Wednesday, October 28, 2009

It's NaNoWriMo time again!

NaNoWriMo Participant 2009Last November, I finally took the plunge and participated in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). The goal is to write a 50,000-word novel during the month of November. It was a blast, and I actually pulled it off!

Unfortunately, I can't show you the finished product, because... well, it's not finished. Although I wrote 50,000 words, the story was just starting to get interesting. In the past 11 months, I've only added about 5,000 more words, so the novel's current status is still "half-finished first draft". I've learned my lesson, and this year I will be completing a full story arc by 50,000 words even if I have to write scenes consisting entirely of a single sentence such as, "Here is the scene where two of the alien's three heads confess their love for our hero, while the third head spits in his face."

Here are a few more lessons I learned from last year's NaNoWriMo experience.

Give yourself permission to write a shitty first draft. No, seriously. I pretended to do this last year, but in hindsight I wasn't really committed to it. I did a lot of re-reading, cleaning up dialogue, closing plot holes, etc. That is absolutely not the way to pump out a first draft in 30 days. During the month of November, your Inner Editor is your enemy. Sure, it will be your best friend on subsequent revisions, but not in the next 30 days. Go for quantity, not quality. The goal is to get it written, not to get it right. Detailing David's lovely locks before you even chisel out the bottom half of his body makes it less likely you'll finish the sculpture at all.

But just how shitty are we talking here? Without your Inner Editor, does this mean your plot may not make sense? Yes. Does this mean your characters may be boring stereotypes or wild caricatures of your cow-orkers? Yes. Does this mean your dialogue will be full of clichés, and will probably read like it was written by a second grader? Yes. Does this mean you will leave stray commas, parentheses, and adverbs where none are needed? Yes. Does this mean you will write run-on sentences from hell? Yes. Does this mean you will make up impossible fantasies instead of spending hours of research to ensure your sci-fi devices obey the known laws of physics? Oh, hell yes. Make something up. Pretend you're an expert. Write love notes to yourself and use them toward your word count. Don't worry too much about where this is going. Just go, go, go!

Don't fall too far behind. To write 50,000 words in 30 days, you need to average about 1,666 words per day. This can seem daunting, but less so if you write without the Inner Editor reading over your shoulder. However, even if you write like the wind, there may be times when you fall behind. Especially during Week 2, when the novelty has worn off and your story starts to get stuck. Last year on November 16, I was 10,751 words behind pace. I was supposed to have written 26,666 words, and I had only written 15,915. I saw the writing on the wall; unless I made a drastic change, I wasn't going to make it. I confessed to my wife that I didn't think I was going to finish. It was fun while it lasted, and I wouldn't feel too bad for falling short.

Fortunately my wife talked some sense into me, and I kicked it into high gear. Making up ground is possible if you fall this far behind, and it can even be thrilling, but I wouldn't recommend it. It's much better for your sanity if you can stay on pace by writing every day. Write a ton during the rush of Week 1, and you will give yourself a cushion that Week 2 will do its best to destroy.

If you do fall behind, catch up with sprints. Writing in short, focused bursts is a good way to crank out high word counts while avoiding burnout. I like to do what Simon Haynes suggests; write in chunks of 500 words, four times per day. Each sprint should last about 20-30 minutes. If you get behind, Simon also has a fantastic catch-up plan that will net you 7,500 words in a single day. I did this last year on November 22 and it made all the difference. I went from 6,000 words behind to right on track. Talk about a confidence booster!

So what are you waiting for? Have you ever wanted to write a novel but haven't sat down and made it happen? Almost no one has done it, but writing a novel is well within reach, and there's no better opportunity than NaNoWriMo. Sign up now, and while you're at it, add me as a writing buddy. Even if you're not participating, you can follow my progress at the link above, and I'll be posting about it periodically on this blog as well. Any questions? Let me know. Happy noveling!

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