NaNoWriMo is a Waste of Words

Flowers among the weeds

Original image: E.K.Carmel, Flikr WANACommons. Edited by @Sarah_Brabazon

“Nobody writes a publishable novel in thirty days…”

It’s a familiar refrain around this time of the year. Experienced writers (usually), dunking a bucket of cold water on the collective glee of all those starry-eyed wanna-be writers signing up for the event. Well, it isn’t true. And it isn’t helpful. Not even slightly (unless they then donate to the #AlSIceBucketChallenge).


Because the aim isn’t to write the novel, the aim is to write the novel. Read on to find out why this is important.

The mistake that would-be professional writers make is that they don’t write enough.

Whenever I say this, people point out that Ernest Hemingway wrote only 500 words a day, and LOOK AT HIS SALES! (this is about where the discussion becomes… bolshie, noisy, blustery and unproductive). And it’s true. Ernest Hemingway did write 500 words a day. Every day of the year (I don’t know if he took Christmas Day and his birthday off, but you get the drift).

Every. Single. Day.

Any idea how many words that translates to? Chances are, if you’re a writer you’re less-good at math, so I’ll tell you.

181,500 words per year (taking two days off). Now 500 words isn’t much, is it. But 180,000? Holy heck, imagine if George RR Martin wrote that much. He might finish one novel in a year.

“Again. Why. Is. This. Relevant?”

(you see how quickly discussions degenerate…)

It is relevant because writing is like any other endeavor. You get better by doing it. You don’t get better by whining about writers block on a forum. You don’t learn to write compelling novels by tweeting (although it does help with overly excessive wordiness). You don’t learn to write awesome fiction by resting on the laurels of your sixth-grade A+ report in English.

“Get to the point, dammit! My chardonnay is warming up.” *shakes fist, spilling drink*

When you commit to writing a set amount of words, each and every day, you RAPIDLY improve your writing. Nobody can teach you how to write the kind of novels you want to write, but you can learn how to write them. You learn by writing a novel, then another. Then reading your first novel and seeing where it could be improved. Then writing another.

NaNoWriMo and 50ks in 30 Days, are opportunities to set in stone the habit of writing every day. In my opinion (and this might be a bit controversial), it doesn’t matter if you ‘win’ or ‘lose,’ as long as you cement the writing habit.

Words per day

A solid writing habit has been established. Screen shot from Novel Writing Log V3.1 by @Sarah_Brabazon

Write every day for the month and average 800 words? You’re 24,000 words into your novel and odds are, you’ll be able to keep up the momentum through December and into the new year.

Write sporadically and finish in the middle of a sentence at midnight on the 30th of November with 50,000 words exactly (because you’re too burned out to hit the next key)? Lose. You’ll take a month off to recover, reflecting on how much of a waste of time the experience was, and probably never write more than a novel a year, or maybe two. Years, that is. It’s no way to make a living. And that novel? It will end its days in a musty corner of your hard-drive or wherever it lands after you read the first chapter of the CreateSpace printed version.

Fast drafting doesn’t work for everybody, but if you build up to a regular habit of writing forward through your novel, without endlessly going back to edit (some is okay, if you’re experienced, more on that later), you’ll finish more novels. It’s as simple as that.

Okay, you might have convinced me, but I’m not writing some shoddy novel. My idea is Awesome!

What we’re talking about here is the first draft of your novel. Anyone who can spell-check and hit ‘Send’ after a first draft is either Stephen King (you’d know if you were) or deluded. Repeat after me: ‘After drafting comes editing.’

A long time after.

Perhaps after you’ve written another manuscript or two, and got all of your friends’ requests to ‘be in your novel’ out of the way. You’ll find that you learn along the way, just from the act of writing: what time of the day is most productive, which bits are easy for you, which bits are hard (and might require some extra study), was it a revelation to finish a story, rather than writing endless beginnings (and shelving them because they weren’t perfect)?

For beginners (anyone who hasn’t typed ‘The End’ on a full manuscript), the key to fast-drafting success is to write regularly and write forward. Don’t edit at all. Don’t ‘backspace’ or ‘delete’ for an entire month. If this seems too hard, highlight the horrible bits in a color that screams ‘read this and your eyeballs will fall out’ and keep going. If you decide to change a character’s name, make a note in the manuscript. Use the new name from here on. If you decide that the taxi-driver really has to be a red-headed caftan-wearing hippie paying her way through medical school driving cabs instead of a minority guy with an honors degree from a foreign university, make a note. Jot down any relevant details and change her conversational style now. Do. Not. Go. Back.

