Monday, November 30, 2009

Guest Post: Glenda Larke and NaNoWriMo

Hey all, when I found out that Voyager author Glenda Larke was tackling NaNoWriMo this year, I asked her on to the ROR blog to discuss her experiences. One of the most common myths about NaNoWriMo is that it's not possibly to produce publishable books at that kind of writing rate (50,000 words in a month).

Thanks for joining us, Glenda! We'd love to hear about other NaNo experiences in the comments.


from Glenda Larke

To tell the truth, before this year the whole idea of writing a novel in a month seemed rather ridiculous. I never needed an incentive to write, completing 50,000 words in a month was easy and for me, that number or words was nowhere near a complete novel anyway. My shortest published book is 120,000 and the longest 183,000 words.

Why I decided to do NaNoWriMo

I am getting older and things change. You know those stories about folk over 60 who start looking for their car keys, only to realise they haven’t watered the indoor plants so they go into the kitchen to get the water, where the cat is asking to be fed…and so on until at the end of the day, they still haven’t looked for the car keys? Well, I found that was happening with my writing. I was getting too easily distracted. I’d start writing, then remember an email I had to answer, a blog I wanted to read, a phone call I had to make, a bill that had to be paid…and somehow another day passed and the book was not getting written, or at least not getting written fast enough.

So I decided to try NaNoWriMo to keep me focused. I set a personal goal of 2,000 words a day in the hope that I would get 60,000 words done. Every time I have paced myself with another writer in the past, it seems to have worked, so I had high hopes.

Why would it work for me?

I can’t imagine why it should work, as I am not a particularly competitive person. I suppose it’s the idea that someone else out there is actively interested in seeing me succeed. With NaNoWriMo there are a whole stack of folk out there watching – all those writing buddies for a start, plus the readers watching my word count on my personal blog. What a blast of an incentive. I think it must be a matter of personal pride. You know, “Waaah! If I fail, everyone will know!”

Definitely every time I started to drop below 2,000 words a day, I felt guilty and resolved to do better. When I didn’t write for three days in a row, I received messages of encouragement. I’d look at my online writing buddies – many of them with young families and/or fulltime jobs and I’d wonder how they could achieve more words a day than me. Yep, shame worked too…

Does it make things easy?

Nope. Easier, yes. Things still happened to distract me: visitors at weekends, some questions from the proofreader about the book coming out in March, a request from my agent that involved two days work on an earlier trilogy about to be published in German. Painters came to paint the outside of the house. The kitchen sink started leaking. The thunderstorms this monsoon season are daily occurrences, and necessitated unplugging the computer. I had a dental emergency. There was a long meeting I had to attend about some work I am doing in the non-fantasy world that ended up taking one whole day.

But I wasted less time on other things because of NaNoWriMo.

What didn’t work for me about NaNoWriMo?

The philosophy behind NaNoWriMo is that you just write and forget about revising. The aim is to get those words down on paper. That doesn’t work well for me. I can’t start cold each morning. I have to get back into the atmosphere of the story, to pick up the flow, which means reading what I wrote the day before. Alas, there is no way I can do that unless I correct the most egregious mistakes too. And so an hour or two of the writing day is used up, sometimes longer. If I didn’t do this, I’d spend that hour trying to get myself back into the mood of the story anyway. So I ignored the NaNoWriMo advice.

I am also a person who has to go back and insert stuff when I realise that something is missing in the plot a few chapters back. I disobeyed the advice not to do this too. If it works for me, why not? Probably not advisable for non-writers trying something new, though. The biggest “rule” I disobeyed, I guess, was the fact that I wasn’t beginning a novel at all. I already had 62,000 words written and now have another 55,000 to do. NaNoWriMo covered the middle.

So, was it a success for me?

Absolutely. Maybe not as big a success as I'd hoped – my final total was 53,220 words – but it kept my fingers pretty much glued to the keyboard for one whole month. And Stormlord’s Exile, Book 3 of the Watergivers, now stands at over 115,000 words.

One of the best things, I haven’t even mentioned – that was turning up to two of the NaNoWriMo writer get-togethers at a local Kuala Lumpur coffee shop. I met new people, including two school-age teenagers (who both succeeded in reaching 50,000!), made new friends and was inspired by their enthusiasm. Malaysians wrote over 2.5 million words, for an average success of 28,966 thousand words, the latter figure pretty much average for most groups around the world.

