Monday, October 29, 2012

NaNo: The Crazy Idea That Got Away

[Note: As I mentioned some time in the recent past (I don't feel like trying to figure out which post that was, right now), my wife is doing NaNo this year. It was kind of a spontaneous decision, but, then, that's how she often does things, and the best way to deal with that is to grab on and go along for the ride. To put it in writing terms, she would be the pantser of the family while I'm the plotter. Except that that's not quite true, but that's how it often feels and, probably, looks from the outside. At any rate, her decision to do NaNo was... well, I'll let her tell you about it in her own words.]

So I got a Kindle Fire for my birthday earlier this month. This was a present from my most excellent husband (the owner of this blog) and our kids. Some things to know about me and Andrew: We're not early adopters, ever; I'm actually kind of a Luddite (despite being a data analyst for a large corporation by trade); and we both grew up reading copious quantities of physical books. Thus this gifting of an electronic device on which books can be read is a big leap for us. But he made the leap, I think, because he's got a wife who does love to read and he just thought it would be nifty; also because after 15 years together he's still not really sure what kind of jewelry I like. [Actually, I wanted to get her something that she would use and enjoy on a continuous basis, and, as much as my wife likes the idea of jewelry, she rarely wears it. And she's always complaining about how the books I want to keep take up too much space, which is a valid argument for the size house we live in.]
I was both thrilled and intimidated by this gift. Thrilled because it's for books! and intimidated because, it seems, you can do a lot of other stuff with this device, like play games. Or surf the web. Or check email. Or...I'm not sure, it may even have a ray gun inside it somewhere. And I sort of hate to figure out new devices and how to use them (see Luddite, above) and determine how much money they will cost me in an ongoing sense. (Though I admit that having a portable ray gun would probably be really handy, but I bet the per-ray charges are insane.)

After my initial moment of "whoa, what," I did do some exploring and found out a fabulous fact: Our local library system does e-book lending, and it's nearly as easy to do as just surfing Amazon and one-clicking on whatever you like (after you physically visit the library, pay your late-book fines, renew your card, and spend a couple hours surfing the library website looking for ANY e-book that isn't already checked out).
So yeah, after one-clicking, I ended up with a book titled No Plot? No Problem! by Chris Baty. There's very little explanation for why I checked this book out, other than the fact that out of 1000 or so e-book titles in the library this was almost the only thing that even remotely appealed to me and was immediately available. (Seriously, I would have even checked out 50 Shades of Gray, but it was checked out AND had a wait list of 40+.) I wanted some instant gratification on my new e-book mechanism, and this was it.
Let me be very clear at this point: I did not check this book out because I seriously thought I wanted to write a novel. Ever. Especially not during NaNoWriMo this year.
See, this is a substantial difference between Andrew and me. He has always wanted to write fiction, and I have always known that I do not and will not write fiction. That's not to say that I'm not a writer and not a good one, because I actually am. In college I could easily write a substantial paper overnight, without revisions, and get a B or higher. (The fact that I could usually get away with such terrible procrastination is why my overall GPA wasn't generally great.) But nearly all my writing has been done in the service of completing school and then being competent at my job. (You wouldn't think that the job of data analyst requires good writing skills but it actually does. No one's better at a bullet-pointed list than I am.) I've never taken a class in creative writing, and I didn't study more literature in school than I was strictly required to do.
I started to read the book and it turns out the story of NaNoWriMo--that is, the history--really drew me in. Basically it started out as a ridiculous thing for a group of friends to do. No one thought that works of great genius or amazing craft would be turned out; rather, it was a crazy creative thing to do for the hell of it, together. It sounded like a lot of fun. [It also wasn't originally in November, which I found interesting, and none of thought that it would become what it has. I mean, they weren't thinking about the future of it at all. It was a "let's do this right now kind of thing that became a tradition and then became a THING.]
After the history of NaNoWriMo, the rest of the book was mostly about the hows of accomplishing such a ludicrous, wild goal in the space of a month. Which, to boil it down, is "keep going and don't stop." (Now you don't have to read the book, but it's actually a pretty entertaining and quick read and possibly helpful to anyone who struggles with their Inner Editor or with writing paralysis.) Chris Baty managed to make the task sound like something which even I, the non-writer-of-fiction, am up to.

