WORD COUNT: THE MATH OF WRITING

On the rare occasion someone asks me a question involving math or a calculation of any kind, I have a standard response: I work with letters, not numbers. That worked until I realized there is an element of math that comes along with being a writer.

Writers who are math-challenged like myself will be happy to know that it’s a simple equation of addition or subtraction—but that doesn’t mean it’s easy.

I’m talking about the length of a manuscript. It’s the second question most people ask me about the books I’m writing (after “what is it about?”). And the answer, much to their surprise, isn’t the number of pages.

One of the first lessons new writers learn is that page numbers simply aren’t talked about in professional circles. That’s because people in the publishing industry have a different way of talking about the length of a manuscript. Its word count. 

But why not pages? That’s the way most readers think and talk about the length of a book.

For a simple answer to that question, I took a look at the pages of one of my current manuscripts.

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Posted in Editing, Fiction | 2 Comments

THE PURPLE APP

It’s no secret, I love music. And for most of my life, if I was looking for something to listen to for inspiration or entertainment, music was it. Unless I was going on a long drive—and then I might try a book on tape (the audio version of the Harry Potter series is amazing!) 

But then Serial happened and suddenly, everyone around me was all, “Podcasts!”

So I opened up that little purple app that’s pre-loaded on every iPhone and searched for Serial. And like everyone else in America, I loved it.

ios9-podcasts-app-tileAfter binging on Serial, I decided I kind of liked this whole podcast thing and started searching for other ones to check out. Before I knew it, my morning drive had officially gone from music to podcasts.

While music is still a big part of my listening-life, I found that a podcast in the morning really helps to kickstart my brain and get ready for the day ahead. Plus, I’ve learned a lot more than I would have if my commute had just featured my favorite playlists.

As both a writer and someone who works in advertising,  it’s helpful to have a wide range of knowledge (even if that knowledge doesn’t always go very deep) because you never know when some little bit of information will come in handy for a scene or an ad that you’re writing.

While I love learning new things, I unfortunately have the attention span of a gnat and tend to zone out when things don’t interest me. Through trial and word-of-mouth, I’ve found a collection of podcasts that do both: entertain through stories and interviews, all the while building the reserve of information in my brain that just might come in handy one day!

Here’s a little bit about a few of my favorite podcasts:

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THE GOOD SIDE OF ADVERTISING

The advertising industry often gets a bad rap.  It’s safe to say that we’re probably tied with used car salesman for the amount of trust people put in us. Although it might be time for a new analogy—I’m not sure people think that much about used car salesmen anymore.

But advertising is still out there—and thanks to technology and creative media, it’s finding you in more places than ever before.

I admit there are times when our industry’s bad reputation is deserved. We spin words and photoshop pictures and come up with strategic (and sometimes tricky) ways to incite a reaction—to get you to buy a product, to try a service or think in a certain way about a brand. While there is an element of art to what we do, at the end of the day, we’re salesmen. And saleswomen.

When I was just starting out in the industry, I remember talking to someone about why doing charity work was so important to me. I explained that I spend so much of my time convincing people to spend their hard earned money on products they don’t really need, it felt good to balance things out. You know, because of karma.

Fifteen-ish years later, I’m happy to say that I’m still involved in charity work. And while I’ve done my fair share of that “badvertising,” I’ve also had opportunities to  create work on behalf of clients who represent good causes and make a positive impact.

So while that bad rap may be deserved, there are times like this when we get to prove those nay-sayers wrong and celebrate being a part of an industry where work like this is possible.

Chances are, you’ve seen this video shared around your social media platforms in the past week. And more than likely, the words “wow” or “whoa” accompanied it. If you haven’t already seen it, take a look at this amazing and powerful spot by BBDO.

It fires on all cylinders: the music, the casting, the art direction, the edit, the twist that makes a good story great. I bet you won’t see it coming.

 

 

Congrats to the team that created this work of art that will hopefully change the way we look at the world around us.

Credits:

Agency: BBDO New York, CCO Worldwide: David Lubars, CCO, New York: Greg Hahn, Creative Director: Peter Alsante, Copywriter: Bryan Stokely, Art Director: Martins Zelcs, Group Executive Producer: Julian Katz, Production Company: Smuggler, Director: Henry-Alex Rubin

 

 

 

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CROSSING THE FINISH LINE.

I have never been happier to say goodbye to November. And yes, I know it’s already been over for a handful of days—but it took me a while to recover.

