My #NaNoWriMo #Fail and Why That’s OK.

A bookshop in Lyme Regis

This year I have failed to complete NaNoWriMo and I’m fine with it because I recognise why. This month would have been my fifth, non-consecutive Nano, and whilst having a good idea, and lots of pre-writing, I couldn’t complete it. The reason I couldn’t is because I have realised I’m way past caring about quantity.

Nanowrimo gives you a number of great skills which every new writer should be challenged to complete:

  • quantity
  • finishing
  • dropping the inner editor
  • discipline

If you really want to write for a living/career, you’ll need all of the above with the addition of planning and quality. Nanowrimo doesn’t deliver those two. The format doesn’t care a jot about it. Which is good, because it’s really hard to learn the other aspects if one focuses on quality, or plans without the labour of writing.

Quantity is the main goal. Without it you’ll just be trying to run a marathon by taking zero steps.

Finishing is the second goal. Most writers start with incredible enthusiasm, then lose motivation and direction and abandon the idea. Writing is hard; writing without finishing is simply playing. Not good.

Dropping the inner editor is the third goal. How can you amass quantity and finish if you’re continually going back over your working rereading? In Nano-land the editor is unnecessary until you’ve finished; and completing Nano really works to shut down that part of your brain.

Finally: discipline is the stealth strength of Nano. To write a novel isn’t particularly difficult; it’s easy to produce one body of work in our lifetime. Being a writer however, means completing this feat of stamina time and time again. Nano teaches you to get up early, use your lunch break wisely, and turn off the TV (and social life) in the evenings. If you’re serious about writing you will need to start treating it like a job.

The problem with the final strength of discipline is the Nano work-ethic stops in December.

This is one of the main things which frustrated me. After four times of successfully competing Nano, each month in December, I stopped writing and got my life back to normal. In that sense completing Nano to become a writer is more like asking a fish to take a massive gulp of air instead of learning to grow a pair of legs and walk on the land forever.

Congratulations: you’ve written a (big) story. You still aren’t a writer.

If you’re reading this and thinking, ‘Hey, I didn’t quit writing after Nano!’ Then great, you’re one of the very few people who I would say has a true writer-ethic. This blog post isn’t for you: it’s for all the December quitters—which includes myself.

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The Things A Student Will Not Receive By Doing A Degree Course In Creative Writing

Here is a list of things that creative writing students are not getting on their course:

1. The chance to focus

– Students should work on one story from first year to third year – this will reflect the effort involved and commitment from beginning to end. They currently do not. They try various things in the first year, focus on becoming employable in the second year, and get to focus in the third year.

2. Discipline

– Students should be pushed to write everyday and be marked down accordingly – this will reflect the professionalism needed to consider yourself a writer. Every writer has to learn that writing is a job. You have to work at it everyday. The students are not pushed to do this. Sure they are encouraged, but they should be pressed and marked down if they under perform. Blogging everyday for three months solid is enough to instill a routine in anyone. Peer pressure – a public leader-board – will get students to pull their socks up.

3. Rules

– Students should be given the rules of writing – they exist: why is the 3 act structure not considered until the third year? Why is plotting not covered until the third year?

4. Software and workflow guide(lines)

– Students should be given the ‘How’ element of writing. We are given the Why and the What, but How? For that we’re told to use Word and ‘see you next week with a thousand words’. Not good. There are a plethora of ways to write, and write well. The students are not given (in any formal manner) these discoveries from teachers, or told what has proven to work for established writers.

5. Mature student considerations

– If you are a mature student, you are not catered for. Eg: You will be asked to ‘get a job’ multiple times. You will be asked to write a CV multiple times. You will be asked to perform ‘teamwork’ tasks multiple times. As a mature student, you need none of these and it is largely (99%) a waste of your time.

These are just 5 ideas, and I have more, many, more.

Getting a degree at 40 is frustrating.

However, the MA course has a 100% track record of getting people published! What is the percentage for getting BA students published in their chosen course; not as copywriter, or in advertising, but selling fiction? 1%? Appalling.

InkMark iPad App Review

I have been hunting hard for a good Markdown app and I think I’ve found the best. Here were my requirements:

Must be iOS 7 designed – I didn’t want to be using something that was full of bevelled edges and faux paper panels. I want my editor to be beautiful like the system I’m using. This requirement alone made it very easy to discount many editors. So many of them look like they haven’t been updated for years.

It must do one thing really well – write with Markdown – and not try to do everything. So many tools that I looked at tried to be everything a writer could ever need. With so many features and options, I felt like these apps were bloated and overloaded. I didn’t want that at all. This editor needed to be light and quick to open and type on. Evernote is normally my note taker of choice, so that gives you an idea of what I’m used to.

The typing font must not be ugly – by ugly I mean the Courier font. This is fine if I want to be a coder or write scripts all day, but I don’t. My usual font of choice is Times New Roman because this is the standard font which Agents and Publishers accept. Failing Times New Roman, I just didn’t want to see Courier on my screen – anything else (contemporary) would be fine.

The app must either have good support or regular updates. I don’t want to feel like the developer has created one thing and then moved on to the next project, leaving the app to grow old and die. Therefore, new releases are vital.

