NaNoWriMo Emergency Escape Plan

When I wrote my first novel, The Ace of Spades, it was easy. Well, okay, it wasn’t easy, but I remember it being so much easier than what I’m going through right now. If I was honest with myself, I would remember the dozens of sleepless nights, the months of rearranging and editing, and the agony of deleting thousands of words. None of it seemed to be working out.

However, for some reason, I can even seem to get the first draft of my new book down. The plot, which I thought I had some idea of, has completely abandoned me, and I’m left doing nothing but writing thousands of words of dialogue with very little action. I think I would be surprised it half of what I’ve written so far makes it to the final cut. And, despite the fact that I am on schedule, I’m not confident I’ll make the final cut this year, because I have truly run out of things to write.

In my desperate attempt to figure out what to do, I came upon a revelation.

Every book is different.

Okay, so maybe it wasn’t really that earth-shattering, but all this month I’ve been hoping to write my book the same way I wrote my first one- a tortuous structure of bone and wire that I could later reshape and fill out during the following months of revising. But my book refuses to come together in any way.

So, I’m breaking from the pattern completely. Because I am tired of writing things I’m probably going to delete in December, I’ve decided to write only the things I know will make the final cut. I’m disregarding the plot, because I no longer know what it is. Instead, I’m going to break my own rules and write pieces of the story wherever I can, and just try to give myself as much material to work with as possible by the end of November.

This prospect scares me, because I’m afraid that I won’t feel motivated to pull it all together again when December hits, or that I’ll just have such a mess I’ll want to start over. But I’m going to finish this damn novel no matter what.

Even though Menagerie of Sins has not come together the way I wanted it to, I still have my original vision for it, and just because it hasn’t grown up the same way my last book did, doesn’t mean I should discard it. It’s a different book, so of course the process of creating it will be different.

I just want to encourage anyone who is feeling frustrated at having practically nothing to show two and a half-weeks into this. Screw the plot, the formula, hell, even the characters if you have to. Don’t get locked into the idea of writing forward and only forward until you’re carving a plot out of your own flesh.  Remember what your book was originally supposed to be about and write that.

Motivational tools for NaNoWriMo

At the end of November, having an entire (or entirely new) novel to your name is enough of a reward and motivation all by itself. Nonetheless, here are a few things that helped me get through last year’s marathon and might give you that extra shove, too.

1: Chocolate

Or any assorted candy, really. Last year, for every five hundred words, I broke off a brick from my favorite chocolate bar and savored it slowly as I mulled over what to do with my next five hundred words. This served to set up a reward system in my head, and made it much easier for me to reach my daily goal because it felt like I was writing in small chunks rather than forcing out my sixteen hundred in one go. This also encouraged me, once I reached my word goal, to push myself a little farther to get that last piece of chocolate. A fair warning though, this takes a considerable amount of self-control.

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Chocolate is great, but any treat will do the trick. Try adjusting the word goal to suit your own needs… and desires.

2: Sound

No, not music, Sound. I’ve talked with a lot of NaNos that say they can’t work at home to save their lives, and they need the quiet hubbub of a cafe or library to keep them going. And I admit, there is something about being in public that keeps you from being overly distracted. That’s why the internet has given us the magic of Coffitivity.

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Nothing makes you feel like writing more than an atmosphere that says “I spend 200 bucks every month on Starbucks.”

Another thing I love listening to while writing is recordings of thunderstorms. Just go to Youtube and you’ll find hundreds of them, with lengths suited to every writer’s needs. The sounds of steady rain, added to music, can really accent the emotion of whatever you might be listening to. I find this very helpful when I need to write a something particularly heart-wrenching. Thunderstorms practically generate adverbs.

3: Hiding

Okay, so I wouldn’t employ this tactic every time you pause to jot down a clever one-liner. But last year I went down to the basement and hid in the closet in the storage room in order to write. My reasoning? I had in-laws in town. A lot of them. Sometimes, you don’t need to physically hide, but rather find a way to separate yourself from the mental and emotional insanity of life. I’m still waiting for someone to teach me that one. But in all seriousness, you need to be willing to lock yourself away if that’s what it takes, and finish this novel even at the cost of your dignity.

