A NaNoWriMo success story from Ivan Coyote

Ivan Coyote

Photo by Laura Sawchuk

At the Surrey International Writers Conference this past weekend, I had the good sense to get myself into the Boot Camp for Procrastinators workshop taught by author/performer Ivan Coyote.

Ivan is acclaimed for her warm, “kitchen-table” style and from the first words she speaks, you know you are listening to a natural, and gifted, storyteller. I’m pretty sure that was the most I’ve ever laughed in a writing workshop.

She had many insightful things to say about overcoming the fears that tend to hold us back and dealing with the trickster in all of us who is always plotting new ways to put off writing.

First, no surprise, is to develop discipline. We honor our craft by honing our craft. By playing with words and practicing techniques over and over the way a pianist practices scales.

Ivan strongly advises hooking up with a writing group or someone you can be accountable to. She asked a question that really resonated with me: “Why is it so much easier to disappoint ourselves time and time again than it is to disappoint someone else?”

On the accountability side, she also recommended National Novel Writing Month and I was really excited to hear her novel Bow Grip (Arsenal Pulp Press, 2006) was a NaNo book!

Bow Grip by Ivan CoyoteIvan says she was teaching a night school writing class in the fall of 2004, and encouraged her students to sign up for NaNo as a means of developing discipline. They took her advice and when they enthusiastically reported their growing word counts in class, she was “guilted into” starting her own project – the novel that had been rattling around in her head for years.

She pulled an all-nighter to catch up with her students, who had a few days head start. After that, she has said, “I would just sit down every night when all my other work was done, turn off the internal editor, and write until I reached 2,000 words.

“I wouldn’t let myself stop until I was done. It probably took 10 years off my life, and it cost me a fortune in cigarettes and Red Bull, but I got a first draft out of it.”

Though she’d previously published three short story collections, Bow Grip was Ivan’s first novel. At 62,000 words, Ivan says it reflects “nearly word for word” that free fall first draft. Bow Grip is now in its third printing and has been optioned for film.

Ivan’s latest short story collection, her fifth, is called Missed Her. If you ever have an opportunity to take one of her workshops or see Ivan perform, GO! She’s great.

I’ll leave you with a funny story that author Eileen Cook recounted about Ivan during open mic night at SiWC).

A few years back Cook took Coyote’s writing class at Capilano College (holy alliteration, Batman), and one night Ivan asked her to stay behind after class. “She said to me, ‘You need to start sending out your stuff, it’s really good’.”

Eileen says she listed her fears about being rejected and not being published. “Ivan looked at me and said, ‘I hate to break it to you, Eileen, but you’re already not published. The worst that can happen is that you still won’t be published.’ That was such a light bulb moment for me.”

(Eileen has since published seven books. Her novel Unpredictable has been optioned by New Line Cinema!)

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Tips to put you in a NaNo state of mind

National Novel Writing Month kicks off in 14 days. I’m participating for the first time and I’m super jazzed. Okay, make that was super jazzed.

Last week, the doubts started to creep in. What was I thinking? I haven’t finished any fiction longer than a short story, what makes me think I can do it in one month? I worry my concept won’t be strong enough when I dust off my underwear synopsis next week. I worry I won’t find the time. I worry. . .  Maybe you know how it goes.

Some of the motivation-sucking whispers I can chalk up to too many late nights at the computer and too many Hickory Sticks (evil, evil things). The rest is just the same old doubts that derail me every time.

Not this time. I went blog trolling to get myself back into a NaNo state of mind. Maybe my discoveries will give you a boost, too.

  • Remember, NaNoWriMo is an experiment, says best-selling author Roz Morris. “You are experimenting with your muse and your writing habits by setting yourself a challenge—and a difficult one. Experiments don’t fail or pass; they produce what they produce. Some of it will be nonsense, and some will be sublime invention. Stay the distance and see what happens. Enjoy the journey and the surprises.”
  • But is that professional? Yes, says Barbara Freethy, who had eight titles on the NYT Bestseller List this summer alone. When you’re published, and you’ve signed a contract, there is no chasing the shiny new idea or surrendering to your inner critic. Above all, you have to Make It Work.

To reaffirm my commitment to the spirit of NaNo, I’ve signed up for Candace Havens’ popular two-week Fast Drafting Workshop. (Check out her bio and how much shit this lady gets done and you’ll know why I signed up.)

It’s smack in the middle of NaNoWriMo, which is either crazy or brilliant on my part. I’m hoping I can use my NaNo writing for any assignments and that the lessons will keep me writing and help clear the mist.

Either that or my brain will explode.


Prepping for NaNoWriMo? 3 great resources

It’s deadline week for two employee newsletters I publish for my best client, so I haven’t had much time to make the blog rounds. But my faves never fail to deliver. Here are three gems for those gearing up for National Novel Writing Month in November.

If you’re not sure whether to roll that old idea out of the garage or rev up a new one here’s some advice from best-selling author/blogger Lynn Viehl:

Photo: airicdesigns

“Whatever you choose to write, I think the number one priority is that you feel passionate about it. Enthusiasm is the fuel for your writing vehicle, and if your idea bores you, worries you or otherwise makes you feel negative toward it, that comes out in the writing—assuming you get any done. There is no better writer’s block than the one we build ourselves with our apathy, doubts and fears.”

Will your old ride make it for the long haul? Test-drive it here.

If it’s a lemon, take heart. Better to find out now than on November 15 when you’re halfway to nowhere.

If you’re not sure which direction to head next, check out crime author Gar Anthony Haywood’s post on Murderati earlier this week. He answers that perennial author question—”Where do you get your ideas?”—in enough juicy detail to spark anyone’s imagination. Inspiration really is all around us if we stretch our imaginations.

Last but not least, in the spirit of NaNoWriMo, Lynn Viehl is also offering free copies of her out-of-print book Way of the Cheetah until December 1. Do yourself a favor and take her up on this generous offer. The book is packed full of tips for writers on maximizing your writing time and boosting your personal productivity.