Nanowrimo? Yes please.

Just after midnight last night I typed (ok keyboarded) my first five sentences onto a previously blank white page to start Nanowrimo (nanowrimo.org).

Nanowrimo is a month-long international writing event celebrating National Novel Writing Month. The event encourages writers to write a book in just 30 days. While you’re writing, Nanowrimo provides constant encouragement and support. Their website offers advice and a large online community of writers from all over the world who interact in a long list of forums. Using those forums you can meet other Nanowrimo writers including people in your area. You can even gather offline (you know, in person) for camaraderie to commiserate. Writers are asked to start with a blank page on November 1st and complete a 50,000 word manuscript before midnight of November 30th. If you do that, you win, because you’re really only competing with yourself.

There are a few rules to Nanowrimo besides start date, end date, and writing something new–notes, and previous thinking are allowed–but it’s ok to rebel. In fact, there’s a forum for that!

Five years ago today I participated in my first Nanowrimo. I didn’t win because my word count by the end of the month was a couple thousand shy of the cutoff. But I had the majority of my book completed and I finished the rough draft soon after. That wasn’t the first manuscript I’d ever completed. I wrote my first full length novel in 1995-1996 and several more fiction and nonfiction books since then. So why do I participate in Nanowrimo?

Because it’s fun. And because for those 30 days my writing takes priority over pretty much everything else.

You might be wondering…doesn’t her writing take priority over everything else already since writing is her career?

Yeah…no. It doesn’t. Is your dentist a dentist 24/7? Of course not. Your plumber? Nope. Even your doctor has a life. Writers, like every other human, have to survive, take care of their loved ones, and give the dog a bath occasionally. Besides that, most of the writing I’ve done during my professional writing career has been for other people. My own projects have always been squeezed into my free time. And that is why I’m attracted to Nanowrimo.

I don’t participate every year because life. Sometimes work has prevented me from putting in the time to hit 50,000 words at the end of 30 days. Sometimes personal life was more demanding. But often, for me, it was a matter of overall timing…I wasn’t in the right place on other writing projects to devote a month to something brand new.

It’s not often that I don’t have at least a dozen pages already written on whatever idea bubbles up in my brain. Like most writers I also have many, many writing projects in various levels of disrepair (or despair). For any nonwriters reading this think of that home improvement project started with enthusiasm in 2005. Yeah, we’ll finish someday.

To be honest, I probably shouldn’t be prioritizing a new novel over my ongoing project right now. I’m currently working on the final, final, final, final(!) revision of that book that I started during Nanowrimo 2011. It’s a nonfiction book (yes I’m a nanowrimo rebel) about getting rid of nearly everything we owned, moving halfway across the country in two crap cars with 4 adults and 2 pets, and starting over with pretty much nothing.

Hope that interests you because it’ll be ready to publish soon!

Don’t let that word publish intimate you. Nanowrimo isn’t about publishing. It’s about writing. You never have to show your book to any other living soul and it doesn’t matter if you finish by November 30th. Just start writing and keep writing for a month. If you do, you’re likely to finish what you started by New Year’s, or Spring, or in time for the next Nanowrimo. When you finish doesn’t matter. What matters is that you start and get enough of the story down that you want to keep writing until it’s done.

This year, I’m writing fiction. The last novel I wrote was more than a decade ago, when I was publishing a newspaper. Since then I’ve been writing nonfiction and I’m looking forward to having a more relaxed relationship with reality or the next 50,000 words.

But enough about me. I’m writing this blog post for you. I’m inviting you to join me at Nanowrimo.

Have you written a book before? Great! Write another one!

Have you never written anything longer than a letter/marathon email before? Great! Write your first full length manuscript! That probably sounds crazy impossible hard to those of you who haven’t written a book before. But don’t let that stop you from starting.

Writing a book in one month is not easy. But it is simple. Start.

And don’t stop until your story is told.

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Finally, my writing is my work

If not here, where?

If not here, where?

Sometimes I feel like I’ve been writing forever and have little to show for it. And that’s mostly true. Three decades of professional writing, editing, and publishing have provided me with a plaque for my wall (which is stored in a box), a file of clippings and samples, and an unwavering commitment to the Oxford comma.

I’m not complaining. I’m happy with how my writing career unfolded. As a journalist, business, and technical writer, I’ve had opportunities to write in many different styles and situations, and meet and work with people from all over this country, and beyond this continent. As an instructor, editor, and mentor, I’ve helped new writers of all ages (including children, teens, and retirees) discover the joy of impacting others with words. I’m blessed to be able to say I’ve made a living doing what I love.

But that income has exclusively come from writing other people’s stories. Or helping them learn to write their own.

My writing…short stories and full manuscripts, some factual and others fictional…has always been an after hours activity. What I did during my time off. For the fun of it.

There was always the plan to publish my writing eventually. But I didn’t have much sense of urgency for it. I’ve been content to keep my writing on the side while I earned steady money writing for others. I would get serious about publishing later. When I was older. Someday.

