30 November 2005

NaNoWriMo-ers, I salute you

NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) participants, I salute you, today, November 30th, the last day of this year's challenge.
Nobody ever said writing a novel was easy. But you, you slogged through the process in 30 days (or are still slogging for the next 15 hours) to write 50,000 words in the month of November.
Yes, November is known for Thanksgiving, for Black Friday and now cyber-Monday. But National Novel Writing Month cannot go overlooked.
For 30 days you toiled. You wrote with no thought to how good the story might be. If you had no plot, it was not a problem as the Nano founder said in his book, "No Plot, No Problem." (For a look at one NaNo-er's experience, check here.) According to the NaNo site, collectively you have written more than 650 million words to date.
You. You Wrote. You wrote a novel.

I did not. Last year, I wrote for one day of NaNoWriMo, not even making the needed 1,667 words for that day. This year, I shirked the challenge altogether. I say this with some amount of shame.
I am a writer. I should do this to stretch myself, to be able to say at the end of a month, "I have written a 50,000-word novel." Nevermind that during November I made significant revisions to The Work in Progress. Nevermind that during November I cranked out 18 new pages (roughly 4,500 words) to better link parts of the WIP together. I wasn't NaNoWriMo-ing this year.
Next year, I tell myself. November 2006 will be the year. (Of course, I told myself that about November 2005 after NaNo was done for 2004). I have 11 months to come up with an idea, 11 months to write an outline even to keep myself on track. Eleven months to get psyched, to get ready for this writing marathon.
Eleven more months to heartily congratulate those of you that did it this year.

28 November 2005

Books to Big Screen

I went to see Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire this weekend.

While the special effects were good, and the actors continued amazingly to embody these almost iconic characters, the people I feel who deserve the most kudos are the screenwriters who boiled J.K. Rowling's 734-page book into a 2.5-hour movie. I suspect doing so was comparable to one of Hercules' labors.

Yes, they changed a few things. Yes, they cut out most of the book's subplots. They also managed to keep the flavor of Harry's world, the quirkiness that makes Rowling's books what they are.

This is harder than it sounds. A film student friend of mine has taken several of my short stories to turn them into short films. As a writer, first it is hard to give the story over to another's hands. Swallowing the changes -- even if they are good changes -- is even harder because there is a feeling of losing control of what you worked so hard to create in the first place.

I wonder how J.K. Rowling feels about how the movies are turning out. I wonder how C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, H.G. Wells, Graham Greene, or Jane Austen would feel about the movie versions of their classics? I wonder how John Irving could write the screenplay for "Cider House Rules" that is so different from his own book? I wonder if Michael Chabon agonized over the screenplay for the upcoming movie of his Pulitzer-prize winning novel, "The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay?"

Maybe if the story is good enough, changing the delivery from print to film is no big deal. Maybe though instead of disparaging the movie for not being like the book, we readers should applaud the work of the screenwriters for their talent for giving us a complete story arc on film.

25 November 2005


I have writer's block. A full-blown case. Overwhelmed by the amount of material I have collected for a story, I don't know where to begin. I have a set of deadlines that I must meet and the clock ticks and I am making no progress.

Of course, begin I must once I am done posting here. This post is like practice, or therapy, proving to myself that I can indeed put one word after another in an order that makes sense.

Writing is the only cure for having writer's block. That sounds circular, irrational, illogical. But it's true. It's like the cliched phrase, "A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." To beat the block, writers have to write. Eventually, with enough persistence, the block comes down, even if it feels like you've been tearing it down with your bare hands.

23 November 2005

All in the timing

I finished reading Janet Evanovich's Hot Six on Monday night, just slightly more than 24 hours after I started it. Granted, I read half of the book while on an airplane which skews the amount of time normally needed to finish a book. But still, I finished it awfully fast. And then I checked the Oshkosh Public Library online card catalog to see if they have the next one, Seven Up.

This, simply put, is not normal. I have read six of Evanovich's books this fall already. I am eager to read another, and will likely push it ahead of other books on my I-really-should-read-this-one-next list.

Which got me to thinking -- what is it about Evanovich's books that has me so captivated? I've read better books, books that have moved me, books that have challenged me, books with more beautiful sentences.

What Evanovich has is the power of the hook. She knows exactly where to break a chapter so that I have to go on and read the next chapter. And the next. And the next. She also knows exactly how to end a book to resolve the plot of that one, but to set herself up for her characters to come back. Her sense of timing is impeccable, a useful skill since her books are awfully funny, and she knows how to put a punchline into prose.

Timing, or call it pacing, is important for writing. Knowing when to draw out a scene in prose slo-mo or keep the pace up to heighten tension is tantamount to good fiction. Draw it out too much and readers get bored. Rush through and they wonder what exactly happened. Forget coming up with a plot -- figuring out the timing to keep readers reading may be the hardest part of writing fiction.

But when writers do it well, they leave the readers wondering when we're going to find the time to read on.

22 November 2005

The "R" word

The "r" word I'm thinking of is "revision." This was always my least favorite part of writing assignments in school. It may still be, though I certainly see more value in it now.

It was Joel Achenbach's blog at the Washington Post from 11-20 that got me thinking about this. As Achenbach said, "The only good thing you can say about the Unwritten is that it's not nearly as big a problem as the Already Wrote. Because the Already Wrote is usually terrible. As a professional writer I spend far less time dealing with the Unwritten than I do with the Already Wrote. The Unwritten at least has the potential, in theory, hypothetically, in an ideal universe, to be great; the Already Wrote hasn't a chance."

Achenbach is right. Every unwritten thing rolling around in my head has the chance to be the piece that will win a Pulitzer or for my fiction projects, to be the great novel that will get as much acclaim/following as J.K. Rowling or Dan Brown or Stephen King.

One paper, though, I see how much better it could have been... if only. If only I'd tightened up my lede or nut graf or crafted better dialogue or heightened the plot tension or wasn't so obscure with some kind of symbolism.

People who aren't writers -- well, and writers too, because I forget this enough times myself -- forget that writing isn't really an art. It's a craft, a trade, a job. Where some people can do wiring or welding with the appropriate tools for that job, writers have to sling around the words in the English language to try and and express an idea, or evoke an emotion or explain a process. And sometimes those words get flung around in a way that's artful and significant the first time, but most of the time writers probably struggle just as much as that electrician, who can't figure out why the lights won't turn on even though all the wires seem to be going to right places.

So the electrician tries again and rewires everything. And so writers try again and revise. It's the only way to possibly save the Already Wrote.

21 November 2005

Introducing the Word Nerd

One of my journalism profs called me a "word nerd" once. Luckily, I liked that prof.
And she's kind of right.
I read. I write -- for a living and for fun. (Now I blog, too.)
Word Nerd is about those two things, reading and writing. Good writing attracts readers. And being a reader helps train a writer's eye to techniques that work well, or not so well.
They go together. Like peanut butter and jelly. Or Oreos and milk. Or journalism and deadlines...

Currently reading: Hot Six, by Janet Evanovich and Golden Fool, by Robin Hobb.