I found a holiday project to do in the week between Christmas and New Year. A small model of a library (although the label says Sam’s Study). I, of course, opened it when it arrived with excitement, but this was short lived when I realized each component – shelves, cabinets, etc. – were not separated, but all mixed together! So my first job was to find the pieces for each item and put them together. The other ‘surprise’ was how fiddly this is going to be! Oh my goodness – frustration beckons, I do believe. Maybe it will not be the relaxing little craft project after all. Time will tell.
I have not planned a word count for the holiday’s, but will utilize some time to continuing writing the second book in my detective trilogy, The Tainted Search. I have over 50,000 words from NaNoWriMo already so another twenty or so is achievable without full time work getting in the way.
As we enter the last week of NaNoWriMo, I thought I would share my experience of the challenge and share some tips.
National Novel Writing month is a crazy experience, whether it is your first attempt or one of many. We all tend to become rather manic as we write to our daily goal of 1667 words (or more if possible). I remember my first NaNoWriMo was back in 2009. At the time my writing experience was minimal, and my longest piece of writing was maybe three paragraphs long, substantially less than fifty thousand words.
The panic I felt at the mind-blowing word count and the deadline date made me completely obsessed. I would race home from work to write, threw the easiest meals together for my family and ignored household chores, for the most part. This was my focus. Now, after twelve years of the challenge, I have become more relaxed knowing I am capable of writing at least 1667 words in an evening. My average daily word count fluctuates between 1700 and 1900 words this year. That is not to say I do not experience some anxiety; I just know how to handle the challenge better now. As with everything – practice makes perfect, or in this case ‘bum in seat’ makes an achievable word count.
Here are a few tips I found worked for me:
Cultivate your story idea before NaNo starts. It may be a character, a location or even a whole scene that propels you into the story.
Jot down notes for plot, character names & personalities, anything that you see being included in your narrative.
Find a time and a quiet place to write that works for you and your family. Designate a time, if that helps.
Don’t make excuses – write first then watch TV or scroll social media.
Use unexpected spare/free time to write, even if it’s only a paragraph. Every word counts.
Try writing bursts – time yourself to write a certain number of words in an allocated amount of time.
Aim to write over the daily word count of 1667 this helps you stay ahead. So, any unforeseen circumstances are not so drastic to your end goal.
Let the words flow – leave editing and revision for later.
Use the word count tracker on the website, it helps you stay on goal.
Mark or highlight a sentence if fact checking is required. This stops you going down internet rabbit holes.
Believe in yourself, your story and your success.
Celebrate the smaller victories – hitting a sprint goal, writing a smashing paragraph, learning a new word.
Make sure you rest, exercise and eat.
Enjoy the process of immersing yourself into creating a world of your imagination.
Even if you don’t achieve 50,000 words you have managed to write a fair amount – that is success. Remember this challenge is only the beginning of your narrative’s journey. The editing and revisions come later.
You have experienced a multitude of jobs – have these experiences given you insights for the characters in your stories, within your book Rage and other writing?
Yes and no.
Yes in that I have based characters on past jobs for some of my writing. For example, two stories which appear in Rage are about archaeologists (“Deposition” and “The Edmore Snyders”) and I did work as a salvage archaeologist for about six years. Consequently, both of these stories carry elements which are very much true to life.
However, most of my stories are not based on past employment. To keep looking at the stories in Rage, I’ve never been a mountain climber, a priest, or a teenage girl (and probably never will be). To look at some of my other past jobs, I’ve never published a story about writers, software developers, or graphic designers–in fact, I find most of my past employment doesn’t excite me enough to craft share-worthy fiction from it. It’s the experiences I’ve had (which may or may not have come tangentially from those jobs) which inspire me, shock me, give me joy, disgust me, scare me, or piss me off so much I find myself mining for my fiction.
I’ll wrap this up by saying I am a strong proponent of thorough research and writers getting their facts as correct as possible. If I can use a past job to get my facts right, I’ll do it. If I need to interview people who’ve experienced the things I’m writing about, I’ll talk to them. I find story elements which don’t ring true to life (or at least my experience of it) can bring me out of a story faster than anything else–and I try very hard to never do that to my readers.
Your path into writing was the result of an unusual message, please tell us about it and if now you are convinced or otherwise to the validity of that message?
I’m not sure if the message you’re referring to was actually my path into writing (I’ve been making stuff up for almost as long as I can remember), but that message was most certainly the catalyst which finally got my ass in gear and helped me focus on my dream of becoming an author.
