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Yet Another NaNoWriMo Recap: A Writer’s Season Never Ends

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I still haven’t “won” NaNoWriMo, but every time I do it, I get a little bit closer. And even though I never win, I learn a lot, which is what allows me to get even closer on the next try.

That said, let me share my “tips” such as they are, which in this case are intended mostly to encourage fellow writers who might be perennial “losers” like me.

For me, it’s NeWriMoMo

It’s a subtle difference. I am sure there are plenty of NaNoWriMo purists out there. “You must start at the beginning of a novel and write 50,000 words of that novel.” Sure, that’s cool. If you don’t write during the rest of the year and you haven’t developed a more customized, personalized approach. For me, NaNoWriMo is just a time when I put aside pretty much everything else and just focus on writing. NeWriMoMo: “Ne”ls “wri”tes “mo”re than he does in other “mo”nths. If you can crank out a book in November, then go on to revise and publish it and have a one book per year output, more power to you. There’s no way I can do that. First off, I’ve only ever gotten 35,000 words in a single month, which is barely half of a short novel. Second, I’ve found that I like to bounce around between books when I get stuck. I know that this is anathema to a lot of writers, and most especially to writers who like to give advice. They want to write a book straight through and finish and have it published, and I understand that. But this is about me writing more than I usually do. It’s about trying to get 50,000 words. I don’t expect anything from NeWriMoMo to be even close to publishable (after revision, sure, but not in any relatively short time frame).

Think about the mathematics of it (because that’s what I do). Say I write 10,000 to 20,000 words across 2 books in an average month (20,000 being on the very high side). If, in November, I write 10,000 words across 5 different books, then it’s still 10,000 more words than I would have had on 2-3 of those books and about what I would have done on the other 2-3, so it’s still a net positive. I’m not hurting myself compared to my normal output.

Perhaps it’s a poor analogy, but it’s kind of like when people talk about the “Fat Burning Zone.” I’ve seen advice that people should run slower when working out to keep their heart rate in the “fat burning zone.” That’s great for people who are just getting started running because it allows them to actually get into it and do it. But for people who have been running a while and want to really burn the fat, running faster will burn more calories. Even if that means you’re burning more calories which are stored in carbohydrates and protein, you’re burning more calories overall, so you typically end up burning more fat calories as well. (Of course, then it also helps if you eat a higher proportion of carbs and protein so that you don’t just get back all the fat calories you worked so hard to burn, but still, like my writing, it’s a net positive)

And besides: I prefer Christine Carter’s approach of “The Easiest Thing” (from her book The Sweet Spot). The idea is: in order to get yourself to start doing a new habit, start with whatever is the easiest possible thing. I believe one of her examples was, if you want to start running, put on your running clothes and go outside. If you don’t feel like running, you’re already in your clothes and outside, so maybe you’ll just go for a walk? Or maybe you’ll just go back inside. (I may be totally mangling that example, but it’s the idea I’m going for) Same thing with my writing. What’s the easiest thing in writing? Sit down at my computer and look at Scrivener (I leave the app open so I don’t even have to click to open it because that would make the easiest thing a little bit harder). Once I’ve gotten that far, I know the next easiest thing is to write a sentence. And once I write a sentence, the next sentences start to come. And sometimes they don’t. If that happens, I’ve got other projects to look at. I’ll flip through open projects until one of them strikes me.

Okay. Yes. I know this is not the best way. But it’s only during NaNoWriMo that I allow myself more than 2 (or 3) projects. During my normal writing I’ve usually got 2 fiction projects (usually similar in genre so I don’t have to context switch as much), and 1 sort of non-fiction. During NaNoWriMo, I’ll usually add another fiction project from a previous NaNoWriMo that I only work on during NaNoWriMo, and another fiction project which is brand new so I’ve got plenty of open road ahead of me.

I know this works for me. It’s not just a whim. It’s a defined method/process I’ve created to increase my output in a systematic way. So besides allowing yourself to just break the rules of NaNoWriMo by working on a novel that’s already in progress and/or working on several different novels, my advice is to be aware of how you work and don’t restrict yourself to working one way just because you think that’s how writers are supposed to do it. Writers are artists, but at the same time, they have to produce something if they want to sell it. So the ability to create that balance between the creative and logical sides of your brain is important to develop.

