Strategies for NaNoWriMo

Holy cow, is it November again?

Yes, I am again participating in NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month, even though I have been waist-deep in an edit/re-write and have a hundred other items on my list of things to do.

Why, do you ask, would I NaNo? Well, the main reason is I’m lazy the other eleven months of the year. I need November’s NaNoWriMo to kick my ass.

I know, I know, I could levy a self-imposed deadline such as NaNo’s race to complete 50K words in thirty days any other time – let’s say in February or September – but I have little willpower. Plus I am easily distracted.

In order to cross the 50K finish line this year, I’m going to take some pretty severe actions. Here they are in no particular order:

1. Get off Facebook. Should be easy, especially since the recent Facebook upgrade, which made visiting there and hanging out a major pain in the butt. Plus, it seems that every time I sign in, some bug locks up my computer. Another good reason to stay away.

2. Minimize Twitter. That used to be easy until I got an HTC EVO phone. Looking at tweets is entirely too simple these days. I know, I’ll turn off my phone!

3. Stop wasting time with meals and meal preparation. I see a lot of ramen noodles, tuna fish and take out in my immediate future.

4. Get up early. I need to do this to complete my Real Life chores, but with the extended Daylight Savings Time and my oncoming SAD, I’m finding that difficult. It’s still freaking dark at 7:30! Perhaps next Sunday when it will FINALLY be Daylight Savings Time, I will be able to report myself in better humor.

5. Suspend working on my re-write. This will be tough, but necessary. It’s good to put a little distance, particularly since I’ve been at it full bore since the end of August. I have a feeling the 30 day vacation will yield positive results.

6. Use Write or Die. This is the ultimate cattle prod for reluctant writers. If you’re a procrastinator with ADD tendencies, I would strongly recommend this program. Using it I’ve whipped up a thousand words in twenty minutes or less.

6a. Download Write or Die on every computer you use. That’s right, even the work computer. Once you pay $10 for the computer version (the online version is free), your payment entitles you to unlimited downloads of Write or Die. Two words: Do it!

7. I’m also going to join the local NaNo group. There’s nothing like a community flogging to get your butt in gear. Reach out to other writers who plan on marathoning this month.

As for the mechanics of NaNoWriMo (or the mechanics of writing any novel, period), try making it easy on yourself. Here are some things the fledgling writer can think about while dreaming of penning the next breakout novel:

1. Have a plan. For real. A novel must have three things: a beginning, a middle and an end. Without those three things, you don’t have a story, you have stream of consciousness writing. There’s nothing wrong with streaming – actually, my first NaNoWriMo effort was a unruly stream that resulted in the completion of my first novel. Streaming may give you ideas for story lines, but if the goal is writing a book, don’t forget the beginning, middle and end.

2. Outline. This is hard for me, and I never did it before, but it makes perfect sense. Most people don’t jump into the car and drive away without a road map, they have a map and money for gas to get them to their destination. Figure out before you sit down at the computer where your characters are going and how they’re going to get there.

3. Write everywhere. Give yourself the luxury of little notebooks for those times you’re not close to the computer/typewriter/notepad.  Use your iPad. Since my story includes a blog, I have set up my fictional blog online, and plan on contributing to it every day this month. Hey, what can I say? Words are words.

My goal is to get ‘er done, peeps.

This year’s effort is the sequel to VIRTUALLY YOURS, yet unnamed (so far referred to as VY2). And yes, I have a game plan, story lines, unknowns, and the requisite Big Reveal toward the end of the story.

It’s early (7:31 a.m.) but I have to get on the move. See you in December.

Romancing the Page

With a fair amount of trepidation, I recently attended the San Francisco Writers’ Conference, held the weekend of February 13. After all, I’m not a “real” writer, just a wanna-be, intimidated before I arrived with thoughts that my recently completed novel wasn’t worthy of rubbing elbows with some of the top agents and editors of the publishing world. I was pleasantly surprised to find everyone genuine and helpful.

There were many workshops to choose from, and it was difficult to decide which ones to attend. Since my novel is about a woman who faces many changes in her life, I thought I would attend the workshop on romance writing. This, even though my book is not what you’d call a romance novel – it’s dark and goes places most people wouldn’t want to visit – but I was a writer looking for a niche.

I have to admit here that I do occasionally read romance novels. Call it a guilty pleasure, like my occasional binges on Godiva chocolate. The books are especially handy to have on long airplane trips, because they are usually in paperback, are small and easy to read. I can dust one and a half romances off in the time it takes for me to fly from Detroit to California.

The term “romance novel” has long suffered a negative connotation. The term conjures up legions of bored housewives looking to spend an afternoon reading about a heroine who is saved from distress by someone who looks amazingly like Fabio. (That’s how he started the modeling game, posing for book covers. Personally speaking, Fabio has way too many muscles for me. I like my men scrawny but smart.) Romance novels are known for their “trashy” covers showing men and women in the midst of lustful frenzy.

Romance novels have been pooh-poohed as being literature not worthy of reading. They were deemed hastily written and shallow. While it may be true that some prolific writers pump out three novels a year, it’s a false assumption to think that the modern romance novel lacks depth and character. In fact, it may be more difficult to write a good romance novel, since the story has to move along at a rapid pace.

What qualifies as a romance novel? Well, there’s a woman, a man, and plenty of conflict. Something keeps the two apart, even though what they really want to do is tear each other’s clothes off. This could be a real conflict, or one in the woman’s head, and some force that keeps the two apart. All romance novels end the same way, there’s a happy ending and a hook up. There doesn’t have to be marriage, and if the hook up is absent, then there must be a promise of a future in the distance. Optimism is what romance novels are all about. Romance novels are seldom over 120K words, and most hover between 75K and 90K words.

What amazed me about the romance novel workshops I attended was that there are many sub-genres within the genre. “Romance” also includes “serious” women’s literature, which my particular work would fall under. In my case, the woman has a happy ending, but there’s no hook up.

Chick-lit refers to a light, saucy treatment of the story. The best description is the Shopaholic series. There’s definitely hook up in this type of novel. Contemporary romances concentrate on small town settings and values. There are romance novels that revolve around ethnic cultures like Loving Gabriel, and interracial relationships, like Unfinished Business.

But hold on to your bonnets, it doesn’t end there. There are teen romances and paranormal romances. The wildly successful Twilight is considered a paranormal teen romance. In the area of historical romances, there are sub-subgenres which include Scottish, English and Irish historical romances. Super-sexy romances include erotica. There are inspirational or Christian romances where there’s much soul searching and the sexual content is played down. There are mystery and suspense romances, military adventure romances, Navy Seal romances, western romances and gay/lesbian romances (Romentics). There are even Amish teen romances, which I gather is a real hot seller.

Any work can be turned into a romance with minor tweaking. As I read Dan Brown’s The DaVinci Code, I thought “Boy, this is close to a romance novel. He writes like a girl.” Plus there is that lingering hint that he and Agent Neveu might get together after the mystery is solved. Some of the greatest classics ever written, such as Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice can also be considered in the romantic vein.

To prove the point, that night I told my son and his girlfriend about the romance novel workshop. We came up with some crazy romance subgenres, including Intergalactic and Interspeciel Romance. The next day, I happened to run into the editor who held the previous day’s workshop, and when I mentioned our dinner time conversation from the night before, the editor’s eyes lit up. “He should write that!” she said.

For all those avid readers who need a change of pace, I would recommend grabbing a romance novel. They’re interesting, entertaining and not just for bored housewives anymore.