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How I Plan To Survive NaNoWriMo

NaNoWriMo

Despite promising myself 2013 would be the last time, I’ve decided to do it. I’m tackling NaNoWriMo again.

Last year I started off reasonably well. I managed to get out about 12,000 words before work got in the way and I fell too far behind. I spent the last two weeks being tortured by those daily NaNo email updates and I couldn’t even look at my word stats.

This year, I’m putting much less pressure on myself, because I know the same thing will probably happen again. I’m not aiming for 50,000 new words – instead, I’m working on an existing draft.

The idea behind NaNoWriMo is to write without inhibition, to get as much down as you can without any self-editing. I don’t think it matters how many words you write as long as you take advantage of that mindset to work towards a goal.

And there are some fantastic resources available to help you get there. Here are some of the ones I plan to use.

 

Write-Ins and Social Events

I’m normally not a social writer. I find other people distracting, and I tend to work best when I isolate myself in the library or at home. But I think being around people who are committed and inspired makes a huge difference when I have a specific goal to work towards. And sometimes I need to chat about my project to get excited about it again.

There are a lot of social events happening around Melbourne this year and I’m going to try and head along to a few.

The first Writers Bloc Write Here event happens to coincide with the start of NaNoWriMo. It’s set to take place from 11am at Thousand Pound Bend (361 Little Lonsdale Street, Melbourne) on Saturday November 1. It’s a chance to get together with likeminded writers for a few hours, put your head down and get to work. There’s no pressure to workshop; it’s just a supportive place to meet other writers.

The following Saturday (November 8) the Nanowriters Meetup Group will be hosting a write-in session at Thousand Pound Bend. This one kicks off at 3pm and involves some workshopping and writing exercises, but at the end there’s a get to know you session (and since you’re already in a pub, you might as well have a drink). It runs every week until the end of November, and then every second week if you want to keep up with it after that.

I’ve also joined the official NaNoWriMo Melbourne group. They’re running a ton of events throughout the month, including weekly drinks at the Colonial Hotel (corner of King and Lonsdale Streets in the CBD), a Night of Manuscripting Madly at Complete Post (12 Thistlethwaite Street, South Melbourne), and The Second Annual Great Train Write-In.

If you check the NaNoWriMo forums for your region, I’m sure you’ll find similar events in your area.

 

Online Writing Sprints

Since we might as well be in on all of this madness together, Ricochet Magazine will be running weekly write-ins over on Facebook.

Our first one will be on Sunday November 2 from 11am AEST (use this time zone converter if you’d like to know what time that will be in your city). We’ll write non-stop for one hour, and we’ll have a few prompts to get you started, so if you want to join in just head over to our Facebook page, where you can post about how well you’re doing or chime in if you need some support.

I’m also going to keep an eye on the NaNoWriMo Twitter page, which runs daily writing sprints.

Writing Exercises

I always turn to writing exercises when I want to work out a character problem. Even calling something a writing exercise helps take the pressure off, and it often ends up being better than anything else I’ve produced that day.

There’s a fantastic workbook called Ready, Set, Novel! which was put together by the NaNoWriMo creators. It’s full of activities and tips to help you brainstorm, plan out your plot, create your characters and your setting. I’ve already scribbled all over it in preparation for November 1, but I think it will be especially helpful when I hit those inevitable brick walls.

If you’d prefer not to buy a workbook, there’s nothing stopping you from putting together your own list of activities or finding some online. The NaNoWriMo forums are an excellent place to start. UK website Writing Exercises lets you generate random images, words, character traits and story titles to aid freewriting.

 

Incentives

Some people set themselves a big reward for the end of the month, while others prefer to give themselves small daily incentives. Since I’m very easily distracted by TV, I thought I might as well incorporate it into my routine. The sooner I write my 1,600 words for the day, the sooner I’m allowed to watch The Walking Dead. Sounds foolproof, right? (Right?)
 
Are you participating in NaNoWriMo this year? Share your survival tips!

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Drawing Creativity Out

Untitled image by Franz Kafka

Untitled image by Franz Kafka

During my studies, I always found that I learned best in a classroom situation if I kept my hands busy, sketching, doodling, and drawing caricatures or geometric patterns. I was always in trouble for filling my schoolbooks with (not very good) pictures, though I maintain that the practice was an essential part of the learning process, as if I was encoding the teacher’s verbal information in visual patterns that only I would understand. Drawing was a way of ordering information in my mind. Later, when I started writing, I found myself doodling once again. At first I thought its function was merely procrastination, but then I reflected more closely, and realised that drawing has a kind of meditative function that is central to the practice of writing.

When I start a story, I start with fragments: characters, plot arcs, images, settings, moods. In general, these disconnected pieces float around somewhere in the subconscious, bouncing off each other, sometimes finding edges that fit together. Some people might map the thing out, or create some kind of grand schema, but I find the act of drawing equally productive. Something about the act of visual concentration, the slow and meditative mode of creation, seems to allow those fragments to join up below the surface, eventually emerging as a solved jigsaw (or at least one whose edge pieces have been sorted).

