National Novel Writing Month

National Novel Writing Month - or NaNoWriMo - will soon be upon us and I would like to take this opportunity to wish anyone participating good luck.

For those not familiar with the challenge, NaNoWriMo is an annual internet based project where participants from around the world attempt to write a 50,000 word novel in the month of November. The event began in July of 1999 with only 21 participants. Since that time, it has grown annually. In 2011, 256, 618 people participated and 3, 074, 068, 446 words were written. To put those numbers in perspective, if we assume five letters per word and a space after each, we are looking at approximately 1.2 centimetres of physical length for each word (with 12pt Times font). Multiply 1.2 centimetres by 3, 074, 068, 446 words, and we’re looking at 3, 688, 882, 135 centimetres, or 36, 889 kilometres. The circumference of the earth is 40, 075 kilometres at the equator. So, last year alone, enough words to nearly stretch around the globe were written in this challenge, and that doesn’t even include punctuation. Any way you cut it, that’s a lot of typing. There will be some stiff fingers by the end of next month.

This will be my first attempt at the challenge, but not my first novel. I wrapped the opening draft of an angsty piece of junk a few years ago, and am putting another on hold for the month of November. For this project, I will be attempting a western, which is a genre I have always enjoyed and wanted to write, but never got around to attempting.

Here are a few systems I have implemented to hopefully see me through to 50, 000 words:

  1. Calendar
    I drafted up this calendar following the advice of Jerry Seinfeld. He said that in his earlier days writing comedy, he bought a large wall calendar with a full year on one page. If he did any work on his routine in a day, he got to put an X through that day. After a while, he began to see a big chain of productivity. He liked to see that he was progressing. “Don’t break the chain!” he said. I have modified his idea slightly by writing down my word count for the day from my novel, and noting any other projects.
  2. Goals
    There are 30 days in November and 50, 000 words to write.  This means, in order to finish, I will need to write at least 1667 words a day. But to be on the safe side, I am going to shoot for 2,000 a day. That should provide a little wiggle room and, should it come to it, five extra days. Life will continue as always in November, and thus it will be helpful to have the luxury of a few days off.
  3. Distraction Free Writing
    Quabel is an online writing program that makes it easier to concentrate on the writing itself. It is a free service. One does not have to play with format or get distracted by font, margins, sidebars or any of the other junk associated with Microsoft Word. Word is a valuable tool for formatting and printing, but it can be a real pain in the neck to just sit and type. Quabel does not have the red and green scribbles for grammar and spelling, which can impede progress if a writer has to constantly backtrack to make corrections. Remember, we’re not writing a dictionary, we’re trying to hammer out a novel as fast as possible. Quabel also allows the writer to set goals, either for time or word count, which is a great feature. It automatically backs up files, and, because it is an online service, the files are accessible on any computer so long as there is an internet connection.
  4. Advice From the Pros
    In anticipation of this event, I checked out three books from the local library. I have found these to be full of good advice and useful tips. And the odd bit of bad advice (for me anyways). These books are, in no particular order:
    The War of Art by Steven Pressfield – This book is a swift kick in the ass for anyone who has creative projects in the back of their mind but hasn’t got around to working on them. In fact, many aspects of this book are applicable to other areas of life as well. It could be a game changer. The book is short at only 165 pages, and many of those pages contain only a brief and direct statement, but it is quite inspirational. I started reading the book after midnight last week, and its content forced me to put it down and go work on my writing, even though I had already completed 3000 words for the day.
    Cover of "The War of Art: Break Through t...Cover of "Page After Page: Discover the C...
    Page After Page by Heather Sellers – This turned out to be more of a beginner’s guide to a writing life, but there was some solid advice and many writing prompts. Writing prompts are not for me, and I found the woman a little ‘new agey’, but she is a well qualified and accomplished author. I feel that this book might go over better with a female audience.

    Cover of "On Writing:  A Memoir of the Cr...

    Cover of On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

    On Writing by Stephen King – This one’s a given. There are so many positive things written about this book on so many websites that I’m not even going to comment. Whether you like King’s writing or not, he gets the job done, and he gets it done quickly. Again, we’re not shooting for a Pulitzer, we’re just trying to fire off a novel in a short period of time.