The message was this: you’re on a path for destruction and unless you change your ways, you are going to die. The deliverer of that message was a tarot reader I’d met at a party in New Orleans, and when she told me this, it scared the shit out of me. At the time I was a rather unhappy software developer and I chose to interpret her message to mean I should abandon my career in information technology and give writing a real, honest, both-feet-in effort (I also remember hoping this was not a medical thing).
As a result, I completely refocused my life. I enrolled in some continuing education classes in creative writing and for the first time in a long while felt truly happy (like I was where I was supposed to be). My instructors were encouraging, my classmates were invested, and everyone took the writing thing seriously. I learned a lot. When I got enough decent material together for a portfolio, I applied to Simon Fraser University’s year-long program, The Writer’s Studio. Coincidentally enough, that was the time I got downsized from my software development job, so I was given the luxury of being able to focus on my studies full time. At SFU, I got involved in the local literary community, met many interesting people, and learned even more. Then, I took my biggest leap and applied to the Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing program at the University of British Columbia. I’ve got to say when I got my acceptance letter from UBC, I did the biggest happy dance of my life. UBC was a fantastic experience for me, where I met even more interesting people, got involved in teaching creative writing, and learned an awful lot more.
In the end, whether or not I’m convinced of the validity of that message doesn’t really matter–I acted on that message, destroyed my old life, and created a new one I’m very happy with.
In teaching creative writing is it an advantage or a disadvantage to your own creativity?
Advantageous in that I get to meet many people with creative ideas so very different from my own. As a writer I don’t get out much, and talking to other writers about stories and other creative things is something I both enjoy and constantly learn from.
The downside for my creativity I experience from teaching is that I let it pull me away from my writing time. When I’m teaching a class, I feel it’s only fair to give my students my full attention, so whether I’m critiquing homework assignments or preparing lesson plans, I find I’m not writing as much of my own material as I’d like (in fact, I find I don’t write at all while I’ve got a course in session).
What writing process is the most comfortable for you – pantser or planner?
I’d like to be able to say I’m a planner, but that’s not entirely the truth. While I outline meticulously (not only do I take comfort in an outline, I’ve also discovered outlining saves me from having to write at least a full draft or two), I almost always deviate from my outline and end up pantsing to some degree as I go along. Now that could mean I’m further refining within the scope of my outline, but it could also mean I’ve got to throw away my current outline when I come up with something better (which happens often). As I’ve discovered my own writing process, I’ve realized my first drafts don’t look very much like my second drafts, and my final drafts are very different from what I first envisioned for my story (that’s not to say I only write three drafts–my current work in progress is on draft 10.7). So, um, yeah, I’m a bit of a hybrid.
How do you find inspiration and time to write?
As for time, I’m very lucky in that aside from the occasional teaching gig, all I do professionally is write (I’m also very lucky to have an extremely patient and generously supportive wife). As for inspiration, that’s been a bit trickier for me these past two years (as I suspect it has for a lot of people). I usually find my inspiration (whether it’s from things which shock me, give me joy, disgust me, scare me, or piss me off) from meeting new people, going to new places, and doing new things. As those stimuli have been somewhat curtailed lately, being inspired has become a bit of a challenge. I’m currently relying on memory and my outlines to carry me through my work.
What determines which genre/style your write in? (Short story, play, or poetry)
I haven’t been writing for the stage lately, and I’m not doing much short fiction or poetry, either. What I’ve been focusing on is longer fiction (the word count of the latest complete draft of my current WIP is about 120,000 words).
That being said, I did take a break from my novel and publish a short story in Speculative North last year. It’s about a werewolf desperately trying to keep her shit together while contending with increasing provocations from sources which have no regard for her as a person whatsoever (by the way, there should be an adult content warning if anyone decides they want to read that story–which anyone can for free by following the Free Downloads link on my website [http://www.johnmavin.com/downloads.html]). I knew that story would be short (it’s only about 7,900 words, admittedly long for a short story) as what I wanted to say wouldn’t have filled a novel.
So I guess that’s my answer–it’s what I want to say about a given idea that determines which genre or style I’ll use. My current WIP is too big and has too much world building to be effective in short formats so I’ve gone long. For my stage plays, it was usually the effect on a live audience I was going for (for example, my one-act play Daguerreotype–also available on my Free Downloads page–is an intentionally uncomfortable experience which is different for each person in the audience, depending on when they figure out what is really going on). For my poetry, if what I’m looking for is the emotional equivalent of a quick punch, that’s the genre I’ll choose.
You offer writing courses – what made you decide to do this?
I like to share and I like to teach. Back when I was taking my MFA, my grad advisor looked at my proposed schedule and called me in for a meeting. She said I’d signed up for too many courses and had to limit my choices–specifically, she asked me to choose between a class on teaching creative writing and a class on journal publication. While I was disappointed I couldn’t take both, making that choice was easy (I chose the teaching class).
