The Energy of the Beginner

Having run events for so many years now, it’s always interesting to watch the folks who are new to writing.

Some have an idea, but don’t know how to start off. Others need constant reassurance that they’re doing a good job. There are even some who fill every spare moment with writing classes and courses.

It’s not only inevitable that everyone will go through this process, but it’s necessary. All the experimentation allows you to figure out your preferences and dislikes. From my own perspective, I figured out early on that I like sending my work to publishers but entering it into competitions. I then worked out that I like to pen monologues or plays rather than novels.

If you do have that kind of energy, my advice is to use it while you have it. Bluntly, once your motivation goes, it might never return.

Changing Times and a Change of Time

I’ve left it until the last minute to write this entry. It’s not entirely because I’ve been busy – although that’s a factor – but because I wanted to hear the announcement today from the Scottish First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon.

Tomorrow is the next instalment of my open-mike evening Hotchpotch, and it was expected that new restrictions would be brought in today on account of the Omicron variant of COVID-19. Happily, nothing in the announcement affects our ability to hold the event tomorrow, even if more members might choose instead to attend our virtual event on Sunday.

Last week, we were also able to run a new version of our gameshow The Literal Flow Test, involving Christmas-themed topics, as part of a wider programme of events. I might come back to this topic in a future week as there’s a story to be told there as well.

The one event that isn’t back in person is National Novel Writing Month (NaNo). As that organisation has a largely top-down approach, all the regions in the world have been advised not to meet except online, even if our local authorities allow it. Which brings me to a point about the timing of my weekly blog posts.

When I started writing this blog, I was able to update regularly at 5pm on a Monday. This evolved into 6pm on a Tuesday, and that lands squarely during the NaNo meetings. That used to make sense because I would talk to people around a table while using my PC to type the entry.

Because I’m now using my PC to talk to members and write at the same time, it’s not so simple. As such, from next week, I’ll be updating this blog at 8pm on a Tuesday. The time is still subject to a trial run, but expect my entries to appear a couple of hours later.

Sprinting Like a Champion

Yesterday, I volunteered to take over one of the Twitter accounts for National Novel Writing Month for an hour. NaNoWordSprints provides nearly 50,000 subscribers with writing prompts and encouragement to reach their chosen goals.

When I first started writing, I went to classes with an author who would give us five or ten minutes to write a passage inspired by a snippet of text or a photograph, or occasionally an object.

My approach to this hour-long stint was similar, except that shorter prompts and longer writing periods seem to work better on Twitter. I’d thought about the prompt topics in advance, but the structure was constructed largely on-the-fly. In minutes, the four sessions were: 10, 15, 15 and five. The third of those had a photograph as a prompt instead of text.

On top of this, you need to keep an eye on any replies coming in, and answer accordingly if it was warranted. However, I found the pace manageable, and once I was in the swing of presenting the exercises, I enjoyed the experience so much that I signed up to take over on the three coming Mondays.

Writing Prose Again

When I first began writing in 2010, my output was exclusively prose. I was in a writing prompt group where I would regulary produce short stories. Around the same time, I was producing longer works through National Novel Writing Month, normally known as NaNoWriMo.

My step into poetry happened around three years later. It coincided with being single for six months after a long-term relationship, but I can’t say how much that influenced me. Since then, I’ve crafted my poetry more and more to the point where I almost exclusively write verse.

Recently, however, that has started to reverse, perhaps because my poetry group is taking a one-month break. I’ve drafted one piece that will probably end up being no longer than 150 words, and I’m planning another with five characters who will likely dictate the length of the story before I know it myself.

NaNoWriMo is a contest to write 50,000 words in November. It’s not widely known outside this circle that there is a less formal contest at other times of the year known as Camp. April saw the last one, and we’re currently in the July edition. In these months, you pick your own word count and type of long-form piece.

However, I’m not writing these stories as part of Camp as I don’t intend them to be terribly long. What I’ll be doing instead is keeping aside my existing longer pieces and working on them during November.

What I have to do now is find a way to keep up my prose momentum from now until then. That said, the excitement in the group tends to swell around November, and that helps a lot.

Pomodori Doppi

With National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) underway, there is currently a worldwide race among members to tap out 50,000 words each by the end of November. But how does someone find the time to jot down an average of 1,667 words per day?

For someone like me who generally works core nine-to-five office hours – with at least one shift per week lasting until 6:30pm – I have to make use of any time possible.

I also organise the events for our region. Throughout the year, we have two hours of ring-fenced writing time every Tuesday evening, and an extra two hours per week on a Saturday throughout November. While at meet-ups, it’s relatively easy to crack on with work because everyone else is also trying to reach their word count goal.

The difficulty arises on non-meeting nights. I want to achieve a certain number of words per day, but I also need to tidy the flat and catch up with correspondence. The solution I find works best for me is based upon the Pomodoro Technique. In fact, one of the official NaNoWriMo Twitter accounts ran Pomodoro word sprints just today.

