Monday, November 7, 2016

Meet Sydney Kirsch: A Teen Tackling NaNoWriMo-- Part I

For the last eight weeks I have had the privilege of teaching fiction to nine talented teens. When I found out that one student, Sydney Kirsch, was gearing up for NaNoWriMo, I suggested she write about her experience for my blog. 

Sydney emailed me this post ahead of the due date and I commended her for that. She answered, "Yes, it is a little early, but I'm trying to clear out my brain since I'll be starting NaNo at midnight tonight!" 

And that, readers, tells you a lot about Miss Sydney Kirsch!

CAROL: I understand you’ve participated in NaNoWriMo before. How did you hear about it? Do you follow the rules for adults or for the youth? What did you learn and/or accomplish the last time you participated?  

SYDNEY: Last year, 2015, was my first time participating in NaNoWriMo. Where exactly I heard about it, I can’t remember, either from a friend or a random blog post. However it happened, I ended up deciding to join sometime in early October and I ran headfirst into brainstorming. 

In the beginning, I planned to shoot for 30,000 words in the Young Writers Program, but at some point I decided there was no reason why I shouldn’t just go for the full-on 50K. So by the end of November, I was the proud owner of my very own set of baggy under-eye circles, fifty thousand words, and a half-finished novel. 

Before starting NaNoWriMo, I had heard over and over and over that to get to 50K you have to put down as many words as you can. No editing. Just spilling whatever comes to mind. Well, the biggest thing I learned last year is that the word-spewing method does not work for me. When I write, I tend to lean to the side of overly descriptive and not-exactly-necessary-but-pretty writing. You can imagine how that ended (let’s just say there may or may not have been an entire paragraph describing omelets). So, 50,000 words swirled by and I was left trudging through the middle of my first draft. 

CAROL: What did you do with your story after writing it last year? Can you give us a synopsis? 

SYDNEY: I tried including a blurb about my project in this post, but failed miserably. Apparently I do not know how to write a synopsis.  :)

Once the great NaNo sprint was conquered, I tucked my unfinished file away, planning to peek at it again in a month or two. That time (or double that time, let's be honest) passed. I still couldn’t bring myself to look at what I’d written. Just recently I worked up the courage to print a full copy and sit down to rip my half-novel apart. Rereading it was a kind of wonderfully miserable experience. Like I mentioned before, the novel is still not finished. Whether or not I'll ever go back to it, I can’t say, but for now, I don’t think it would be rewarding enough for the trouble.

CAROL: You're in good company of other writers with unfinished projects buried deep within their computers. Last year did you use any of the support groups associated with NaNo? If so, which ones and how were they helpful?

SYDNEY: One of my favorite things last year was going through the forums on the NaNoWriMo website. There were so many helpful tips and ideas all gathered into one place there. My favorite of the NaNo resources, though, is by far the NaNoWordSprints account on Twitter. They’re constantly hosting mini-competitions during November. I was just racing against my own time, but that pushed me toward 50K more than anything else did.

CAROL: How did you prepare in 2015? How did you prepare this year?

SYDNEY: I am an outliner, through and through. Last year, I took a very detailed, three-act approach to planning, which was helpful, but I can see now that having every thought planned out ahead of time actually constricted me in some ways. So this year, I’m leaning toward a more general “beginning, middle, ending” roadmap to go by until I break it down further once the writing actually commences.

CAROL: When did you start preparing for Nano?

SYDNEY: I’m always gathering ideas for stories, but it wasn’t until June that I really started thinking about specific ideas I wanted to write about this November. It began with being aware. Noticing things.

My family was reading through Deuteronomy, and in chapter 3 it describes these massive people living in gigantic cities, sleeping on enormous beds. And that intrigued me. It sounded like something I would want to write about. So I put the idea on a list and pinned it to the corkboard above my desk.

After that, more ideas came. From writing prompts, from pictures, from text posts, from random sentences. I took my most hated cliches and tried twisting them. Making them align more with what I’ve seen of people and the world. (Not like that’s a whole lot.)

As far as actually sitting down and connecting the dots, though, that didn’t happen until a couple of weeks ago.

CAROL: How are you using what you learned in our fiction writing class for your preparation?

SYDNEY: Well, just about everything I’ve been working on in class these last few weeks has become helpful in some way or other.

Surprisingly, though, one of the greatest things I’ve put to use seems obvious: having other people brainstorm with me. Since actually trying this for my NaNo project, I found it hard to believe how many times I was clapping in delight at someone’s suggestion for my story. You’re a brilliant human! How did I not think of that? 

Another big thing for me was simply learning about mood. Before, I had only a vague idea of what a good scene was like. When something wasn’t working, I wasn’t able to point out exactly why. Now, though, I can work at keeping my moods consistent and smooth.

CAROL: What is your story about this year?

SYDNEY: I’m writing an urban fantasy including a pair of sisters, a mind-reading (but mute) bird, and a quest to spare three necks from a giant’s blade. That’s my current plan, anyway.

