Posts Tagged ‘Benjamin X. Wretlind’

What Just Happened?

An Incomplete Journey of a NaNoWriMo Newbie – Part 2

By: Benjamin X. Wretlind

Journal Entry: NaNoWriMo 2021 Day 1: And So It Begins…

The alarm went off at 4 AM with a note: “NaNoWriMo Wake Up.” Right. I said I was going to do that. After coffee, a look at the news, a moment of meditation to rid myself of the stink of the news, and another cup of coffee, I managed to whip out 1,747 words in the morning. I added another 1,052 words around lunch and more in the afternoon. This does put me on pace of >= 1,667/day.

Oddly (or perhaps expectedly), I spent the previous night wondering if I picked the right story. It was just the day before that I considered the possibility of writing something completely different.

Journal Entry: NaNoWriMo 2021 Day 2: I Need Stinking Badges

NaNoWriMo is built with gamification in mind, meaning as I complete various milestones, I am awarded a badge. I like badges, even if they’re only for me. The psychology behind this thinking is well-known and has been around for a while. I was able to punch out another 1,316 words before having to jump on work calls at 6:30 AM. I now have 6 badges. (Update: another 1,075 words in the afternoon.)

Journal Entry: NaNoWriMo 2021 Day 3: Work Sucks

I am glad I plotted this out. I don’t think I would be able to keep this pace if I had to think about what came next. It does not help that this week my workday starts at 6:30 AM every morning except Monday.

Journal Entry: NaNoWriMo 2021 Day 4: Why Didn’t I Try This Before?

Life. It gets in the way sometimes, as it did today. The dogs needed grooming and work took its revenge. All I could manage was 1,056 words in the morning and a meager 569 in the afternoon. Still, my running mean is 3,081 and I could conceivably finish by the 20th.

Journal Entry: NaNoWriMo 2021 Day 5: Stats!

I love statistics. That’s not to say I loved the class and all the math. Rather, I love seeing patterns in the chaos that is around us, of taking something creative like writing and reducing it to means and histograms. The NaNoWriMo site gets me. There is a page of line graphs and means and more.

Journal Entry: NaNoWriMo 2021 Day 6: The First Saturday

As hoped, Saturday lent itself to an increased word count. Over the course of the day, in spurts of 30-minute to 1 1/2-hour writing sessions, I managed to come up with 4,373 words. They aren’t the best words, but this month is about quantity not quality.

Journal Entry: NaNoWriMo 2021 Day 7: One Benefit to Time Change

The fact that NaNoWriMo occurs during the month when you get an extra hour of sleep (or have an extra hour to write in the morning is noteworthy. For what it’s worth, I wrote a little more. I think the 5,002 words I typed up are close to a record and I am 49.6% done (with the competition, not the book).

Journal Entry: NaNoWriMo 2021 Day 8: A Thought

I’m over 50% done (55.4%, to be precise) and now have 10 badges. It dawned on me that the only way I could have written this fast was if I was motivated by a) the gamification of NaNoWriMo and b) the fact that the story was thoroughly outlined. But can I keep up this pace?

Journal Entry: NaNoWriMo 2021 Days 9 through 13: Not Always Easy

The middle part of any project is often one that languishes just a bit. There is an initial excitement to get going and a frantic rush to the finish line, but in the middle comes a doldrum. Even NaNoWriMo seems to acknowledge this as I received an email on the 12th day that said “We know the Week Two slump is all too real. The shiny newness of your novel can feel like it’s fading. Don’t be discouraged!”

It’s like they know me.

I managed to write each day, but occasionally the words didn’t flow. This might be the subject matter (more romance than adventure in the middle) or it might have several hours-long Zoom meetings. I did finish the week closer to the goal than I started, and that’s what matters.

Journal Entry: NaNoWriMo 2021 Day 14: I Feel the End

The novel I’m working on is broken up into three Acts with a total of 17 chapters. For those who might be wondering why this is important, allow me to point you to the Wikipedia article about Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey. I am now into Act 3, and that means I can feel the end.

Kind of like a journey, if you ask me.

Journal Entry: NaNoWriMo 2021 Day 15: So Close…

Wow. If someone told me I would be able to write nearly 50,000 words (47,200 as of today) in just 15 days, I would have laughed. It would probably be a sad laugh full of regret, but a laugh nonetheless.

Journal Entry: NaNoWriMo 2021 Day 16: Well…Hello, there!

Journal Entry: NaNoWriMo 2021 Days 17 through 18: Not. Quite. Done.

