I’ve completed the National Novel Writing Challenge (50,000 words in a month) several times resulting in the comedy novel with a sci-fi slant that is Housewife with a Half-Life and some literary novels under submission and revision. My first foray into the world of NaNoWriMo was when I had four children under the age of ten and some of the best posts come from that time of madness and perseverance. Like much in life there is no ‘right’ answer. There are pros and cons to the intensity of NaNoWriMo. On the plus side a regular routine and burgeoning wordcount, on the minus side, desperation may lead to writing that’s impossible to decipher after the fact, sentences that don’t actually make any sense and material that needs a good untangle. Other more structured and organised minds have found it a great way to produce whole series of novels. I’ve collated some of my posts below to give you some tips on whether NaNoWriMo is right for you, how to keep motivated and to give an insight into the reality of writing for your life for 30 days straight. The best of luck to all who endeavour either at this pace or more sedately over the course of time.
If this blog has fallen unnaturally silent it is because my writing efforts are being directed towards completing the NaNoWriMo 50,000 word challenge and also blogging about it. It’s going very well over all and I’ve added several posts here on writing.ie with various topics, including Getting in the Zone, Life on Mars (the challenges of the third quarter in long term space missions) and Writing a Mission Statement for your novel.
It’s a physically and mentally challenge endeavour and the most difficult thing is not to have an occasional day off incorporated into it. These last couple of weeks have been really busy in general and I have projects to keep me very busy right through until the end of January so I’m trying to balance work, rest and family life as best I can!
Watch out tomorrow for some more #fridayflash fiction. I have another guest appearance on the #amwriting website.
Ah, October 31st, a very special day…..No, not Halloween…the last day before NaNoWriMo begins. It’s also my deadline for having my first 3 chapters and synopsis written and polished for a novel writing competition. (And no, I haven’t finished yet.)
I’ve done a couple of posts in the last while for Writing.ie on NaNoWriMo. I’m going to give it a go. If you are too, buddy me. I am RandomOptimism on the NaNoWriMo site.
By now some of you may have gathered that the advice I dish out and some of you have very kindly said is helpful, is often written for myself.
I’m afraid. Of NaNoWriMo. Of wanting to be a writer and not properly getting round to do it. Of striving and never getting a novel published. Of having an idea and not being able to elucidate it in a manner even remotely to what I imagined it could be. Of losing life balance while chasing impossible dreams.
The title of my newly completed short story collection is Random Acts of Optimism. Life isn’t straightforward even at the best of times. It does not unroll easily. It’s like cling film – bits tear off when you don’t want them to. You can’t get a clear run (Ha!). If you stop to think about it, life can be scary, all the things that can happen, that will happen to people. You have to be crazy to be optimistic and yet we do, we get up, we go to work, we try to raise decent kids, we hope for health, fulfillment, a peaceful retirement. When things don’t work out we get up again, take comfort from small things and keep going mostly.
NaNoWriMo is just one of the challenges we are up against. And it’s one we’ve set ourselves. That (like choosing to have children for example) doesn’t make it easier. It’s a tough call and we may not be up to it. While we are writing during NaNoWriMo, these are some of the fears we might face:
I’m not going to make it to the end
I’m not really a writer, this is my first novel, what if I find out here that I shouldn’t be writing at all?
This idea isn’t as good as I thought it was, this novel isn’t going to work
I’m stuck and can’t find a way out of it
I don’t have the stamina or the inspiration, I’m going to fail
When I did my first NaNoWriMo last year I opened a document which I called MetaNano. In it I kept track of my daily progress but also included stray thoughts as I went along and any niggles or queries relating to the story. So I would jot down if I thought that the connections between scenes weren’t good or if a character was being inconsistent or a situation didn’t quite ring true. I also wrote down any negative and positive thoughts about the process. For example on day 4 (day 4!) ‘Already beginning to feel weary about this.’ And later ‘my time today curtailed and I’m sitting here distracted, thinking about other things’. On the positive side ‘3040 in one very domestically arduous day. Goddess.’ and ‘Bashing the gremlins on the head with heavy mallets’.
By writing my fears, dips and areas where I wasn’t fully happy with the novel into a seperate document I acknowledged them and was able to proceed on with just getting writing down in whatever manner possible. I was also able to monitor my energy levels. Exhaustion is the friend of fear. I made this observation. Start off in flying form. What time does the dip occur. After about 40 mins. What to do, star jumps, break away?
If you can judge when you are at your most vital, positive and productive. You can guard against fear. Take breaks. Revive. Break your daily wordcount mountain into bite-sized manageable chunks. (Have you ever tried eating a mountain?)
