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National Novel Writing Month

National Novel Writing Month

Note: This was originally published on the now sadly extinct blog “Favorite Thing EVER!” In 2010. I might re-post a few of my other FtE! writings in the future.

National Novel Writing Month has a simple premise. You write 50,000 words of fiction in November. Got that? Okay, good. Go to it.

You might have some questions. Something like this:
Q: I’m not an author!
A: You are now. Write.
Q: I’ve never figured out sentence structure!
A: Not important. You can edit later. Write.
Q: Why? What do I get out of it? Is there a prize?
A: You’ll figure that out when you get to the end. Write.
Q: What I write will probably be terrible!
A: I’m sure it will. Write.
Q: So…I should just write?
A: Right.

This is real, pedal-to-the-metal time. You’ve been saying for years now that you’ve got a great novel inside of you. You’ve plotted scenes, maybe you’ve even written a few character sketches. But you’ve never actually sat down and pounded through a real draft, from beginning to end.

Now’s your chance, and you’re in good company. Every year tens of thousands of authors sign up, in essence promising that they will do what it takes to get to 50,000 words by December 1st. The forums on the NaNoWriMo official site are a great place to talk with people who are just as–or, if you could use some Schadenfreude, much more–stuck than you. The tone on these forums is usually friendly and helpful, if a bit terse; because everyone’s got a novel they need to get back to.

You’ve also got some good tools. Scrivener (have I mentioned Scrivener before?) is free for the month of November, perfect for NaNoWriMo, and will give you 50% off the price of a permanent license if you meet your 50,000 word quota.

There’s no pressure, no external warnings, no coach urging you to make it to the next goalpost. Just your own personal drive. The site simply provides a place for you to record your progress and shows you where you should be if you’re keeping up a nice, even pace. In reality, there’s nothing stopping you from just walking away. But you’ll keep writing, because something inside of you will not give up.

There will be bad days. There will be days where you don’t even want to look in the general direction of your computer, knowing that if you sit down that…that thing will want you to type words again. There will be the bewildered looks of your loved ones, trying to figure out what happened to that person they used to know and who this sleep deprived interloper is. There will be nights where you absolutely can’t look at the line above your cursor, because you know that if you read that sentence you just wrote you’ll have no choice but to delete your entire novel and move to the deep woods in a vain attempt to hide from the shame of having written such dreck. But you’ll keep writing, because something inside of you will not give up.

There will be gray days. So many gray days. Days where it’s all you can do to keep putting one word after the other. Days where you know what your characters need to do, but for some reason they insist on metaphorically picking up the dry cleaning, washing the car, and paying some bills first. But you’ll move on. You’ll write your 1,667 words (a number that will become synonymous with both “freedom” and “prison” over the course of the month) and leap from your chair, desperate to do anything else. But the next day you’ll come back and keep writing, because something inside of you will not give up.

But there will be good days as well. There will be days where your brain is on fire, racing a million miles a second as you see your characters start to come to life and tell you what they’re supposed to do next. There will be the moments of pure, blinding brilliance, when you can see the end from the beginning and everything in between and it’s all beautiful and right and good and you can’t understand why you don’t already have a four-way bidding war going on for your book.

And then there will be the best day. The day where you paste your entire novel into the validation box and your word count bar turns from workaday blue to a sublime shade of…light purple. But who cares? It’s the most beautiful light purple you’ve ever seen, because it means that you are a winner. You did it. 50,000 words. You are a Winner. This isn’t like finishing a video game or putting together a jigsaw puzzle; in those you’re walking a trail someone else blazed. This is something new, something unique, and you created it.

From here the world is open to you. Despite what your output looks like, you have proven to yourself that you can do hard things. In addition, you’ve spent a month forging a habit of really zeroing in on something for an hour or two every day. Now you can re-work your novel, shape it into something you want to publish. Or you can start a different story, this time focusing on the brand new character that snuck into your story as an extra and kept trying to steal the show. You can create that new app for the iPhone. You can go back and get that graduate degree. You can do hard things, and you’re a better person for it.

And now that you’ve done it (or at least made it to the end of this bombastic article), please consider making a donation to keep NaNoWriMo running. Let’s make sure that other people get a chance to feel what you’re feeling.

Byline, Meet Front Page

Byline, Meet Front Page

The inside of Field Notes' new "Front Page" reporter's notebook.
The colors are a little different, but the awesomeness is the same.

