Thursday, November 3, 2016

nanowrimo - the 30 day journal

Day 30

Let it be known that today is the last day of NaNoWriMo 2016 and I have completed 50k words. *applause*

NaNoWriMo is tough. First, there’s the pressure of writing 50k words. Then the additional stress of working on improving and increasing the said 50k words post November (which I didn't). One of the reasons I failed to continue working on my previous NaNoWriMo story was its plot, or rather, the lack of it. I had, in an attempt to complete 50k words, written random chapters and though the skeleton of the story was there, that was all it was, a skeleton. As the months passed, my self doubt returned in full force and there were moments when I thought of writing something new. But I didn't let go of my story (thank god!) and when October came around, I started work on the plot.

It wasn’t easy writing this time around. In fact, it was super hard! If you’ve followed these blog entries you’ll know my love and hate relationship with my protagonist. And even though I’ve finished 50k words, I still haven’t the foggiest idea how my antagonist is going to make her entrance. I know what she’s aiming for  - total destruction (duh?!) but how she plans on doing it is still a blank.

What I do have, on the other hand, is quite a solid plot. It needs a bit of tinkering but there aren’t any gaping holes in it which is such a relief. I still haven’t started world building yet, but I’m now seriously looking forward to it!

All this writing, by the way, didn’t happen in isolation. Life went on and its demands were endless. That’s what I love about NaNoWriMo - no matter how bogged down you get by everyday activities, you still manage to take out time to write. Which is how it should be all year round. 

Before I sign off, here are my learnings from NaNoWriMo 2016, in a neat little list:

1. Writing buddies are very important. Never underestimate the power of your writer friends. Mine helped me through some very difficult and unnerving moments this time round. A big shout out to them for completing 50k words and being there for me all through this month.

2. Emergency prompts help remove writer’s block. This is an understatement. They are life savers, especially when you sit down to write at 11pm.

3. Writing can be done everyday. Nothing should serve as an excuse. Nothing. Not even an awful visit to the dentist, reruns of your favourite movie/television show, deaths, births, funerals, birthdays. Trust me, I’ve written through it all. 

4. NaNoWriMo helped me find my story. It’s not perfect, yet, but at least it’s there, in front of me and not just in my mind. If your story only remains in your mind, it’s not helping anyone, least of all you. Get it out!

5. Contrary to popular belief, copious amounts of tea doesn’t help in writing. 

6. Write to music. Especially the soundtrack of The Hobbit. Especially when you’re writing battle scenes. The words flow like water!

And finally,

7. All it takes, at the end of the day, is a leap of faith. I took it. You should try it too. 

Day 29

I JUST WROTE 50,000 WORDS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I think I need to collect my thoughts before I write a final post on this amazing 30 day journey. 

Word Count: 50, 405

Day 28

When in doubt write battle scenes while listening to the soundtrack of The Hobbit. You're welcome!

Till last night the very thought of writing 10,000 words in three days was the stuff of nightmares. Today, I managed to write almost 5000 words in approximately 5 hours. Miraculous, right? The words were flowing as my characters drew battle plans, discussed war strategies and killed their opponents. Betrayal has emerged as another major theme in my story, especially through the bit I wrote tonight. The story is coming together so brilliantly that I can kiss myself! But since I can't, I'll just pat myself on the back and exchange virtual high fives with my writing buddies.

Word Count: Getting there

Day 27

It's a race against time right now. The word count and calendar dates are going round and round in my mind and I am checking the number of words after every few lines. The story, of course, is getting all jumbled up and most of my writing today was full of blank spaces, and question marks because I couldn't come up with the appropriate words!

The last thing I needed today was for my characters to create trouble. I had killed one off yesterday and was quite pleased about it. I was hoping his death might result in some much needed action and get the word count rolling but that was too much to hope. Instead, two lead characters (one of them being the protagonist) decided to change their own stories. Forget about edits  - this new development means the story is now steering itself into a new direction! And there are only three days left to reach the target!!