Got that?

One cornerstone to achieving your daily wordcount is to take part in sprints. You can sprint in person, or online. Gather in a chat-room, on a hashtag, or in person. Set a timer. Hit the go button, and write without stopping. When the buzzer goes, tell everyone your wordcount for the sprint, plus any creative excuses, then relax and have a chat with your co-sprinters. Five or ten minutes later do it all again. Two or three of these in an evening can give you your entire day’s words. Painlessly. Even enjoyably. Consider sprinting. It’s the new black.

At the end of each day, record your wordcount and chart your progress

Image from Novel Writing Log V3.1 by @Sarah_Brabazon

Image from Novel Writing Log V3.1 by @Sarah_Brabazon

(I wrote a spreadsheet—which you can download—to make this easy). Then confess your wordcount to somebody. Hopefully they’ll be supportive (if not, find someone who will pat you on the back and offer you chocolate before sending you back to the keyboard to get those extra words you need to make 1667 words for the day).

But I’ve got this sorted. I’ve written a few manuscripts before. All I want to do is blitz this NaNo thing and pick up my winners certificate & merch.

You probably have a bit of a plan, and you’re experienced, so you get a break: you can do some editing. But beware! If you find yourself deleting more than you wrote in the last hour, something is wrong and you need to move forward. Have a discussion with yourself (yes, right there in the manuscript) about what needs to be done to fix the situation. Keep your fingers (or your pen) moving and let your subconscious work it out. Then move forward as if those changes already existed from the beginning of the manuscript (sound familiar?). And consider sprinting to get your wordcounts back up.

But what if I get bored with my characters, or my story isn’t working out how I imagined it?

Glad you asked. This is where writing-in-groups (the other cornerstone of November success) comes in supremely handy. If you’ve been interacting with a group, sharing your highs and lows (your 2,000-word days and your zero-word days), you’ll find that everybody goes through the same stage.

You won’t even need to share the details, because Everybody. Goes. Through. The. Same. Stage.

Got that? You aren’t some complete loser, because… been there, done that. Having a supportive group who share your pain and cheer your successes is key. I run a group for members of the Romance Writers of Australia, called 50 ks in 30 Days, where every June and November, between twenty and eighty writers sign up for this month of writing madness. We have had multiple novels published. We have had writers go from being newbies one year, to multi-contracted twelve months later, because they learned to write every day, and kept at it until their break happened. We congregate on Twitter using #50K30D. We sprint in various places around the web: Twitter, RWA Forum, a Facebook group set up exclusively for sprinters. We get to know each other. When conference time rolls around, we greet each other as old friends, even though we’ve never met face-to-face.

And because we support each other and we sprint together, as a group, we are twice as likely to succeed at our writing goals as the average NaNoWriMo participant (I kept stats. I’m a geek like that). You don’t need to be part of a supportive group like ours to succeed at NaNoWriMo, but it sure helps. If you’ve been hovering on the edge of paying your subs to a professional organization, and you find that they have a group like ours, join up and join in. You won’t regret it. You may even get published sooner because of it. Because I’m biased towards the Romance Writers of Australia, and because I love to meet new people and write with them, I’m including a link to the RWA website. Come along and begin your professional writing career by learning to write at a professional pace. I also support Kristen Lamb’s WANAInternational, another place where artists and writers congregate supportively.

How many words do you write each day? Are you looking for a group of writers to connect with? I love to hear about your experiences, and I love connecting people up with groups that will help them. Have you, like me, succeeded at NaNoWriMo? Have you, like me, failed at NaNoWriMo? What techniques have helped you succeed at writing? Tell me in the comments.

Not Ready to Quit Smoking? Try Vapeing.

Lynn Kelly Author No Smoking on Campus

Image by Lynn Kelley, WANA Commons

I have a friend, “Richard”, who is one of the few people I know who smoke. Richard’s girlfriend quit months ago, he’s not allowed to smoke inside at home, and sometimes when he is outside for a quick puff, the bare stone porch of their house doesn’t protect him from Hobart’s freezing winter rain. The heat of the wood stove doesn’t reach outside, the dog can’t hold up his side of the conversation and even though there is plenty of light and a table to rest his Bundy & Cola on… well, it’s a little unfriendly out there.

Three weeks ago, Richard discovered the e-Cigarette, or vapeing. I’ll let him tell you about it in his words:

“The first thing I have to say is it is heaps cheaper than ciggies. I was going through two and a half packs a week, or about $70.00. The starter kit costs $99 and lasts for three months. So the saving was pretty much immediate. After three days on the e-cigarettes, I started feeling heaps better, my lungs were clearer, and my sense of taste got better. I also started waking up without the taste of camel-shit in my mouth.”