4: Totems

I’m sure most NaNoWriMos are familiar with the old viking helmet that’s been on our logo for a few years now. Chris Baty, the founder of NaNoWriMo, spoke about how he would sometimes wear a viking helmet when he needed to steel himself and work through a difficult passage. A totem is basically an object you set up only when you’re writing, and it’s meant to make your brain realize that now is the time to write, NOT the time to memorize the lyrics of that Phantom of the Opera song that’s been stuck in your head, but you just can’t get down all the words yet. Really, a totem could be anything, from a stick of burning incense to that weird rock you found last week. Or you could even go Christ Baty and pick out a piece of apparel.

Viking helmets used at the Office of Letters and Light. OLL members offer their viking helmets up in order to pass a motion.

 

5: Your inner editor

Last year, my inner editor was a huge help to me. Whenever I was feeling discouraged, he would rub his hands together and, while chuckling darkly, say “Yes, continue to write like a fourth grader. My, my, what fun we will having revising this.”

Okay, so I don’t actually hear voices in my head except for Monday mornings. But my point remains. When you’re writing, revel in the fact that your writing is sloppy, poorly planned and pretty much worthless. The fun is getting to go back and make your novel into something worthwhile. But, in the meantime, simply put those words onto the page and be confident that you’re going to come back and fix it later. This part is mostly having trust and confidence in yourself, just like you have confidence today that in a month and a half you’ll have a full novel no matter what the cost.

6: Donate

No, I wasn’t paid to suggest you donate to NaNoWriMo. I also confess that I’ve yet to do it myself. Nonetheless, statistics show (vague statistics that I’ve only heard mentioned and never actually seen) that donors have a higher success rate than those who don’t donate. The idea is that once you’ve donated, you’re more invested in NaNoWriMo and your project, and you have a greater appreciation for the big picture of NaNo, not just your own project. So, uh, here’s a button for that.

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I actually plan on donating myself this year, and would encourage everyone with a few extra dollars to do so as well. After all, the only reason you heard about NaNoWriMo was because of the early donations and sacrifices made years and years ago. And if you use the NaNo website, you get a little angel halo around your profile picture, which is way cooler than it sounds.

Hopefully, some of these ideas will help get you guys through the coming November. Just because your family and friends aren’t on board doesn’t mean you’re all alone. In fact, you should be getting the most help from, well, yourself.

Landfills of Words

NaNoWriMo is working it’s way back around to us, and as October tips over the hill, thousands aspiring novelists begin to steel themselves for a month of sustained masochism.

The prize? The title of NaNoWriMo champion and a your very own novel. Supposedly.

What you really get is a primordial mass, fifty thousands words heavy and the result of (probably) less than a hundred hours of work. Let me tell you something: This is NOT a novel.

Of course, you already know this, and I’m sure most NaNo’s plan to edit and revise their novel until it can be shelved between Jane Austen and The Count of Monte Cristo. The problem is, you’ve essentially created a messy mass of words that is not even remotely ready for publication. In fact, you probably shouldn’t even read it aloud to your cat. If you think of your novel as a sculpture, you essentially get a lump of clay when NaNo is over. The only goal is getting to that 50k word mark. No one even cares if you stamped ‘The End’ on it.

There were over four hundred thousand official winners for the 2012 NaNoWriMo, which means more than twenty billion words were generated by the winners circle alone.

20 Billion. As you let that sink in, think about the fact that there were countless other novelists who didn’t quite make the cut, but still contributed their tens of thousands to the heap.

Now, I love NaNoWriMo. If you don’t believe me, here’s my novel’s page on the NaNo Website: http://nanowrimo.org/en/participants/fadohacolu/novels/ace-of-spades-225052

But, that doesn’t change the fact that I think there is something very wrong with it. Or, rather, that it is the sign of something being very, very wrong.

The fact that this program could encourage four-hundred thousand (mostly) young people to write an entire novel for themselves is wonderful, a cause for celebration, even. But, the problem is this: Literature is transforming.

Content volume is king, in the modern world of literature. Well, actually content might be second to speed, as glorified by sites like twitter where we are a fed a constant stream of new content, delivered at a lightning fast pace.

What ever happened to the quest for perfection and art? What I find most sad is that the overwhelming majority of these novels never ever see the light of day. Too many people write their 50k, are satisfied and move on. Maybe that’s all well and good for you, but not for me. I want to make something of those words. And if you ever want to be a novelist you should too. It doesn’t end in December. That’s when it’s only just begun.

You owe it to yourself and your novel to take it beyond November and turn it into something truly worthwhile.