Do you have a current WIP? Can you tell us about it?
I’m currently working on (and have been for far too long) a dark fantasy trilogy. I’m not yet at the stage where I can publicly say much about it, but I will say it’s set in a secondary world and deals with belief, deceit, and what happens to the soul after death. Oh, and yeah, the cast is very much filled with morally questionable characters (as with most of my writing, no one is truly good and no one is truly evil–they’re all hybrids, which I find true to life, or at least my experience of it).
How important do you feel creativity is – no matter the medium?
Very, very important. I believe humans have an innate need to create in almost all situations. Whether that creativity is expressed through writing short stories, composing music, painting pictures, solving problems, completing work, or even getting dressed is immaterial–everyone is creative. I realize I’m not expressing this very well, but I do know someone who can: his name is Jim Jackson and he has a podcast called Radio Creative, in which he looks at ways to expand people’s natural creativity and tap into it when they want to in their life, work and art. Full disclosure–Jim had me on as a guest a while back–but he’s also interviewed chefs, business consultants, and lawyers besides editors and writers). I recommend giving Radio Creative a listen. [https://anchor.fm/radiocreative/]
Where can readers find you?
The best place to find me online is my website, http://www.johnmavin.com, where I’ve got links to both my Facebook page [www.facebook.com/author.john.mavin] as well as my Goodreads profile [www.goodreads.com/author/show/16623050.John_Mavin].
Do you have a message for your readers?
Um, you mean beyond “hello, thanks for reading my stuff, please read more of my stuff, and I’d really appreciate it if you gave my stuff an honest review on Goodreads and/or Amazon”?
Okay, for something much less self-serving, how about this…I came across a meme on Facebook the other day which struck me as apropos. It went something like this:
List of Books to Read Before You Die
1. Any book you want.
2. Don’t read books you don’t want to read.
3. That’s it. The meme goes on, but at its core, I really liked its message
A chilling collection of stories unraveling the consequences of longing, broken trust, and deceit.
John Mavin is the author of the dark literary collection Rage who’s taught creative writing at Capilano University, Simon Fraser University, the University of British Columbia, with New Shoots (through the Vancouver School Board), and at the Learning Exchange in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. He’s a graduate of SFU’s The Writer’s Studio and also holds an MFA in Creative Writing from UBC. A past nominee for both the Aurora Award and the Journey Prize, his work has been translated, studied, and published internationally. He invites you to visit him online at http://www.johnmavin.com or follow him on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/author.john.mavin.
Firstly, it seems obvious but set a goal for your writing session. Do you know what your objective is? Are you brainstorming, creating a character description, outlining a plot, starting a new project or completing one?
Secondly, prepare for what you will be writing, do your homework for locations, period etc. Brainstorm ideas before you start, make notes. Create a inspiration list and find images for your story’s setting and characters. Make up a board, either physical or digital that you can have in front of you as you write.
TIP: Don’t be too ridge, let the story flow – it doesn’t always go to plan! But that’s the joy of writing.
Thirdly, gauge how committed you are to this piece of writing? Are you excited to start or is it feeling like a chore? If the latter, try something new or another project.
TIP:Use word or picture prompts to ignite your Muse to get you started and in a writing mood.
Also make sure you are in a good writing spot. Have you minimized distractions? Do you need quiet or music, a cafe or library setting. Or is your home space best for you or will there be too many interruptions?
Decide on how long you will write for. Don’t make the session too long or it will dampen your enthusiasm. Ensure you have breaks for refreshments, to stretch or even go for a walk.
Once you have these elements in place check your clock and set the timer. Don’t look at it constantly – just write. Lose yourself in the narrative. Enjoy the process. Don’t edit as you write – let the process flow. Let your imagination expand.
TIP: Don’t edit or revise – just write.
I like to sit in my living room with my laptop on a little table – in the warmer months, I can look out at the lawn and watch the birds & bunnies and in the cold months, I enjoy the fireplace. When we go on road trips, I usually sit at the desk or on the bed with my little table.
For those of you with school age children/grandchildren – are you celebrating having the house to yourself after the summer holiday/vacation? Do you plunge right back into your current manuscript or have some downtime to refresh?
Last week’s question: Do you incorporate politics and/or religion into your stories? What is the reason?
I have used a matriarchal society in my novel, Life in Slake Patch as the background to a young man’s life in that regime. It was interesting to write about the influences and attitudes of a different society. In contrast my novel, The Twesome Loop, which covers two time periods, shows the patriarchal suppression in the 1800’s.
Join the conversation and leave your comment below.
If you have a suggestion for a question please let me know.