The elation of “winning” NaNoWriMo 2021 has not worn off, but I still have a few more chapters to go. Looks like this will end up being around 57k words, 7k of which I will probably cut before adding another 5k just because. Yes, it’s a short novel, but so was The Alchemist.

Journal Entry: NaNoWriMo 2021 Day 19: A Novel I Have Written

It may not be the best novel in the world–certainly not anything I would let the world read at this point–but that’s a first draft for you. As of today, The Beans of Anafi is complete. It stands at roughly 54,506 words, which means it fits into the category of novel just as much as any other novel out there. Being used to scifi and fantasy, it is only a fraction of the length of those genres, but this is literary fiction.

Now to clean up the prose.

Journal Entry: NaNoWriMo 2021 Days 20 through 24: A First Pass

The NaNoWriMo site keeps teasing me with a badge I haven’t earned yet (update progress every day). I am a completionist (to use their terms), and I must have that badge.

Journal Entry: NaNoWriMo 2021 Day 25: Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is a day to give thanks, and I can do so with sincerity. I thank the NaNoWriMo people for putting together a program that helped me reach the finish line. I also managed to “carve out” a few words today.

Journal Entry: NaNoWriMo 2021 Days 26 through 29: The Second through Sixth Pass

All subsequent revisions tend to remove words and sometimes whole sections. This is a good thing and helps me learn about all the ways I’ve artificially increased my word count in the past.

Journal Entry: NaNoWriMo 2021 Day 30: Done

NaNoWriMo is only once a year (excluding the “camps” they hold in April and July). There is an app out there called 4thewords which appears to use the same gamification concept. I will try this out soon, as January approaches.

The Beans of Anafi now stands at 54,422 words, and after six passes, it is ready to be sent to some beta readers for comments.

****

Read Part 1 HERE
If you would like to read Benjamin’s NaNo creation, you may contact him at author@bxwretlind.com.


Benjamin X. Wretlind

Benjamin X. Wretlind ran with scissors when he was five. He now writes, paints, uses sharp woodworking tools and plays with glue. Sometimes he does these things at the same time. A retired Air Force veteran, Benjamin currently builds and facilitates leadership courses for staff at Yale. He has penned a few novels, deleted a few novels, edited a few novels and is, of course, writing a few novels. Owing his life’s viewpoint to Bob Ross, he has also painted a few things, thrown a few paintings away, and probably has a painting on an easel right now. You can find Benjamin on his WebsiteTwitter and Facebook.

What Just Happened?

An Incomplete Journey of a NaNoWriMo Newbie – Part 1

By: Benjamin X. Wretlind

Journal Entry: NaNoWriMo 2021 T-Minus 38 Days: The Decision

The National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting creative writing. Its main program is an annual event in which crazy people attempt to write a 50,000-word manuscript during November.

My math skills tell me that comes to 1,667 words per day. That sounds simple, but if I look back, maybe not. The last novel I completed as part of a series I have been working on (super-secret information here) was 128,896 words. It took me roughly 4 months to complete it, which averages 1,074-ish words per day. Some days I wrote more. Some days I wrote two words.

Nevertheless, I believe I can hit that 1,667-word mark.

My decision to “enter” NaNoWriMo this year was driven by years of thinking “I should do this.” Therapists around the world are probably screaming that you can’t “should” your way through life. And so, as I’m married to a therapist, I have opted to omit the word “should” from that sentence.

I do this.

Okay. I’m off to a good start.

Journal Entry: NaNoWriMo 2021 T-Minus 30 Days: The Outline

I have an idea and cursory outline. The humans are ambivalent about my success, however. They do not seem inclined to bake me a cake for just my outline. Nevertheless, I am satisfied with what I have put together from just an initial glance at a brainstorming app. For the record, the app spit back at me the following: Conflict = Coming-of-Age; Style = A Hero’s Journey; Setting = Greek Islands.

From that I came up with a hastily written summary.

I entered that summary and some project details into the NaNoWriMo website and noticed the following procrastination tools right away: upload a cover image and a little spot to put in “What is the project’s playlist?” (There is also a spot for “What is the project’s Pinterest?” but I must draw the line somewhere.)

Off to play with cover tools and Spotify, because, you know, the writing site says I need this to be successful. As I have never participated in NaNoWriMo, who am I to argue?

Journal Entry: NaNoWriMo 2021 T-Minus 29 Days: A Self-Imposed Deadline

NaNoWriMo has its own deadline, of course: between November 1st and the 30th, write a first draft. However, as I have been working on another novel, I am inclined to finished it before November comes. That gives me 29 days to write another 30,000 words on something that is 180° different. The two stories are also set thousands of years apart and they both require completely different mindsets.

