NaNoWriMo 2018

Today is the last day of November, which means that by 11:59PM local time tonight, National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is officially over. The goal of NaNoWriMo is to get authors to stop procrastinating and start writing their novels by giving them a word count goal (50,000 words) and a time period (the month of November, so 30 days) to get those words written.

This year, I unofficially participated in NaNoWriMo. I intended to start writing my novel in October and continue through November. Long story short, that didn’t happen. I spent October revising the characters and outline, things that needed to be done once I realized I had plot holes and a setting that needed more fleshing out. The good thing about that was I discovered new depths in my characters and created a better universe for them to live and breathe in, while adding and re-plotting several scenes.

November rolled around and I needed to put pen to paper (or rather fingers to keys). I started my first full draft on November 5th and wrote on all but three or four days the rest of the month, racing after the 50,000-word goal. Most of the month I was behind because I started late, but Thanksgiving saved me because I had four consecutive days off and wrote over 10,000 words in that time.

I’m a numbers guy, so here are the statistics from my first NaNoWriMo:

  • November 5th – 15th: 20,649 words
  • November 15th – 24th: 21,077 words (41,726 words total)
  • November 24th – 30th: 9,368 words (51,094 words total)
  • Grand total: 51,094 words (+1,094 from target)
  • Daily word count for November (30 days): 1,703 words/day
  • Daily word count for actual days writing (~23 days): 2,221 words/day

My book is not quite done yet. I expect to write 15,000 – 20,000 more words before I’m through, and then it will be editing time, so the numbers will fluctuate. As I write, I make notes on things I want to add, remove, or change later, and these things will affect the final word count somewhat.

All that aside, I enjoyed my first (unofficial) NaNoWriMo and highly recommend it to any author. If you don’t want to wait until next year, pick a month and make it your month to write. The key is to set goals so you keep moving forward. Even though NaNo (abbreviation of an abbreviation there) is over, I’m still setting milestones for myself; my goal is to keep writing at the same rate and have the first draft completed before Christmas. (Yes, that’s a gift to myself.)

More to come in the near future. Stay tuned.

On Indelible Imprints: Novels

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Last week, I wrote a post called On Indelible Imprints: Music about some of the songs that had significantly shaped me and my musical tastes, to the extent that I could remember when and where I first heard them. This week is a continuation on that theme, this time for books, specifically novels, the other art form that has entertained me, inspired me and changed the way I think.

  1. The Hardy Boys mysteries by Franklin W. Dixon — Starting in first grade, I began checking out and reading the original series of Hardy Boys mystery novels, shelved in the children’s section of my church library (which is now a thing of the past, but that’s another story). Even now that I’m older, I can hardly think of a better series of books for young boys. Though antiquated, they still provide clean, wholesome, exciting entertainment.
  2. The Chronicles of Narnia series by C.S. Lewis — Around the time the Disney version of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe came out, Mom bought the whole Narnia series at the local Mardel and, over the coming months, Dad read them to me and Daniel every evening after supper. Great memories of a great series, complete with illustrations. What more can I say?
  3. Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne — If there was ever a man ahead of his time, it was Jules Verne. He was writing about space travel and deep-sea diving before it was cool—no, he made it cool. I remember reading this adventurous novel while cooped up at my grandmother’s house in Wichita Falls during a very unadventurous (and deathly hot) summer. I reread it last year for kicks and still enjoyed it, vowing to read more of Verne’s works.
  4. The Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien — Dad told me I had to read each book before he would let me see its corresponding movie, so over one summer I checked them out from the library and read through them. I was young enough to like the visuals the movie provided more than the books, but I think now that I’m older I’d appreciate the books more. Either way, it’s an incredible story (I’m especially fond of Frodo and Samwise’s undying loyalty to each other), and it’s no surprise that it’s inspired so many other fantasy writers.
  5. Mythology by Edith Wharton — I’m not a big mythology fan, but I had to read and annotate this for my ninth-grade English class. I at least gained more appreciation for some of the epic Greek and Roman tales, though unfortunately I had to study this book on a weekend vacation to San Antonio with my family.
  6. A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens — Dickens isn’t the most fun to read. In fact, he can be pretty laborious with his sentences, and that turns a lot of readers off. (You have to remember, back in the day, he was paid by number of pages and installments, so he had to make some convoluted elocutions.) While I worked my way through what was, at the time, only a marginally interesting story, to me it was the ending that hooked me. No spoilers, but one word: sacrifice.
  7. Dracula by Bram Stoker — I’m not a fan of any modern vampire tales, but I am a big fan of Stoker’s classic. Ironically, my dad, who never reads, read this one and raved about how great it was. I picked it up and immediately understood why. I don’t categorize it as a horror novel so much as a suspense novel or a thriller. Of course, you can’t have suspense without some elements of horror, but it’s not the gritty, gruesome kind of stuff you see today. I want more books like this.
  8. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas père — This is the most epic tale I’ve read to date. It has it all: adventure, romance, betrayal, prison breaks, treasure hunts, revenge, murder, theft, blackmail—mostly in that order. It’s also a great tale of good and bad, and how easy it is to slide from the good end of the spectrum down to the bad end. It’s long, but it’s completely worth the read.
  9. And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie — To date, this is the only Agatha Christie novel I’ve read (yes, it’s a travesty), but am I glad I read it. I started it on the return leg of a camping trip to Laredo, and couldn’t put it down. If you only read one thriller in your whole life, read this one. It’s as simple as that.
  10. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy — I figured if I wanted to introduce myself to Russian literature, I’d might as well dive in head-first and tackle this epic work. I started it mid-December 2017, right before I graduated college, and finished it just over four months later in mid-April. My intention was to read it in a year (which could be done easily if you read just one chapter a day—there are 365 of them), but I found it hard to limit myself so I plowed ahead. This is not quite a novel, nor a history book, nor a philosophy book, but it has aspects of all three. It’s far from the easiest book to read, due to its length, number of characters, and time span (fifteen years), but if you’re interested in the Napoleonic Wars, the Russian Empire, or history told through real and imagined characters, it’s worth adding to your reading list. You can also read my writeup of War and Peace for more.

