It’s almost November so I thought I’d post a little something about NaNoWriMo.
First of all, why does this happen every year in November? It seems like such a bad choice, what with Turkey Day falling near the end (for U.S. residents) when it can be tough to keep to the daily grind, not to mention the preparations for Giftmas. April would be better. Maybe March.
Next, there are always people who feel a little overwhelmed by the idea of fifty thousand words in thirty days. Don’t be one of them. The numbers might sound large but that’s less than 1,700 words a day.
Not every writer finds that sort of pace comfortable. When I was writing KING KHAN I was doing about 3K words a day, but EPIC FANTASY WITH NO DULL PARTS has been much slower, between 1.5K to 2.5K a day. Other writers might do 800 words a day on average, or a single page. There’s nothing wrong with that, because every writer works in their own way, at their own pace.
However! Many, many writers would consider 1.7K words a mediocre or disappointing day, so don’t be intimidated. One of the most valuable things about an exercise like NaNoWriMo is that it gives you a chance to stretch yourself and prove that you can do more than you expected.
That said, there are a number of ways to increase productivity and get those pages done. Since this is something I’ve been working on personally, I have some tips:
Just get it on the page. You can always rewrite later. Not every writer works this way (some make each paragraph perfect then move on and never return to it) but if you can get momentum, keep it going. If you don’t have momentum, force yourself to push until you get it.
Don’t stop at the end of a chapter or scene. If possible, end in the middle of a scene when you know what’s going to happen next. When you return the next day, the half-scene will help give regain the previous day’s momentum.
Know what you’re going to write before the writing starts. You don’t want to spend your writing time thinking about what you ought to write. Use your teeth-brushing time, your shower time, your commute time, whatever for that. Turn off the news/music/TV/whatever and plan the next day’s work. It helps.
Reduce your distractions while you write. I have to write at a coffee shop, because it’s impossible for me to ignore my wife’s and son’s voices. A few weeks ago I looked up from my revisions on KING KHAN and was surprised to see EMT’s in the shop working on a man who’d collapsed at the other end of the room. Apparently, the guy fell, 911 was called, the ambulance arrived and the paramedics came through the door to check on him, and I noticed none of it (-10 to Listen checks). But if my wife says “Hmph!” at the other end of the room I completely lose my concentration (and my wife is an extrovert, so it can be challenging for her to leave me alone.)
That’s why I get out of the apartment to get my pages done and, before I go I turn on Mac Freedom to thwart the temptation to check email or Twitter. Freedom doesn’t work for everyone, but there are a helluva lot of productivity programs out there to choose from. Try to find one that works for you.
Prioritize. Everyone has important things that need to be taken care of every day. The writing will only be done if you put writing time on that list. No one ever finds time for writing, they only steal it from something else. If you find yourself at the end of your day without having written a word, it should be clear that everything you did that day was more important to you. The little choices in our lives demonstrate the things we value most.
And there are many, many things more important than writing: caring for your kids, caring for sick loved ones, making your rent, caring for your own self. If you’re one of those people who can’t write because you are overwhelmed with important responsibilities, then you have my best wishes and I hope life stops leaning on you so heavily. If you didn’t get any writing done but managed to watch your favorite shows or argue politics on Facebook, that’s no big deal in the larger sense, but you’re showing what’s truly important to you.
Don’t get writer’s block. I know, right? There are some kinds of writer’s block that can’t be avoided: sometimes you’re depressed. Sometimes you’re grieving. Sometimes life stresses are so huge that the idea of sitting down and working out how to thwart an alien robot invasion seems trivial and overwhelming at once. Those writer’s blocks are legit, and don’t let anyone tell you differently.
But if you’re “blocked” because you don’t know what will happen next, there are a series of questions that can help resolve plot issues. Make a list of the characters and ask: What does each character want in this particular situation? What resources can they access? How far are they willing to go? What line will they never cross?
Also, what tone are you trying to go for? It’s always easier to create conflict conflict conflict by making certain characters into irredeemable villains, but if you don’t want that, you’re going to need to work out a way for decent people to have conflicting goals that they absolutely must achieve.
This is what I just did for an upcoming chapter in my book: all the ideas I had were unworkable and/or cliche (including, I kid you not, an arena fight scene). I left my laptop at home and took a notepad and pen instead, making long lists of possible plot complications for that part of the story. The bad and cliche ideas went onto the page first so I could get beyond them, and within a half-hour I had what I needed.
Smart choices aren’t always the easiest ones. Writers we all admire–the ones who write moving, surprising books–sometimes seem as though what they do is magic. And sometimes it is (or at least, it seems to come from a part of the brain we don’t understand all that well so it seems like magic). But usually what’s happening is that they are generating a whole bunch of ideas and discarding the ones that aren’t excellent.
One of the best ways to bring momentum to your writing–and to be prolific–is to be excited about what comes next. So plan the next part of your book before you start writing it, take the time to consider all the creative choices available, and choose the best.