Tuesday, December 8, 2009

How I met A NaNoWriMo Superstar

First of all, I have to qualify this interview. From the end of October when everyone started putting on their NaNoWriMo hats, I slunk into a corner to observe. In my mind, pounding out 50,000 words in a month is akin to walking on water. Despite the fact I was skeptical, I was still intrigued, and kept asking the people I knew who were participating... how's NaNo working for you? Will you have anything you can work with after you complete it?

I belong to a Goals' group, and one outstanding writer was disappointed when she only reached 14,000 words, while another committed and disciplined member met more than 60,000 words during this month-long challenge. 14,000 or 60,000, I was standing on my chair applauding.

But then Dale Mayer announced her word count, which brings me to the subject of this blog. When Dale came up for a breather during NaNo, she had not only made her goal of more than 50,000 words, she'd finished a 93,700 word novel. What's more, this author forced the skeptic in me to depart, because I'd already discovered that Dale could produce a workable first draft.

Dale entered her 2007 NaNo attempt Tuesday's Child in the 2009 Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence in Mystery/Suspense, and Dale's work came a mere point or two from finaling in the paranormal category. Tuesday's Child has since gone on to final in the 2009 Emily and is a current finalist in the 2009 Where the Magic Begins. Dale's 2008 NaoNoWriMo manuscript Hide'n Go Seek just finaled in Gateway to the Best and placed second.

So you see, not only is Dale accomplishing her goals, she's making a NaNoWriMo believer out of me. I thought we'd talk to her and see how she does it. Want to come along?

D.B.: Dale, thanks for being with the Five Scribes today. First, fiction isn't the only type of writing that you do. You are used to deadlines in your nonfiction assignments. Tell us about that side of your professional career.

D.M.: Thanks, Donnell. It was so kind of you to ask me to be here. You're correct in that fiction isn't the only kind of writing in my world. I am a full-time freelance writer and work with many clients--and therefore deadlines. I have two business books published and am currently working on my third. All three of these works are close to 65,000 words. I also complete assignments on a daily, weekly and a monthly basis. My word counts go from a 450-word article to thousands of words for various ebooks. I'm currently creating a workbook on Stopping Procrastination. Deadlines are as varied as people. I've been given from three months to three hours to complete various projects.

D.B.: Do you feel that having these types of deadlines gives you a head start in NaoNoWriMo? Why or why not?

D.M.: I think any practice you have to adhering to deadlines would help to complete the NaNoWriMo challenge. If you can set a daily deadline of a specific word count by a specific hour, then you are ahead of the rest. For myself, setting deadlines are easy -- now following them without the pressure of a client sitting behind them is where the challenge comes in. I'm good with challenges, and I'm good with motivating myself to move forward, but there are days I wonder if I can make the goals I set myself.

D.B.: Do you brainstorm before you start in November, or do you have a brief outline? Please tell us about your process.

D.M.: It's certainly helpful if you have an idea well in advance of November 1 and starting the challenge, but in truth, I'm a panster, and although I had a three-line blurb about the story, mainly about the character, I had no idea how the story would play out.

D.B. : You have four children. What do you do in advance of NaNo to prepare for this month-long challenge?

D.M.: I do have four kids, and, yes, I'm a single parent ;) but I've never found (dare I say 'allowed') that to stop me from doing the things that are important to me. My writing is important and my children are amongst my greatest supporters. I don't stockpile food, nor do I set up a schedule and expect them to adhere. I find life continues pretty much in the same vein as before the challenge started. Except maybe I'm a little more tired ;)

D.B.: How many hours do you dedicate to NaNo in a day?

D.M.: As many as I need to? Honestly, I found the trick that worked the best for me was to write approximately 1,000 to 1,500 words first thing in the morning and then go to my nonfiction work. In the evening, I'd return to my NaNo ms. and continue until I reached 3,000 words a day. Sometimes, I couldn't get my word count done in the morning and between 7 and 11 p.m. I would do all 3,000 words and sometimes more.

D.B.: When a new day begins, do you go back and read what you wrote the day before?

D.M.: No. I didn't feel the need to. By writing to the extent I did every day, the story stayed fresh and the characters were always there in my mind.

D.B.: What do you think of your writing as you're putting the words down on the page? Is your muse having an inspirational good time, or are you practical in saying just get it down -- worry about it later?

D.M.: I find the more I write the better I am at writing the first time around. Does that make sense? It's not to say that this ms. won't need major revisions because it will. But the story was fun to write and went down fairly smooth. I did struggle around the 65,000 to 75,000 mark, but after that it flew down.

D.B. : Was it your plan to write an entire book in one month? Tell us about that.

D.M.: I had hoped to but hadn't tried before and didn't know what my 'stick to itness' capacity would be in this instance. I wasn't sure even to the last night how close I'd come. I had it in my head the ms. would be 90,000 but I forgot to ask the characters! I wrote 5,000 words on the last night in order to complete the manuscript. I typed The End at 11:10 p.m. on the last day.

D.B.: I think your achievement and your stick-to-itness as you call it is amazing. Finally, what advice do you have for anyone who's on the fence about participating in NaNoWriMo in 2010?

D.M.: I think the biggest thing anyone looking at trying the NaNoWriMo in 2010 is [to] go in with the attitude of seeing what you can do -- for yourself, your writing and your manuscript. Don't compete against other people -- because the rule is that no matter how good you are -- there is always someone better. Compete against yourself and you always come out a winner. Plus it's important to not consider yourself a loser if you don't make the 50,000 [word] goal. My first attempt at doing a marathon of writing like this was done with a writer's group and in private because I was shy of doing the [official] NaNoWriMo. That was how Tuesday's Child was born. Now I know it's okay to do your best and not worry if it's as 'good as' anyone else's attempts. Writing is for you. Do what you need to do.