Journal Entry: NaNoWriMo 2021 T-Minus 26 Days: Flesh It Out

I probably need to flesh out the cursory outline and add some details. The NaNoWriMo website says:

We welcome all writers at any stage. Outlines, character sketches, and other planning steps are encouraged, and you’re welcome to continue an old project.

This is definitely not an old project, but I will feel better if I have an outline. I’m not a pantser. Really. In fact, I may be a little OCD about the process.

Journal Entry: NaNoWriMo 2021 T-Minus 23 Days: Cheater, Cheater, Pumpkin Eater

Researching, outlining, and thinking hard about the flow of a book prior to NaNoWriMo feels like cheating, but I know it’s not (see previous). Still, I feel like doing my research under the covers to make sure no one is watching.

Journal Entry: NaNoWriMo 2021 T-Minus 21 Days: Should Have Set This in My House

I really do like research, but I’m beginning to think I bit off more than I can chew for this one. However, I have a plan: the story is what matters most, not the details of the location. So, if I write my setting more generically and worry about the details in my first rewrite (after November), I might not get so bogged down in the little things that the writing suffers.

Oh, look. An article on making olive oil in Ancient Greece.

Journal Entry: NaNoWriMo 2021 T-Minus 15 Days: Let Me Start Already

It’s hard to wait when another idea has infected your brain and keeps pushing out competing ideas or a new project like some bully. But! I have put together a cheap cover because the NaNoWriMo website says it is imperative.

Journal Entry: NaNoWriMo 2021 T-Minus 10 Days: More Ready Than Ready

I had a novella I was working on that I did not know if I could complete before the beginning of NaNoWriMo. It appears my estimation of time was off. With that project done, I can run it through one edit then let it sit through November. Things are looking up and I feel more ready than I did when I first decided to attempt this.

Journal Entry: NaNoWriMo 2021 T-Minus 7 Days: Outline? Check. Schedule? Check. Anxiety? Yep.

So I have my outline, my cover, and yes, even a Spotify playlist with one to two songs that set the mood for each chapter. I know I need to write an average of 1,667 words per day, which means I need to schedule my writing time a little better. With a day job that starts at 7 AM and because I am a writer who does his best in the morning, I need about 2 hours of uninterrupted time each day. Add in coffee for that wake up half hour, a bit of breakfast and 5 seconds to get ready for work (ah, remote work), I estimate I need to get up 4 AM each morning.

I must say, however, with one week to go, I am extremely anxious. Success for me would mean meeting the word count goal, if not completing the novel entirely.

But as my therapist wife would ask: “What would it mean if you didn’t complete your goal?”

In the words of Bill the Cat: “Aack! Thbtttt!”

Journal Entry: NaNoWriMo 2021 T-Minus 3 Days: The Website Goes Deep

With three days left until I start this adventure, I am just now noticing that the NaNoWriMo website is FULL of content, from tips and advice to linking up with buddies to motivate you through the writing process, to joining in forums and more. Notice I said “with three days left until…”

And here I was thinking this was going to be a lonely adventure.

Journal Entry: NaNoWriMo 2021 T-Minus 1 Day: Are You Sure?

At this point, without having started the novel that I have outlined extensively, I could withdraw myself from the competition. After all, I cannot expect to spit out genius hastily over 30 days.

Yet there is a part of me that wants to try. If you do not try, you will not succeed. You may trip, fall, scrape a knee, and fail miserably. Conversely, you may surprise yourself with your commitment. Perhaps just the attempt is a success and pledging to give up 30 days under the guise of a “competition” like NaNoWriMo is just different enough from writing for 30 days without the self-imposed pressures that what you have written will be memorable even with the flaws that are certainly going to be there.

Perhaps.

Why not? We’ll just see what happens.

****Benjamin is presently bruising his fingers looking for the 50,000 mark. The last time this editor checked in, he was close to it already!! Will he survive? Stay tuned for Part II coming early December.****


Benjamin X. Wretlind

Benjamin X. Wretlind ran with scissors when he was five. He now writes, paints, uses sharp woodworking tools and plays with glue. Sometimes he does these things at the same time. A retired Air Force veteran, Benjamin currently builds and facilitates leadership courses for staff at Yale. He has penned a few novels, deleted a few novels, edited a few novels and is, of course, writing a few novels. Owing his life’s viewpoint to Bob Ross, he has also painted a few things, thrown a few paintings away, and probably has a painting on an easel right now. You can find Benjamin on his WebsiteTwitter and Facebook.