*takes deep breath*

I think I need to kill a few more characters. It'll help keep the others in line and provide me some much needed word count boost!

Word count: Still not enough

Day 25

Never underestimate the power of your writing group.

Word count: 4000 

Day 22

Only eight days left. And I still have to write 20k words. 

Day 17

If I ever decide to write a horror story, it will probably be about a writer trying to make the daily word count during NaNoWriMo. On not making the word count everyday, she will lose something which she holds very dear. If she doesn't make the 50k target, she will lose her entire story. Every single word of it. 

Word Count: 1192

Day 15

As I write this I’m listening to Shout out to my Ex, a song by a girl band who go by the name Little Mix. If this isn’t an indication of how my mind is going bananas even before reaching the half way mark, I don’t know what is. 

All this is, of course, my story’s fault or rather this particular point my story is at. I’ve been struggling to write about a bookstore for the past two days. This store has secrets and is a key space in the story but no matter how hard I try, I’m not getting a feel of it. I know where it is, who owns it, what makes it special but how it looks like- the shelves, the posters on the wall, the book collection - that’s a complete blank. It's almost like a black hole. There's the door and the signboard but as soon as I step inside, total darkness.

The right thing to do is to step back, take a deep breath and move onto another part of the story. But sometimes, the right decision is just. so. difficult. 

Word Count: (             )

Day 13

I was planning on writing 4000 words today but mindfulness got in the way. What was I thinking when I decided to do ‘mindful’ writing during NaNoWriMo? The only thing one should be mindful of this month is the word count. It doesn’t matter if A kills B in chapter 3 and then during investigations in chapter 5 it is revealed that A was in a different city (which was mentioned in quite a lot of detail in chapter 2) when the murder took place.  As long as there are thousands of words between all these chapters, who cares about the timelines! They can be fixed in December, or January or next November, right?

So what am I doing? I'm writing quite mindfully, a little sensibly, very carefully, somewhat methodically but still not perfectly. All that’s coming out of this structured writing is a panic attack every morning as figures zoom in and out of my mind while I struggle to press the snooze button on my phone. 

Somedays the writing doesn't come easily and it is all doom and gloom, like the siege of Rohan in The Two Towers. And just when I'm about to lose hope, suddenly a bright white light appears on the horizon, the clouds part and Gandalf arrives on Shadowfax. Today was one of those days!

Word count: 3,280 

Day 12

I had to reach for the emergency prompt during the write-in session today. 

Emergency prompts are like Red Bull. They help keep the story going. Especially when you reach a dead end, literally and figuratively. I think I reached that point in today’s NaNoWriMo write-in session. There I was, eating chocolate chip and oatmeal cookies, staring blankly at my screen while all around me my friends were typing thousands of words in 20 minute sprints. 

*Silent Scream* 

The emergency prompt seemed my only friend at that moment. So while others typed hard and fast during the sprint to achieve glory and get the Superhero stickers, I took out a folded piece of paper from the prompt bowl. The scenario in the prompt was really cool. It went somewhat like this:

'You find out about a guy who sells superpowers at a fixed rate of $1000. When you go to him you discover that unfortunately the powers can't be duplicated. You've worked hard to scrape money together for this and decide to buy a really lame superpower.'

And the first thought that came in my mind was to make a list of all superpowers that fall in the lame category. 

Moral of the story? Somedays, it’s a good idea to just take a break and work on the back story a little bit. I don’t want to become an emergency prompt addict! Now, where’s my Red Bull?

Word Count: 1004 words

Day 11

Most days writing is a lovely escape. There is no better way to shut the world than to disappear in the world of my own creation. A world where my will is supreme above all others. It’s a powerful feeling and I usually bask in it while I’m writing but today, I was encumbered by fear. Mostly fear of not meeting the word count but more than that, a fear of not knowing where my story is heading. A fear that my imagination has dried up. I had to get up thrice today to clear my thoughts while I was writing, kept checking the word count every few sentences and switched from one track to the other for inspiration. I only just managed to make the word count today.


