NaNoWriMo… Are You In?

It’s that time of year again.  NaNoWriMo here we come! 

For those of you who do not know what NaNoWriMo is, it stands for National Novel Writing Month.  The idea is to write a first draft of your novel that is 50,000 words long by writing 1,667 words a day every day in the month of November.  Now we all know that unless you are writing a young adult novel, 50,000 words is a bit short to be considered a full length novel.  The reasoning behind that number is that is is considered a high enough word count to be challenging while also being a reachable goal, even for those aspiring writers who have day jobs and families to attend to. 

Since the first time that I heard of NaNoWriMo, the idea has intrigued me.  It is a challenge to any would be writer to stop making excuses and sit down and write.  The website, www.nanowrimo.org offers participants a way of tracking word counts as well as forums for support, ideas, encouragement, and connecting with fellow writers.  The rules for the event are simple. 

  1. Register for an account.
  2. Start writing on November 1
  3. Post your novel for word count verification and claim your win.

Now to be clear, winning at NaNoWriMo means that you wrote 50,000 words in a month or less.  The sense of accomplishment is your prize. 

I have considered giving NaNoWriMo a try for the past couple of years.  I’ve read several pieces of advice on how to “win” and pretty much they all agree on several points.  First of all, you should do all of the prep work in advance of November 1.  That means, have at least a rough character sketch written out for each of the main players in your story.  Secondly, you should have at least a general outline of your story’s plot to help guide you along in your writing frenzy.  Third, and perhaps most important (at least to my thinking) is that you have to turn your internal editor off.  Do not try to get the story right, just get it written.  Don’t slow down to correct spelling or grammar problems, just keep writing.  Write.  It sounds so simple, but if you are like me, those little red squiggly lines that word processors place under any errors drive you crazy. 

Last year, I had planned to sit down and work out a plan for a story to write during the NaNoWriMo event, but suddenly I realized that it was November 5th and I had nothing ready.  So I promised myself that I would be ready for this year’s event.  Well, guess what.  Yep.  Once again we are a couple of days away from November and I have no plan.  I have nothing other than a general idea that I want to develop and see if anything good comes of it.  Will I try to sit down and write 50,000 words next month?  Probably not.  But I will sit down and write more than I have in the past few months.  That is my promise to myself, and to you, my readers. 

What about you?  Are you planning to try your hand at writing a novel in November?  If so, what preparations have you made to help make the month easier?  Do you struggle with getting the words down without allowing your internal editor to take over?  Or have you conquered your internal editor?  If you have, how did you do it?  I truly want to hear from everyone on this. 

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Beta Reading & Editing

Late last year I stumbled upon a fantasy romance novel, Taken By the Huntsman, while browsing announcements of new book releases.  The author, Mistral Dawn, was new to publishing, and this was her first book.  At first I hesitated to buy the book, even at the low price of $2.99 on Amazon simply because first books can be an awful experience.  The synopsis really grabbed my attention and piqued my interest though, so I decided to take the chance.  At worst, I would be out $3, and at best I would have a pleasurable reading experience.

I am so glad that I took that chance because Taken By the Huntsman turned out to be one of those rare books that I had to finish in one sitting.  The characters grabbed me, the world building was fascinating, and the story was enchanting.  Mistral Dawn even managed to make me think about social issues without preaching at the reader, not an easy accomplishment.

After I finished Taken By the Huntsman, I decided to write a review to help spread the word for this new indie author.  At the end of the review, on a whim, I added a note to the author stating that I would be willing to beta read her future works if she was interested.  Not in a million years did I expect for her to respond, but she did. So, for the past couple of months, I have had the pleasure and honor of beta reading Mistral Dawn’s second book, Bound By the Summer Prince, and offering editing advice to her.

It has been a wonderful experience for me on a couple of different levels:

  • Reading the book as it was written: I have never had the experience of reading a story in pieces. In fact, in the past I have refused to read an unfinished story (I avoided Stephen King’s The Green Mile until it was completed). At times it was difficult for me to be patient while waiting for the next part to arrive in my email inbox, but in the end, I began to appreciate it more when a new section of the book did arrive. I developed a liking to having breaks in reading that allowed me to process the story more fully before continuing to the next part.
  • Editing experience:  As an aspiring writer myself, being able to offer editing advice to someone who has already published a book was an eye opening and flattering experience. It gave me a new perspective on the writing process (one that I was aware of, but had never been a part of) and what goes into getting a book ready for publication.
  • A new friendship has formed:  I have never met Mistral in person. I have never spoken with her on the phone either. We have exchanged countless emails over the past few months, and I can say without a doubt, she is a kind woman filled with compassion for others, and I am proud to call her a friend. She has offered advice to me, but more importantly, she has offered encouragement to me as a writer.

