National Novel Writing Month

November is National Novel Writing Month, “NaNoWriMo” for short.

The idea is to write with abandon throughout the month, completing the first draft of a novel by November 30.

Writers who embark on this annual quest, do so within a community of other sojourners who encourage and support one another to keep moving forward. (In addition to the above link, which is the place to start, follow NaNoWriMo on Twitter or check out hashtag #NaNoWriMo. Plus there’s many more resources and communities that support NaNoWriMo.)

If you’re participating, I wish you well and hope you make your goal.

If you never knew about NaNoWriMo and wish I’d provided more advance warning, that’s exactly what I’m doing — you now have 12 months to think about this and prepare to take part next year.

Write on!

Five Words About Books from A Word A Day

Each weekday I’m treated to a new vocabulary word that arrives via email. It is called “A Word A Day” and is provided by author, speaker, and linguaphile (word lover) Anu Garg. Starting 1994, the subscriber list is now over a million strong. Although the words shared have little chance of being added to my vocabulary or appearing in my writing, it is good to see the diversity and color of the English language, learn a word’s history (etymology), and see an example in contemporary writing.

Last week, the theme was “words about books.” Check out these five beauties:

vade mecum (VAY/VAH-dee MEE/MAY-kuhm)
noun: A book for ready reference, such as a manual or guidebook.

enchiridion (en-ky-RID-ee-uhn, -kih-)
noun: A handbook or a manual.

roman-fleuve (roe-MAAN*-fluhv) [* the middle syllable is nasal]
noun: A long novel, often in several volumes, that tells the story of an individual, family, or society across several generations.

chapbook (CHAP-book)
noun: A small book or pamphlet containing stories, poems, or religious tracts.

omnibus (OM-ni-bus)
noun: 1. A volume reprinting several works by one author or works on one theme. 2. A public vehicle designed to carry a large number of people.
adjective: Including or dealing with many things at once.

I’m familiar with the last two and even used the last one in my writing. As far as the first three, it’s nice to know these words exist, but I don’t see myself ever using them.

If you are a writer or someone who loves words, I encourage you to sign up to receive A Word A Day.

Who Do You Write Like?

Check out the I write like website (iwl.me). The premise is simple. You paste some you work into a text box and click “analyze.” The site will then tell you what famous author you write like. It is most interesting, but I’m not sure if it is much more. In testing a half a dozen of my writing samples, I received six different suggestions:

  • Cory Doctorow
  • David Foster Wallace
  • Edgar Allan Poe
  • James Joyce
  • Daniel Defoe
  • Arthur Clarke

I chose wide-ranging samples, all non-fiction: an article, a movie review, a book review, and posts from three different blogs. The most surprising – and perplexing – response was my post on spirituality about Trinitarianism matched me with Edgar Allan Poe. That certainly gives me pause.

Though I’ve yet to be asked, “Who do you write like?” I’m sure I will one day be faced with that question. I am now no closer to an answer than when I started. Even so, this is a fun tool.

 

Give it a try and then share your results in the comment section.

(By the way, for this post I write like H. P. Lovecraft.)

Do You Write Like A Dude?

Have you ever read an article and wondered about the author’s gender? I have; then I check the byline only to be stymied with an indeterminate first name, such as “Terry” or a “Lynn” or merely their first and second initials.

Towards that end, I recently stumbled upon an interesting website, The Gender Guesser. The concept is simple: Paste some writing in the box, select the genre, and click submit. The Gender Guesser will proclaim the likely sex of the author.

Of course I needed to test it. In submission after submission, The Gender Guesser said I was a dude. What a relief!

That caused me to wonder if I could write like a girl. Though I’ve yet to try, it would be an interesting exercise. Given how the Gender Guesser works, I think I can fool it. This would not happen by tweaking my style or embracing my feminine side, but by mechanically editing my work to remove certain words and insert others that the Gender Guesser deems indicate femininity.

I did, however, continue submitting my own work and finally found ones that fooled the Gender Guesser. Check out the following three blog posts:

What do you think? The results may surprise you; it did me. Are you ready? “Waiting for Sand” is essentially gender neutral (tipped ever so slightly toward male). The authorship of “Apphia the Unknown” is decidedly male, while “Writing Contests” was flagged as female. Who would have thought?

As far as this post, the Gender Guesser confirms its author is male.

What I’m Looking For in a Critique Group

Writing is a solitary effort, a task pursued in private. Yet the result is public.

Bridging that gap, between originator and audience, sits the critique group. A properly functioning assemblage will help members distinguish between their junk and their jewels, serving to keep the drivel under wraps, while propelling the exceptional to greater heights.