Of course there are more than these ten, and hopefully many more down the road. Maybe a part two or a list of non-fiction titles is in order. In fact, thinking as I write, I think I will compile an Indelible Imprints list of non-fiction books. Stay tuned.

The Birth of an Idea, and the Gestation of a Novel

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

— Chinese Proverb

Many months ago, an idea for a novel popped into my head, as sometimes happens. When that does happen, I usually jot a note down describing the plot, characters, and so forth, and shelve the idea for later. Sometimes, the ideas stay in the back of my mind, and make themselves known just often enough for me to remember them, even though I’ve written them down. This one idea, however, persisted, and persisted to the point that I had no choice but to flesh it out.

So, on September 17th, after stewing on the idea for a while, I called up a blank document and began outlining the story. I took the idea from fifteen-second synopsis to rough-hewn skeleton to blow-by-blow summary. Midway through this two-week process, I created some deadlines for myself. I would have my outline finished before October 1st, and have my first draft done before December 1st.

I’ve found in life that having deadlines forces me to get work done. I’m very deadline-averse. I hate working down to the wire. In school, deadlines motivated me more than grades. I was the kid who finished a project two weeks before it was due so that I had ample time to tweak it if needed, and plenty of free time if I didn’t.

It’s the same with writing. I finished my outline this past Friday the 28th (though there are still a few rough spots), and started the first draft on Saturday the 29th, two days ahead of schedule. I would have been ashamed of myself had it not happened that way.

November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), a great way to write that 50,000-word novel you’ve been putting off forever. Instead of waiting another month to write (the idea is demanding to be fleshed out now!), I decided to play the game by my own rules and give myself two months to write the novel. I’m not shooting for a total word count, nor am I trying to meet a daily word quota; I’m simply working on it as much as I can every day. If it’s moving forward to completion, that’s what matters.

I don’t know how long the draft will take to revise, or even what will need to be revised once I finish drafting. I’ll come up with another deadline to beat when that time rolls around. Who knows how different the story will be then from what it is right now? I’ll put on the editor’s hat later, though. What matters now is that the story needs to be written, so I will write it.

As the work progresses, I will be releasing some tidbits, and they will be delicious. Without giving too much away at first, here is the first one, a picture that may tell a little about the plot and setting:

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

This novel will be big, explosive, and entertaining, ladies and gentlemen. Stay tuned.

On Reading

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Not me, but certainly where I’d like to be.

One of my earliest childhood memories is from when I was four years old, attending preschool at a local Baptist church. When Mom came to pick me up that day, I made a statement to her that I truly believe changed my life.