One of my character sketches

One of my character sketches

And perhaps there’s something to it. After all, there are many writers in history who have been engaged in the visual arts to some degree or another – from the clip-art style marginalia of Franz Kafka to the (surprisingly) vibrant impressionism of Sylvia Plath.

Perhaps the most complete record of this little known practice is Donald Friedman’s wonderful book, The Writers Brush, which collects hundreds of examples: from D.H. Lawrence’s well-known paintings to Henry Miller’s watercolours; from the unique modernism of the beat poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti to Kurt Vonnegut’s very collectable screen prints.

Kurt Vonnegut's "Enchanted I.O.U.'s" portfolio

Kurt Vonnegut’s “Enchanted I.O.U.’s” portfolio

The great lesson of The Writers Brush, is that creativity is rarely a beast that can be contained in one channel, or communicated across one medium. If you find yourself struggling to piece together the fragments of a story, try turning your hand to drawing – even if you’re terrible at it. My instinct has always told me that the benefits a writer can derive from the art of doodling have very little correlation to the visual result. This theory is somewhat confirmed by those writers collected in The Writers Brush whose artwork is objectively terrible, but whose writing is nonetheless inspired (Marcel Proust and Fyodor Dostoyevsky, I’m looking at you).

So, next time you’re blocked – try doodling. Lose yourself in the totally mechanical process of connecting lines, and you might find, on the other side of the exercise, some unexpected narrative connections emerging too.

Building Your Profile as a Writer

“Have you ever had anything published?”

That seems to be the first question people ask when they find out you want be a writer. It’s such a frustrating question, because it whittles your passion and commitment down to a simple byline. And when you explain how hard it is to achieve the right combination of luck, talent and good timing when appealing to a literary journal or publisher, it sounds like you’re making excuses for yourself.

Then there are the writing mentorships and residencies. Sure, they’re targeted at fledgling writers looking to develop their craft, but there’s no denying they look favourably on applicants with an established history. Applying for one can seem a little like applying for those entry-level positions that ask for 1-3 years experience when you’re fresh out of uni. You need the experience to apply for the job, but you need the job for the experience.

It all depends on the kind of writer you want to be. If you intend to approach a publisher with your manuscript one day, it could help to have proof that you can engage readers. If writing is a hobby or a more personal passion, maybe you want to confirm to yourself that ‘yeah, I can do this!’ by seeing your name in print. Regardless of your reason, there are some approaches you can take to build your writerly portfolio.

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Advice When Applying for Non-Creative Writing Jobs

writing-laptop-rgb

At my day job this week we’re recruiting a new writer for an online content position. We advertised on SEEK for the first time, and as expected we’ve been inundated by applications.

Part of my job involves sorting through these resumes and removing the applicants who unfortunately don’t seem suited to the role. I’ve been amazed and a little alarmed by the simple instructions applicants have overlooked, while others have really impressed me with their efforts to stand out to our organisation.

Applying for writing jobs is incredibly hard – finding them can be a tricky task in itself – and those hiring can afford to be choosy because these days they’re picking from an ever-expanding pool of professional writing graduates, retrenched journalists and aspiring writers.

There are some common issues I’ve encountered since starting our recruitment process. While much of my advice will seem obvious or irrelevant, I’m hoping the below tips will help you strengthen your application when going for your next paying writing gig.

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Why Failure is Wonderful

This week has been a terrible writing week for me. I missed out on a mentorship opportunity that I desperately wanted, I didn’t get shortlisted for a minor prize, and I’ve had a couple of rejection letters. I did get that sick feeling in my stomach and I wondered if I am wasting my time with this writing business, but then I found an origami butterfly that memoir writer, Wayson Choy gave me when I was at uni, and I remembered why failure is wonderful.

I decided that there are probably some Ricochet readers who have had some rejections and don’t think they’re wonderful, so I thought I’d share an article I wrote not long after the 2009 Brisbane Writers Festival that’s about Wayson Choy, his origami butterflies, and why failure is a wonderful thing. 

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Life After Voiceworks: Submitting for the Not-So-Young Emerging Writers

Dear fellow under-appreciated emerging writers,

Editors have it in for us don’t they? They all hate us, I bet. They see our name, wonder who the hell we are without an agent or a spot on the front page every second day and they throw our stories in the bin. This post is for you. This post is especially for the emerging writers with submissions so invisible that editors don’t even read them.

You see, if you’re over 25, your date of birth oozes out of your pores, pollutes the page with old and unaccomplished poison and renders the email or postal submission you sent out basically worthless.

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Emerging Writers Enter the Digital Spotlight

Almost two months ago now, I finally stepped into the next era in reading and literature when I purchased my first eInk digital reader, the Sony Reader Touch. I was waiting for a wide variety of devices to become available in Australia as well as a wide variety of books, but I suppose you could still call me an early adopter.

I was interested in the format and getting into digital reading from the perspective of a reader but also as an emerging writer. Whilst Australia still has a little way to go for the mainstream reader, the current climate provides opportunities for the emerging writer to get in first.

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