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Stuart Lennon

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N is for NaNoWriMo

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National Novel Writing Month. It’s all in the title really.

I have mentioned NaNoWriMo in several posts already. Briefly, the challenge is to write fifty thousand words of a novel in the calendar month of November.

As a way of establishing a regular writing practice and of getting words onto the page, I highly recommend it.

I did a warm-up NaNo in October, so that I could start a fresh manuscript in the November. I wrote thirty something thousand words in October and just short of sixty thousand in November.

Participants are broadly divided into two camps. The planner and the pantsers (seat of pants). I was a pantser. I had no idea where my characters were going to take me. It turns out that they had no idea either. Still, we got over the line.

As a creative endeavour and experience, I enjoyed NaNoWriMo.

As a method of writing a first draft, I remain unconvinced. It may be that actually, I am unconvinced of being a pantser. Writing fast, with no clear plan is great fun. It gets the creative juices flowing. Truth be told though, for me, it did not create characters with depth. It did not create a taut story arc. I am having to go back and do those things retrospectively.

Will I do NanoWriMo this year?

Maybe – but if I do, I will go into the month with a firm outline already written.

NaNo-2015-Winner-Badge-Large-Square

Blogging from A to Z Challenge

L is for Lonely

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On the whole, I am comfortable in my own company. I’m an only child and lived for many years as an expatriate.

Despite this I have found writing lonely at times.

When in the grip of writing a story, I am happy, delighted even, to be alone. After all, I have an entire cast of characters in my head to keep me company.

At other times, being a writer can feel lonely.

Sadly though, the loneliness is not relieved by company.

Non-writing friends and family try to help, but they can’t. Non-writers find it rude if I call them for a chat and then suddenly, and obviously, lose interest in the conversation. Non-writers are mystified to be invited in, to then be ignored. Writers don’t do this on purpose – but when a character demands attention, we must listen. If a scene appears in our heads, we must capture it; to the exclusion of anything else.

Most people go to coffee bars to meet friends, to chat and laugh. Some people even go for the coffee. Writers go to be alone. To observe. Sometimes we go to be ‘not lonely’ but still alone.

During NaNoWriMo there are regional meet-ups. Four of five of us met in a coffee bar in Salisbury. We said Hi, opened our laptops and started tapping away, flatly ignoring each other. After a few hours, I closed the laptop and stood.

‘Same time next week?’

We are definitely not quite right.

Blogging from A to Z Challenge

K is for Kill

faulkner

Calm down. The wife is not under the patio.

‘Kill your darlings’. William Faulkner no less. (Back to those great American writers again.)

Writing the first draft of the best ever debut novel written by me, the challenge was to get all of the words out of my head onto the page. All of the advice that I read was to write; to get on with it, just get on with it…

I stumbled across National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo)Check it out.

NaNo is the extreme end of ‘just write’. So, I wrote and wrote and wrote. No looking back, no editing, always moving forward. The writing took on its own rhythm.

When November ended, I printed out not one, but two manuscripts. As advised, I hid them in a drawer and collapsed in a contented heap. I may even have had a glass of wine or two. 😉

Two novels. Done.

I took the rest of the year off.

Late in February, I judged myself ready to edit. You know, tidy up a few bits of grammar and the like.

The drafts were awful. Prose that was wonderful as I wrote it was dreadful and overblown as I read it back. I needed to kill a lot of darlings.

D is for Deadlines

Calendar with Deadline Circled

Sipping Champagne for breakfast, cocktails in the afternoon, whipping off literary masterpieces on a monthly basis. That was what being a writer was going to be. No need to go into the office, no need to strive for impossible deadlines…ahh! ‘Tis the writer’s life for me.

Any type of wine in the morning has always been a fantastic start to the day for me, as long as the intention is to spend the entire day drinking more of it, to the exclusion of pretty much any other activity. Regrettably, if the intention is to do something else – say write for example, then coffee is the poison of choice.

