Wednesday 27 October 2010

The Inevitable NaNoWriMo Post

Monday 1st November is almost upon us, which in the writing world, means just one thing. No, we writer folk don't celebrate All Saint's Day (well, some of us might). No, I mean it's almost NaNoWriMo, aka National Novel Writing Month. The name is something of a misnomer since the concept has since gone international since its American inception in 1999, but if you know a writer, you'll no doubt hear plenty of "NaNo" talk over the coming weeks. Hell, if you use Twitter, you'll no doubt consider un-following anyone who mentions it for the 8394th time.

The Internet is already crammed with posts about why people are doing NaNo, why they aren't doing NaNo, why you should do NaNo, etc. etc., and as much as I could sit here and blather on about the same, I figured I'd just give you a couple of my strategies for getting through it. If you don't have any intention of doing NaNo, then look away now...

It's not Zombigeddon
I'll let you in on a secret. NaNoWriMo is not an experience that you must "survive". This is not a zombie apocalypse or the Poseidon Adventure. You will not find yourself going on the run with Snake Plissken. It is a hard slog but it is one that should be enjoyed as opposed to endured. If you think it's going to be too hard and that you might want go "Bruce Banner" ten days in, then maybe consider not doing it. Furthermore, if writing that many words at all, let alone in one month, fills you with fear, then might I suggest crochet or origami as a hobby as opposed to writing?

Before you do anything else, you're going to need to decide on your project. Why stop at a novel? By name, it might be National Novel Writing Month but you could easily use the time to write a bunch of short stories, or even a web serial which you can then divide up and start posting in December. There is no NaNo police who will hunt you down if you choose not to write a novel. (I hope - don't quote me on that) The whole point of the exercise is purely to write, and to get yourself into the habit of writing daily.

If you do choose a novel, make sure the plot is strong enough to sustain one. What might seem like a neat idea to start with might turn out to be less of a concept and more of a notion, better suited to a flash fiction or at its longest, a short story. Remember that while books can often be boiled down to a single sentence (Hobbits take Ring to Mordor, boy wizard battles evil wizard, vampire emigrates to the UK and causes hassle for the locals) there's a lot more going on in them. Have you got sub-plots?

So you've got your idea, and you think it'll be enough to support the weight of a novel. Excellent! Well done. Now you have to break it down into chunks. Why? Well I'm not saying you need to have a wall covered in Post-It notes, or an entire floor of your home dedicated to a plot map, but it might be a good idea to know roughly where the story is going to go before you start. If you don't, then your characters might run away with you, leading you down blind alleys and causing you to waste precious words on diverting but ultimately pointless excursions. Try and work out major plot landmarks ahead of time - then you can feel free to make stuff up as you go along to get the novel from point to point.

50,000 words certainly sounds like a lot, and it works out as a minimum of 1,667 words per day. Writing that much used to be enough to write a complete book, but many novels nowadays are 75,000 words or more. Still, you can't expect writing novices to sit down and crank out 2,500 words a day (unless they want to) and 50,000 words seems far more attainable. Besides, you don't have to limit yourself to 50,000 words by 30 November. The whole point of NaNo is to get you writing - if you want to keep going and not finish your book until January when it will weigh in at a mighty 140,000 words, there's nothing stopping you.

I would argue that your most important strategy is to make sure you write something every day to keep the momentum going. If you only write 500 words one day, that's fine, but remember you'll need to write 2834 words the following day to stay on track. My suggestion is to aim to write more than 1667 words per day, so if you fall short of that target, you should still make your minimum word count.

Yeah yeah yeah, Icy, but I've got other stuff to be getting on with, I hear you say. Well, not to be facetious, but so did I when I wrote my first novel in 2008. I had to find time where I could. Nowhere does it say you have to write all 1667 words in one sitting. If you wrote 580 words in three bouts, you'd have written 1680 words in one day. Doesn't seem so much when you break it down, does it? If you do 500 words before breakfast, another 500 words at lunch, 500 words before dinner and 500 words before you go to bed, you've done 2000 words. As the meerkat would say, "Simples."

All you need is love
You will need a whole heap of love to get the job done. Love for your plot and your characters, in particular. If you don't love writing them, even the villains (or should I say, especially the villains), and you don't love your story, then it will feel like a chore. If that happens, don't get too despondent - maybe your story and your characters are better suited to a short story, or a novella.

Allow yourself to suckLast but not least, remember that you will not get a finished book out of NaNoWriMo. If you make it to the finish line, or go beyond the 50,000 mark and complete the novel, all you will have is a first draft. It will need a lot of polishing to get it to an acceptable state for an agent. Therefore, you may allow your writing to be utterly awful. No one need ever see this but you. So just get your head down, get writing, and have fun.


Tony Noland said...

A good strong dose of rationality here, Icy. Thanks.

lissa said...

all good advice but trying following them is another task but the last one is something to remember - after all, writing is not permanent and I, in particular needs more polishing on my writing than most

if you are participating, good luck to you!

Crybbe666 said...

Great advice for me - I am attacking this for the first time this year. Looking forward to it actually. The word count doesn't bother me - its the story that could be the problem!!
Thanks for this!!

Dolly said...

Great post. This year, I am breaking the rules a little. Instead of brand new project, I am rewriting my WIP, and adding my own twist of challenge :-) As long as it's productive, I will be happy with that. I love NaNoWriMo!!

Laura Eno said...

It sounds like you've got a good plan going in, which is essential. I did it last year, but not this year as I'm in the middle of writing a sequel and can't afford for it to suck. ;)
Good luck with your bad self!

ChloƩ P. Kovac said...

I really have to stop reading your posts when I'm drinking soda. "Vampire emigrates to the UK and causes hassle for the locals" had me laughing so hard I almost spit soda all over my monitor.

Icy Sedgwick said...

Tony - I should position myself as the Spock of the writing community. Only then I wouldn't write as it wouldn't be logical. >.<

Lissa - Yeah, it's often easier said than done, but just give it a go and see what happens.

JM - Good luck to you!

Dolly - Oh rules are there to be broken. The main thing is you're doing something!

Laura - Thank you!

Chloe - Oh you know me, I do enjoy a bit of sarcasm in there...

Jen said...

This is terrific advice, Icy. I am interested in what you're doing for NaNo too--is it something to turn into a web serial?

Icy Sedgwick said...

Jen - I'm doing the novel of what should have been The Second Tale. It went a little crazy and expanded well beyond the scope of a serial!

Jen said...

That's a great idea! And you can always post teasers in the form of a serial, then offer the remainder of the novel on Smashwords.

Leigh Russell said...

I believe publishers generally like around 80,000-90,000 words for a first novel. Certainly all my books so far have been around 85,000 words. I write crime fiction which is all I can comment on as an author. The word limit may be different in other genres.

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