“Thanks for that image, Richard.” I tell him.

“No wuckers,* Sare. Did I tell you that it is pure nicotine, rather than the four thousand-odd chemicals that you get from a cigarette?”

He pauses to take a puff from the black metal and clear plastic stick in his hand. We are standing in the foyer of the house, inside the front door. He blows at me and the smell is like someone took a match to a vanilla bean. Within five seconds, even that smell is gone, along with all trace of the vapour.

“So, did you wanna know how to get ahold of the kit?”

I nod. I don’t smoke, but this idea is too good to leave on the shelf.

“Some bloke from school told me about it. [He means the primary school that our children go to.] I’ll get you the email address of the guy.”

It’s pouring outside, and blowing a gale. The reason we are here is because it was too rough to even stand upright on the boat today, and Richard is the sort of friend to take in refugees in need. He throws another log on the wood heater as he walks past and picks up his netbook from the floor near the couch, where he has been stretched out, drinking Bundy & Cola, watching TV and surfing the web. He rummages around in his email client and reads out the address.

‘He calls himself Sir Vape-a-lot. The email is’

I’m glad he spelled it out, until now, I had been thinking he was saying ‘vapour-lot’ which doesn’t make half as much sense, now that I think about it.

“Do you wanna see the stuff that came with the kit?”

He chugs some of the Bundy & Cola and heads for the recesses of the house. I tether my iPad to my phone to get internet access and type in the url: It’s a guess that this will work, and sure enough, the information on the website is identical to the sheaf of papers that Richard hands me a minute later.

“If you want to get hold of the starter kit, you need to email him.” Richard tells me, folding back down onto the couch. He cracks open another can.

I’m sure there are other places on the web that supply this kit, but why not support a small businessman.

By now, Richard is engrossed in the movie again, and I read the brochure he gave me. I wonder how nicotine on its own affects your health. What if this product could reduce the enormous burden that smoking puts on the public health system? But when it comes down to it, health benefits don’t make it attractive (after all, the health benefits of giving up are understood by every adult and child in Australia, especially now the new packaging shows graphic pictures that nobody should have to see before breakfast). What makes vapeing attractive are the cost savings, the cool flavours, the lack of camel-in-the-morning-mouth and the fact that you can do it inside, in the warm, with your friends (even the ones who don’t smoke anymore).

* This is short for ‘no wucking furries’. If you can’t work out what that means, then I’m not going to explain it to you; this is a PG13 blog.


The starter kit $99 from Sir Vape-A-Lot. Photo: Sarah Brabazon.

There are Many Awesome Gymnasts on YouTube…

20130708-193611.jpgThis is not one of them… Actually, Pauletta Huntinova, was a world-class gymnast, but in this exhibition, I don’t think the judges liked the smiley face on the backside of his leotard (yes, you read that right).
Monday is the best day for distractions, don’t you think? If 8 minutes is too long to be watching videos at work, try these shorter links of the uneven bars, the floor routine and a beam routine in a delightful yellow leotard.

Would You Rather Undie Shopping or Torture? Me? Bring on the Cable Ties.