Don’t be afraid to experiment with ideas, your process, and your life. When I first started drinking protein shakes, I tried making them by – as the name suggests – shaking them. It didn’t work. They came out all clumpy and borderline undrinkable. So I switched to using a blender and they turned out much better. “Great story Nels,” I can hear you saying, but that’s not the end. Not much later, I found a better tasting and even healthier protein powder. But I continued using the blender and didn’t even think to go back and try the shake method with the new powder until my wife final got lazy smart enough to just be like “I’m just going to shake one and see if it works.” Lo and behold! It worked like a charm bracelet on the horn of a unicorn. Now, imagine that your books are different kinds of protein power and your writing process is shaking them up. The process that makes an unreadable word soup out of one book might make something smooth and delicious for your reader’s brains with that same process. But you won’t know unless you try.

A Writer’s Season Never Ends

At the end of NaNoWriMo, I’m still trying to write 800+ words/day to reach my goal for the year. Part of that is because I spent a lot of time earlier in the year revising Weathering The Past (Book 2 of The Valkyrie Project series), and part of it is because I was tired after all the revising and let myself off the hook a little too much.

But a Writer’s Season Never Ends. As much as I’d like the revision of a book to be the playoffs and the publication to be winning the championship, I don’t yet have the rhythm to make that analogy work. And while it might actually be a decent analogy if you stretch it a bit, writers don’t really have a regular season either. The off-season and the regular season are pretty much the same. You don’t get to take a break. I read an article in Chicago Magazine about Jimmy Butler’s off-season and his schedule of waking up at 5am every day and practicing three times a day sounds a lot like my writing schedule. I’m writing this post at 5am, and I write on the train or at lunch and – especially during NaNoWriMo – I force myself to write more after work even when my brain is dead and my words/hour rate slows to about 100. There’s no part where you show off in front of an audience (certainly not while traveling the country). If that sounds like a book tour, then it means the regular season comes after the playoffs and the championship and so the analogy is fundamentally broken. In which case, I’ll repeat it again: A Writer’s Season Never Ends.

But don’t worry too much. Because if you attempted NaNoWriMo – even if you didn’t win – it will be much easier to keep writing now. After reaching for 1,667 words per day, trying for 800 seems almost pedestrian. It’s like playing ball against Jimmy Butler for a month and then going back to play at your local gym.

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Bonus Tip

Get Hulu Unlimited. During November, I had to try to keep up with Blindspot and Agents of SHIELD (pretty much the only two shows I watch anymore). With Hulu Unlimited (aka No Commercials), I was able to crank out an episode in less than 45 minutes while I did elliptical; multi-tasking which allowed me to get back to writing that much faster. Before the no commercials option, I would be there for at least 50 minutes, which is a long time on the elliptical, believe me. Or I’d have a show with 5 more minutes that I needed to watch. (I had to watch them in November because even with Unlimited, the episodes still expire so you have to keep up within the last 5 episodes). Outside of working out, it’s totally worth the $4/month for the time savings on watching shows with my wife. I haven’t actually calculated the ROI in terms of amount paid for time saved, but at about 13 cents a day, it doesn’t take much. And no, I don’t work for Hulu or any TV networks or anything else affiliated with Hulu. I just happen to like TV as well as being efficient.

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The Next Best Thing About The Roku

Besides the fact that you can watch Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon (and even NBA highlights) …

The commercials (on Hulu) are not louder than the shows. No government intervention needed.

Internet TV FTW.

Hamstrung Hulu

On TechCrunch Mark Suster compares Hulu to the oil cartel OPEC. I’m not sure what this point number 2 has to do with the cartel comparison, but I think it’s one of the more interesting points of the post:

2. Limited “Targeting” of Advertisements: The great promise of the Internet for advertisers was that they were finally going to be able to deliver targeted advertisements to users because they could finally know who you were. This has become a reality with banner ads, search ads, contextual ads and Facebook ads. But not Hulu ads.