The upshot of it is that somewhere in the pages of the book I became convinced that I might as well try to write a novel. I do have a lot of story ideas in my head. I don't know whether they are good story ideas, but according to Baty that doesn't really matter; it's OK to write un-original crapola and it's OK to not care about "getting published." It's OK to write pulp fiction with no redeeming social value or great-novel aspirations. It's even OK to suck at spelling and grammar, at least for this first draft. (Spelling and grammar are a couple of things I un-suck at with writing; however, I'm also aware that they don't encompass fiction writing. And I managed to misspell grammar both times I typed it just now, of course.)

So yeah, I haven't ever written any fiction, but I have these things going for me:
-- I am a well-educated and thoughtful fan of sci-fi so I can probably not hack it up too badly. That is to say, I can do better than Galaxy Quest levels of science and there will be no chompy-crushy things in the middle of my space ship.
-- I write extremely quickly.
-- Spelling and grammar are not an issue for me.

Oh, I guess I should say I'll be writing a sci-fi novel. I was planning on writing something that could be described as "dystopian near-future sci-fi" (nothing like Hunger Games, okay), but yesterday I decided to switch to something different. A new idea, just because it feels more fun. And Baty's advice in No Plot was to write something I'd enjoy writing, so I'll be going for something more space-opera. I'm tentatively calling it All Suns Go Dark. (That probably should have been "tentatively titling." I told you I'm no author.)

Wish me luck. I'll update in the middle of the month if Andrew lets me and I haven't thrown in the writing towel by then. Anyone else doing NaNo or something equally ridiculous right now?

[I do want to say that I have been trying to get her to write something for years. She does have good stories, and I envy her ability to write quickly, a skill I do not have. Assuming she is still working on this, there will be an update in the middle of November sometime.]


  1. I would suggest you also incorporate some humour into your story as you're clearly a very funny person(the jewellery line above was priceless).

    Good luck!

    Moody Writing

  2. Agree with Moody - she has some wit. Probably keeps you on your toes, Andrew.
    A fast writer? I envy that. I'm 350 words. Per HOUR. Yeah, I suck at typing...

  3. The story of your GPA is the story of my GPA.

    I'm doing NaNo this year. I decided this morning I didn't like my story idea for so I'm in search of a new one.

    Best of luck to you!

  4. I've had a Kindle for almost a year now. It is pretty great, though I don't think my stupid library rents ebooks. Though I have the Amazon Prime thing so I could rent ebooks from Amazon.

    Anyway, I've never liked Nano. I'm glad we're doing the Flash Fiction Festival that month, so there's something else besides people going on and on about Nano.

  5. Anyone brave enough to take on NaNo deserves a serious "good luck". I'm way too slow a writer to participate but I hope she enjoys it!

  6. You are a brave woman indeed to be taking on such a task. I wish you the best and hope Andrew doesn't look too hard at your commas!

  7. As usual, I have little to no idea what anyone is talking about, although years of reading blogs have at least let me know what "NaNoWriMo" is, and as usual-er, not knowing what anyone is talking about isn't going to keep me from weighing in.

    Anyway: I love the title. When you said "dystopian" etc I kind of went "PLEH" but when you gave that title I thought "Ooh, I want to read that," which tells me that the Leon family is way overstocked with talent, because everything you folks come up with sounds great, even TITLES.

    It's not fair. You are overstocked with talent, and I am overstocked with BAD PUNS. And now, having said that, I can't even think of a bad pun. MAN THIS DAY JUST TOOK A TURN FOR THE WORSE.

    I hope you like writing novels, as the world needs more good indie novels.

    As for Kindle Fires, I LOVE mine and use it for everything. I didn't know about the ray gun app but I'll be sure to check that out.

  8. Oh good luck with your writing! I'm sure Andrew will be a wonderful resource too :) I can't wait to read about the updates and how you progress through nano.

  9. I had to get a Kindle so I could read my friends' novels. So many only publish e-books. I do still prefer paper, but will use the Kindle if I must. I'm a bit of a Luddite myself. :P

    Good luck with NaNo!

  10. Best of luck! I've never attempted NaNo, but I'll be cheering for everyone :)

  11. I strongly believe that the only requirement for being a great writer of stories is to be a great reader of stories. Flood your mind with stories and at some point new ones of your own will start pushing to get told.

    This is my first NaNo as well. Good luck!

  12. mood: Hey, I do actually know what kind of jewelry she likes! She just neglected to mention the earrings she got last Christmas.