20130703-214325.jpg Photograph Sarah Brabazon

Do you love shopping for essential underwear? thought not. I am at the point where the wash has to be done twice a week, and my sons complain about not having enough undies. But yesterday, when I tried to go shopping in a local department store for basic underwear for all of us, I lost my nerve.
I know exactly what I want and I don’t need rack after rack of choice. Hipster, trunk, boyleg, black, navy, slate, seam, no-seam, spray-on (not really). Argh!
It is bad enough when shopping just for myself when I know exactly the style and colours that I like to wear, but this morning I received explicit instructions for one style over another, based on a certain flossing sensation 12 year-old Jetsam gets from his least-favourite gruds . Yesterday, I walked to town with a mission to buy some underwear as well as a case to protect my keyboard so it won’t rattle round in my bag between blogging and novelling. Easy. I put it off until 1:30, knowing that I have to leave to pick Flotsam and Jetsam up from school at 2:45 at the latest. Plenty of time, plus I was engrossed in my novel (the only activity that I use writing to procrastinate from is shopping). Nine minutes to walk to town (living close-in has its advantages), two minutes to stop at the GPO and check the mailbox–nothing to collect. Three minutes from the GPO to the shopping hub of Hobart – Collins Street . The electronics store and department store are right next door to each other… and both had fire trucks parked outside. Store workers grabbing an extra cigarette in the same way that cats lick themselves when they don’t know what else to do, confused would-be shoppers milling on the footpath. Security staff preventing me from my first mission (electronics and accessories shopping is slightly more desirable than clothes shopping, and is therefore higher on the list). I stood about for thirty seconds, but eventually the wafting cigarette smoke drove me into the department store (which hadn’t posted a security guy to keep everybody out). Walking through the front part of the store, I passed rack after rack of clothing hung with the care that heavy discounts bring to a display.
By the time I reached the underwear department fifty metres in, eyes swivelling to look for escape routes, heart rate several notches above normal and palms itching, my shopping experience was already doomed.
At the ramp leading up to the lingerie section were dozens of bras: push-up, minimising, strapless, in dozens of colours: chartreuse, turquoise, flesh–who has flesh that colour, anyway? The ramp to Lingerie was as manageable as the foothills of the Himalayas to a latte-quaffing DINK, minus the sherpa. The counter staff, having beaten me into the store by several minutes, were already engrossed in conversations that excluded me and my insignificant needs. Help, I whispered in my mind, followed by eeep as, halfway up the ramp, the rest of the department became visible. Shapers, singlets, socks! I want Bonds Hipster Boyleg, I don’t mind the colour, but they have to be the right price so I can buy a tonne and not have to come back for a year. But the ladies on the counter didn’t hear my mental scream. Hyperventilating, I ran to the front door and out into the blessed sunlight.
Descending the stairs, I shared a smile with the electronics store security guard. He thought I was saying hello but actually, I meant: Finally, shopping without an emotional overburden!
The electronics store didn’t have a case for my bluetooth keyboard, and neither did the Apple resellers a five minute walk away, but I didn’t mind. I raced home, jumped online, googled the name I’d seen on an online forum and found it somewhere with free shipping.
Add to Cart.
2:45, time to get Flotsam and Jetsam from school.
I still haven’t bought the underwear.
My questions for all you super shoppers out there are: What items do you shop for online, and which do you always try on? Do you ‘showroom’ (try on clothes in a store and then buy them online – this seems to me to combine the worst of two worlds)? What are your favourite places to shop for basics, online and in person? I really need to know, because I still haven’t made that purchase, and things are getting desperate, if you know what I mean.

Are Libraries Our New Bookstores?

Image by Sarah Brabazon.
Today I read a book about the sweeping changes that have happened in the publishing industry in the last two years. The author, Kristen Lamb, pointed out that in the past, bookshops had more shelf-space for an author’s older books, her backlist. A good browse might result in the discovery of a new author, and allowed new authors time to cultivate a readership.
But these days, bookstores have become a place to buy bestsellers or mid-list authors, the latest self-help about how to find peace in an ever more frenetic world, pick up Nook accessories and grab a coffee. When was the last time you stood by the shelves reading back cover blurbs and perhaps the entire first chapter? Now it is easier to download the Kindle sample to see if a book is worth buying, and then to ‘Buy now with 1-Click.’
The library on the other hand, has whole buildings full of backlist, plus a handy online system to find them.
They even take requests. Some time ago, I wanted to teach my children chess, but none of the available books, DVDs or apps grabbed their attention, or mine. Using my social network, I found ‘Chess is Child’s Play‘ by Laura Sherman and Bill Kilpatrick. It looked great, but due to the complex layout of the book, they had decided to publish in hardcover only at first. No Kindle sample. I asked my local library if they would buy it, which they did. The librarians who processed the book clearly liked the look of it too, because an immediate queue formed behind my hold. I used it to teach my sons the rudiments of chess, and when the loan period was up, ordered my own copy. I’ve been recommending it ever since.
I often find this is the case with the library. They have lovely face-out shelves which allow busy mums to see a range of themed or new books in the thirty seconds before the toddler reaches the lower shelves to commence pulling books down (it has been some years now since this happened to me, but the memories are fresh and painful). Those were the years when I chose my entertainment venues based on the understanding staff and lack of breakable objects.
The library is a place where book-loving staff patiently explain to young children who wrote ‘The Lion,The Witch and the Wardrobe’, and that there are seven other books, including a prequel. Who show them how to find books in the shelf and how to reserve books if they aren’t. They have comfy places to read, and sometimes even coffee shops nearby.

