Who’s ready to panic? or, Don’t worry, it’s just NaNoWriMo

The countdown is On, people. Only two more days until National Novel Writing Month starts, in all its caffeine- and chocolate-fueled glory. Last year was my first year doing it, and I won. Hooray! But twelve months, three novels, two short stories, and a partridge in a pear tree later, it’s a whole different ballgame, as they say.

The last time I talked about writing, I mentioned that what was probably going to happen was that I would be terrified that I’d forgotten how to write a novel by the time NaNo came around again. And I was right!

That is to say, I’m afraid I’ve forgotten how to write a novel. And I don’t mean sentences and paragraphs, not scenes or chapters or parts… but the overarching structure of the thing. How to advance and complicate plot. Pacing. Spacing. Multidimensional character development. Relationships (romantic and non-). The whole how am I going to turn this into 90,000 words? thing. Especially since I haven’t worked on a novel since February. Oh, I’ve edited and revised and read plenty of the damn things, but I haven’t really sat down and attempted to crank one out in eight months. (Okay, I tried a little in August for Camp NaNoWriMo, but my friends had to go and have a baby, and that just screwed everything up.) The point is, this is stupid. It’s stupid and dangerous and I will not let it ruin the upcoming insanity-filled month.

But, insanity-filled or not, there are some things I really dig about NaNoWriMo.

1.) It weeds out the weak and the scared. Why is this good? you ask. Well, think about how many people are flouncing around out there singing about how they want to write a novel. Okay, the Office of Letters and Light just called your bluff. Let’s do this.

2.) Therefore it makes you write. This is, I think, the most important takeaway from the whole damn thing. It makes you put your butt in the chair and your fingers on the keyboard. There are plenty of folks who adverb-fluff their way from 47,000 to 50,000 (and those people make me crazy, but hey, whatever). Even signing up for NaNo is a huge thing, much less trying to complete it (and succeeding!). Let’s take all those folks mentioned in point 1, the ones who have great ideas for novels. Yes, of course. We all have good ideas.  Now, how many of those people are going to sit down and do something about it? And how many of those will finish? And how many of those will finish in a reasonable amount of time (say, 2 years)? Meanwhile, NaNoWriMo is challenging you to write a whole novel in the span of a month. 1 novel, 1 month. (Of course, 50,000 words hardly an adult novel makes, but that isn’t the point.) Traditional publishing is a long process, what with the finding of an agent, editing, selling to a house, editing, more editing, editing until you want to rip your face off and splash the meat below with aftershave, and finally finally FINALLY getting the damn thing to print. It’s easily a year, just for those bits. So add that to actually writing it? Sheesh.

3.) Working under a deadline. Do you want to be a professional writer? Hell, do you want to get published? Then you’re going to have deadlines. (Deadlines, as they say, are those things that look so nice when you’re flying past them.) You’ll have first, second, third draft deadlines, copy edits, line edits, rewrites, all sorts of fun deadlines. Or maybe you want to submit a short story or poem to a magazine. Deadline. Maybe your editor wants to hear your elevator pitch for a new series. Deadline. So, you ask, ignoring that this is giving you stress migraines, how is this a good thing? It goes back to what I’ve already ranted about mentioned: No one cares if you aren’t inspired. If you’re trying to pay your bills, you’ve got to realize that this isn’t about your everlasting art. This is about honing your craft so that your creation is just as sound and well-enjoyed as it possibly can be. Writing a book isn’t any different than making a chair or fixing an engine. There are bad ways of doing it, and good ones. Learn the good ones, and for God’s sake, just keep writing.

These sound scary. I know they do. So here are some tips for you to make it to your ultimate goal of 50,000 – and beyond!

1.) Don’t freak out. Look, when it comes down to it, it’s a silly competition. Don’t let it ruin your life. Like I mentioned, I didn’t finish August’s Camp NaNoWriMo because one of my best friends had a baby. Real life takes precedent, just like jobs, food, and sleep.

2.) Eat, and eat well. Caffeine and chocolate are all well and good for boosts, but you do not want to be in the middle of some climactic scene when your blood sugar crashes.

3.) Get involved with your region. Your Municipal Liaisons have gone through extensive training for this type of thing. (No they haven’t.) Go to the scheduled events – write-ins, IRL or virtual, plotting sessions, impromptu get-togethers, the Night (or Day) of Writing Dangerously. Not only will have you folks who have been there before to help you along, you’ll have the priceless knowledge that you’re not the only fool who signed up for this godforsaken soul-eating contest. Moral support is not overrated.

4.) Plan ahead. I can’t believe I’m saying this, because I’m a total pantser. Like I told some of fellow regional WriMos the other night, “I have characters and I have setting. Who needs plot?” I am, of course, joking. What I’m not joking about is that I suck at plotting, and that that’s a serious weak point for me. I’m actively trying to improve, and, like anything else, it’s something that takes practice. What it boils down to is that if you know what you’re going to write today, you’re going to have a much easier time of it than someone who just stares at a blinking cursor for thirty minutes. Have an idea of the scenes you want to write and what you want to accomplish in them, if you want to introduce or kill off any characters, etc. This is going to help you meet and exceed your word count. (Author Rachel Aaron has a wonderful blog post on achieving disgusting word counts.)

5.) Don’t be afraid to make writing time. Chances are, if you’re participating, someone in your immediate friend/family circle knows you want to write. Or that you’ve thought about it ever. Go ahead and explain to them what NaNoWriMo is all about. Explain to them that you’re going to need a couple of hours a day to sit down and not be bothered and just write. This is hard if you have a regular job and a family, but if you’re like most of us, writing is what you want your regular job to be. They’ll understand. Just remember to kiss that kid before you go to bed at night, and the therapy bill shouldn’t be too high.

6.) Have fun. That’s the point, after all, to have a good time, make some friends, and write that novel that’s been banging around in your head for fifteen years. Here’s your excuse to make the time and do it. So do it.

That’s what this whole insane month comes down to. Everyone has a novel in them – everyone. If you’ve ever bothered to think of a character or a setting or a plot hook, there’s a novel in you somewhere. So quit whining about how you don’t have the time to write and sit down, shut up, and write it. For God’s sake, just keep writing.

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2 Responses to Who’s ready to panic? or, Don’t worry, it’s just NaNoWriMo

  1. duenorthern says:

    Thanks so much, this was helpful, this is my first year of doing it and I am between 2 plots with 23 hours left to chose which I want to commit to (eek!). Might just pick randomly and go for it…
    Good luck!!

  2. Bethea says:

    Lovely post! And I agree, adverbing your way to 50k is “cheating” in my book. But it’s only a theoretical competition, anyway.

    I’m thrilled to be starting, though! And I’m going to a regional write in on the first. Can’t wait!

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