Don’t get me wrong—November is one of my favorite months. It’s my birthday, there’s football and Thanksgiving. I love Thanksgiving.

But this year, November was different. Mainly, because I decided I was going to attempt to write 50,000 words in 30 days with NaNoWriMo. And once I set my mind on something, I don’t recommend betting against me.

I won’t keep you guessing—I crossed the NaNo finish line two days ahead of schedule, writing my 50,000th word around 9pm on November 28th. For those of you who are curious, that word was ‘remember.’

In hindsight, writing 50,000 words was a lot like that time I decided to walk the Rock and Roll half marathon six years ago.

There was training. For me, my NaNo prep-work involved writing character sketches (although I was at an advantage since most of my characters were old friends  from my first novel) and a loose outline of the chain of events.

There were tools. Not unlike the carbs the night before, the cups of water and little energy-gel-things during the half marathon, I had my tools in place. I had considered trying Scrivener, a writing program so many people rave about, but ended up using my tried-and-true method of juggling a few different word documents.

As I wrote, I shuffled back and forth between these docs:

First Thoughts: where I kept my character notes and that rough outline from the prep stage. I veered away from it at times, but it’s held up pretty well.

NaNo Notes: whenever I had a thought pop up that I wanted to either include in a later scene or remember to include in a scene I’d already written, I jotted it down here. I have a feeling this document will come in handy more during the editing stage. It’s also where I kept track of my word count.

NaNo Scraps: I’m the kind of writer who will re-write a scene or a conversation a few times until it’s right. Usually, I keep those ‘scraps’ on a separate page within the document in case I change my mind or want to reference them later, but because I was using the Microsoft Word word-counter to help me keep on track, I gave the scraps their own document.

Draft Zero: The actual draft that I started writing at midnight on November 1st. As of last night, it’s 60,036 words long.

There was a plan. The lovely folks at NaNo tell you that you should write 1,667 words a day to reach that 50,000 word goal. I knew that for me, that wasn’t realistic. But I did set another goal of writing every single day. While NaNo was a constant game of falling behind, catching up, getting ahead and falling behind again, I still managed to write every single day.

I wrote every night during both of my week-long business trips. I wrote on Election night. I wrote on the day of a “creative black tie” halloween party. I wrote instead of watching a few football games. I wrote on my birthday. I wrote on Thanksgiving. Even if it was just a handful of words, I wrote every single day.

My mantra became: if I don’t write today, I won’t be able to say I wrote every day.screen-shot-2016-12-01-at-4-48-30-pm

There was support. I can’t thank everyone enough, the people near and far who supported and encouraged me along the way. Just like those people clapping on the sidelines when I was huffing and puffing my way down the streets of Chicago, it made a big difference and helped keep me going.

There were sprints. Whether you’re walking 13.1 miles or writing 50,000 words, the task can seem daunting. And sometimes, you get stuck inside your head, and taking the next step or writing the next word can seem impossible. That’s when my trainer and friend would force me to do a quick sprint to wake things up. And just like that, the writing sprints helped me re-energize and get past the blank page.

If you haven’t heard of a writing sprint, it’s where a group of people agree to a time period where you all just write. You don’t edit. You don’t stop and look back to see how you described a certain character’s hair 70 pages back, like I did once or twice. And when the time is up, you enter the number of words  you wrote (as long as you can remember where exactly you started writing, I forgot more than a few times).

I usually didn’t win—but  I always got that much closer to 50k.

There was the finish line. The day I ‘won’ NaNoWriMo, I knew I was going to finish. I had about 1,000 words left and I was not going to stop until I got there. Luckily, there was a local Write-In scheduled for that night, and as much as I loved writing at my own little Starbucks table—I wanted to have someone to high-five as I reached that goal.

As I wrote that last word, I felt the same high, the same sense of accomplishment that I did crossing that finish line after 13.1 miles. This is me in the moments after, thinking “Did I really just do that?”

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There was pain. Granted, the pain at the end of NaNo was nothing compared to the half marathon where I made the big mistake of wearing the wrong kind of socks. Ouch! But there was still that moment where I thought: “I am so glad I did that, but there’s no way in hell I’m ever doing it again!”

And while I haven’t walked another half marathon since then, who knows. Maybe I’ll give both goals another go one day.

This is the fashionable boot I had to wear for a few weeks after the half marathon. The pain that came after NaNo was more in the form of complete mental exhaustion.

