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Tips for NaNoWriMo October 29, 2008

Posted by LHK in NaNoWriMo, writing craft.
1 comment so far

(In case this is your first time on the Internet, “NaNoWriMo” is “National Novel Writing Month.”)

Every year, NaNoWriMo happens. And while I generally meet the 50,000-word goal for my annual NaNo project, I never fail to get behind on my writing, to get frustrated with myself for not having enough ideas in mind by the middle of the month, and to get mildly violent with inanimate objects for the amount of bad writing advice that gets tossed around on the NaNo forums. If you’re a cranky NaNoWriMo veteran like me, you might want to get on the right track for a saner November before the month actually begins. Here are some tips.

Avoid the general forums.

Do you really need to be the seventy-eighth person to weigh in as to where you got your novel’s title, or who you wish could play your main character (excuse me, your “MC”) in the never-to-appear film version of your novel? Do you really need to chime in on a game of Movie Quote Bingo or tell the world which song you’re listening to right now? What, exactly, do you hope to accomplish by doing this, especially when the likely result will involve all of the high school freshmen on the forums talking around you concerning their shared love of Vampire Weekend or Tokio Hotel? The song you are listening to right now is “The Ol’ Beggars Bush,” by Flogging Molly, or maybe Stephen Sondheim’s “Every Day A Little Death,” and you’re trying to tell people that your favorite novel is Catch-22 or Infinite Jest or The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul… and no one will acknowledge you. This is not your fault. Do not keep feeding the meter. Move away. Subscribe to just a few forums — your genre forum, your regional forum. Stick to those. Interact and make friends there.

Let people make mistakes. This includes you.xkcd

A bit of an offshoot from “avoid the general forums”: you can’t help everyone. At some point, you might even give up on trying to help anyone. Because if someone posts a topic concerning the use of multiple first-person narrators, and you’re like, “Yeah, you should go for it. It doesn’t always work, but you should challenge yourself,” you’ll soon be drowned out by the sixteen other respondents who contend that first-person point-of-view is “experimental” and “not done very often,” and who encourage the original poster to write in third-person limited, past tense (because “that’s just how stories were traditionally written”).

Stop punching the wall.

You can’t save anyone from bad writing, or from using fanfiction-inspired terminology, or from spending the month of November writing 50,000 words about the Gryffindor kids meeting up with the entire cast of characters of Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, or from starting a new forum thread that’s written entirely in txtspeak (and which is, ironically, about how the poster wants to be able to expand her writing style so that she can reach the 50K. Here’s a hint: you don’t do it by writing “idk” all the time).

But you can use NaNoWriMo to try out a different point-of-view or genre, or to finally do that present-tense rewrite of the draft that just didn’t sound right in past tense, or take the supporting character from last year’s novel and see what he has to say for himself. Me, I’m mostly going to spend November doing the revisions on The Center of Gravity so I can get that blasted thing sent out, but if I’m able to do a NaNo novel, I’m definitely going to be doing a weird one. I’d originally planned on writing a YA short story cycle about my character Mercedes. It’s been rattling around in my head for a while. But then, when I was driving to work the other day (actually, sitting in the turn lane and waiting for traffic to pass), I suddenly wanted, more than anything, to write an adventure-caper about Rob Howington, one of the supporting characters from The Center of Gravity. And I wanted to call it Rob’s Day Out! With the exclamation point! I don’t know what it’s going to be about! Or where Rob will go on his Day Out! But I’m sure! It will! Be! Fun!

(Image from XKCD, of course.)

Learn how to do a 5,000-word day.

This can be done, even by slowpokes like me. I usually find myself needing an extra-high-word-count day somewhere around the end of the third week of November. Maybe there were a few days that I wasn’t able to write at all, and several more on which I only wrote 500 or 1,000 words. Rather than wind up with a 7,000-word deficit on November 29, it’s better to get yourself out of the hole as much as possible around November 21 or 22.