Word Count: 1789

Day 10

2500 words in four hours.

I have absolutely nothing to say now except that writing is tough work. There is no muse and if there is, she is not making an appearance at my writing desk everyday. Or maybe the muse is tired too, trying to inspire so many of us who have embarked on this crazy journey. 

I’ve been thinking of origin stories. Of my characters and also my own. I tried to write one for my character today but it’s still work in progress. As is mine, I guess.

Word Count: 2,680

Day 9

I watched Dr. Strange today and realised how important it is to write a good story. Don’t get me wrong, the movie was throughly entertaining and watching Benedict Cumberbatch (who is always so bloody brilliant!), Tilda Swinton and Mads Mikkelsen (the scope of the role didn’t do justice to him though) was a treat but hey, it is a good story which remains with the viewer (or the reader) no matter how good the actors or cool the graphics. Some might refute that argument, saying that in this day and age we are bombarded with so much information 24/7 that even good stories tend to fade quickly. I disagree. When a story resonates with you at some level or makes you feel a certain way, then it’s very hard to forget it. Dr. Strange, however, is highly forgettable except for the very cool and extremely desirous ‘cloak of levitation’. 

So what did I write today? It breaks my heart to admit it but nothing. I had my entire writing scene for tonight planned out but the day unfolded very strangely (no pun intended) and I found myself unable to do justice to my writing. Which is NOT the point of NaNoWriMo. You have to churn out the words by the dozen and not judge them. But sometimes one does not even have the energy for writing drivel. Unless one is Trump. Then not only does one write and speak drivel, one is listened to and elected president.

I think I like the fictional world better!

Word Count: Strangely missing

Day 8

Even though the US elections must have messed with a lot of people’s writing schedule today, I wasn’t one of them. I’m still behind my word count and that is quite scary. Much less so than a Trump presidency but scary nonetheless. 

Today was a confrontation day in my writing. Two characters with a history came face to face and the scene just went from one high point to the next. Although I was dreading writing this particular confrontation earlier, I was pleasantly surprised at the ease with which I was eventually able to write it. And one of the things that helped me was the backstory of the two I had written while doing NaNoWriMo last year.

I love writing backstories. Whenever I suffer from writer’s block, I start working on the backstories of my characters. It’s relatively easier and a lot of fun because it’s for my eyes only. Backstories help add depth to the characters. They help me to understand how a character might react in a particular situation or towards another character. Like the scene I was writing today involved a confrontation between two characters who had a really chequered history. The challenge while writing it was to show the tension between them because of their past without going into the details of the past. That is where the back story helped. 

I’ve just suddenly realized how this journal is, in a way, turning into a back story also. 

Did I ever mention how physically tiring writing can be? My shoulders are absolutely killing me right now. And my bum seems to have glued itself to the chair. And my legs feel as if they’ll always remain at right angles. All those who romanticise the writing process must either write drunk or in one of those customised chairs which have a massage mechanism built in them. 

Word Count: 1662

Day 7

I have this NaNoWriMo calendar on my desktop which clearly mentions the ideal word count for each day. By the end of the first week, which is today, in the perfect world my word count should be 11,667 words. But we all know that, alas, nothing is perfect and my word count stood at 8,598 words earlier today. Which basically meant that I needed to write 3000 words or more by tonight in order to have some chances of matching the 'ideal' count. Instead of letting it get to me, I decided to take some action. So I logged into Facebook, went to The Crystal Cat Cabal page and ordered this amazing notebook and, ahem, *speaks in a small voice* a unicorn.

And then it hit me, I need a unicorn in my story! 

You have to agree that no fantasy story can really be complete without a unicorn or a dragon or two. And currently mine is devoid of both. But again, when I decided to weave the narrative to make the entry of a unicorn possible, someone else made an entry. These characters are going to drive me crazy! And this gentleman, who made his entry today, is no stranger to me. I had left him hanging when I was working on this story last year and I guess he decided to take matters in his own hand and make his entry sooner than later.

Knowing him, he’ll slay unicorns rather than pet them. 