Once over the morning beverage hurdle, there’s this thing called the internet. It’s a sort of black hole were you click on one little thing and before you know it you have two hundred notebooks coming, know all about the forthcoming Dwarf-throwing World Championships and the sun is setting.

For this writer at least – no deadlines, no writing.

In the corporate world – I was actually not bad at time management. I had ‘to do’ lists and everything. Very quickly though, working from home, I  got very crap at it.

‘Make a phone call? What, tomorrow? I can’t, I’m getting a haircut’

Entire days were given over to tasks that used to be completed in thirty seconds between ‘real’ tasks. Without deadlines, I got nothing done.

Then I did NaNoWriMoNow that’s a deadline.

Boom. 120,000 words. Done.

Deadlines are important.

C is for Creativity

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In my last post, I wrote about a growing addiction to stationery – particularly to notebooks.

With a new notebook and a full pen you can go anywhere. You can be anyone. At the end of the day – you just make it up. Yesterday, I blogged about the wonderful Bureau Direct. I must also mention Spotlight Stationeryanother company that provides gorgeous things.

I thought that finding creativity was the challenge. Overcoming the blank page.

I learned that the secret was fifty words. If on any morning, I could write fifty words, then I could write five hundred, a thousand, fifteen hundred. The key was to churn out those first fifty. That’s it! I thought. I’ve cracked Creativity. I’m a writer. Eureka!

I am learning that a writer must be many things. Creativity is a part of it for sure, but for me, it is just the first part. Once the imagination has run riot, another ‘C’ needs to step forward; the craftsman needs to emerge and fashion the writing into a novel. Then the marketeer must emerge and promote the book.

If this draft is to become my best-ever debut novel, then the craftsman is going to need to work with the creative. At the moment, I’m not sure that they are even on speaking terms.

This post is part of the A to Z Challenge. Find out more about it by clicking here.

Blogging from A to Z Challenge

Editing

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That is the Danube flowing between Buda and Pest.

I have two first drafts. Catchily titled “Sean 1” and “Sean 2”. The first was completed in a burst of writing in October. The second is my NaNoWriMo novel; blitzed out entirely in November.

I suspect that they are both quite crap. I am reassured that this is almost invariably the case and that the real work comes, not in producing a first draft, but in editing and rewriting until that draft becomes a polished bit of writing.

I have had a couple of weeks off and Sean 1 was done and dusted a month and a half ago. I have some distance. I feel ready to think about some editing.

I have been taking a course in editing with the fantastic Anne Rainbow. Well worth looking at her site for information on Scrivener (excellent software to write on) and Red Pen Training (Anne’s approach to editing).

The first question that I need to address is:

“Do I have two first drafts or, two halves of one first draft?”

I had intended to pose this question here in the blog, on twitter tonight at #writingchat, and by email to Anne. However, in looking out the photo above and writing this post, I arrived at the answer all on my own.

Buda and Pest were born as separate cities. As more and more bridges were built across the Danube, they became interdependent, until at last they came to be known as Budapest. So it is with Sean 1 and 2.

Right now, I have a big chunky first draft that needs some pruning.

Time to get to work.

Winner!

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On the first of November, I set out on a challenge to write 50,000 words of a first draft. All of the writing had to be done in the calendar month of November.

Today, the 24th of November, I validated my novel through the NaNoWriMo website and have been officially declared a Winner.

Officially, a Winner has a validated word count of 50,000 words or more.

In reality, the challenge is all about learning one’s own possibilities. A winner is one who can develop a daily writing habit. A winner is one who can sit before a blank screen with a blank brain and still churn out words.

Writing is hard work and graft. Just like any other human endeavour, a winner is one who has realised that perspiration and perseverance are as important, if not more important, than inspiration.

Now, I have two first drafts. I am going to complete a couple of tasks on the one that I have just finished, then print it and put it in a drawer with its predecessor. I have some corporate bits and pieces to keep me busy for a while and I will come back to the first drafts after Christmas.

I am going to catch up with some reading, some blogging and some chores around the house.

First though, I’m going to have another glass of wine.