Last year was my first year of NaNoWriMo. After the years of previously using Twitter, I had never heard of the event until I started following the many, many indie writers who participated. Since I had already started on my project that Spring, I wanted something to push me to get it done. Having the “game” of sharing with followers how many words you’ve written for the day was a great way to get the first draft down, so I signed up.
However, I am going to go into the second part of the project with a little bit of know-how. There are a few things that I will have to keep in mind this year in order to be more productive. While this checklist is for anyone reading, it’s also a good reminder for myself.
Planning – Now, I’ve taught writing long enough to know that at least a quick brainstorming and outline session will give you the foundation to propel you through your piece. What I did, was look at the Snowflake Method just to get basic ideas of what my writing is about. I did not go through the whole process last year because I like the creative flow rather than a “I’m going going to write a book that sells!" kind of formula. I had ideas and I just wanted to get them out somehow. I’m a list person. I make a list every day for something. I took my ideas, wrote them down, expanded in parts, then in the midst of the scenes found out that logically things had to go in a certain progression. Not everything planned went into the first book but that just means there are plenty of ideas to be use for the other books in the series.
"I distrust plot for two reasons: first, because our lives are largely plotless, even when you add in all our reasonable precautions and careful planning; and second, because I believe plotting and the spontaneity of real creation aren’t compatible. ...
"[M]y basic belief about the making of stories is that they largely make themselves. The job of the writer is to give them a place to grow."
~ Stephen King, On Writing
Pacing – It all starts with out butt in the chair. Yes, we know, and the purpose of doing NaNo is to just get the words on (electronic) paper. But when you’re a fidgety person like me, your body just argues. I’m not a “I write in my head all the time” person because the ideas come and go – it’s what I put down in a useful fashion that counts. Of course I think about ideas for my writing but the word count is what we’re looking for in November. 50,000 words at approximately 1,666 (that’s ominous) per day. I tried to write more than that the first few days so I could get ahead and slow down on other days. I think this year I’m going to have to do it in chunks. I need breaks. Before November was over last year, my eyes were twitching from strain and my thumbs were aching from overuse. This year I know ways to deal with eye strain and the No Xbox rule (Oh, the humanity!) Last year I kept treating myself to GTA IV and that driving thumb couldn’t take it anymore. (Good thing Skyrim has started to bore me.) I also plan on writing in different environments. I feel most comfortable writing at my desk at home but it’s nice to be out in the real world fairly often. Even if it means lugging a heavy laptop to a cafe down the street, it’s worth it.
“[M]y favourite way to write, used to be to go to cafés. I love doing that because I find that being surrounded by people even though I can't talk to them whilst I'm writing is very helpful because being a writer is a very, very lonely job, obviously. But these days I can't write in cafés because too many people come to me and go "You're that woman, who writes that Harry Potter" so I write at home now and I write much more on the computer than I used to.”
~ J.K. Rowling during Q&A session at Royal Albert Hall
She also confirms my No Music rule in that interview too. Yes, way too distracting.
Persistence – You’ll get there. We all get there. I’ve had some people tell me that they didn’t get there because they think the book idea was crap and they quit. I think you should keep going. We are our own worst critic. You know how many books are awful and people still love them? If you think it’s bad, it can be changed later. Look at Hugo – that whole story started off seeming to be one thing, then the whole focus shifted in the middle. If you’ve been writing for a bit and are expand into novel writing, I think you’d be more proud of yourself for writing a “bad” book that can be edited than for not writing one at all. The tip I kept hearing over and over was to not edit. Just keep writing. You can go back in December and research topics, or make two scenes work together (or fix two scenes that clash – terribly) but I would suggest keeping a tally. Have a separate file of things that may need fixing, including their page number. When you revise, you’ll have that to work with. Some tools that are handy are Write or Die and Scrivener. You write all you can using Write or Die (which will make the worst sounds imaginable and the screen will turn red if you stop for too long), Tweet your word count (because having Twitter followers who are working too is great moral support), save the file and open it up in Notepad, copy and paste, and put it into a new scene for Scrivener. I was taught to write using Microsoft Word and no one will pry me away from it, so I also keep the full 1st draft (and back ups) there as well. With Scrivener, keeping the scenes separate and in order is a life saver (plus it has some great options for organizing your project too.)
“If you have a day where you don’t get to your 1,600 words, my advice is not to be too hard on yourself. You have to do what you can do. There will be days when you write more and days when you will write less. That’s really an okay thing. We get exhausted, we get sick, we get burned out. And that’s okay. That’s my biggest piece of advice.
...They keep telling you during that process that the plot will just come. I thought it wasn’t possible and I didn’t believe it, but it really does just come out. And that’s a fantastic thing.”
~ Nora Zelevansky on Mediabistro
Preparedness – Like any business trip, you have to get prepared by putting everything in your suitcase so you can have it while you’re busy working. Research, and have your links, notes, outline, list, whatever ready. Have ideas for scenes and characters somewhere to go back to if you get stuck. I even find Youtube links that are from social events that may happen in a scene. Just watching for a bit, helps you get into the moment. When all else fails, describe the sounds and smells of a place (Sara Shepard does this all the time in her Pretty Little Liars books – I love it!) You can even make a…Pinterest board. Ack! I said it! I am so not a fan of re-pinning commercial images for all to see but, if that’s your thing, go for it. Bottom line is, it’s okay to get stuck. It’s okay to go, “This is terrible and I hate it!” Just keep going – this is what I have to tell myself each day.
Remember, NaNo gets national news each year and Water for Elephants was a NaNo book so the event is kind of a big deal. If you need some inspiration, I’ll leave you with a few things to tuck away in your NaNoWriMo folder:
- What if You Have NO TIME?
- NaNoWriMo Pep Talks
- Smashwords/NaNoWriMo Promotion
- Write Your Novel in 30 Days —A 10-Step Guide -- I must mention that Smashwords formatting is different from a traditional manuscript
“Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere.”
~ Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life