Using some of the suggestions here will also help you keep your ideas coming. If you have ideas you have impetus and that dispels fear. But fear doesn’t go away, it’s always there, you just have to look the other way or you just have to remind yourself that you’ve always wanted to bungee jump and if you don’t you’ll regret it.
Er well….NaNoWriMo. A 50,000 word novel in 30 days? Are we ready, confident, rearing to go? Or are we standing on the edge of a bungee jump saying ‘why did I sign up for this? I really can’t do this and it’s not just the fear of it, it’s actually a physcial impossibility, I don’t have the time.’
None of us do, no really. I have four young kids including a toddler, extended family commitments, my husband runs his own business. I’m building a writing career to (hopefully) include paid gigs. You may be similar, have a full time job or jobs, have a job and a part time college course, be involved in the community, coaching, volunteering, doing all the worthwhile things that make us human.
You’ve got to write, you do it whenever you can. But this Nano thing. I mean 50,000 words in one month, you’re lucky if you do a thousand in a week, let alone in a day.
I did Nano for the first time last year and I made it to the finish line and now have a completed novel to show for it. One of the key things I discovered is that it’s possible to write 1667 words even on the craziest, busiest, pain in the neck kind of days. Here are some ideas of how to expidite and create a decent first draft in 30 days.
Prepare the structure in advance
You have an idea, right? You have themes, so you know what it’s about. But what’s going to happen in your novel? I’m a panster (a seat of the pants writer rather than a meticulous planner) but I still need to know the main thrust of the journey so I can set out on a path to somewhere. The snowflaking model is highly popular and has the beauty of going from the very high level overview (a one line summary) down to what the characterst like to eat for breakfast. You may want to save the breakfast details as an expose in your novel but an overall ‘scaffolding’ will save you time in those frantic nano days. You can place yourself in an overall picture to which you add fine detail later. What I have found personally useful is jotting down the titles of ‘episodes’ that occur to me as I think about the story. These titles alone will serve as triggers and help ensure that I can get writing straight away. Ideally I would have 30 or so of these episodes so it would be like a flash fiction and a bit, each day. This is less daunting and will guard against the paralysis of panic/block.
Get in character
There are probably going to be people in your novel, right? Do you know who they are? Are there enough of them? Why are they together, how do they know each other, what do they really think of each other? What do they like for breakfast or are they just pretending. Who do they look like? The woman who works at your corner shop? The bus driver? The striking self-possessed girl walking down the main street? While there is time left, while you travel to work, bring the kids to school, go to the football match or the nursing home, take notice of those around you, the little quirks of behaviour that interest you, the blast of white hairy eyebrows, the way the businessman examines his shoes. Think about the past and future of your characters. Knowing your characters gives you more to go on.
Schedule in a swim in the subconscious
We’re worried about not having time to complete 50,000 words in the available time and now I’m going to ask you to schedule time out of Nano, perhaps a whole day off along the way, or a day when you write just 500 words instead of 1667. There comes a time later in the month when you slip behind, so you need to be aiming for the 1800 mark in the early stages just to give you a breather later on. Musing on your story and characters before you begin is creating a well of associations and references on which you can draw whi le writing. This will help save time because the details and relationships between place, object and people will come thick and fast when you go to write, you won’t have to spend time making things up, you will be tapping in to associations already made. Later in the month though the well will begin to run dry, you will begin to burn out. So you need to make space for the subconscious to beaver away again whether its a day out walking or a cultural event, you need to take a relaxed swim in the subconscious and refill with further associations you can draw on.
Don’t be afraid of mushrooms
Getting to the practical aspect of writing; getting the required words down each day, you need, in my opinion, to leave your hang ups about chronology and linearity behind. You can always keep an overall structure scribbled or printed in front of you and you will surely have big decisions to make about chronology and reveal when you go to revise. But Nano isn’t about that, its about getting it down as quickly as possible. So you take one of your core scene ideas, explore and write out all the details you associate with it, how the characters are involved. Lke accessing memory, it will trigger connections with objects people, time or space. So a story element or idea emerges out of the subconcious, like a mushroom out of the dark. Let these mushrooms emerge, singularly or in clusters and when you’ve delved all you can in that area, move onto another. There may be gaps between scenes or the chronology may be all over the place but those connecting details will emerge later. Don’t waste times on trying to fill the gaps, just concentrate on the mushrooms.
