Ramping up for NaNoWriMo 2011

30 10 2011

Astute readers of my last post will have read, close to the bottom, a word that they probably have never seen or heard before: NaNoWriMo.

Don’t worry about it, 10 days ago I had never heard of this word either. But that was before I went to a writers’ conference, where each of the 800 participants was talking about it like it was some kind of holy grail.

Nano what? Nanotechnology? No, that’s something different. Nanoseconds? Uh-uh.

NaNoWriMo is “National Novel Writing Month,” also known as “November”. The movement was founded in the San Francisco Bay Area (where most of the world’s great, innovative and ground-breaking things tend to be founded) 12 years ago as a challenge to get people to sit down and write. Just write. Not edit, or research, or read, or rewrite, but WRITE.

Yup, I'm in!

The goal is to put 50,000 words down on paper (or a computer screen) during the 30 days of the month. For those who are wondering, that is a tall order, even for folks who do this kind of thing all the time. Sure I can bang out a blog post of 400-600 words in maybe an hour or so.  But NaNoWriMo will demand a much higher level of proliferation (folks also sometimes call this “verbal diarrhea” or “literary vomit”) and most of all, discipline.

50,000 words means a daily tally of 1,667 words, for 30 days straight. That is more than three blog posts. Every day.

That is like running a marathon each day for a month. I would be pretty sick and tired of running after that, I think. Of course, my hips and knees will have called a strike halfway through.

I’m sure by the end of November, I will be sick and tired of words, and my computer screen, and my keyboard, and that damn voice in my head, and that devil sitting on my shoulder. Am hoping my fingers, wrists and nerves survive to see the end of it too.

But the good thing about NaNoWriMo is exactly that – the deadlines, the pressure, and not wanting to give up because nobody wants to be a quitter.

The organizers have a great website with motivational strategies to fight the beast that will beset each and every one of us sooner or later…. the beast called: “There-Are-A-Million-Other-Things-I-Must-Do-Right-This-Very-Second-That-Just-Can’t-Wait”. Organized write-ins will up the peer pressure and make sure participants are not just staring at a blinking cursor on a blank computer screen for three hours a day.

The Zurich write-ins are at a local Starbucks. I see my caffeine intake peaking.

By virtue of the fact that I am telling you about this means I am making a silent and solemn pledge that I will finish the project to the best of my ability. And I’m basically unemployed now, so hey, I have the time. Maybe I could cheat and include blog posts in the 50,000 word total. In the end, I think any sort of writing is accepted by the kind folks in Berkeley. They are a tolerant people.

So for the next 48 hours I will go away and mentally prepare myself for my month of marathons. I have no idea yet what I will write, or about whom. In any case, at the end of it, I will be 50,000 words and one fascinating life experience richer. What I do with all that remains to be seen.

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Writers’ Conference 101

24 10 2011

I am just getting back from my first ever real live Writers’ Conference. Well, I did go to another conference about two years ago, but it was kind of local and small, and I only stayed for two sessions. So as far as I am concerned that didn’t really count.

At this conference, for which I flew close to 6,000 miles, I was one of about 800 participants. We took over an entire Sheraton hotel, and arrived on the day that two former U.S. Presidents graced that very same establishment (different conference) with their presence. Along with a rag-tag group of “Occupy Xxxx (insert criminal corporation name or location here)” protesters that big names like Bush and Clinton seem to magnetically attract, wherever they go.

Our reception committee.

I went with a friend, who has been attending for the past three years – she introduced me into the protocol of this kind of event. For her, this year’s meet was a massive success story. She snagged herself a book agent faster than you can say: “million-dollar advance”.

I sort of had a writing project to pitch, but not really. So I was somewhat overwhelmed at the wheeling and dealing going on, at every available moment, even in the Ladies’ rooms and the bar, late into the night.

Some of the workshops sounded a lot like RW1, the iconic initial reporting and writing course at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism that I attended 20 years ago. But even though I have a bunch of skills and experience already, I did learn a lot about the industry and what it means to “get published” in the day and age of social media. It truly is a jungle out there.

So here is some of the stuff I took away from the conference, stuff to think about for the future:

  • Bookstores are dead.
  • Physical books are dead.
  • Long live the e-book.
  • Every single person has at least one great story to tell (or write), probably more.
  • Every single story has been written before, just not by you.
  • Media piracy is not necessarily all that bad a thing.
  • The continuum of lies in memoir-writing – it’s okay… go ahead and use it. (I think that is the most liberating thing I heard all weekend.)
  • Agents are the gatekeepers, and they seem to think they can play God, even in the brave new world of self- and e-publishing.
  • Most aspiring writers sacrifice an unbelievable amount of time, nerves and energy in order to write. Good thing the actual act of writing is FREE.
  • Twitter is evil but it ain’t going away, folks. Further resistance is futile.
  • NaNoWriMo.
  • There are a couple of very cool folks out there whose ideas are absolutely priceless, and whose work is pretty darn impressive.

And finally the kicker, don’t ever forget this one:

  • This day we write.