“Mommy, I want to learn to read.”

With that, instead of going to Kindergarten the next year with my friends, Mom started homeschooling me with first-grade curriculum, and I of course learned to read. That desire to read has never gone away—although I would say that advanced English classes in high school, where I was required to read certain books, did stifle it for a bit, but that’s beside the point.

What made me want to read? In preschool, we had a wooden bookshelf with many picture books propped up on it. I remember four-year-old me picking up a book and opening to a page with a picture of the Dallas skyline and some text below it, which of course I couldn’t comprehend—but I wanted to comprehend. Whether that desire to read came from genetics or from Dad singing me the ABCs while he changed my diapers, ultimately I believe it came from God.

I still enjoy reading. After a period during high school and part of college when I read only the books I had to, I again picked up the books I wanted to read. I enjoy all kinds of books now: fiction and non-fiction, old and new, secular and Christian (can a book be “Christian?”). I read because reading makes me think: I learn new information and glimpse new perspectives, compare and contrast the new with what I already know, and evaluate the insights. The “evaluating the insights” part is one reason this website exists.

I also read because it is a relaxer, a de-stressor. Sometimes, it’s an escape, a way to get my mind off a rough day. It slows me down yet keeps my mind engaged.

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Sadly, many people don’t read much anymore, or at least they don’t read books. We live in a world of constant information to the point of overload, where sound bytes and quick clips snag our attention for a few minutes at the most before we move on to something else. Video and images have all but supplanted the written word for information transmission, and certainly for entertainment. After a long day at work or school looking at a screen, folks come home and—guess what?—spend their evenings looking at a screen.

I’m not saying that it’s bad to unwind by watching YouTube or checking Facebook. In fact, I think learning how to do something by watching someone else demonstrate on YouTube is great! I also think keeping up with friends can be important, too. What I am saying is that it’s, for the most part, not mentally engaging. You’re being spoon-fed information instead of feeding yourself. Reading allows you to take information in at your own pace, stop, and interpret it how you will. In other words, you’re actually using your head, and I believe God gave us minds so we can use them by thinking critically.

Even for leisure, reading is hard to beat. A good novel will transport you into settings in a way that a screen still can’t do, indirectly conveying information and emotion using all five of your senses. (Think about it, a screen uses only two: sight and sound.) Instead of merely sitting as an audience to a character, you are there with the character, knowing what’s going through his or her mind and experiencing the environment.

There are many other good reasons to read: science says it’s healthy, and your budget probably says it’s cheaper than Netflix or cable (think of your local library or Half Price Books). You can do the research, or the math, if you don’t believe me.

Some people think reading is boring. I think they just haven’t found something they’ve wanted to read. The sad fact is, a lot of people think of reading as work, and for good reason, since kids in school are often tasked with reading books that they don’t find interesting, and college students are burdened with reading laborious, inscrutable textbooks. I get that because I’ve been there, too. The key is to find something you’re interested in, acquire a book about it (check the library!), and just start reading.

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Libraries are cool. Look at all those books! Photo by Tamás Mészáros on Pexels.com

Some people might be hesitant to start a book because they don’t think they’ll finish it. There’s a way around this, too: start reading short books and then work up to longer ones. Lists of short but edifying reads are a Google search away, and there’s nothing like finishing a short book to make you feel accomplished, especially if you don’t read very much. I highly recommend using the site Reading Length to determine about how long it would take you to finish a book.

Finally, if you want to read but don’t think you have time in the day to do so, I’m willing to bet you do but just don’t realize it. I read a book while I eat my lunch at work, and again in the evenings while “airing out” post-shower. Chart out your typical day and determine where you could “cut the fat” to squeeze in some reading. Like me, you could take a book to work and read during your lunch break. You could read while waiting for a bus, train, or airplane. You could read when you wake up, after dinner, or before bed. It’s those brief moments that add up to large chunks of time.

But, let us remember the words of the Preacher from Ecclesiastes:

The words of the wise are like goads, and like nails firmly fixed are the collected sayings; they are given by one Shepherd. My son, beware of anything beyond these. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh. —Ecclesiastes 12:11-12

Read and enjoy, the key word being “enjoy.” Use the gift of reading that God has given you, but don’t wear yourself out from studying. And, most importantly, use the gift to glorify God by reading the words of the Good Shepherd.