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Last, but not least. There were stats. I finished walking the half marathon in 4 hours, 10 minutes and 02 seconds. I ‘won’ NaNo in 28 days, but kept going and ended the month with a total of 54,648 words.

Here’s a shot of the dashboard that taunted me all month long with that little bar, letting me know just how far behind I was. Plus, the little badges I was awarded along the way and the banner they made for us to digitally fly, announcing our accomplishment.

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But the work isn’t over. While I was not good about keeping up the long-distance walking, I am committed to keeping up with writing every day. After all, while the goal of NaNoWriMo was 50,000 words, that isn’t enough to make a full novel.

Besides, my story isn’t over yet.

 

 

 

 

Posted in NANOWRIMO | 3 Comments

HELLO, HALFWAY POINT!

I had the best intentions of  posting regularly during the 30 crazy days of NaNoWriMo, but between all the word counting, World Series-ing, traveling for work and the aftermath of the election—the blog has taken a bit of a backseat.

But I thought this was a good point to check in and share a few thoughts on my first Nano experience now that I’ve reached the halfway point:

#1. I knew that writing 50,000 words in 30 days wasn’t going to be easy, but I had no idea it would be this hard!

#2. The dashboard on the NaNoWriMo website is both the best and the worst thing ever. Breaking it down into more manageable goals has been great on the days that I’m able to meet the daily targets. But on the days that I’ve fallen behind, that little “At this rate you will finish on” date taunts me. Right now it’s got me finishing on November 29th—but there were more than a few days when it said I wouldn’t finish until December 18th!

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I actually find the pressure of a deadline a little exhilarating. Sure there’s the momentary freak out, but once that’s over, I find that it helps me focus and get back to writing. Probably a side effect of working in the ‘create-on-demand’ world of advertising.

#3. Writing Sprints / Word Wars can also be both the best and the worst thing ever. This was a new idea to me, but they are a big thing in the NaNo groups I’ve been involved in.

The first Sunday of the month, I went to a local NaNo write in and was introduced to my first “writing war.” Basically, you spend a determined amount of time (usually 15 or 30 minutes) getting as many words on the page as you can. A brain-dump of sorts. During my first word war, I got 470 words written. Not bad, I thought. Until the “winner” announced they had written 1,400. Oops.

The last few days I’ve been doing a few sprints with one of my Online NaNo groups, and as long as I pick the right scene to focus on and am in the right head space, I’ve been able to write up to 1,100 words in 20  minutes. Not all of the words will find their way into my ‘Draft Zero’ or my official word count, but it’s a good way to write without over-thinking, and it helps me resist the urge to self-edit along the way. When I’m doing sprints (I like that phrase better than wars) I have found that it’s easy to slip into the stream of conscious of my characters which can be a nice exercise.

#4. There is no wrong way to NaNo. There are some people who try and stick to the target of 1,667 words a day, every day. For me and my life—that’s just not realistic. But I did make a commitment to write every day this month. Whether it’s 100 words or 1,000 words, my daily mantra has been: “If I don’t write today, I won’t be able to say that I wrote every day.”

I keep this list as a reminder at the top of one of my NaNo documents. As you can see, there have been days where I’ve only managed to write 2 or 300 words. But at least I wrote something, so I consider that a win.

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 #5. I’ve learned a lot about myself and my writing habits during the last two weeks. One of my friends said that she falls behind every weekend and catches up during the week—and I’m the exact opposite. My head is filled with too much stuff during the week and it’s not as easy for me to focus completely on my writing. But since I made the commitment to write every day, I’ve figured a few things out to at least get some words down on the page.

When I’m writing, I need to focus on writing. Even if I have a slow hour at work, I can’t get into the right headspace when there might be an email coming in that would need a quick response. And since I’m not a morning person, after work is the only time I can carve out for writing each day.

I’ve also reaffirmed that white noise is very important for me. If it’s too quiet—I listen for a distraction. If it’s too loud I can’t focus. I’m like Goldilocks and the sound level has to be just right!

I love the vibe and environment at most Starbucks locations. The one right by my house is a little too small so I end up being  hyper aware of everything going on around me—but the one a few blocks away is perfect. And if it’s after-Starbucks-hours and I’m writing at home, the Spotify playlist ‘Acoustic Afternoon’ on low does the trick!

unknown-4A shot from yesterday’s Starbucks adventure where I learned the lesson that communal tables sound like a good idea—but once the two people next to you start flirting while having a conversation about molecular science, you can forget about focusing on your writing!