I am lucky enough to have at least two great branches of the State Library of Tasmania nearby, and one independent bookstore with cafe attached. Our other surviving independent bookstore doubles as New Adult Daycare by dint of an upstairs room with a great selection of comics, Dungeons & Dragons figurines and war gaming room. My sons, Flotsam and Jetsam, now nine and eleven gravitate to this bookstore like zombies to a warm brain.
Do you have a great library or bookstore nearby? Do you agree that the best browsing these days happens in the Library or on Amazon? Do you prefer the convenience of a familiar name on the best-seller display in the airport lounge bookshop? Or are you an omnivorous reader who doesn’t mind if her reading experience comes with dog-ears, headphones or an easily scalable typeface? Are you (like me) addicted to One-Click Buy?
Tell me about it in the comments, and while you are there, tell me what is the best book you read last week?

Goal Setting and Game of Thrones for Girls

Mt.Fuji, Some rights reserved by ken.h

Last month, I signed up for a major goal: write a novel in a month. I have done this before and I’ve also failed to achieve it before. But, unlike quitting smoking, or having children, this wasn’t an either/or outcome. In reality, each day that I worked towards my target was a step closer to the goal in a measurable sense. I even used a spreadsheet to keep track. I guess the same could be said of quitting some destructive habit, like expecting a member of family Stark to get to the end of an episode of Game of Thrones emotionally or physically unscathed.
Each failure to achieve the entire target is a win in the same way that if you smoke a pack a day, cutting down to half a pack is a win. As I said, I’ve written 50,000 words in a month before, so to add extra spice this year, I signed up to coordinate the event. These are the things I learned.

One: If you can’t be a good example, you’ll have to serve as a horrible warning. On my first day of leading eighty-six writers in penning (so to speak) 1667 words each day for thirty days, I achieved zero words. This was like declaring myself a health guru and then being caught on camera scoffing four bars of chocolate. I wrote zero, not one, not twenty-eight, not three thousand words. Apart from losing the contents of my hard drive or sustaining a head injury, I couldn’t have done worse.

Two: It is better to set a positive goal than a negative one. If I had been quitting chocolate, for example, the next day I wouldn’t have been able to go back to my zero chocolate state (no, purging is never an option), or if I had been attempting to kick my True Blood habit, there would be no erasing those mental images of Erik the Vampire with no shirt on. However, since my goal was positive, I could catch up (although writing 3,334 words on day two was a daunting prospect). This brings me to my next lesson:

Three: Positive, measurable goals must also be achievable. If your goal is to climb Everest and on day one you attempt Dhaulagiri II on the basis that it is only the 30th highest peak, you are destined to fail. Of course if you have been on a lifelong mountain climbing mission and anything under eight thousand metres just isn’t challenging enough, then knock yourself out. There are some achievements that would be difficult to repeat daily. For instance, years ago when I was training for triathlons (sprint distance, don’t get excited), I heard of a diet that provided all of the nutrients that a triathlete required. It consisted of one litre of milk, three oranges, an egg and thirty-eight pints of Guinness. Day One sounded like fun, although I’d have to pace myself across the whole twenty-four hours. But imagine waking up to Day Two! This brings me to lesson four:

Four: Motivating others to achieve their goals motivated me. If you want to achieve something, join a group and cheer everyone else on. There’s bound to be someone who serves as a horrible warning (see point one) and someone who inspires you to do better without making your paltry goal look pointless. Like the fourteen year-old Darwin girl on The X Factor is enough to make any child who enjoys belting out ‘Kookaburra Sits in the Old Gum Tree’ with inventive lyrics give up on a life of vocal mediocrity. By the same token, if you are achieving your daily targets and someone in your group is struggling, then an encouraging word might be just the thing to get them over a rough patch. This is not pointless altruism. An increased pool of competitors makes you work harder too. Competition is healthy, and healthy competition raises everyone’s game. The converse of this is also true, which brings me to lesson five:

Five: When you help people, they support you in return. During our writing exercise, one of our members became sick enough to visit the hospital. Because she had been entertaining us all with inventive ways of reporting her daily achievements (this is a word-count remember, difficult to make fun), the messages of support flowed to her inbox and instead of becoming discouraged by repeated setbacks, she continued with the challenge and wrote more than she had ever written before in one month. This is why groups like Weight Watchers and AA work.

Your goal might be to: get fit, meet that special someone, run a marathon, take better photographs, meet other mothers of young children in your area, or just put your makeup on better. One of the wonders of the internet, apart from a million downloads of last season’s finale of GoT, is that there is a tribe) for everything. Find yours and achieve your goals sooner!

Do you prefer to meet people face-to-face or online. Do you disagree entirely? Do you simply have some blue pills for sale that I’d surely love to hear about? Making that sort of friend is covered in another post. Tell me about your experience when being part of a group helped you achieve your goal.