Writer to Writer: Some Random Thoughts on Writing Challenges and the Way in Which We Find Our Truth

Note: I am currently participating in National Novel Writing Month, which runs through the end of November. Despite the valid and understandable assumption that some of you may run screaming away from this pronouncement, please continue. There could be some nuggets here you might appreciate. This is my first entry in the 30-day challenge…


Once more into the bleach…

As I usually do with NaNo, my first day is spent getting accustomed to the unfiltered writing process that is key to success with the challenge. You will never hit the ultimate word count in 30 days if you worry about things like structure and plot and coherency. (And grammar? Absolutely ain’t nobody got time for that.) So, my first entry is always a journal entry, of sorts, wherein I just babble until I reconnect with the stream of consciousness mode that I need to achieve for this month.

I’m already in a bit of a pickle with this year’s effort, in that I’ve been cleaning house all day, pending the arrival of guests manana, so I’m just now sitting down with a mere hour and a half until I hit the midnight deadline, at which time I need to meet the minimum daily word count requirement in order to stay on track. (Sixteen hundred and sixty seven words!) That last parenthetical expression is what is known as a “cheat” in this competition. I should have typed out the much easier and more traditional expression of a number, using actual numerals. (1667 words!) On the flip side, the Nano Gods’ word-counter does not always recognize numerical expressions as words, making them useless in your total, and using alphas for a number, especially a high one, escalates your count into the bonus round. (Five words instead of one or zero.)

I don’t know why the NaNo program sometimes does and sometimes does not count a numeric. (To be fair, Microsoft Word does the same thing, sometimes does, sometimes does not.) I can’t imagine what the deciding factor might be. Skill of the dismount from the keyboard? Who knows.

Anyway, bottom line, I just cheated. And as I hinted at, there are some folks in the NaNoWriMo world who do that rather frequently. (Not naming names, but I’ve seen the discussion boards.) They write out their numbers, they undo their contractions in order to get two words instead of one (don’t becomes do not), and they intentionally use long-ass, over-dramatic phrases that really should be whittled down to a more-concisely point-driven narrative.

Example: They’ll type something along the lines of “A vast cacophony of migrant birds arose from the yew tree and flapped toward parts unknown as the gently glowing orb of the Sun God crested the mountain tops and began sprinkling the dewy meadows with droplets of Nature’s inspiration, causing the trusty sheepdog to race into the nearby rustic village and begin baying at the sleepy inhabitants, alerting the impoverished but proud citizens that it was that glorious moment when folks should tumble out of their huts and throw chicken scratch at the chickens who are scratching for their breakfast and relieve the inflated milk chambers of the burgeoning bovines.”

Really? I think we can cover it more succinctly: “Dawn broke. Time to milk the cows.”

Now, some of you who are familiar with my writing will immediately pounce on this rebuttal: “But Brian, Hotel Manager and Esquire-in-General of Bonnywood Manor, you are famous for your infamous run-on sentences and general ability to ramble for 7 pages in a blog post until you get to your point.”

Well, yes, that is true. But with my blog and my stories, I am usually, intentionally, structuring it that way. I have a purpose behind why I am delaying the pay-off, and it has nothing to do with reaching a certain word-limit. After all, those of us who have been blogging for a long time are fully aware that long blog posts can be a hindrance in this age of short attention-spans and sound bites. There are many people out there who will not bother to read something that is longer than a few paragraphs.

I say those people are missing out on what could potentially be an enjoyable experience. I also say those people are maybe not in the blogging world for the right reasons. If you want Instagram or Twitter, those platforms already exist, over there, where people speak in shorthand and expect instant gratification.

All of the above is my roundabout way of getting to the point I envisioned before I wandered considerably off the path to the village with the burgeoning cows: NaNoWriMo can be a terrific experience. But that’s not going to happen if your goal is to simply hit the word count, whatever it takes. That’s not the method behind the madness. NaNoWriMo is a chance to throw aside your instinctive filters, your perfectionism, and just let the words flow. You are going to end up with a tremendous amount of useless crap, but you are also guaranteed to, perhaps inadvertently, plant some valid seeds that will grow to bountiful fruition, provided you keep nourishing them.