The problem with putting my writing off until later was the risk someday would never arrive. The problem with putting it off for decades was finding myself middle-aged and unable to provide an adequate answer when asked “what have you written that I might have read?”

“Probably nothing” just wasn’t cutting it anymore.

For the past few years, as my illness forced a slow down, and then a full stop to my career of writing for others, my writing stayed right where it had always been…on the side. I’ve been focused on, actually obsessed with, getting back to work. Work, for me, continued to mean writing for others to provide me income.

Over the holidays I finally realized that my definition of work must change. Life has revised my plan and is waiting for me to notice.

I have two choices. I can continue to fight for the way I thought things would be at this time in my life. Or I can choose to see this new plan not as a limitation of what I previously wanted, but as a liberation. Freedom. Opportunity.

Joseph Campbell said “you must give up the life you planned in order to have the life that is waiting for you.”

With that mantra I’m officially declaring that I have ceased writing for others (Janda Writing and Consulting is closed as of January 1, 2016) and I will be focusing solely on my own projects. I’ll continue with plans to mentor other writers and offer advice and instruction, but those will be on the side. My writing is now my primary work.

I’ll be revamping this website to reflect that change and, hopefully, this shift in focus will provide me more time to blog. My writing goals for 2016 include completIng the final revision of my current work in progress and readying it for publication, offering a couple of writing classes, and reviewing older manuscripts.

Someday starts today.

Part 2 of truth doesn’t have to be complicated

It’s said there are 3 sides to every story: his side, her side and the truth.

Truth is easy enough to determine when we’re talking verifiable facts. Dates. Times. Exact numbers of widgets. Writers either get these right or wrong in nonfiction and their fact checkers and readers judge them accordingly, as I blogged last week.

But how those facts are perceived, and the meaning assigned to them, is personal. People can perceive the same event quite differently. A handful of people to one person can be a crowd to another, or a gang to a third. The devil is not just in the details, it’s also in the conclusions drawn from those details.

Personal perceptions are part of any story told. Even a “just the facts ma’am” recounting is subject to spin. But that’s not automatically a bad thing.

Writers of nonfiction are expected to draw conclusions based on their perceptions. Journalists, technical writers, essayists and creative nonfiction writers all make judgments as they write. Writers decide what facts to highlight, and order of importance, based on their knowledge and experience. They write the truth as they know it, drawing conclusions based both on verifiable facts and their perception of what those facts mean. It’s unavoidable.

And that’s ok.

Of course there have been, are, and will again be writers who take things too far. That’s why we have terms like exaggeration, melodrama and hyperbole.

However, the nonfiction writer does have certain obligations to the reader. The writer must not alter facts. And when it comes to descriptive words (such as few, several, many, near and far), the writer must sincerely strive for accuracy as they relate what they perceived.

Ultimately the writing speaks for itself. The honest, the accurate, the most truthful perceptions are often the most enduring works of nonfiction. Perhaps that is because we humans love a true story. Perhaps it’s because we have gotten pretty good at figuring out when people are lying to us, be it to our face or in writing.

The nonfiction writer cannot deliberately mislead the reader. That’s propaganda. Fiction.

That’s the line that cannot be crossed.

Truth doesn’t have to be complicated

Once again the writing community is blathering breathlessly about the nature of truth. What are facts and why are they stubborn things? Can true stories be told without tweaking what happened to make the tale more dramatic or compelling? How much tweaking is too much tweaking? What does nonfiction really mean anyway?

This happens every so often. A journalist bends the truth or creates an imaginary friend as a “source” to get the big story to press. A memoir writer makes up events that never happened or people who never lived to help propel a life story into a best seller. An essayist publishes a book detailing an argument with a fact checker that attempts to justify stark departures from reality because those departures allegedly “sound better.”

Unfortunately the latter has led to literary minds once again wrestling with the question of truth and the role of factual accuracy in nonfiction. Thankfully, according to this source, at least one panel of writers apparently understands that the issue is not that complicated.

Truthfully, this is a topic that writers shouldn’t have to discuss. All prose writing can be divided into two categories, fiction and nonfiction. Fiction is made up, even if it’s based on real events. Nonfiction is, brace yourself, not fiction.

Each of these categories can then be subdivided into genres, but regardless of what flavor of the writing, readers bring certain assumptions to the table depending on which category the writing claims to be. Readers assume that nonfiction is, shockingly, not fiction.

Any nonfiction writer, creative or otherwise, who claims they can’t tell a good nonfiction story without altering verifiable facts (such as the number of businesses in a particular location, or whether two specific event took place on the same day) has three choices. One, select a story to tell that isn’t burdened with stubborn facts or inconvenient truths. Two, become a better writer, one that can weave reality into an intoxicating story without tweaking, altering, or outright fabricating. Or, three, write fiction.

It truly is that simple.