#6. There’s no way I can’t do a little bit of self-editing along the way. I am trying to keep the word count moving up and not going backwards to re-do what I’ve already written, but I just can’t help myself! I have been trying to limit my editing to beginning of each writing session. I’ll go back and re-read what I wrote the day before and make a few tiny tweaks. If there are big changes that will have a bigger impact on things, I make a note of it in my “NaNo Notes” document and move on.

#7. Every word counts. Literally. So if I’m feeling particularly behind my word-count schedule, I might consider using two words instead of one and ditch the contractions. It’s a good short term fix to get that word count up, but most of the time when I go back for that quick edit, I end up changing the word back to what it should have been in the first place. My word count goes down, but the writing will hopefully be better for it in the long run!

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#8. I said in an earlier post that November is the worst month to do something like this (especially during an election year!). But I don’t think I could even come close to pulling this off any other month. Because the magic of NaNoWriMo comes from all the other people who are in the trenches with you—sharing their successes and frustrations and cheering you on even when you only got 470 words during a word war.

I’m sure I could come up with a lot more things I’ve learned over the last 15 days (and since I first posted this, I’ve already come back to add three new points) but as you’ll see from the screenshot of my dashboard above, the number of words written today is ZERO. (And these 1,186 words don’t count!)

So until next time, happy writing! Any other NaNo friends, I’d love to hear your thoughts on what you’ve learned. Jump in on the comments!

 

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RING IN THE NEW BOOK!

Last night was a little like New Years Eve, except a lot more stressful.

There was the countdown to midnight.

There was a chilled glass of (rose) champagne.

And when the clock struck 12:00, there was…writing?

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If I’m being honest, the writing started around 12:05. The first five minutes were spent staring at the blank page of my brand new word document, appropriately named Draft Zero (see yesterday’s post).

Thanks to my October prep, I have a pretty tight outline of novel #2. (That’s the plotting part of me, there will be plenty of room for pantsing and evolving as I go!)  So while I knew exactly what the opening scene was going to be, actually getting the words on the page proved to a bit challenging.

There’s an unwritten pressure about the first line of a novel, but once I had that down, the words started flowing. Of course, that first line will probably change more than a few times, but I’m going to finish first. And then I’ll go back to revise and revise and probably revise again.

In the meantime, I’m happy to say that as of 1am last night, I’m 713 words in. Only 49,287 more to go and Day 1 isn’t even over yet!

Cheers and Happy New Book!

 

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READY, SET, WRITE!

Today is the last day of October, which means tomorrow is the first day of November, which means it’s the first day of NaNoWriMo—National Novel Writing Month—the day that I have been both excited for and terrified of.

One of my writer friends shared this great blog post by Chuck Wendig with 25 tips for those participating, and in case any of you are as crazy as I am to attempt this feat, I thought I would share it here.

The biggest take aways for me were:

Write. It sounds simple, doesn’t it? But don’t let yourself get overwhelmed by the 30-day deadline and the 50,000 words you’re challenging yourself to write. Just focus on the next sentence, and then the one after that.

There are no losers. Even if you don’t “win” and hit the 50,000 word mark, celebrate the fact that you probably wrote more than you would have otherwise. And every word you add to your word count is another word closer to your finished manuscript.

Consider this Draft Zero. The NaNo people call it a first draft, but something like this where quantity is favored over quality, it’s probably going to take a bit more work to get it First Draft worthy. But that’s what December, January and probably February are for.

You win at 50,000 words. But you aren’t finished writing. Not even close. YA novels have permission to be 60,000 words—but for most other genres, the minimum word count is closer to 80,000. So even if you win (which is amazing, congrats!) you probably have a lot more writing to do.

Those are just a few of the points that helped me mentally prepare for this crazy undertaking. If you are doing NaNoWriMo or thinking about trying it next year, seriously read this article. And bookmark it for day 10 and day 15 and day 27 when you’re feeling discouraged.

One final note that a woman in one of my writing groups said the other day, it is so obvious that NaNoWriMo was started by two single men. No woman (married or otherwise) would pick the already jam-packed month of November to attempt something so time-consumingly crazy!

And with that, it’s time to say goodbye to October and hello to NaNoWriMo. Wish me luck!

 

Posted in NANOWRIMO, Re-Blogs | 3 Comments