To this day, I am still harvesting from my older NaNoWriMo fields. There have been so many passages and sub-stories that didn’t work for my project during that particular year, but I remember them, and I go back to them, and I often get terrific new adventures out of them. (Well, “terrific” at least in my mind. Everything is subjective.) I keep all of my previous NaNoWriMo submission files on my desktop, and when the tumbleweeds are a blowin’ during times of blockage, I pop one open and see if any of the fruits contained within just need a little nudge toward ripeness. It happens quite often.

Now, some of you may ask, how is it that one novel you’re working on during a particular year can help you with a different novel in a different year?

I have an answer for that: This is my own way of cheating during NaNoWriMo.

It has nothing to do with expediting my word count. But it has plenty to do with what I hinted at above: Don’t constrain yourself. The best way to make NaNoWriMo a success, at least for me, is to let it all out. This advice, of course, contradicts many of the NaNoWriMo “advisors” out there, who pontificate about pre-planning and developing an outline and all kinds of preparatory tasks before the November 1st start date. And that probably works splendidly for some folks.

It doesn’t work for me. I’m not linear with my writing. I’m not good with “I have to get to Plot Point A, making sure this thing happens, and then we proceed to Plot Point B.” I am not methodical and left-brained. I am whimsical and right-brained. (Which, of course, is the complete opposite when it comes to my politics.)

In my crazed little world, I discover my plot points as I rattle along, for the most part. Sure, I generally have a vague “end goal”, especially if I’m sharing a story from my past or a current story of my travels in Spain, something true and verifiable and therefore subject to veracity restraints. But even those goals are often at the mercy of the process. If I’m rambling along, tweaking and poking and experimenting, and I find a thread that seems more appealing than the thread I was pulling, I’m going with that new thread. In that sense, my stories are often just as much a journey for me as it is for the folks who hopefully read them.

And that’s why I love NaNoWriMo. It’s about the thread-pulling. I can be babbling away in an attempt at a horror story, wherein a disparate group of people have decided for some absurd reason to spend the night in the abandoned remains of a Victorian mansion once owned by the inventor of adhesive parquet flooring. As said ill-focused group navigates the dusty hallways of previous luxury, the main protagonist might stumble upon a statue of Santa Lucrezia, patron saint of village people who don’t know how to sing or line dance.

My mind: Wait, Santa Lucrezia? That sounds like a sexual lubricant for holy people who have unholy communion with various trysting partners, with everyone denying everything in the morning as they head to morning prayer, pretending that no gongs were banged during nocturnal frenzy. So, now I’m all about that angle. The situation is rife with subterfuge and finger-pointing, both accusatory and sexual. Well, hell. That sounds more fun. Let’s go there. And so I do.

So, let’s tie this all in.

I might be specifically referencing NaNoWriMo with the above, and I do hope that my fellow writers who are participating absorb my thoughts in a manner that best suits them. But the bottom line for every writer, not matter what you’re doing or how you’re going about it, is this: Write to please yourself, pull the threads that beckon, and pay no attention whatsoever to anybody who tries to tell you that you are doing it the wrong way.



Story behind the photo: Me, revealing myself one strand at a time. Image snapped by Cactus Girl, for those in the know…


37 replies »

  1. I know all about how these things take off, on a life and wayward journey of their own. Sometimes a few rules and restrictions can give a different focus. Gawd, that sounds a tad Republican playbook… euw. Anyway, write on, keep up the counting, and enjoy. If its not enjoyable, why bother?