While I comprehend the immense value of being in a writing community, alas, I am not. Although some groups function well in cyberspace, my desire is for a gathering that meets face-to-face. Perhaps because most of my day job is done at a distance, I don’t want yet another task that must be accomplished in absentia. My desire for presence dictates a group of local writers, the existence of whom I am yet to identify.

Here’s what I wish my critique group to be:

  • We all need to be active writers; no wanna-be, gonna-do wordsmiths need apply.
  • We need to be at a comparable level, though those more advanced in the craft will be a welcome bonus.
  • We will meet on a regular basis, monthly seems ideal.
  • Each will submit a sample of his or her work in advance.
  • Each will review all submissions, ready to provide feedback at the meeting.
  • Honesty is the expectation, but presented tactfully. Our mantra will be to speak the truth in love.
  • False praise will be prohibited, while ruthless disparagement will be verboten.
  • The intent is to help each member improve their work, but not do it for them.

Is this a realistic expectation or an idealism never to be realized? Look for future updates here. Until then, write well.

Read About Writing to Improve as a Writer

Another helpful resource for writers is magazines, specifically magazines about writing.

What you can expect from a writer’s magazine includes tips on writing, writing contests, writing exercises, writing samples and critiques, and interviews with authors, agents, and publishers. While not every article will be of interest to everyone, every issue will have at least one thing that is helpful and worthwhile.

One such publication is Writer’s Digest, to which I subscribe and greatly enjoy. From time to time, I also peruse Columbia Journalism Review.

Many writers associations and groups also produce worthy magazines and newsletters. For example, American Christian Writers, of which I am a member, produces two newsletters: Christian Communicator and Advanced Christian Writer. Both are simple in appearance, but valuable in content.

I’m sure there are many other magazines to consider, but that is what I have stumbled onto so far.

Whether you pick up of these or seek out other options, reading magazines that cover the art of writing is an excellent way to help you refine your craft.

Six Reasons to Attend a Writing Conference

Writing conferences are a great place for writers, whether accomplished in their craft or just starting out. At a writing conference, there are many outcomes that can be reasonably expected. In no particular order, they are:

  1. Networking: Conferences provide ample time to interact with other attendees, presenters, and the hosts. This can result in forging friendships, discovering new opportunities, and processing what you have learned with others.
  2. Meeting Agents: There are usually agents or publishers at conferences. Within the confines of decorum and common sense, there may be an opportunity to pitch your book idea. Most publishers no longer work directly with writers; instead, they use agents as a filter. I met one writer who had been to five conferences that year strictly to find an agent.
  3. Attending Lectures: A plethora of presentations will be offered. These are given by accomplished professionals (published authors, agents, professors, editors, and publishers). Often sessions are concurrent, so strategically map out your plan to make the most of what is provided.
  4. Buying Resources: Seemingly everyone will plug books and other resources; most will conveniently be available for purchase at the conference. Without a bit of restraint, it is all too easy to buy more resources then you will ever use; so buy wisely.
  5. One-on-one Consultations: Most of the speakers are available for a 15-minute consultation. These are offered on a first-come, first-serve basis – and many fill up quickly. This may be your most valuable time at the conference, so make the most of it. I recommend scoping this out in advance and determining who you want to meet; sign up as soon as it is permitted.

Encouragement: Conferences can lift up the discouraged or struggling writer. This is coupled with providing a healthy dose of industry realism. Although this can be discouraging, in the end it will be helpful, saving writers from unwise decisions or wasting time on implausible efforts.

Last year I attended my first writing conference, which I had seen advertised in a magazine. At that conference, another one was plugged, which I also attended. Both were within reasonable driving distance, both were worthwhile, and both will see me again this year. I will share more about them in my next post.

Resources for Writers

Although writing is largely a solitary endeavor, it is not wise to go it alone. It is critical to not work in a vacuum and to tap into many of the resources available to writers.

In the past I shared the importance of reading as a tool to help form and better inform your craft as a writer.

Another resource is blogs. Of course, I am biased towards this one (thank you for reading it), but there are many others to consider. I have gravitated towards some agent blogs. Not only do I pick up writing tips and insights (from both the bloggers and the commenters), but I am also learning about the business of writing. This will be of paramount importance on as I move forward in my career. The agent blogs that I regularly read are:

Next is podcasts. Here are the ones I’m currently following: Writing Excuses, The Creative Penn, and Seff-Publishing Questions.

Not surprisingly, there are books about writing. I highly recommend The Elements of Style, by William Strunk and E. B. White. This book has long been my key resource to help me be a better writer. (While I will never fully master the intricacies of grammar, I will keep pressing forward.) There are many other highly recommended books, but I only mention what I have actually read.

In other posts, I round out the discussion on writer resources by addressing conferences, critique groups, and magazines.

Until then, write on!