Attack in short bursts and forget grammar
Today, for example has been a madly busy day and I’ve been writing this post in tiny increments whenever I had the chance. When doing Nano it’s probably better if you don’t set yourself up for a 1667 stint in one go. Try doing 15-30mins three or four times a day and really going for it. It’s possible to write (at a very fast pace) 500 words in 15 mins, so if you are really stuck for time you could have your wordcount wrapped in 1 hour throughout the day. If you have to go that fast you can’t think about spelling or grammar but you have plenty of revising time when Nano is over. And you know what will help you if you really need to fly? – your scene headings, you can even think about a scene while you make the dinner or walk to the office, record your thought or phrases and type them out later.
Get up early, stay up late, be prepared
Of course there are plenty of practical things you can do now, make stacks of pre-cooked meals for the freezer, enthuse family and friends about this challenge that is, after all, only for 30days. And it does have an impact on your nearest and dearest, so if possible get up early and do an hour of writing before the day begins or night owls get cracking when it’s quiet. You don’t want to be guilty and frantic but you want to give yourself the best chance possible to nail this remarkable achievement. Good luck!
Update: This post is from last year. I subsequently went on to ‘win’ Nanowrimo again in 2010, completing the 50,000 words. I am currently working on last years Nanowrimo novel. It’s not easy but it’s a major achievement and a fantastic learning experience. I have an idea for this year and if I have come to a satisfactory stage in my current WIP I will jump in to Nanowrimo again this time. Is this your first time or have you done Nanowrimo before? If you are a veteran, what are your experiences?
The challenge to challenge all writing challenges. This year almost 170,000 writers undertook the NaNoWriMo challenge to write a novel of 50,000 words in just one month. This entailed churning out a minimum of 1667 words every single day with no exceptions. But why? What communal madness infected all those of us who skirted around the idea, then nudged towards it, then checked out the NaNoWriMo website alone and under cover of darkness and then finally, trepidously and in disguisedly signed up?
Whatever the reasons, and hopefully we’ll soon find out (see below) today is a day for Celebration!
For those who have finished and for those who finish during the course of today and want to drop in to let us know. Bring a cup of tea, coffee, scones, cakes and join in for a day of chat and camaraderie. Those who joined and triumphed but didn’t officially ‘win’ are very welcome.
Here’s what to do.
In the comments, introduce yourself and tell us your usual writing activities. Then tell us more about your NaNoWriMo experience:
1: Why you decided to try it, especially if it was your first time
2: The most important lesson(s) you learned from it
3: Your biggest challenge, worst moment
3: What you wrote about and what you think of it now (honesty please!)
Then please include a link to your blog if you have one, so that we can visit and get to know more about the writers behind NaNoWriMo! It would be great if everyone could visit at least one other blog and perhaps leave a comment, especially now that you have time on your hands! Let’s get the party started!
1: Save on manicures and nail trimming by typing extremely fast for long periods. If you participate in the yearly NaNoWriMo challenge you will automatically lose all your fingernails.
2: Dispense with face creams, anti-wrinkle products and Botox. This will automatically give your face a deeply etched, lived in look that will suggest wisdom and gravitas. This otherwise haggard, drained appearance will enhance your literary kudos and make you appear a serious author.
(Caveat: If you want to appear on the bestseller list, or in society pages, get an exorbitant book deal, sell the film rights on your first effort at a novel, and appear on I’m a Celebrity ignore the above and get a complete makeover and facelift/get your younger sister to impersonate you, even if you are a man.)
3: For Men, stop shaving, grow a beard. See number 2.
4: Save an extraordinary amount on clothes, buy two tracksuits and wear them in rotation. If you are serious about your writing you will always be at your desk writing anyway and will never go out. In the month of November, if you are doing NaNoWriMo don’t bother to get dressed at all, wear your pyjamas all the time. You will not only save on clothes but on washing. This means you are a champion for the environment since you are not putting on the washing machine or travelling anywhere. This should make you feel super.
5: If you get an agent, take a risk and buy a smart casual outfit. If you don’t yet have a book deal go to a charity outlet. The charity shops do a wonderful line in jackets with attitude, for example, leather, tweed, floral. Choose the correct one for your genre. If you can’t stretch to charity shop chic, send your younger sister out to meet the agent.
6: Avoid hair cuts. They make you lose your power. If you are a real writer you will be more of an arty hippy type anyway and growing your hair long will promote that impression. You may trim your own fringe if it gets in your eyes and prevents you from writing. DO NOT. DO NOT trim the bit that you twist around your fingers while waiting for inspiration. If you cut that piece off you may never produce anything of quality again.