    Alex: Yeah, she does at that.

    M.J.: What's NaNo for if not change your mind at the last moment?

    PT: You should check with your library; she's been checking out one book after another.

    S.L.: From my end of it, I'll probably be able to sneak in extra writing time, too.

    Anne: I've already been threatened with looking at her commas. heh But that's okay.

    Briane: I'm pretty sure I'm overstocked with bad puns, too. At least, I have to assume that from some of the looks I get.

    Michael: Mostly, I'm gonna try not to interfere.

    L.G.: See, I'm still stuck reading e-books sitting at my computer.

    Jess: After reading how NaNo got started, I have to actually wonder why anyone does it. heh

    Sarah Mc: And good luck to you!

  13. mooderino: I suspect some humor may sneak in, but I think I'm not going to try too hard to make it be any one thing, you know what I mean? I figure, having never written fiction previously, I'm doing pretty well just to have a title, a couple of characters, and a vague idea for some stuff that happens. If it's more than that, then I'll take it. Thanks for the good lucks!

    Alex: I am mildly embarrassed to admit that I acquired my speedy typing skills due to playing text-only online roleplaying games for many years. I also acquired my husband that way (I don't think he's told that story yet). But typing quickly IS really useful, as is Andrew.

    MJ: Look me up to be writing buddies or whatnot on the NaNo site if you want. My username is Sarah Leon. Good luck to you!

    PT: Andrew's not a fan of NaNo either, but I have to admit I sort of like doing stuff that throws him a little off-kilter ;)

    SL: Thank you! I think the fact that it's only a month long is extremely helpful. I really don't know how Andrew goes on writing every day, day after day, especially when there's so often so little reward for doing so. I admire THAT very much about all y'all indie writers.

    Anne: Thank you! Yeah, Andrew and I have pretty different opinions about commas. Somehow, we make a mixed marriage work ;) (because he is smart enough to leave me alone about things like commas).

    Briane: Well, all we've proven SO FAR is that I have enough talent to write an intriguing title. As I'm sure you know (and I theoretically know), it's not really enough to have talent if you don' t have the perseverance to keep at the craft. 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration, etc. I may not have the perseverance to be a writer, but at least if I'm going to fail it will only take a month or less to find out. I'm in love with my Kindle too :)

    Michael: Andrew actually is a great resource, seeing as how he actually studied this English stuff in college and will faithfully over-explain answers to my questions. And he's a fabulous teacher--it's never disappointing to let him explain or orate on a topic he loves. I will keep y'all posted--especially if you bug Andrew about it. (I read his blog and comments pretty faithfully.)

    LG: I will never lose my love of physical books, but I missed being able to check books out of the library (I really just don't have the time to get there and back in my current life), and the Kindle gives me that ability back. I will be reading Dreamers of the Day pretty soon in real form, though, since Andrew bought it for us. (We love us some Mary Doria Russell.)

    Jess: Thank you!

    Sarah Mc: I am indeed a great reader/lover of stories. Look me up on the NaNo site for mutual support if you want, my username is Sarah Leon. I'm not averse to nagging or being nagged :)

  14. Good luck with the NaNo! I've read a lot of posts in the last week about it.

  15. I really, really enjoyed your wife taking over this post, Andrew--well, for the most part taking over; you did add your 2 copper pieces every now and again--especially since she's giving a go at writing a novel. From the post alone, I'm interested in reading what she's got to say. Be it fiction or non.

    After all, good writing is good writing. ;) Best of luck!

  16. Great post! I loved hearing from your wife and enjoyed your inserted comments.

  17. Welcome to the blog world! I am also doing NaNo this year. I tried last year and failed to stick with it but I am going to do this year. Great post and best of luck with your writing:)

  18. G_G: One day all writing will be NaNo.

    Alyssia: I'm sure you'll hear from her again. (And what would it be if I didn't insert myself?)

    Rebecca: I'm glad you enjoyed those. She was wary.

    Jennifer: Stick with it this year!

  19. Good luck with the NaNo experience. Spontaneity makes it all more fun I think. That's what I did the first year and I loved it. Won't be going there this year because I've got too much else on the plate, but there's always next year. I hope.

    Tossing It Out

  20. Lee: I know all about having too much on a plate. I hope you can do NaNo next year, but I'll continue to pass.