawer or file.

Choose to redraft, polish and submit stories to competitions, anthologies or publishers.

Choose to support a cause, educate, inform or promote an idea through your writing.

Choose to use your powers for good!

Write for the Right reasons.

Do you have a character, message or plot line burning holes in your psyche?  Participate in NaNoWriMo because you have the passion and drive to deliver this message, not because ‘everyone else is doing it’. For every pursuit, there needs to be a passionate, driving need to continue, which will dispel negativity, tiredness and disparaging comments by family and friends. If the need is not there, by week three you will find a myriad of excuses not to write and end up being disappointed in yourself and your “commitment,” not to mention having to own up to your writing buddies and writers group.

“Writing is rewriting.” 

E.B.White admits that the first draft is easy, but it’s in the redrafts and edits where the true writing emerges.  50,000 words is a great start to a novel – but for most publishers, it’s not the accepted modern day length. (Whereas classics such as Animal Farm are under 30K and many of Asimovs’ works, for example, are 27K; but thats best saved for another argument.)

For those of you who have ‘done’  NaNoWriMo before, I have a simple, perhaps uncomfortable question.

“Where is that manuscript now?”

For 99% of NaNoWriMo winnners, the answer is something like, “gathering dust” or “not seen the light of day since the 1st Dec.”

Seriously, if you were passionate enough to invest 30 days of your time, sweat and for many, tears, then be serious now and redraft, edit and continue what you have started. Consider using this NaNoWriMo month to do something with your draft and either finish it, or begin redrafting so it can be submitted somewhere.

Work out what is important in your life.

As with everything you do, ensure that what you are about to invest a great deal of time and effort into doing will support your life choices. Check in with yourself to determine whether they are in line with your goals and outcomes. Many authors write to entertain themselves, or as a means to unburden from their lives. Look at the process and at the end result of NaNoWriMo and question whether this is something that you want to experience.

Participating in NaNoWriMo may not run along the ideals you have set for yourself in your writing journey.  Don’t get bullied or persuaded to join, simply because everyone else is doing it.

Join NaNoWriMo for the right reasons. Sit it out for the right reasons. But don’t sit on the fence.