Bound By the Summer Prince is the story of Roni, who is a human female con artist that literally falls through a portal and ends up in Fairie quite by accident. Shortly after arriving in a beautiful but deadly Fae forest, she meets Uaine who is the Summer Court’s prince and soon to be king. Fae law states that no human with knowledge of Fairie can be allowed to return to the human world, so Uaine must figure out what to do with her now that she has landed in his kingdom. He soon realizes that Roni is his perfect match; that they are bonded to each other by the goddess.

The story that Mistral Dawn weaves from this beginning follows the two as Roni plays the biggest con of her life and Uaine tries to convince her that she is destined to become the Summer Court’s next queen alongside himself as king. Can the two learn to trust in love and embrace their destinies?

The main purpose of this blog post is to say thank you. Thank you, Mistral, for trusting me enough to allow me to be a beta reader for your new book. Thank you for allowing me to be a part of this project, and for the chance to practice my editing skills. Thank you for all of the kind words of encouragement you have offered. Thank you for taking the time to proofread some of my work and offer your own editing advice. And last, but certainly not least, thank you for another great story!

Proofreading is Important!

The internet has opened up countless opportunities for writers to get their work out in front of readers.  From the person creating a blog to share his or her interests with the world, to professional news outlets reporting on current events, the internet is filled with writing.

The proficiency of individual writers differs and it is understandable that a person with no training who is writing for a personal blog, or on Facebook, or Twitter will make varying degrees of grammar mistakes.  These individuals should be commended for their efforts, regardless of their writing skills.  We live in a society built on free speech, and that means that if I cannot stand to read what you have written, either because of the subject matter or for the grammar mistakes, I can look elsewhere.

On the other side of the coin are the many different professional news outlets.  It is unacceptable when these professionals publish content that is painful to read due to grammar mistakes, misspelled or misplaced words, and incomplete thoughts.  These are supposed to be trained professionals who have been to school to learn the proper ways to write a news story.  Grammar and punctuation should be reviewed and mistakes corrected.  Sentence structure should be evaluated.  Word choice should be precise and above all, sentences need to express a complete thought.

A couple of nights ago, I was browsing my Facebook feed, and came across a link to a news story posted by one of our local news outlets.  It was the most painful reading experience I have endured in months.  The article totaled 273 words, (as a reference, this post is 273 words so far) and in that 273 words, without digging hard, I counted fifteen writing mistakes.

The first sentence, “People in the neighborhood where the crime happened, about what they remember that night.”  What did the people do?  Did they talk about what happened? Did they cry about what happened?  Did they laugh about what happened?  The writer does not tell the reader.  Because the sentence does not express a complete thought, it is actually not even a sentence, but a fragment.  The meaning of the end of the sentence is just as imprecise.  I am pretty sure they talked to the reporter about what happened the night of the crime, but as written, it could refer to  either the night of the crime or the night neighbors talked to the reporter.  Perhaps, “People in the neighborhood where the crime happened talked about their memories of that night,” would have been a more accurate sentence.

Other problems with this particular article include:

  • Run-on sentences.  “But three men followed them here to their home at the time and that was more than 20 years ago.”  This really should be broken into two sentences.
  • Extra spaces between words in a sentence.  This is a minor thing, but still something that proofreading the article would have caught before it was published.
  • Use of a hyphen in the middle of a sentence for no reason. “But people who have moved into the neighborhood since the crime-have heard the stories.”
  • Incorrect word usage.  Just one example is, “getting his just deserts today.”  I’m pretty sure that the writer meant desserts, but again that’s not what was published.
  • Missing words again, “I would say that he was a fine and the person…”  He was a fine what?

As a writer, I know that mistakes happen.  Every writer has to review what they have written and revise and edit the piece.  There is editing for content, during which the writer has to make sure that they completely convey what it is they are trying to say.  There is also grammar editing, which is making sure that you have used correct punctuation and verb tense, etc.  No matter how proficient of a writer you are, or how adept your editing skills may be, there will still be times when something slips past a critical examination.

Regardless of who you are, you will be judged for the writing that you put out for the general public to consume.  If your writing is filled with mistakes or is hard to read, people will question your intelligence.  When you are writing for a professional news outlet, those judgments apply not only to you as the writer, but also to the company you represent.  It is a fact of life, and I’m not saying that it is right or wrong, it just is.

There were multiple comments about this particular article that pointed out the need for editing and proofreading.  In fact, there were more comments directed towards the need of a proofreader than there were about the content of the story itself.  And yet, there was one person who decided it was appropriate to call me a bully for suggesting the need for proofreading and editing.

According to Wikipedia, “Bullying is the use of force, threat, or coercion to abuse, intimidate, or aggressively dominate others.”  Apparently we now live in a world where constructive criticism is considered bullying by some.  What does that say about our society?  Nothing good, but that is a subject for a different post on another day.

What about you?  Do you think that it is inappropriate to expect a professional news outlet to publish higher quality pieces than the amateur writer?  Or does it really not matter?  Is it okay that more and more often the amateur writer posting on a blog has superior writing skills than many of those who are paid for their writing?  I welcome your comments on the subject.