Are you ready for NaNoWriMo?


Your ticket to literary insomnia.

No, NaNoWriMo is not a newer, deadlier strain of the Swine flu.  It is, in fact, National Novel Writing Month.  And while I won’t officially be participating this year, I am going to use it as an excuse to crank out the final pages of The Land of the Dead.  You see, NaNoWriMo is not just a month, it’s an event.  The goal for participants is to start a book on November 1, and finish the first draft of the book by November 30.  It sounds insane, but believe it or not, it is very doable.  I pulled this from NaNoWriMo’s website:

National Novel Writing Month is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to novel writing. Participants begin writing November 1. The goal is to write a 175-page (50,000-word) novel by midnight, November 30.

Valuing enthusiasm and perseverance over painstaking craft, NaNoWriMo is a novel-writing program for everyone who has thought fleetingly about writing a novel but has been scared away by the time and effort involved.

Because of the limited writing window, the ONLY thing that matters in NaNoWriMo is output. It’s all about quantity, not quality. The kamikaze approach forces you to lower your expectations, take risks, and write on the fly.

Make no mistake: You will be writing a lot of crap. And that’s a good thing. By forcing yourself to write so intensely, you are giving yourself permission to make mistakes. To forgo the endless tweaking and editing and just create. To build without tearing down.

As you spend November writing, you can draw comfort from the fact that, all around the world, other National Novel Writing Month participants are going through the same joys and sorrows of producing the Great Frantic Novel. Wrimos meet throughout the month to offer encouragement, commiseration, and—when the thing is done—the kind of raucous celebrations that tend to frighten animals and small children.

In 2008, we had over 120,000 participants. More than 20,000 of them crossed the 50k finish line by the midnight deadline, entering into the annals of NaNoWriMo superstardom forever. They started the month as auto mechanics, out-of-work actors, and middle school English teachers. They walked away novelists.

So, get your keyboards ready.  Brew up a few hundred cups of coffee.  Have your dictionary and thesaurus nearby.  The writing, she is on!

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On Being Offensive

Just say it!

Just say it!

I am offensive. I have to be. I’m a writer. This is something I struggled with for a long time because in my non-writery life I’m a nice, if not downright decent guy. I’m the kind of guy who leaves a note on someone’s windshield if my car door opens too wide and might have possibly dinged their door. I hold doors open for people. I say “Bless you” to perfect strangers when they sneeze.

But when it comes to storytelling, I have to leave myself at the door when I write because the characters and the story are far more important than my desire not to offend people. One need only to take a look at the first line of my young adult horror/scifi novel, The Takers, to see how truly offensive I can be. That line is: “We killed the retarded boy.” It is stark and plainly spoken. In short, it evokes emotion, and that is my job as a writer. I have had people tell me they loved the first line, and I’ve had people tell me they were deeply troubled by the first line, so much so that they almost stopped reading. I’m happy with both reactions. If I tried to write a non-offensive version of the line it wouldn’t have the same power. Don’t believe me? Try this on for size. “We took the life of the boy with Down syndrome.” Is it as effective? I don’t think so. It’s too wishy-washy, too sanitized. For me, the best writing is dirty and gritty and unapologetic. At the risk of sounding corny, a writer has to transcend sentiment in order to tell a story. The emotion of a story comes from the characters and the setting not the author.

When you start thinking about how a plot or character or phrase may offend the reader, you’re dead in the water as a writer. You’re story arc will be a flat line. Your characters will be one dimensional with no growth, and conflict will basically be absent from your story. Don’t contrive offensiveness. That’s as ineffective as not being offensive at all. Be offensive because the story calls for it. It’s scary to do at times, but you have to muster up the courage and do it because your story will be better for it.

You will take your share of slings and arrows. I certainly have. To quote a mother in Oklahoma: I cannot believe that these were in the teen section. Gross, Gore, Evil, Blood, Guts……….I’m so full of regret that I had ever bought these. Actually, I love her review. She clearly didn’t read the books because the story is actually a tale of good vs. evil, where good struggles but ultimately prevails, but she had a real emotional, visceral reaction. As a writer, I couldn’t ask for anything more.

Writers, offend with impunity… well there will be punity but try not to let it get to you.

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