Friday, November 20, 2009

What I've learned from NaNoWriMo (so far)

It can’t be this easy, I keep thinking as I type word after word after word. I watch my daily word counts fly by. Even on days I don’t write—and they are rare—I’m still catching up and making my word count on a regular basis.

I think back to my first National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), 7—or was it 8—years ago. Feverish, marathon typing sessions. A bundle of nerves and sore wrists.

What changed? Maturity? Medication (I’ve always been ADD, but have only been on medication for the past 5 years)? Mahalo? The writing at the people-powered search engine was a trial by fire—multiple daily deadlines, and pressure to produce at a prodigious rate. Nine months of daily word counts that were, come to think of it, pretty close to the 1,667 words a day average that NaNo demands.

I’m sure that all of those things have helped. But there are a few other strategies I’ve identified that have helped make this year’s NaNo so smooth.

1. Be Prepared.

I went with a novel idea that I’d come up with many years ago. In fact, it’s basically a reboot of my original NaNo concept from my first time through. A few of the main characters, personality traits, and plots remained the same, but I never went back to my original notes, only thoughts I had had about the story between then and now.

Also, remembering my plot struggles from before, I made sure to take several days in October—mostly during bus rides and in the shower—to think about plot and characters, where they might go, and what they might do. This made it a lot easier for me to write during November. And I continued to use little blocks of time, that were not long enough to get much writing done, to think about plot and what might happen next. As a result, I wasn’t running out of plot nearly as much as last time.

2. Have Fun!
I made sure to use a novel idea that was interesting and engaging for me, and made sure that, whether my writing was good or bad, I was having fun while writing. If that meant that a character did something silly, or I had a random aside describing the character’s dinner, or I inserted a graphic sex scene (pun intended), then I’d do it. Sure, a lot of this won’t survive any edits or rewrites, but a lot will. In fact, me having fun caused a major character to spontaneously appear out of nowhere—a character that helped solve a major plot problem in my novel.

Fun also meant that I could not be anxious about things. I couldn’t worry about my stock clichés, spelling errors, or inconsistencies in the plot if I were focused on having fun. I can always fix problems if and when I edit it.

3.Find time to write, every day.
I made it a goal to write on a daily basis, and to change my lifestyle to make it easy to find opportunities to write. That included having a pen-and-paper in my purse at all times, writing on my lunch hour, and begging my husband to let me lug around his huge laptop on a recent vacation so I could write on the train and before bed. As a result, I found out which writing times worked best for me, and I only missed three, maybe four days of writing (so far).

4. When in doubt, summarize.
If there was a place in the novel where I got stuck, I simply summarized the basics of what I wanted to happen, then moved on. Like if I needed details on something I didn’t have, or I wasn’t sure how the heroes would get out of a tough scrape (though I knew they would). I know the basic points of what I want to happen, but the details are sketchy. For those scenes, I am doing either some basic narration, or I am just putting in a placeholder paragraph of summary. I may go back to clean those paragraphs up before the end of November, or, I may leave them until I revise.

5.Use shame and social networking.
I don’t use the NaNo forums much, but I do use the “Buddies” system there. I see how my nano friends are doing. Those who are ahead of me, or are close to my word count, it spurs my competitive edge. Those who are behind me, it makes me want to give them pep talks and help spur them on to greater things. And, to be honest, I get a bit of schadenfreude knowing that I’m doing better than them.

I also use sites like Facebook and Twitter (mostly Twitter) to keep friends who aren’t writers updated on my NaNo status. My tweeps will often reply back with short notes of encouragement, and just putting it out there makes me feel more productive.

Even with all these strategies, I’m not out of the woods yet. I’ve got 20,000 more words to go As an old English major (and an Old English major), I know that hubris is a dangerous thing. So I guess that strategy #6 and #7 are “stay humble,” and “keep writing.”

And now, if you’ll excuse me…

Calvin and Hypatia boarded the train bound for Chicago. He was wearing his new hair and face…

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