City of Winnipeg | Libraries

NaNoWriMo – More than just a silly string of syllables

By Alan

To those of you participating in NaNoWriMo right now, I salute you.  To those readers who think I’m just spewing out a silly string of syllables, let me introduce you to National Novel Writing Month.  Every November hundreds of thousands people of all ages undertake one common goal:  to each write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days.

Daunting?  You bet.  Every year I tell myself I’m going to rise to the challenge, and every year I come up with a cornucopia of excuses.  This year’s list is particularly bad:  my computer is on the verge of dying; a million new video games are coming out; and I’m leaving the province for several days.  And that’s just to start.  But in spite of all these reasons not to do it, I decided this year is the year.  As of this writing I’m 10% of the way there.

For aspiring writers NaNoWriMo is an extremely useful exercise.  Many writers, and I’m no exception, can get caught up in the thought that every sentence needs to be perfect the first time it hits the page.  The result is that people will start a project and get discouraged that it isn’t turning out as well as they had hoped, and often abandon the project in the process.  By choosing to write so many words in such a short time frame you are choosing to accept that this draft of your story isn’t going to turn out to be a polished masterpiece.  Between you and me, mine is terrible, but by ploughing through I’m learning so much about what it means to actually commit 50,000 words to the page.

If you get stuck along the way, Nanowrimo’s Young Writer’s Program has some excellent resources to keep you motivated, including a Dare Machine that generates challenges for you to implement into your story and keep the plot moving forward.  Winnipeg Public Library is also hosting official NaNoWriMo Write In sessions, so when you need a change of space while clacking away on your keyboard, come down to the Millennium Library, Anhang room and set up shop.  The Write In sessions are every Thursday in November, 6:30-9:00 p.m., no registration necessary.  Call 204-986-6779 for more information.

Once you’ve completed your novel, flaws in all, take heart in the old adage “writing is rewriting.”  Take a well-deserved break and come down to Millennium Library, Anhang Room on December 6th between noon and 4 p.m. for the Thank God It’s Over Party.  Then you start on the second draft, making sure to keep an eye out for all of the bits of writing that turned out to be gems.  There will be more than you expected.

Like any writer, I’m constantly on the lookout for ways to improve my craft.  There are many, many, books out there about how to become a better writer.  Before I sign off, I’d like to share with you some of the best books about writing that I’ve come across:

Seize the Story:  A Handbook for Teens Who Like to Write by Victoria Hanley

Seize the Story does a great job of discussing many of the underlying principles of good creative writing.  Beyond just discussing writing, the book is filled with examples of writing, both bad and good; and exercises that will challenge the reader to put to use the techniques they learn.

Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss

One of the weakest aspects of my writing is my grammar.  I’m notorious for putting commas in all the wrong places.  The trouble with most books about grammar is that they can be incredibly boring.  Eats, Shoots & Leaves is an exception to this trend.  It will entertain you and at the same time teach you how to properly use commas, semi-colons, and all manner of other punctuation.

The Writer’s Journey:  Mythic Structure for Writers by Christopher Vogler

There is a theory about stories called the monomyth – The idea is that all stories follow a basic structure.  This theory has had a profound influence on many writers, including George Lucas who wrote Star Wars and Dan Harmon who writes the TV show Community.

Christopher Vogler wrote a memo to Hollywood about this theory which influenced movies such as Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, and The Lion King.  He later expanded the memo into an excellent book about the craft of writing called The Writer’s Journey.

Stan Lee’s How to Write Comics by Stan Lee

Writing doesn’t just have to be about novels.  There are plenty of other forms for the written word:  screenplays, short stories, plays, graphic novels, and poems, just to name a few.  Stan Lee does an excellent job of explaining how the principles of storytelling apply to the medium of comic books AND he goes into depth regarding the unique challenges of comic book writing.

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