I try to do a 5,000-word day in sets of 500. And, yes, you really will need the whole day for this, not just a few hours after work. You’ll need to sit down soon after you get up and do that first set of 500 words. Set the tone for the rest of the day. Get 2,000 words down before lunch. Take a walk after lunch, and then come back to hit 3,500 or 4,000 before dinnertime. Cruise on in to the 5,000-word mark around 8 or 9 PM. By then, you’ll have earned dessert, a stiff drink, a Netflix movie, or another 1,000 words before bed.

What I did last year was grab some scrap paper and write out every single hundred-word multiple between my current word count and my goal word count. 38,100… 38,200… 38,300… and on and on. I’m the type of person who really likes to check things off lists. I tacked the list above my desk and kept myself sitting there, writing, until I could scratch off those first 5 numbers. My writing sessions tend to start out slow, crest to a quicker pace, and then begin to drop again. At the height of my productivity in a Crazy-High Word Count Day, I could get to the point where I’d write 600 or 700 words before I would look up, check the word count tool, and then scratch off the numbers I’d passed through.

Plot. A lot.

I’ve never done this; maybe one day I will. You’ll need a screenwriting book for this one: either Blake Snyder’s Save The Cat! or Robert McKee’s Story. Both of these books are far more organized than all the organization I have had in my entire life. Snyder’s book in particular lays out the individual “beats” that make up a basic movie plotline. This can be pretty easily applied to a novel. In Story, McKee goes into great detail about the usage and placement of the inciting incident, the first and second act climaxes, the weaving-in of backstory, and other useful things. If you follow these books seriously, you can have a reliable roadmap for your novel before NaNoWriMo even begins. Considering how many drafts I did of my novel before realizing that the inciting incident and the climax don’t work well together, I sometimes have regrets about not attempting a Save The Cat!-style plot map before now.


NaNoWriMo, Year 8 October 4, 2008

Posted by LHK in NaNoWriMo, writing craft.
1 comment so far

It’s NaNoWriMo season again (that’s “National Novel Writing Month,” for the uninitiated. One novel, 50,000 words, 30 days). Funny how the formerly one-month noveling sprint has become a lengthier event — the October run-up to the event where everyone crowds into the forums and starts the same topics every year, the frenzy of November and how it seems to pass more quickly every time, and then the cool-down in December when everyone pages through their November work and decides if they’ve created anything worth trying to edit.

Adam referred to me in his introductory post on the forums as his “hardened NaNo veteran” wife. This is accurate. This will be my eighth year doing NaNoWriMo, and though I grumble about it a little more every year, I always do join up and write a new draft and learn new things about myself as a writer. I don’t claim to learn positive things, though — sometimes I just learn how babbly and annoying I am when I get the chance to talk about writing with other writers. Or that I hit my diminishing-returns threshold when I try to write past 2 AM. And both in and out of November, I keep running up against the realization that the problems I have with writing these days aren’t anything that can be easily solved with a Julia Cameron book or a workshop about character development. I’m to that point where I can write a solid draft but not a fully satisfying one.

I admit I’m sometimes resentful of NaNo because I applied its “when in doubt, just draft” philosophy to The Center of Gravity for too long. At some point before, you know, the last few weeks, I should have taken ten minutes to BREATHE and realize that slowing down and constructing a workable backbone for the story would have been more beneficial than blasting through draft after draft and expecting all the problems to work themselves out.

So I don’t know whether it’s right to ask the question of when NaNoWriMo will outlive its usefulness for me. It’s better to try to figure out how to adapt what it is to what I need from year to year.

And I hope I won’t be taking on too much this time around (by saying this, of course, I’m insinuating that I know I’m taking on way too much). I’ll be revising The Center of Gravity, writing a new draft of a YA short story cycle for NaNoWriMo, and organizing some events for the Atlanta group. Yee haw, wagons forward, et cetera. Let me use the rest of October to build up an energy reserve for next month.