In the classic technique, you carry out a task for 25 minutes and take a break for five. However, I find that isn’t enough time to allocate to writing, so I prefer a double Pomodoro: write for 50 minutes and tackle another task away from the PC for 10 minutes.

I also have an instrumental playlist that lasts for approximately 50 minutes and helps me slip into the mood for writing, as that’s what I chiefly do when I listen to it.

Whatever time management techniques work for our members, however, we the organisers always make it clear that National Novel Writing Month is supposed to be fun.

If anyone finds it overwhelming, we want them to know it’s perfectly acceptable to leave aside a project, and there is no shame in not hitting the 50,000-word target.

Plans on my Hands

Having received my kit from the headquarters of National Novel Writing Month, I’ve been thinking about our group’s plans for when the contest starts in November. I also need to do some work on Hotchpotch, my open-mike for writers.

As such, I’ve had no time to write a full entry. However, we should be back next week with something to say.

The Camper-Plan

As we head into the July edition of Camp NaNoWriMo, I’ve decided my project will be to revisit an old novel and turn the handwritten manuscript into a typed one.

My plan was to copy out the piece, making any amendments as I went along. But when I started writing, I found the rather bland factual descriptions were somehow morphing into something ten times as lively, with the narrator’s personal opinions peppered throughout. I’ve since written a few guidelines to help keep the voice consistent, and I’ll be introducing a counter-narrator for alternate chapters.

I don’t know why this particular leap occurred, because I haven’t revisited the manuscript since it was drafted. Perhaps it’s because I wrote it in chronological order – which is unusual in my practice, and indeed unusual among novelists in general. As such, I know how the characters develop by the end of the story.

One factor that’s helped in the past, as possibly with this piece, is the use of voice dictation software, specifically Dragon NaturallySpeaking. I initially installed this program to reduce Repetitive Strain Injury, but I now find it invaluable in other ways, since I have to speak my handwritten text out loud. This is great for highlighting individual words that slow down the narrative, and I find that some pieces have a different tone from what I intended.

During Camp, I’m aiming to edit for an average of one hour per day, although I’ve built in time to read my mailbox messages and to catch up with fellow writers in our online Cabin. A Cabin works a lot like Twitter, but is restricted to 20 people; writers can choose to be assigned to one at random, set up a private one with friends, or elect not to use one at all.

Personally, I’m finding their support invaluable, as I’ve only managed around 10% of my goal and we’re 30% through the month. There’s still time to catch up, but it will be a struggle.

The Project That Turns into Another

In April, the first of two Camp NaNoWriMo events takes place. This is a less involved version of the main National Novel Writing Month in November, where members can choose their own word count or even a different type of literary project.

My aim was to produce another draft of the novel I’d redrafted in November, spending a target average of one hour per day. However, I haven’t done any of this editing so far because my time has been taken up organising three live events over the next month. There will be more about those in the next entry.

In fact, the entry you’ll see next week has already been partially written, and that’s because I put aside that for a piece that came to me yesterday, prompted by a sign on a coffee machine that read ‘Biscuits don’t live here’.

It certainly isn’t the first occasion where I’ve felt inclined to put one project aside in favour of another. Depending on the time constraints, I usually choose the one that’s eating away at me the most.

In the case of the biscuits poem, I probably would never have completed this if I’d left it aside to write the original blog entry. By contrast, I know I’ll come back to that entry next week because this space needs to be filled.

Moving On

On Friday evening, I finished National Novel Writing Month just over the target of 50,000 words.

But rather than look back and analyse the struggles of achieving that goal, I feel more inclined to tackle the tasks that had to be put aside in the meantime.

To that end, have a great week, and I look forward to updating you in a more complete fashion.

Dear Diary

Last Monday, our open-mike night for writers moved back to its old venue after a refurbishment. We had an excellent turnout and enough material for more than two hours, not including the two 15-minute breaks. A couple of the staff also said they enjoyed meeting us.

Then on Tuesday, it was our NaNoWriMo meeting where we sometimes write and sometimes chat and always exchange ideas and maybe fill in each other’s plot holes. After that, I spent a little time at a playwriting evening called Scrieve where playwrights get to hear their work performed by volunteer actors.

On Thursday, I was with my poetry group Wyverns where we each presented our poems about Frankenstein on the 200th anniversary of the publication of Mary Shelley’s novel. There is a local connection as she acknowledged in an essay that the grim Dundee climate inspired her creation. Our poems have been published in a slimline booklet.

Saturday was when we had our second NaNoWriMo meeting of the week, and despite not starting until the afternoon, it was one of my most productive days so far with 2,500 words written. However, at the end of Sunday, I only had 35,482 when I needed 41,666 to stay on target. If I don’t pull my finger out soon, I’m not going to manage the 50,000 words, but dear diary, you can tell anyone I admitted this.