CAROL: That is an intriguing pitch! What is your goal in completing this story (besides making it to 50 K words)?

SYDNEY: Well, I have two goals. One is kind of achievable, the other is insane. 

My realistic goal is to work toward better characters. My entire writing life I’ve struggled with creating unique people for my stories, and I think my main difficulty is that I’m afraid. Good characters are realistic ones. Not perfect. And to write them you have to crack yourself open and be unflinchingly honest about what and who people are. I’m not good at that. Yet.

And my unrealistic goal? To finish a first draft no matter how many words it takes. This really terrifies me, because that leaves me with two options: I can really cut down the way I portray and describe things in my first draft so I can get through an entire story in 50,000 words. Or I could write 80,000-100,000 words during NaNo and have to CUT, CUT, CUT later. Will either of these happen? I don’t know. But I’m hoping that going into this November thinking, I am finishing this story could be invaluable to me.

Stay tuned, blog readers! One month from now, Sydney will share what she accomplished during NaNoWriMo 2016.


Sydney Kirsch is a young writer, word enthusiast, and story collector who lives in upstate South Carolina. She is the oldest of ten and when she’s not hidden away with a book, she can be found at a piano, teaching historical dance, or singing musicals with her younger siblings. A high school junior, follow her on Twitter @hmskirsch.


Anonymous said...

Nice work, Syd! Keep up that writing!
And you're like "IDK, I didn't prep until June, lazy me." I remembered that prep was a think halfway through October. October.

Blessings on the writing! (I'm gonna beat you to 50,000 though. *nods* )

Carol Baldwin said...

Thanks, Brandon and welcome to my blog. Hope your naNo writing goes well!

Unknown said...

Great Job, Syd. I can't wait to see what you accomplish this November! Love you!

Carol Baldwin said...

Thanks, Jenny! I look forward to reading her work too!

Joyce Moyer Hostetter said...

Wow - Sydney. I loved reading this. And I hear you about creating unique characters, cracking them open, and letting them be real. That's hard because it means allowing characters to be people we might not want them to be. And we often have editors on our shoulders, telling us not to let our characters do these terrible things or have less than admirable qualities! But you can do this. I hope all goes well and happy writing!

Carol Baldwin said...

Thanks, Joyce. It's neat to follow Sydney's journey and to hear the things she's thinking about!

Vijaya said...

That was a great interview, and I like that Sydney is discovering what works for her through writing. Good luck with Nano!!!

Carol Baldwin said...

Thanks, Vijaya. Isn't it cool she's thinking about all these things?

Young Authors Program said...

Way to go, Syndey!! Carol, I got an email from a college acquaintance about a young writer like Sydney looking for next steps. I'll be sharing this post and your blog with her for sure!

Carol Baldwin said...

Great! The Young Writer's Guide to Getting published is also helpful. Thanks for letting me know that you're sharing this.

Sydney said...

Hahahaha, well I spent like four hours this morning outlining, so I can't say I'm ahead of the game. At all.

I wouldn't want to wish any kind of misfortune on your writing, especially after such a wonderful comment, but... Stop with your word wizardry, please. I can't quite decide if beating you would be worth the sacrifice required... ;)

I'll just say it... Happy writing!

Carol Baldwin said...

Looks like there's some competition going on here between Brandon and Sydney..Wishing you both well!

Rosi said...

Wow. This young woman is really impressive. I like the way she mentions her "entire writing life" -- at her age! Thanks for this fun interview. If I were to put money on anything, I would put it on her reaching her goals.

Carol Baldwin said...

I loved that line too, Rosi! And I agree. Sydney is one determined teen!

Cat Michaels said...

Wow! Impressive young writer!

Cat Michaels said...

Wow! Impressive you author!

Sydney said...

Thank you so much, Mrs. Hostetter! I'm so glad you liked it! You have no idea how encouraging your comment was to me :)

Sydney said...

Rosi, your comment was so motivating, it actually pushed me to get ahead on my word count goal for the day! Thank you!!

Carol Baldwin said...

Yes, Cat. She is!

Sydney said...

Thank you so much to everybody offering so much encouragement to me! I really appreciate it and am so incredibly thankful.

Happy writing!

Anna E. G. said...

I always love getting to hear about other people's NaNo experiences. I finished my first novel through NaNo in 2014. Getting to chat online with dozens of other writers during NaNo helped me to stay very motivated, along with the word goals of course. I'm someone who can't stop myself from editing while I write as well. I found that NaNo forced me to keep going and not get stuck on editing before I even had the whole story out. Good luck with NaNo everyone! :)

Carol Baldwin said...

I love that Anna, your :"first" novel. How many have you written since? What happened to that first one? My first draft of Half Truths was when Mrs. Hostetter suggested I just jump into Nano-- many years ago. Great experience. Now I need a NaNo for revision! Great to hear from you today!

Linda A. said...

Wishing you all the best, Sydney! You're a brave and ambitious young writer! Go for it! Interesting interview!

Carol Baldwin said...

Thanks, Linda. Sydney is all those things and more!

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