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November 17, 2010

Some NaNoWriMo Advice, Part One

Getting to 50,000

We're over halfway through the month! Everyone surviving? I am still feeling chipper about the whole deal, and honestly, the longer I go setting my alarm for five, the more I like getting up so early. I know, I'm weird. Anyway, I've been answering some questions and giving some tips on Twitter, so I thought I'd pull some of them into a post. I'm not claiming I'm a great expert or anything, but I've done this a bunch of times, and God knows I have opinions on everything. And some of you even asked questions!

So I have settled in with a fruit smoothie and quality Food Network Thanksgiving programming to answer your questions and generally tell you some things that have worked, for me. (They are showing me a turducken. I am disturbed.) So first . . .

My NaNoWriMo Rules

1. Most importantly: Ignore all advice if you want to. Yes, even what I'm saying here. The only rules that actually matter are the official ones: You must write 50,000 words in November. It must be fiction. It must be a new work, not something previously started. I know people sometimes break these rules, and frankly, that drives me nuts. If you're doing something other than writing a new piece of fiction, that's fine, but it's not NaNoWriMo. But anyway. My point was that people will tell you a lot of things you "have" to do other than those basic rules - Outline! Don't edit! Don't reread! - and you should feel free to ignore all that.

2. Define your goal. Are you literally just trying to see if you can produce 50,000 words in a month? Or are you trying to produce something that you can eventually turn into something publishable? EITHER OF THESE OPTIONS IS FINE. Really. For my first few years, I concentrated on the former, but this year its the latter. It doesn't really matter which you pick, but it helps to know, because some of the wackier techniques, like randomly inserting ninjas or something, work better if you're just trying to write 50,000 words of anything.

3. Figure out your optimal writing circumstances. You won't always be able to create them on demand, but it helps to know. Do you write best at home? Out somewhere? Alone? With people? Morning? Late at night? I've found things go so much more easily when I make time to write in my optimal circumstances and don't try to force myself to write at other times. (Again, this will not always work, and you need to be flexible. I am lucky that my best time is before anyone else is awake, so it never conflicts with anything.)

4. Don't worry too much about the peripherals. The forums can be great. Local gatherings can be great. But don't feel like you have to do all that, if you don't want to and/or don't find it helpful. I've been pretty much ignoring the forums this year, and really, it's fine. (If you do like the forums, I'd recommend trying to get your daily word count in before visiting them, or they might suck up all your writing time.)

5. Similarly, don't get too caught up in the silly stuff. There's all sorts of stuff on the forums that's designed to be inspirational - challenges, adopt-a-plot, trading characters, whatever - but I've never been wild about that for a few reasons. Firstly, trying to cram random stuff in can backfire and send your book off the rails. And keeping track of it all can get time-consuming and just distracting. (Full disclosure: I did take a few requests of this sort this year, from specific people, not the forums. A friend told me to include someone named Spencer, and that was easy enough, because I have two whole schools of people to name. Another friend asked for a grocer named Telemachus, and I already had an unnamed grocer, so fine. And my cousin, upon hearing that I had my characters reading the late lamented Gourmet, asked for House and Garden to be resurrected too, so I'll probably mention that at some point.)

6. Know what you can let go. By definition, if you're spending x amount of time writing your novel in November, you are taking those x hours away from something else. It helps if you can articulate what that something is. This year, for example, I have been cooking less, blogging less (obviously, although I'm kind of like this new format of fewer, longer entries, and might keep it up), and watching less TV. I've also more or less given up any pretense of getting to work on time, but I'm lucky enough to have a very understanding boss, and my job is such that it doesn't really matter which hours I'm there as long as I'm there for forty hours. So your mileage may vary on that one, and really, think about your situation before emulating me there.

Your Questions!

Here are the questions you all asked . . .

"What about resources for NaNo participants such as where to find writing prompts, organizational tools, apps for phones, etc..."

