Thursday, November 24, 2016

NA-NU NA-NU! How NaNoWriMo Helps a Picture Book Writer - by Kathy Halsey

As you munch on turkey, give thanks with family and friends, perhaps you have a moment to read about a another November tradition, NaNoWriMo. Ask your parents or others around the table today if they recall the Mork and Mindy sitcom that featured comedic genius Robin Williams. Robin played the alien Mork from the planet Ork, and his greeting was, "NA-NU NA-NU."  I felt rather like Mork, visiting another planet as I began my November journey through National Novel Writing Month. 


The challenge to write 50,000 words in one measly month seemed monumental. It feels that way still. I may not make the word count, and  today, if I keep writing at my current pace, I'll reach the finish line March 27, 2017. Plenty of people who embark on this adventure say they "fail" the first year. Whoa, that's harsh. However, my "failure" is still a win in my book. 



I primarily write picture books, have tried my hand at a chapter book and even dipped into  a middle grade. I pride myself of word counts of 300-500 and by final draft time, I usually cross that finish line. So could this older dog learn a new trick? I had to find out if I could sustain a much brisker clip.
 

My motivation was a "failed" PB biography that just wouldn't budge. Taking revision to the nth level, I played "what if." What if this became a first person, middle grade, historical fiction? I became my main character and revised my structure to a travelogue on which to hang my plot and research. I shared that beginning with a friend's 5th grade class, and voila, they actually clapped after my reading. Yes, I guess I'm writing a middle grade novel. GULP. So here's a few tips to chew on along w/the turkey sandwich.


Top Tips from a Newbie

1.  Prepare for NaNo ahead of time. There are meetings all over the country during October on the website. Also the site includes articles and help boards similar to the SCBWI blue boards.
2. I had a topic and plot via my PB bio, which helped. Perhaps you can dust off a manuscript that tugs at you still for NaNo. I used my fourteen spreads and reimaigned them as chapters. 
3.  Gather your tribe. I hooked up with picture book and nonfiction writer friends  from FaceBook  and they became my first NaNo 'buddies." We spur each other on.
4. Go to meet-ups within your region. This may be more difficult if you live in a small town, but it helps. Some meetings are informational; some are like-minded folks who write on their own, yet join together. I found coffee, munchies, and camaraderie at   The Thurber House and two library branches in Columbus, Ohio. 
5. Be kind to yourself if you slip up and don't reach your word count target for the day. My daily target is 1667 words and I don't always measure up. But I will not quit.
6. JUST WRITE. Sounds simple, but it's not. I am a constant editor and rough drafts come slowly. That works for writing a picture book draft, but for NaNo, I had to plunge forward with a truly #%% draft. I had research holes to fill, too. When I had no time to sift for dates or names, I just wrote "XXX" and highlighted it for later. It almost killed me at first, but it is a DRAFT. (This gets easier over time.)
7. Make this challenge your own. My middle grade novel is probably going to be 30,000 + words, not 50,000. I have to research as I write this month because of the radical change in structure. And, I may not get done by November 30. What? Me worry? No, if  I get this middle grade written by the time the NESCBWI conference rolls around, I win. These are my goals, MY NaNo.
The Benefits
1. NaNo forced me to adopt a real writing routine which became a ritual.  I researched in the morning or read sources for the section I'd write in the afternoon. Afternoons were for writing and "writing sprints." (Timed writing with others made me accountable. Try it even if you aren't interested in NaNo.) 

2.  I found more writing time in my day by breaking it down into manageable segments. The official name for this is the "Pomodoro Technique." The method breaks time into 25 minute intervals with short breaks. Here are twelve timing apps to help. 
3. The resources within the NaNoWriMo website are awesome. There are pep talks and wonderful forums. Listen to these forum titles: Plot Doctoring, Reference Desk (great for NF), Worldbuilding and The Adoption Society. Folks leave characters, plots and catchphrases they've abandoned that you can pick up. 
4.  The confidence you will gain with sustained writing. Yes, there is a real "zone" or "flow" that happens w/this type of writing. My biggest surprise is that my main character really does enter me, and I just type what she is thinking, doing, and saying. I used to scoff when I heard this from other writers. 


Whether I run a 5K or a marathon, I will finish. (If I don't cross the finish line in November, I'll join Camp NaNo which let's me complete a project in any month.)  
I am proud of stretching beyond my comfort zone and pushing myself past what I think I'm capable of as a writer. I took a big leap forward, and I win! 

19 comments:

  1. Great post, Kathy. This sounds like a great accomplishment. Good luck.

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    1. Thank you for stopping by! NaNo gets us writing.

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  2. Thank you for the Turkey Day inspiration, Kathy. Kudos for trying this and good luck with your NOVEL.

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    1. Christy, you are such a great supporter!

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  3. You've set a goal for yourself and great tools for meeting the challenge! Great post, Kathy. I'm sure you'll stay your course and cross the finish line with a new story!

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  4. Great post, Kathy! Keep writing and don't give up! I turned one of my pbs into a novel--and that's the one Scholastic Asia likes. You can do it! Your premise sounds interesting!

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    1. This is so cool to know Tina. I remember your Scholastic Asia report, but it's fun to know the origins as a p.b.

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    2. Great news for you, Tina. I am having fun writing more words than I normally do. Can't wait for your good news AND FIRST BOOK.

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  5. Brava!

    The vibe is beautiful in this post.
    I've created 7 new poems so far in my NaNoWriMo month & that's good.
    It's 7 more poems than were written on the last day of October. Since this is a
    significant abolition topic & the readers are upper middle grade, it's uplifting to
    research & to write each word on this journey.
    I have benefited from all my NaNoWriMo months - without meeting other people's goals. The important thing as you say, is to adapt tools to suit.
    I would encourage everyone to look into NaNoWriMo & in January, the picture book month challenge, too.

    Happy post T-Day to all.

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    1. Right, Jan, customize to fit our needs. Your project sounds so important in the times in which we live!

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  6. Good for you, Kathy! And I love your idea for converting a PB to an MG novel using the page spreads . . . Brilliant! I also took the plunge and am on target so far. I've been living in 1893 for the month of November (writing historical fiction), putting aside FB and all other distractions. A wild ride, but well worth it- whew! Can't wait to hear more about your novel when you complete your first draft. Write on!

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    1. Bravo, Jarm. I have to say I haven't put way all distractions! Here's to historical fiction!

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  7. As a PB writer, the thought of committing to a novel is daunting. But you are doing it! Way to go, Kathy! Thank you for all of your wonderful tips, and best of luck -- finish strong!!

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    1. I am off track due to holiday and house remodel, but I will keep going, Patty.

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  8. Awesome! I really need to try NaNo sometime. :)

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    1. Eric, you'd be great at it. YOU have such an imagination!

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  9. Go, Kathy, go! Like you, I am happy with the 1600 words I will finish with. It's more than I would have had before, and I just can't torture myself with an overflowing plate. I love that I can finally give myself permission to not finish something. It's a new peace. I'm happy to hear that you are progressing and discovering a new side of your writing!

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