Why? They know who we are, don’t they? Yes, they do. But they generally don’t even allow advertisers to purchase ads for a single show let alone ads targeting YOU by reading your cookies on your computer. So we have ads that are even less targeted than those on television. The reason lies in protecting the high price of broadcast & cable advertising rates. They are nervous about “trading analog dollars for digital pennies.” So advertisers have to buy “run of site” ads rather than show specific ones.

It was over a year ago now when I wondered why Hulu wasn’t targeting ads to it’s users. I haven’t run the numbers on targeted ads with lower volume vs. sitewide untargeted ads, but I’d have to think there’s a price point at which you can at least break even. I mean, Facebook’s advertising platform specializes in making it easy to target people based on tons of different criteria. Again, I haven’t run the numbers, but I think Facebook is making a lot of money.

Of course, even running the numbers won’t get to the heart of the reason that Hulu is basically having it’s hand tied when it comes to being able to innovate like other technology companies. For as long as the cable and satellite providers control that major distribution channels, the networks have no choice but to hamstring the efforts of other methods of distributions (even, obviously, ones that they support). Unfortunately (for me and other Hulu users), since the user base of people watching TV via the Internet using Hulu, Netflix, Amazon, iTunes, etc. is still tiny compared to the number of people who pay companies to provide them with TV (while most of the time also paying them to provide Internet access), the networks have to tread lightly when it comes to the user experience provided through these alternate services.

Cable companies (and satellite and other pay-TV providers) are certainly scared pantless when they realize(d?) that something like Hulu could easily make networks more money by showing targeted ads for higher rates (not to mention charging people $9.99 per month without having to hand any of that over to the cable company). But they still have the market share, and therefore, the power, to make sure that networks don’t get too excited about prospects of nearly infinite riches. Netflix has run into the same problem (over and over) in dealing with movie studios who still see DVDs as their major distribution channel (although that point of view is even more short-sighted than the view that cable companies will continue to maintain their dominance in the television distribution market).

I have an MBA, but it’s not in Marketing

I specialized in Management so forgive me if I don’t understand how TV can be profitable when you broadcast it over the airwaves, but not profitable when you show it on someone’s computer.

Apparently, Hulu is going to start charging for content at exactly the time when I stop using it. It’s a stunning coincidence that neither of those dates have been nailed down, and yet, they’re exactly the same!

“I think a free model is a very difficult way to capture the value of our content. I think what we need to do is deliver that content to consumers in a way where they will appreciate the value,” News Corp. Deputy Chairman Chase Carey said. “Hulu concurs with that, it needs to evolve to have a meaningful subscription model as part of its business.”

I’m sorry, Mr. Carey, but what is the current broadcast model referred to as if it’s not a “free model”? As far as I know, I haven’t paid for TV since I moved out of my parents house nearly 12 years ago. And the only reason my parents paid for TV was because they moved to a place where you can’t really get reception. Yet, somehow, TV shows have continued to air free of charge to me for those 12 years.

Here’s what I see as the impending trade off: Charge people for content vs. Show more commercials. I know from experience that during a broadcast TV show, there are several ads per commercial break, as opposed to the single ad that is shown during a break on Hulu. Is the problem that there aren’t enough advertisers who are willing to buy ads during a show on Hulu to be able to show three ads per commercial break? If that’s the case then Hulu is just doing a suck ass job of marketing to those advertisers.

Consider that the networks have absolutely ZERO knowledge of what I watch on broadcast TV. Now consider that the networks know that I am subscribed to: 30 Rock, Castle, Chuck, Dollhouse, FlashForward, Fringe, Glee, The Office, and V (which hasn’t even started yet). If I were the one running Hulu, I’d be telling advertisers that if you have a tech gadget, or some other super-geeky thing to advertiser, guess what? I can show your ad to someone who is subscribed to Chuck, Dollhouse, FlashForward, Fringe, and V. Is that not compelling? Seems pretty G-damn compelling to me. But then, my MBA is in Management.

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An Only Child Works At Home

As an only child, I kind of enjoy the solitude that comes with working from home. Of course, as I tell people when they ask if I like it better: If I could walk across the hall, and be in the office downtown, I’d go into work every day.

When I’m at home, though, I can watch Hulu during my lunch break without looking like I’m slacking off.