Tuesday, 9 December 2014

7 things I learned from failing #NaNoWriMo that have already made me a better writer…(and might help you too!)

This is the second time I’ve committed to NaNoWriMo, but the first time I’ve FAILED to make the magic 50k word count. 

Oddly I’m happier this time round and I’m writing more and better since the end of November. Why? Well, the lessons learned are listed below…

Cats never fail! But thanks Chuck Olsen for the photo
1) Know your enemy
80% of the novel writing effort is spent fighting demons that say, “You can’t write,” and, “You shouldn’t be wasting your time writing, who do you think you are?” whenever you sit down to write.

Lesson: Knowing that means I’m ready for them. They’ve immediately lost the edge of ‘surprise attack’.

2) Learn how to be a demon-fighter
Continuously turning up and writing pretty much every day reduces that demon fighting effort to more like 20%.

Lesson: By turning it into a routine, writing just becomes less of an effort and more normalised. I think this lulls the demons into some sort of sleepy state…

3) Mission possible
It is possible to write 40,000 words in a month and still…. go to work, have a social life, read some books, sleep 7 hours a night, meditate for 20 minutes a day, deal with family crises and have 8 days in the month where you don’t write a word at all.

Lesson: The Jane Austen/make-do-and-mend method, where you make the most of the scraps of time available, is actually pretty effective and much more workable in my world.

4) Live your choices; love your choices
It isn’t possible to write 50,000 words a month with all of the above happening though.

Lesson: And that’s okay! There’s a strong theory that you have to give up things that you love or care about if you’re a ‘real’ writer. That’s probably true for some people but look, I had a life AND wrote 40,000 words. The most I gave up on was some household chores.

The thing is, ultimately you get to choose. You. Not anyone else. Set your targets according to your choices.

5) Keep a track record
A novel is a really big thing. Even a short novel.

Lesson: Keeping a track of who, what, where, when is super challenging. I found my main character went from working at a local council, to being an accountant, to being an IT consultant (you get the drift, she wasn’t the most exciting person, right?!) depending on what I needed her to be able to do work wise to keep the story going. I found having a ‘Legend.doc’ and a ‘Timeline.xls’ really really useful.

6) Kill characters rather than your enthusiasm
Most people on NaNoWriMo seem to be writing fantasy novels with lots of battles and deaths.

Lesson: The point is they were having fun. Writing should be fun first and everything else after!

7) Find your favourite format
Writing a novel is harder and slower than reading a novel. More to the point I found the sense of having to focus on pushing the story forward (and pushing the word count probably…) meant that I didn’t get the same level of joy that I get when I’m playing with a much smaller world.

Lesson: Consequently…I’m revisiting the short story format again! I’m engaging with the short story in a much more conscious way than before and enjoying my writing more. NaNoWriMo helped me to think much more about format and what works best for the kind of stories I most want to tell.

I'm pretty sure I'll NaNoWriMo again. I'm not done with the novel and I find the focus of telling a big story in a month a really revealing writing exercise in terms of understanding my own writing process and preferences. This year was a WIN for me on that basis alone. So here's a big fat cheer to the success of failure!

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

5 ways being a journalist is a lot like being a smoker - and 1 way it isn't...

Journalism, like smoking, is an oddly addictive profession that isn't necessarily good for your personal health or the health of those around you. Often unsociable and these days associated with stereotypes of bad behaviour, is it a journalism ban that we most need to see in this country? 

Rebecca Megson lights up the similarities between smoking (which KILLS by the way kids) and journalism...

All the President's Men
- Journos pursuing lies at the heart
of 'democratic' government*
1) The cool and the beautiful do it on the big screen - making it look cool (Hoffman/Redford, journalistic truth-hunters extraordinaire in All the President's Men) and beautiful (a la the iconic smoker Mrs Mia Wallace in Pulp Fiction. Less pretty when's she's OD-ing later but that's off topic...)

2) The first time you try it (smoking/journalism) you can feel quite sick and disgusted by it...

3) ...but before you know it you have an insatiable hunger for the newsroom/next smoke. Your heart races with excitement/stress. The adrenalin is pumping over whether you'll get the story/get caught smoking by your neighbour ('who will tell your mum what you've been up to young lady'). There is a sense of survival.

Mrs Mia Wallace in
90s cult movie Pulp Fiction**
4) As a journalist/smoker you are something of a social pariah, especially amongst professions that mistrust you (TIP: don't go to a party predominantly filled with scientists and/or doctors and admit you are a smoker/journalist unless you are ready for the cold hard stare of 'Oh, well that certainly changes how comfortable I feel about talking to you').

5) There are particular types of smoking/journalism (aka weed/investigative) that will find you locking yourself in a darkened room for days at a time, rejecting friends and family, living off snack foods and paranoia. You vet anyone you speak to for trustworthiness and then (once they pass the test) reveal everything you've found about the latest conspiracy theory.

And one way it isn't....

1) Unlike tobacco, the very best journalism can be a force for good....

For example, CBS aired the first TV news segment alleging links between smoking and lung cancer in 1955 which revolutionised what we knew and thought about smoking//The Guardian broke the first news story into what would become the hacking scandal, revealing the dirtiest and most unwholesome side of journalism imaginable at that time.

And that is what makes journalism a worthwhile career to pursue (and why we shouldn't ban it!)

*All the president's men" by IMPAwards.com. Licensed under Fair use of copyrighted material in the context of All the President's Men (film) via Wikipedia
**Pulp Fiction cover" by The poster art can or could be obtained from Miramax Films.. Licensed under Fair use of copyrighted material in the context of Pulp Fiction via Wikipedia