You know what, Dale? I think you've made some excellent points and I've definitely jumped off the skeptic fence. Thanks for being here to talk about your process and congratulations on finishing Maddy's Floor. I can't wait to see how it turns out, and I wish you much success with it. Further, I plan to do some practice sessions based on your advice and next year participate in my first NaNoWriMo. Thanks for being here and explaining your process.


Amy Atwell said...

Great interview, and I'm so impressed with the productivity. Dale, do you find the hoopla of NaNoWriMo helps you stick with the challenge? Is attempting 50K words something a writer can do on her own?

Annette said...

Dale, thanks for sharing your technique. Like Donnell, I've never taken a stab at Nano, but have been in awe of those who do.

Melanie Atkins said...

Wow, Dale. I'm so impressed. I've won Nano and written a 95K book in six weeks (I truly believe I channeled those characters), but don't think I stand a chance completing one of that length in 30 days. Your schedule, productivity, and positive attitude are an inspiration!!! Great interview. Thanks for sharing.

Donnell said...

Melanie, six weeks is darn impressive. That's only a two-week difference. Well done!

Mary Marvella said...

Such dedication makes me feel like a slug! Dale, you are an inspiration and a goddess!

Melanie and Amy are also BIG TIME achievers!

Thanks for the reminder, Donnell!

Dale said...

Hi everyone, thanks for stopping by. Amy, there is a certain amount of hype around the NaNoWriMo that does make you feel excited and challenged to be a part of the program - particularly if you are managing to maintain your word counts. If you can get past the first two weeks, the first being full of 'I can do this' and the second being 'what the heck did I sign up for' then you are on the backside of the 'hump.' From here there is a light at the end of the tunnel. The third week is still a challenge to continue but by the forth week there's a sense - of 'wow, I'm almost' done and you can really boot up the production.

Can you do this on your own? Definitely! Does it help to have a group working with you and cheering you on? Absolutely!

Dale said...

Melanie, your comment struck a cord as that was my 2008 NaNo scenario. I finished 50,000 plus that year and continued to finish the book by Dec.10.08

I was so thrilled with my progress then and it gave me the impetus to try to complete a full ms in the NaNo time this year.

Kathy said...

Dale, congratulations, what an awesome job. I’m strange, according to many people, that when you put me in the push to shove mode I can write like crazy. I just run into minor thing called work-lol. I do find for me since I work a weird schedule I'd bust tail to get started on days off toward the next couple of days’ goals so that when I came in at midnight from work I could sit down chat for a bit go through email and then dig into the writing. Most people are in bed asleep by the time I get into the groove. But I work evenings 3-11 pm and overnight two nights 11 pm to 7 am so the alter hours work for me. I'm still working on this story from NaNo I made the 50k just hadn't finished the story yet. I figure if I can quit smoking with my husband sitting here puffing away I can do NaNo maybe it worked. I know I did a novella in a month once that shocked me I could write like that. I hear people say oh I can't write on a deadline I can't do it. So what happens when an author gets published? Doesn't she have deadlines then?

Debbie Kaufman said...

Way to go, Dale! And thanks for the interview, Donnell. Very inspiring!

Donnell said...

Kathy, you're one of the people who made me sit up and take notice of NaNoWriMo, you're an inspiration. And yes, people have deadlines but I'll pass on the one month set up ;) Thanks for commenting. With your willpower you sound like you can do anything!

Debbie, thanks very much, and I loved your goals blog on Petit Fours & Hot Tamales yesterday; I wasn't near my computer to give you an atta girl!

Dale said...

Mary you could never be a slug! Keep on keeping on and you'll get there.

And you're right, it's exhausting trying to keep up with Amy and Melanie.

Dale said...

Don't let the challenge scare you - the bottom line is to do the Nano for yourself. If you achieve 5,000 words - it's still 5,000 more than you had before you started.

Dale said...

Hi Kathy,
Thanks for sharing your writing schedule. What an thing to write in the night. I'd have to try the after midnight thing. I'm usually a morning person and do my emails/news/etc first then get started on writing but I often get my biggest word production between 7-11 pm. After that - well I'm not much good for anything :)

The nice thing about Nano is that if you managed to write down a huge chunk of the manuscript, there is another goal of getting so much more done by Christmas and then New Year's. If you go away for the holidays that doesn't help but I hate having projects hang from one year to the next.

Sylvia said...

Thanks for sharing. You are awesome. If I can steal a line I heard from Donnell, recently, "When I grow up, I want to be like you."

Donnell said...

Ah, hugs, Sylvia, but I do believe I was talking about YOU!

Dale said...

Thanks Sylvia! On one of the pep talks that was sent out to the various Nano participants, it said that every year there's a couple of people who complete 50,000 words in 3-4 days. That's almost a whopping 17,000 per day.

That's who I want to be when I grow up :))

Audra Harders said...

Dale, I stand in awe of your dedication! Over 93,000 words in a month! It doesn't sound like your thought were too dysfunctional, either.

I haven't participated in the NaNoWriMo challenge. I do think it's an excellent tool. And by looking at your production numbers, I'd say I'm right : )

Congrats on all the major contest finals!

Dale said...

Thanks Audra! I do think the NaNoWriMo is a tool that helps a lot of writers improve their writing.

There was an added advantage this time for me - writing this novel was just plain fun!

Donna Caubarreaux said...

You are a 'Superstar'...

It's amazing what people can do if they set their mind to the task at hand.

magolla said...

As I've said before and I'll say it again. "Dale is a goddess!"
Her inititive is kick in the pants that I need!