7: Have showers, they are wonderful places to get your creative head in gear and have the added benefit of make you smell slightly better after endless days in the same room with half eaten ham sandwiches. While baths have been accredited with give Archimedes his inspired Eureka! moment, they should be reserved for those working on intergenerational sagas only.
8: Brush your teeth, several times a day but try not to drip toothpaste all over your keyboard when you trail back into your writing room from the bathroom while forgetting what you are doing. As a rule, try to remove all evidence of your body parts/dna/hair/skin/nails from your keyboard each day as it may irretrievably clog up.
9: Make your own deodorant. There are many recipes on the internet for natural inexpensive homemade deodorants. Don’t search for/google these recipes. You are supposed to be writing, not wasting your time on fruitless googling. Most of the recipes include bread soda and shea butter. If you don’t happen to have shea butter use ordinary butter instead, its probably more or less the same. And speaking of fruit, oranges and lemons are often used for household cleaning so I’m sure if you squash an orange into your bread soda- butter concoction it will be work beautifully. Failing that add a kiwi. Don’t worry about the pithy bits or the black seeds, you are alone, writing, no-one can see you. Anyway you want to be pithy, don’t you? If you really must, write and sell your recipe for homemade deodorant on the web. Once you get paid you will be able to buy some plain biscuits to dip in your hot water.
10. Does my bum look big in this writing chair? Exercise. You do not need a gym. You can burn 5000 calories a day by participating in NaNoWriMo or churning out a YA novel series at speed. (You need to churn out YA novels at speed so that your target audience hasn’t grown up, moved onto the next bright thing, before you finish). Typing quickly is a terrific way of keeping yourself in shape. Get in the habit of doing ten star jumps every time you lose the flow of your piece. Do 50 press ups every time you think of giving up. Anything is easier than 50 press ups, even writing. Rotate your eyes every ten minutes to prevent goggle-eyed-itus. Rotate your neck so that it doesn’t jam in one position. Rotate your ankles and stretch your legs frequently so that your walking muscles haven’t deteriorated beyond use by the time you finish your novel. Good luck with your personal grooming and one final tip – never use webcam!
Evangelism. It can be scary. It can put you off a nice walk in the park. It can make you squirm uncomfortably at the front door. Or it can be fascinating and illuminating to see how the power of belief can make someone turn their life around, dedicate themselves absolutely to what they believe in. At its worst it can become fanaticism, extremism, terrorism. At its best it can be selfless dedication to a philanthropic cause.
Evangelism is like being possessed by a virus of belief. You want to spread the word to everybody, you want them to feel as you do. I felt that way recently when I joined twitter and after the first self-conscious new kid on the block feeling, (tagging onto people and hoping they would be nice about it) I began to discover what a wonderful place it was. As a writers forum it is invaluable on a practical, social, mental and emotional level. There is the opportunity to meet so many diverse but helpful, co-operative and compassionate people. I began to tell other people about twitter and what I had gained from it, how it had changed my writing life but I could tell from their glazed expressions that my fervour was making them a little bemused. I couldn’t get them to buy into it. Recently a writing friend Sally Clements began expounding on NaNoWriMo (for the uninitiated it’s where you sign up to write a 50,000 novel in the month of November). She explained super-exhuberantly why she thought it was so great, what it meant to her, and why I should try it. (See her great NaNoWriMo post. At first I backed slowly away, but her enthusiasm was infectious and I began to think that I could, quite possibly give it a go. (I’m still lurking in the doorway on that one, but I might dash in at the last minute, you never know!)
Evangelism is defined as crusading zeal in support of a cause. As a writer you need to be an evangelist. You need to believe in your writing, in your story, in your characters. You need to be utterly convinced and convincing. You need make others suspend their disbelief and travel with you. You need them to buy into your reality and make it their own for a time.
To write requires self-belief. But in the creeping forward towards an obscure point that is the story or novels end all writers must encounter doubt. The way is not clear, the walls and floor are not solid, and until you reach the endpoint you can’t be sure that the story you have made is coherent, has integrity, says what you want it to say. And even then, you cannot be sure if your message will resonate with others or even reach them.
And when your book is written, you have to go one step further. Now you have to spread the word. You may need to convince an agent or publisher that your story is one they want to share. You need to travel virtually or physically to meet people, to let the world know about your book, to talk and blog and tweet about it, to be its champion. All this in the face of your own doubts and insecurities. A crusade is often a battle, it isn’t easy, it flies in the face of obstacles and resistance. You need to Feel the Fear and do it anyway. If you really want to be a writer and to be read, you have to be the evangelist of your own unique story. Go to it.