    Liked by 2 people

    • To be fair, I’ve always been one to buck trends and any degree of regulation, so those who know me well are stunned that I continue to participate in this mess, year after year. Yet this NaNo thing speaks to me, in an unsatisfied-lover kind of way. I know that things will degenerate after our “weekend in New England” affair, but I relish the intensity and fervor of being forced to create multiple thousands of words, and therein lies the enjoyable part…

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Happy NaNo! I always enter with great optimism. But somehow the universe particularly likes to dive bomb 💣 me in November. Weddings, funerals, births, house moves, hospitalisation—all seem to wait for me to get to about 15k words and then November hits with everything it’s got. Oh well—here’s to another NaNoWriMo. May the word count be with you!

    Liked by 2 people

    • You certainly seem to have a lot of things happening in November. Me? Not so much. It basically comes down to two things this month: How to get my partner to leave me alone for 30 days and having to remind my partner to leave me alone for 30 days. That aside, I will say that I am one of those people who staggers along swimmingly for the first 40k words, but than I slam into a brick wall for the final few days. I’m assuming that late-inning freeze-up is based on something untoward that happened in my childhood. Isn’t that usually the case? 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I love to see how the plot will present itself – when I’m not writing, that is. When I’m actually writing, I find it terribly frustrating.
    Come on plot! Present thyself!
    Hope it goes well for you. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  4. “Really? I think we can cover it more succinctly: “Dawn broke. Time to milk the cows.”
    ROFL!! (Okay, for the perspective of word count, I will spell that out…rolling on the floor laughing)

    Your seven word revision is most certainly more succinct. I was running out of breath just reading the unabridged version

    I read every word, was never bored and am happy to have found both wisdom and humor.

    and the best of the best, imo, is:

    “Write to please yourself, pull the threads that beckon, and pay no attention whatsoever to anybody who tries to tell you that you are doing it the wrong way,” said Brian Lageose.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Thanks for sharing those insights into your writing. I don’t consider myself to be any kind of writer. I admire those who can though, like you. 🙂

    By the way, you look like a somewhat confused James Bond in your red strands. (Where’s my drink? Where’s my gun? Have I deflowered a seeming-maiden-who-actually-is-a-bad-guy yet?) Good capture by the Cactus Girl. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • Okay, hold up. You ARE a writer. Your posts, especially when you go deep (and sometimes you do, don’t deny it) are brimming with word-smithing talent. No, don’t argue with me, or I might have to come up there and slap you in a gently-loving way.

      As for the James Bond connection, it’s true. And I was actually offered a major role in the next movie, until the producers realized that my acting talent was abysmal and I had no business in show business and it was best that we never speak of this again… 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I have many writer friends who do the Na-No but I never have. Can’t afford the time with a goal to write twice that word count every week. If I don’t, I can’t keep up with the market and ideas banging around inside my head, screaming to be written. Or have I forgotten my meds?

    The Na-No challenge is an excellent tool for getting accustomed to the discipline of writing, getting to the point where one has to sit down every day and write.

    Love your ending bit of advice: “pay no attention to anybody who tries to tell you that you are doing it the wrong way.”
    Caveat to that is that I do listen to reader comments and always consider editorial advice and suggestions from colleagues. May not use them but always keep them in mind.

    We must remember that Clint Eastwood and Burt Reynolds were both told they’d never get anywhere in Hollywood. (Insert derisive snort and snicker here.)

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Hold up. Are you saying that your goal is to write 100k words every WEEK? Or am I failing miserably with my mathematical and/or comprehension skills here? If that IS your goal, I think I’m going to need some quiet time to let that sink in before I can proceed with the rest of my comment… 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • No,no,no. Yikes. Ten K to fourteen K a week! When I was younger I had these crazy binge days when I did that many in two days. My brain is no longer that elastic. This mixup is proof that I have no math skills, the little grey cells are giving out and am sinking slowly into decrepitude. Argh. The advantage to getting older is that I don’t have to hack out great chunks like I used to after that kind of binge writing. My critique partner wields a vicious red pen and keeps me in line. Don’t know where I’d be without her. The last years it’s mostly grammar errors, typos, and plotting bugaboos.

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.