Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Stubborn Guide to That Novel Marathon

Following is an easy to follow, step by step guide to surviving the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), as described by a five year veteran.

Step 1.  Commit to telling a story.
Step 2.  Activate the writing implement of your choice.
Step 3.  Write stuff.
Step 4.  Finish.

Optional steps between Step 3 and Step 4 include:
  • bathing and other personal ablutions
  • taking the dog/cat/child/life partner for walkies
  • minimal housework
  • stretching
  • cavorting with other WriMos
  • ingesting caffeine and/or sugar and/or junk food (in moderation!)

Don't add extra steps between #1 and #3.  Trust me on this.

Mostly-non-optional distractions include:
  • eating and rehydrating
  • using a washroom for personal needs
  • getting dressed (unless you're a nudist, then anything goes)
  • feeding dependents and/or changing diapers
  • going to work (if gainfully employed; substitute "search for work" where applicable; if you're retired, good for you!  Now go write some more.)
I know it seems oversimplified, but there's a lot hidden between the lines.

The first step is a biggie, but remember this:  You can commit to telling a story without knowing what it will be.  "I dunno what I'm gonna write" does not classify as an effective excuse.  So stop saying it.

Yes, sometimes it is easier to write a fully formed story idea.  Sometimes it's more fun to wing it.  But I know people who are just as comfortable writing off the top of their heads as they are sitting down to sculpt out a good plot before writing it.

But if you need to, outline your story.  At least have an idea how the story is going to end.  Plot as you go, if you need to.  I use my travel / showering / eating time to plot before sitting down to write later on in the day.  Sometimes I plot in my dreams.

I've actually made a point of not plotting before entering a marathon; I think about the story, a lot, but I don't plot on paper.  If I've put a lot of thought into it, I end up writing only what's stood the test of time and memory - in other words, only the good stuff.

The second step is hardest of all: activating the writing implement.  There are involuntary disasters that crop up - exploding dishwashers, the flu, American Thanksgiving - No one goes a full month without some crisis or urgent life matter.  That's what makes life interesting.

But if you intend on winning this year's NaNo, you have to eliminate the voluntary distractions - the TV, Facebook, and the Nevergudy Nuff.  These things are designed to make you mentally drowsy.  Every one of them.

The TV does not want you to turn it off.  Broadcasters do not get paid if advertisers know people aren't watching, so they've psychologically engineered their shows to make you believe that you must watch the TV, and do nothing else.  The longer you watch TV, the more money they make.

Facebook is more than yummy advertisements and cheesy games, because a lot of it is user-contributed content.  Your family, friends and pseudo-friends all get a kind of mental high when they know you're reading their posts.  That's why, in the last few years, people's status updates, their funny photos and "de-motivational posters" have become so much more interesting.  The more "likes" and comments, the more they get mentally "paid" for a job well done; people learn quickly what earns them the most attention, and they'll do more of it.  It's addicting, man, both for the reader and the contributor!  Stop being addicting!

And don't get me started on

As for the Nevergudy Nuff?  Well...I've spoken my bit about him, and we're not on speaking terms anymore.

So turn it off!  Navigate away from Facebook.  Turn off the TV.  Mute the internal critic.  Tune out everything but your children, spouse and pets - and even then, if you can schedule some away time, great.  If you're tired, go read a book.  That'll refresh your need to write.

Even "healthy" and "productive" distractions - also known as "research" - can derail you.  Whenever possible, save your research for after.  Run toward the 50k mark, then spend the rest of November researching.  Build in placeholders, and you can come back to it later. 

Try taking your writing to some place that has no WiFi, and leave your internet rocket stick at home.  The temptation to surf will still be there, but without the means, you can't be distracted for long.

But if let the voluntary distractions win, you'll lose the marathon.

On the other hand, if you do master Step 2, it's all downhill from there. 

Step 3 is deceptively simple too.  Write "stuff."  I didn't say "write your story perfectly".  This is a marathon.  This is about speed and volume, not quality.  Even when you take your time writing, you're bound to delete and rework stuff. Why should it be any different during NaNo?

Don't stop writing.  Sometimes, you have to walk through the cow poop to get to the next pasture, y'know?

Remember:  whatever you've written, you can fix it; whatever plot hole you've sunk, you can fill it later.  Yes, it may be hard to fix later, but committed artists do not flinch from hard work; they flourish from it.  There's no deadline for submission, only for hitting 50k words; there's no marks for spelling or grammar, and no one needs to read your book on December 1st.  So whatever the problem is, write around it, darn you, but keep writing!

If you push through, you may end up crafting a gem of dialogue, or the perfect plot twist - and let me tell you, those aha! moments are what gives the writer that creative high you hear so much about.  It's the unscripted brilliance that makes NaNo worth the effort.
If you're derailed, don't look to other people's blogs for advice or inspiration; and don't say "I'll just play this game while I think about the plot" because you won't.  Let your easy-to-please imaginary reader be your inspiration. Let them ask breathlessly, "And then what happens?"  If necessary, BS your way through the hard parts of the story until you're back on solid ground.

If you can get through Steps 1 - 3, barring major catastrophes (like an invasion by rabid yetis, or an attack of killer tomatoes), then Step 4 is assured.

Now stop reading my blog and go write something.  Inspiration is drumming its fingers on your desk, waiting for you to return.

1 comment:

  1. I've already let housework slide. My husband's a champ though and picking up the slack. Unfortunately, I have to get bathe and get dressed and go to work. But, I won't give up my workouts. Those help inspire. :)