  5. Read What You Want To Write
    As I will be attempting to write a western novel, I’ve been reading Larry McMurtry and Cormac McCarthy. In my experience, it has worked well to get in the proper head space for the type of story I am trying to write. With this in mind, I have also been watching old western and samurai movies. They are a gold-mine.
  6. Don’t Edit; Don’t Read What You’ve Written
    Unless  I need to go back to fact check, I try to stay away from my earlier words. This is very important. Maybe the most important rule. I never know what I have until it is completed. Too many times have I gone back to my earlier words and never returned. There will come a time for editing and reading the work, and that time should be well after November. We’re seeking compositional velocity, here. Note to self:  STAY AWAY FROM YOUR EARLIER WORDS!
  7. Matt Cutts’ Ted Talk:

Those are my strategies for NaNoWriMo. If anyone has suggestions for this challenge, please let me know. It is not going to be the easiest task, and I welcome all the support I can muster. What say you, internet?

For more information or to sign up for National Novel Writing Month, visit:

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Snake Oil and Other Remedies

For the past six months or so, I have been on a self-improvement kick. A large part of this has involved a shift from processed foods, refined sugar, and a meat centred diet towards whole grains and fresh vegetables. During this time, I have looked for easy dietary additions that can help  increase general well-being and overall health. Various teas, herbal or otherwise, I  have found to be particularly effective and no trouble to incorporate.

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First Snow

After a pleasant summer and one of the most beautiful Septembers in recent memory, the party’s over. I went outside this morning to find fresh snow falling and on the ground. October seems early, but I say that every year. We all do here in Canada. The sky is covered in the oppressive dome of the nimbo-stratus. The snow hasn’t let up so far today, and it’s not looking like it will any time soon. But it will melt. It is already melting as it touches the ground. We should have a few more sunny days before the real winter fun begins. Continue reading

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Letter From Winston Spencer Churchill to Winston Churchill

J.E. Purdy. Winston Churchill. Boston, 1900: (photo credit: Library of Congress)

It is well known that Winston Spencer Churchill was one of the most influential people of the twentieth century. Perhaps no other figure, for better or worse, played a greater role in world politics during those years. In his early life, Churchill served as a soldier and correspondent in the Cuban Guerrilla War against Spain, the Pashtun tribal revolt in British India, the Battle of Omdurman in the Sudan, and the Boer War in South Africa. In the First World War, he served as the First Lord of the Admiralty for the Royal Navy, and later as an officer on the Western Front. His role as British Prime Minister and his many contributions in the Second World War are well documented. He wrote memoirs and popular histories about these events and others, and received a Nobel Prize for Literature in 1953.

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Vandals and a New Fence

The Back

Back in July, vandals pulled a board off my parent’s fence and tossed it through the back window of their Volkswagen Jetta. Punks. They were probably teenagers with nothing better to do on a Friday night in small-town Alberta. It happened around midnight, and was a little bizarre. I had taken my bicycle to the corner store and was gone for barely fifteen minutes. When I returned, the window was smashed and the board was sticking out of the car. I did a loop of the neighbourhood and tried to track down the perpetrators, but the streets were quiet. I woke up my father and he called the police.

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Big Valley Jamboree

Every year my prairie hometown hosts Big Valley Jamboree – one of the largest country music festivals in North America. Since its 1992 inauguration, the event has featured some of the biggest acts in modern country music. These have included Clint Black, Wynonna Judd, Tim McGraw, Ian Tyson, Leanne Rimes, Corb Lund, Kevin Costner, Martina McBride, Ronnie Hawkins, Terri Clark, and Glen Campbell, among others. Some of these have appeared  several times over. This year featured Dwight Yoakam, Rascal Flatts, Toby Keith, and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. It broke attendance records with over 25, 000 daily spectators on four days, and an estimated more than 100, 000 total visitors.

I am not personally much of a country fan. Sure, I can listen to Johnny Cash or Waylon Jennings for hours, but this festival is predominantly new country. And a total debauch. The event is known locally to centre around drunkenness, nudity, fist fights and overall rowdiness. The campground has over 7, 000 stalls on nearly 400 acres of land. With washroom facilities, water stations, police and ambulance services, along with showers and concession stands, the campground becomes a veritable small city. It does have a considerable family camping section and some strictly enforced policies, but it is nevertheless renowned for depravity. And that is precisely the attraction for many of the thousands of annual visitors.

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The Binder Project

From 1998 until 2008 I wrote as much as possible. I wrote on computers, typewriters, and notepads. I wrote with pens, pencils, and markers. I wrote on many subjects, often in a hurried, scrambling style. The majority of these notes were preserved for sentimental reasons in the hollow shell of a Mead Five Star binder. For the past four years, this collection has sat untouched in a Tupperware container in my basement.

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