Will I do it again?

Sure – if I am at the first-draft stage of a novel when November rolls around. See you there? Oh, and right now, if you want to race me over the next 55,000 words, come over to my blog Tropic Temper and let me know.


Glenda Larke
Coming September 2009 (Australia) March 2010 (UK/US): THE LAST STORMLORD
March 2010 (Australia) STORMLORD RISING

Glenda Larke is the author of:
The Isles of Glory trilogy:
Book 1: The Aware
Book 2: Gilfeather
Book 3: The Tainted
The Mirage Makers trilogy:
Book 1: Heart of the Mirage
Book 2: The Shadow of Tyr
Book 3: Song of the Shiver Barrens
and writing as Glenda Noramly: Havenstar


Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Hi Glenda,

I know what you mean about people and things nibbling away at your writing time.

Your writing method sounds very similar to mine. I have to jumpi into what you wrote the day before, cleaning it up and flowing on with the story.

Plus I have to back to correct something. I find I have to do this, otherwise I can't go on. If I know there is a key scene where someone didn't say something that they now need to say, then I simply have to go back and add it.

I'm going to give myself time out over Christmas to do some solid writing. (As well as reorganising the whole house!).

Oh, wouldn't it be lovely to have a wife?

KylieQ said...

Way to go with NaNoWriMo, Glenda. I (just) scrapped through with 50,002 words. LIke you, I was working on an already-in-progress ms and used it to almost push through to the end. Not sure whether I would do it again - I've told my husband that if November rolls around and I'm talking about doing NaNo again to remind me that it was 30 days of hell. But it did make me write much more consistently. I usually work to a target of 10,000 words a week and most of that happens on the weekend so it did get me working (almost) every night.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Kylie, there is no 'just' when you write 50,002 words in a month!

I'm envious.

Glenda Larke said...

Rowena, I have been hanging out for a wife for years...

Kylie, this time I had a deadline that MUST be met, so that did help.

But given my very real problems of focus (honestly, this age thingy is the pits), I think I would do it again.

Fortunately, I think my writing is so much better than it was 10 years ago, which means I have to spend less time on the revision. Oddly enough, I find revision much easy to focus on too - it's more interesting, perhaps?

Glenda Larke said...

And I wholeheartedly agree with the lack of a "just"!!

KylieQ said...

Oh, that must be my ultra-competitive side showing :) I spent the whole month telling myself it was all right if I "just" did 50,000 rather than trying to do more :) It's a bit of a character flaw, I think. But I don't think I could have done any more without time off work.

What has been nice about Nano though has been getting into the mindset of just pushing through. I usually edit (to an extent) as I write and I certainly use editing as a procrastination tool when I'm stuck.

KylieQ said...

By the way, Rowena, how did you go with NaNo? You were aiming for 25,000 the last I heard. Did you get there?

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Glenda, I prefer doing the rewriting. I think it is because then I get to add the layering of characterisation.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...


I managed 12,000 words. A start on this new book.

And I let myself off the hook, as this is my first term teaching as an Associate Lecturer and the marking of assignments takes up a week solid, every three weeks.

That's why I'm looking forward to the Christmas break.

Glenda Larke said...

Absolutely, Rowena. So many details go into the revision. When I was more inexperienced I had to make major plot revisions too, but I think I have won that battle.

I love adding the polish. Swopping a better word for an overworked one, filling in the blanks in the world and the characters, ratcheting up the tension by adding a bit more atmosphere - oo, can't wait!

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Just read this, Glenda.

How Dolores Umbridge came to lead the Aussie Conservatives

LOL. Oh dear. I constantly feel like I'm living in a satire, only no one's told the rest of society.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Oh, Glenda, just read your post about your tooth problem.

I have one that's cracked up into the root and I have to go under a general anesthetic to get it out. Then had ti replaced at great expense.

Bah humbug to dentists!

glenda larke said...

I would hate to be a dentist. In the end, the tooth was repaired...we'll see how long it lasts.

Tell, why do no fantasy characters ever have toothache? Don't answer that. I know the answer. Nobody wants to read about it!

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Glenda said: Tell, why do no fantasy characters ever have toothache? Don't answer that. I know the answer. Nobody wants to read about it!

Good point.

During the Boer War many of the British soldiers couldn't fight because their teeth were in such bad condition they couldn't eat the hard biscuits the army gave them.