Word Count: 1812
Total: 10,406

Day 6

Today was a day of diagrams. Nothing very fancy as I can’t draw if my life depended on it. I’m talking about basic circle and arrow stuff with notes scribbled around them. I selected a few characters and confined them in circles and tried answering questions like how and why with lots of arrows thrown in to connect the various scribbles. It’s a fun exercise and really helps to connect the dots. Sometimes, like today, connecting dots can result in some very interesting links between characters.

So far into my story and planning, I am quite character focused. But I’m also being mindful of the trap I fell in last year, that of just driving the narrative forward through the characters. I am keeping an eye on the bigger picture also this time and trying to write more mindfully (this basically means  - don’t lose sight of the plot, girl!).

One thing we avoid during NaNoWriMo is revising. Editing is a word which we try and erase from our minds for 30 days. But I was going through this seriously unreasonable bout of self-doubt so I decided to read through what I’ve written so far. 

And you know what, it wasn’t bad at all! 

Yes, there were a few bad sentences and some incomplete thoughts but as I was reading, I started, not editing, but adding to the story. Which is good because I’m adding to my word count, right? Even though I hadn’t planned to alter the text but some places were just crying out for additions, so I went ahead and did them and thoroughly enjoyed doing them.

Sometimes, not planning what you’re going to write makes the process more exciting. I’m not a panster, how can I be? I’m making diagrams and mapping out character journeys while I’m doing NaNoWriMo! However, there are some days when writing doesn’t go according to plan. You think of approaching a particular scene in a certain way but something totally different comes along, like that new character who walked into my story yesterday! It’s okay to keep an open mind towards writing because if you try and rigidly follow a plan, and are unable to do it, you’ll hate the writing itself. 

I think I might make it to 10k words by tomorrow. I’ve even postponed watching Dr. Strange to Tuesday so that I’m able to spend most of tomorrow evening writing. That’s the plan at least, but life, like writing doesn’t always follow plans, does it?!

Word count: 1823

Day 5

‘You have to be your own hero—finish your own book—if you expect your character to be one.’ #nanocoach

Being a hero is not easy. It requires a lot of blood, sweat and will power. It requires courage, empathy and strength. You have to shed your layers, unlock your defence mechanisms, expose your vulnerabilities and then face your biggest, darkest fears. It’s not easy to do all this. Writing a story is not easy. It is physically and emotionally taxing. There are moments in a story when the dialogue isn’t flowing, or the scene refuses to materialise in the same manner on the page as it was in your mind or you realise the climax doesn’t pack as much punch as you had imagined it. That’s when you need to be the hero for your story. For yourself.

I think I read a little too much into this tweet today that was posted earlier on Twitter by @NaNoWriMo. 

5th Nov is Guy Fawkes night and my NaNoWriMo calendar suggested that I burn something innocent today. For a few seconds I actually thought it meant literally burning something and a few objects did come to my mind but better sense prevailed! There is a burning scene later in the story but I'm still on the first chapter at the moment so the fire will have to wait. Also something strange happened in my story at today’s write-in session. As I started writing from where I had left last night, a new character walked into the story. 

It’s very annoying when this happens. All this time I’m trying to focus on my protagonist  and in a matter of two lines, I had this guesthouse owner come out of nowhere into the story. And the funny part is, she’s a great character! It’s not that I can’t throw her out of the story, I don’t want to! Also she’s helping me a) get to know my protagonist better,  b) take the story forward in a way which I had not quite planned but is better than my plan and c) meet the word count! 

I’m feeling a bit of a hero tonight even though I haven’t done more than meet my required word count. I guess it’s because of listening to the Final Fantasy XV soundtrack featuring songs by Florence + The Machine which my dear writing buddy and friend Jalal introduced me to. He’s trying to make me switch from Swan Lake and I must admit, Florence + The Machine is mind-bogglingly beautiful background music. 