Creating Atmosphere with Atmosphere

By: Benjamin X. Wretlind

For 20 years or so, I studied the atmosphere and forecasted the weather. While I spent a vast majority of my time on the training side of the house, I was nevertheless embedded in all things weather.

So when I read a book or watch a movie, I’m probably more aware of the weather than most people. This isn’t to say people aren’t observant—they are—but their observations will often tend to take them someplace else, someplace that doesn’t have to do with clouds or precipitation or whatever.

To me (and I believe subconsciously you, too) weather in writing creates an atmosphere that can make or break a scene. To give you an example of this, the following two passages are the same, but different. One with the weather, one without. (This passage comes from one of my novellas.)

  1. She looked through tear-filled eyes at the shadows and the patterns the rain drew for her on the canvas of the tent. The noise—pounding, driving, beating, thrashing, drubbing—was almost muted as her mind swirled from past to present to a future she was almost certain would never come.
  2. She looked through tear-filled eyes at the shadows and the patterns on the canvas of the tent. Her mind swirled from past to present to a future she was almost certain would never come.

You can take two things from this:

  1. the weather doesn’t matter; it doesn’t help to set any stage and the second paragraph is less cluttered without expository language; or
  2. the weather fits the mood of the character (Claire) by describing how the shadows on the tent wall are being drawn in a world that’s noisy but muted by Claire’s own thoughts.

To me (and this is really all opinion), descriptions of the weather enhance the mood of the setting (i.e., the atmosphere). Good descriptions are not asides; they are part of the whole. Is it cold? Is it hot? Do the clouds create a shadowed/muted scene? Does the rain/snow/hail relate to a feeling? Is there fear in a character that’s increased by a thunderstorm (thereby increasing the fear/nervousness/anxiety of the reader)?

Tony Hillerman, who passed in 2008, wrote quite a few novels set within the borders of the Navajo Nation in northeast Arizona/northwest New Mexico. The country there is high desert: arid, hot in the summer, cold in the winter, full of dust and all things spiky. His characters, being Navajo who “walk in beauty,” often notice the weather from their point of view. Hillerman is so great at weaving meteorology into the story that it often sets the mood better than any character’s action/inaction or narrative could.

Chee had pointed to a little gray column of dirt and debris moving erratically over the fields across Highway 66. “Dust Devil,” she had said, and it was then she had her first glimpse behind Chee’s police badge.

“Dust devil,” he repeated, thoughtfully. “Yes. We have the same idea. I was taught to see in those nasty little twisters the Hard Flint Boys struggling with the Wind Children. The good yei bringing us cool breezes and pushing the rain over grazing land. The bad yei putting evil into the wind.   –from The Wailing Wind, Tony Hillerman, 2002

Could that brief passage been left out? It could have, but I believe it sets a behavioral tone for Sergeant Jim Chee, one that lasts for many novels to come and a moment in time that sets up the future relationship between Chee and Officer Bernadette Manuelito (the “she” in the passage).

As another example, think of a thunderstorm on the horizon, far away. Thunderstorms are created with a combination of heat, moisture and instability and we can equate that simple description to something like an exposition. Once a trigger is reached (such as air forced up a mountainside or intense heating throughout the day), a thunderstorm is born. You could call that the conflict or inciting incident, if you will. As the thunderstorm moves closer, there is rising action. Perhaps the first lightning crash and sudden deluge of rain is like the climax, and the dribbling aftermath as the storm moves on like a dénouement.

This is very simplistic in its design, and the story could move through each plot element the same as if it had never been written. However, the reader knows what it feels like to see a storm approach (anxiety); they know what it feels like to be in a downpour and hear thunder crash (fear); and they know what it feels like as a storm moves on (relief).

Writing the weather (atmosphere) into a setting is not that difficult, but you can screw it up.

Think of a sad character. Does it help your reader feel her emotion if you describe the sunrise on a clear, perfectly temperate day, or would it set a better mood if there were undulating clouds hanging over the scene like a smothering blanket?

Keep in mind that there are readers out there who have studied meteorology for years, and like anything, the genius is in the details.

Clouds aren’t likely to hang in the air like bricks, and there’s no such thing as a Category 7 hurricane.


Benjamin Wretlind ran with scissors when he was five. He now writes, paints, uses sharp woodworking tools and plays with glue. Sometimes he does these things at the same time. A retired Air Force veteran, Benjamin currently builds and facilitates leadership courses for staff at Yale. He has penned a few novels, deleted a few novels, edited a few novels and is, of course, writing a few novels. Owing his life’s viewpoint to Bob Ross, he has also painted a few things, thrown a few paintings away, and probably has a painting on an easel right now. You can find Benjamin on his WebsiteTwitter and Facebook.