Good feedback or lots of promise. Many apps I looked at has lots and lots of reviews, and I read them! Many apps started off well, but then as iOS 7 came along, some of the best apps appeared to struggle to please other buyers. Their feedback was negative and somewhat miffed at the loss of a good app. Failing good feedback, the app should be free and/or have lots of potential.

The app should have export options. Writing on an iPad is never where my words stay – and I don’t always want to publish it somewhere. Therefore, exporting to Dropbox is a must, or Evernote, or Google Drive (in that order). I don’t need a million options, just the basics.

So that is an extensive list! Is it possible one app could deliver all that? Well it appears so. Whilst I was browsing the App Store under the ‘markdown’ search term, I flicked the ‘sort by’ setting over to ‘most recent’ and it was here that I found InkMark.

20131210-185250.jpg

InkMark is clean to view (iOS7 designed), does Markdown writing really well, the font isn’t courier (it isn’t Times either, but no matter), it appears to be well supported, there is no feedback yet but lots of promise, and finally, it has dropbox support.

All this means it’s pretty damn good.

The negatives? It’s quite pricey. It was free to ‘buy’ initially, and then I discovered it was £3.99 a year to store more than 3 files at a time, plus a number of other features become available in the settings. This was a great strategy for app discovery, because everyone loves a good app for free (Evernote), and I did feel cheated somewhat at the hidden cost for storing more files, however, after thinking about it, I do want more updates and I do believe developers should get paid for good apps. If this business model keeps everyone happy and the updates coming, then it’s all good with me.

The thing I like most about InkMark is the live Markdown preview panel – I don’t need it, but I love the feature. It’s easy to swipe it away from view, and pull it back again if I want to see my formatted version, and this feature was a deal breaker for me. I should add this to the requirements list, because I discounted many apps which didn’t have it.

So, I bought the app, then found a bug which meant it didn’t respond well with my bluetooth keyboard. A quick click about in the settings and I turned off the Keyboard Experience (or whatever it was), then, bingo, my problem was solved. The devs say a new update is in the process, so that should be sorted soon, I hope. So with this sorted and the devs responding to my cries for help, I dropped the £3.99 per year to ‘upgrade’.

Want to take a look at it in the App Store? Here’s the link.

Fingers crossed this was a good move, and it gets supported. I’ve got a good feeling about this app. More news as I have it.

Mark

writing a life

it suddenly occurred to me on the way into town today that logical existence and rational thought is strengthened by facts, evidence and references to existing elements. But for creativity to exist with the same weight as logic – ‘we’ must invent it first. Without mental invention, there is no existence of creativity. Once it has been created, it is as real as anything logical, rational or dripping in physical evidence. The only difference between whats ‘real’ and what (apparently) isn’t, is our ability to think of it first. 

Here’s an example. 

When I first tried my hand at creative writing. I fell at the very first hurdle. I didn’t know what to write about a character because that life didn’t exist. I was stuck. I tried to copy a life in existence by using bits of people I already know in real life. It worked, but its also very weak and limiting. People I know, don’t murder people, have dangerous jobs, have amazing wealth or bounce across continental borders with the police chasing them. 

Then it eventually occurred to me that I had to ‘create’ life. Not just write a story that a pretend person played a part in – I had to invent, think, create, give birth to a whole world for this fictional being to exist. This made my brain ‘jar’ a bit, it was completely unnatural to me, it was false, fake, deceptive and illogical. It was like I was lying to myself, and to others that would read about it. Creating life with thought? Jebus, who’d have thought it would be so hard? Not in the actual sense of ‘thinking stuff up’, but in the conceptual sense of realising that’s what writing fiction is about.

No where in all the creative writing books I’d read, broke it down this that level:

“okay mark, here’s the deal. Forget about reality, you have to make this shit up. It’ll feel odd, but just go with it right? I know, I know, you can’t write about his job, because you don’t know what it is. That’s where you just make something up. Yes, well don’t worry whether its right or wrong, because the character isn’t real, so you cannot be ‘wrong’ – ever. Yep, granted you’ll have thought that people won’t believe your character is real, because you just ‘made it up’, but relax, that’s why they’re reading a piece of ‘fiction’ geddit? The clue is in the title there. Fiction. Make believe is fine. They don’t want truth, fact, or reality. They want ‘made up’, fake and invented. Its hard yes, but its right, and it will always be right as long as you keep doing it and getting better and better at it. Just trust your creativity and you’ll be okay, okay?”

umkay

… and so it continues. 

This is one thing that creative writing books fail to acknowledge in their ‘dummies guide to creative writing’ editions – it assumes that the reader understands the difference between real and fictional worlds. Maybe I’m being too dumb here – I mean even I know the difference between them. But its only the writers that get to invent life from thought…. and when you’re not ‘a writer’ yet, just a beginner, you’d have imagined this basic building block would be the first priority on the list.

Or maybe its just me.

final day and 50k

Woo! finished it.
Ignore all the dates and revision times, I’ve just pasted it into Word for the character stats.

50k_sm

*mark hands mark a gold star, mark puts it on the shelf with all the other gold stars 😀
oh and incase you’re wondering what I’ll be doing on the 31st and technically ‘final day’… that’ll be resting and erm, printing lots of pages!