Word Count: 1695

Day 4

Today was a smashing day. Firstly, I managed to find some alone time during the day to sort out my characters. Sort is an inappropriate word. I think it'll be fair to write that I spent quality time with some of them today. Secondly, I got a haircut! Time saved in fixing hair can now be used to think about characters, plot lines and the word count. 

Talking about word counts, yesterday mine was a big fat zero and as I sat down to write today, I tried to keep this major fact somewhere in a far corner of my mind. Preferably locked up in a little steel box but since my self-doubt is already locked up in a steel trunk with a big lock, I had to make do with stuffing the thought in a plain old corner of my mind and pretend it was dust. 

So today I decided to tap into the deepest desires of my characters. In short I set out to unearth what were their ‘core yearnings’. This exercise came about as a result of the online writing course I’m enrolled in at the moment. What I discovered shocked me because it touched something deep and personal inside me. I took three characters today - who are quite central to the narrative - and literally peeled off the layers of their personality to understand their fears, dilemmas and inner conflicts. It was such an exhilarating moment as a writer! 

Such moments don't come around everyday in a writer's life. Most days are filled with frustrating, hair-tearing, wanting to scream out loud moments. Or as they say in Urdu, Chaar din kee chandni aur phir andheri raat...

Word count: 1682

Day 3

There are some days when no words flow. Today was one of those days. 

Word count: Zero

Day 2

Today I was having problems with my opening scene. It just wasn't coming together. My protagonist was giving me loads of trouble and rightfully so because I didn't make much of an effort to get to know her before Nov 1st. Yesterday she was all moody and kept giving me insipid sort of reactions which was very annoying. I didn't have the time to chalk out a character sketch and go into the details of her life today and just when I was losing all hope of writing any words, I came across this very interesting tweet by #nanocoach on Twitter:

'When your characters meet for the first time, you have many opportunities to reveal quirks/biases/weird stuff.'

Action! Make my protagonist interact with others and see how she reacts. And it worked! The interaction was limited to one other character but since it was her grandfather whom she is very attached to, it went quite smoothly. During their short conversation I was able to make out a few things about her - she thinks she's a bit of a rebel, doesn't have many friends and loves reading. Considering how difficult she was being last night, I think this is quite a lot of progress! 

Whenever I feel I don't understand a character, I make him/her have a conversation with someone. As the words flow between the two I get a better idea of their personalities. Everything isn't revealed by just one conversation but sometimes it is the best way for me to break the ice with my characters. 

If nothing else I throw them into Snoopy's favourite setting, 'It was a dark and stormy night.'

Word count: 1732 

Day 1

1667. This figure was the first thing that came into my mind as I got out of bed and the thought of it made me hide inside the covers and go back to sleep. If you're not familiar with NaNoWriMo, this is the minimum number of words I have to write everyday if I want to reach the 50k word goal in 30 days. If you think 1667 words is not a very difficult task then you've clearly never written before and I suggest you try doing it now, with the word count on in your writing software. 

The first day of NaNoWriMo is always tough. Last year it was scary and today was no different. As I sat there with a blank document open in front of me, I felt the old self-doubt returning. I almost deleted the chapter heading as soon as I wrote it but better sense prevailed and I let it be. The words flowed, stopped, flowed again, halted. I fumbled with music and after going through a few playlists decided to stick to my tried and tested Swan Lake. It's my perfect writing music. I consulted my notes, made some new ones but did not stop writing. 

That's what I need to do every single day, write. It was a very busy day for me. I was out most of the day, came home at 9pm and yet was at my computer at 9:45pm and didn't get up till I finished my word count. What is it about NaNoWriMo which makes me sit at my desk even after a super busy day? And why can't I do this for the rest of the year? I think I'll sleep over this question and hopefully the answer will come to me tomorrow morning when I wake up. 

Word count : 1999 

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

straight from the book

'But then people don't read literature in order to understand; they read it because they want to re-live the feelings and sensations which they found exciting in the past. Art can be a lot of things; but in actual practice most of it is merely the mental equivalent of alcohol and cantharides.'

(After Many a Summer - Aldous Huxley)