Honestly, for me, most of this falls into the category of "peripherals" so I don't pay much attention to it. But let's see. Writing prompts? I, um, actually hate writing prompts, especially when I'm working on something longer like a novel, because they usually mean I have to add in something I don't want to add in, and I'm too much of a control freak for that. Writing prompts are unexpected and mess things up and obviously I have a hard time handling this. But if you do like this sort of thing, for reasons I can't fathom, try the Word Wars, Prompts & Sprints forum. Organizational tools: I am using Scrivener this year, and it has changed my life. No joke. It lets you organize and write in the same place, and it's amazing, and I will devote a whole post to this soon. There are lots of places where you can find word count graphs and progress reports and stuff, but I've been really enjoying keeping things simple and using the tracker and stats page on the NaNoWriMo site. More about that tomorrow.

"What does one do when you're writing along and all of a sudden you hate your characters and plot and think it's all crap?"

I'm going to focus on the first part of this, because the next question is also about thinking it's all crap. (Apparently it's an epidemic.) When you all of a sudden hate your characters and plot, it's usually for one of two reasons, or maybe a combination. It's possible that you are stuck on some particular point or issue, and you might not even be consciously aware, but you need to solve the problem before you can like your novel again. It's also possible that you've just been spending too much time with your characters and you're sick of them, they way you can get sick of even your closest friends when you're together for days on end.

In either of these cases, I recommend taking a break from the particular bit of the novel you're working on. If you have time to take an actual break, great. Take a walk. Take a shower. (I often figure out difficult plot things in the shower.) Read a book. But if you don't have time to take a break and just need to get your word count in, there are a few things you can do. If you hate your plot and characters, why not describe things? Houses! Houses are great to describe. So are school curricula. Or the way your character's office works. Or have your character go on a walk and describe their neighborhood. Basically, write things in which you are not trying to progress the action - since you're stuck with that - but which still fit in with the rest and help you get to know your novel better. You can generate thousands of words this way. You may end up cutting some of them later - after November - but it's actually all stuff that's helpful for you to know. And if you're still stuck? Write out of order. I do it all the time, and it's so much easier. And often writing a completely different scene will help me figure out what went wrong in the first place and made me start hating everything.

"How do you move forward when you think everything you've just written is crap?"

Ignore it. Really. The only way to stop writing crap is to keep writing, and eventually if you practice enough it will start getting better. When you can't stand looking at what you've written anymore, just go on to a new scene. If it makes you feel better, change the font of the part you don't like to a really bright color so your subconscious knows you will be able to go back and fix it later, and then stop worrying about it. Concentrate on the next thing you're writing.

But on the other hand . . .

"And how do you resist the urge to edit?"

Don't. Why would you? Why resist this urge? Seriously. This is one of those NaNoWriMo "rules" people talk about all the time, but it is not a rule and, frankly, I think it's nonsense. The idea is that some people never get anywhere with their writing because they keep editing the same bits over and over again in some sort of endless loop. And for people with this specific problem, not letting themselves edit is undoubtedly helpful when their goal is word count. But not everyone has this problem, and it certainly should not be a universal rule. If anything, I have the opposite issue: if I know I'm not going to be able to edit, I get paralyzed and don't manage to write anything at all. It all comes back to understanding yourself and how you work, and not trusting other people's "rules" over your own instincts.

And, look, if you're worried about this, compromise. Make yourself get to your work count for the day, and then edit. Actually, if you're really worried, make yourself get ahead by 500 words or something to compensate for any words you might delete in the editing process. It all comes down to figuring out what works for you.

I have more to say about MOTIVATION and REWARDS, but that will have to wait for Part Two tomorrow, because I am starting to fall asleep as I write this. Good night!

Posted by Kat at November 17, 2010 11:45 PM

I'm one of those people who tries to edit as I go and it takes forever to write anything, so having the "don't edit" rule has been really freeing for me. On the other hand, I'm REALLY behind on my word count, so don't take my advice. :)

Posted by: notemily at November 18, 2010 02:00 PM
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