Field Notes just turned their wonderful Byline Quarterly Edition into a permanent edition named “Front Page“.

I’m genuinely excited about this. I have four Byline notebooks from my Field Notes subscription, and they have rapidly become indespensible to me. The reporter’s notebooks work so nicely in so many ways. The fact that they lay flat and stay open means they’re far more useful for presenting out of than regular memo books. I’ve used them for lessons and talks a number of times now, and they are my go-to way to take notes in meetings. So I was sad knowing that my dependence on the Byline books would come to an end. Now I know that it’ll just switch from serious blue covers to serious gray ones, and I can live with that.

Field Notes: Remember it Now

Field Notes: Remember it Now

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I really, really wanted to start this off with a quote. I should have written it down.

The quote I half remember is from Anne Lamott, and I think it was on twitter. But I can’t find it. The gist of it was:

Always carry a paper and pen with you to capture ideas. The Gods of Inspiration do not honor cell phones.

If you find the original please let me know. Anyway it stuck with me because at the time I was all about taking notes on my cell phone. Or rather, trying to take notes on my cell phone. You know the drill: you get your phone out, unlock it, see that you have two new emails (or Facebook messages or texts…) check those, close that app, forget why you got your phone out in the first place, and go on with your day.

And after a while I started to realize how many good ideas I was losing in this process. The thing that held me back longer was my handwriting. It’s terrible. But guess what? After a while you realize that you can deal with bad handwriting, it’s much harder to deal with forgetting things entirely.

And thus began my quest for the perfect notebook. A repository for all my ideas. A dreamcatcher for waking dreams. A garden for blooming thoughts. Or, you know, something with pages I can write on.

I tried a number of things starting with standard comp books (way too big) to hardcover notebooks (also too big and uncomfortable in your pocket) to cheap spiral bound memo books (fall apart quickly in your pocket) and was basically ready to give up.

And then I discovered Field Notes.

There are a lot of people who make notebooks. But Field Notes puts a little something extra into their lovely notebooks. Starting with their base “Kraft cover” notebooks you get a sense that these are people who take what they do seriously. Check out the inside back cover, and you’ll see everything about how the notebook you’re holding is made. Who printed it, what machine was used to bind it, the exact ink colors used on the cover and the insides (“Dachshund Nose” black on the cover and “Double Knee Duck Canvas” light brown on the pages). They have an addiction to the Futura font, which I also love. Everything is sourced, printed, and manufactured locally. They remind over and over that you’re “not writing it down to remember it later, [you’re] writing it down to remember it now”.

But as nice as that is, it’s not what makes it. Good paper is nice, good build quality is important. But neither is a call for brand loyalty.

And then they came out with the Byline edition. A flip cover Reporter’s notebook straight out of the 1920s. Smooth, classy vellum pages. A little faux-newspaper included with every notebook. Okay, now I’m sold. This is something new, weird, classy, and unique.

And I started looking at all their “quarterly editions”, and I noticed these were words that applied to the whole range. They’ve got waterproof notebooks. They’ve got notebooks where the outside cover is the color of a leaf and the inside cover is the color of that leaf in the fall. Notebooks that change color in the sunlight. Notebooks that have actual cherry wood veneer on the cover. And most recently (as in, I’m writing this on the day this came out) notebooks where the cover has a cut-out showing the moon, and each of the three books in the pack has a different cutout (full, half and quarter). Like I said, new, weird, classy and unique. I started a quarterly subscription with Byline, and haven’t regretted it at all.

I’ve been using Field Note books for pretty much everything lately. Having a small notebook in my back pocket means I’m not as worried about forgetting things; I just pull it out, write things down, and go on with my day. Kind of like how a notebook is meant to work. they hold up well, the paper is top notch and doesn’t bleed through, and the notebooks are still in great shape when you’re done with them.

A notebook I’ve been working in is a great place to look for inspiration when I’m stuck. But I’ve also been surprised at the number of times I’ve been trawling my notebook for ideas and discovered that I’ve already implemented a bunch of the ideas in there. A number of new stories or work projects have gone from a passing notion recorded in a Field Notes book, migrated to Evernote and then to a work project or Monday Story without me consciously processing it. Turns out having a memo book at all times really does help me “remember it now”.