Wednesday, October 31, 2012

NaNoWriMo: A Survival Guide

NaNoWriMo: A Survival Guide
"November dreaming" by mpclemens under CC BY 2.0

A few months ago one of my friends recommended Jim C. Hines' blog, and I'm so very glad she did! Today, on the eve of NaNoWriMo, Jim gave us all a pep talk.

Before I get to that, though, let me wish you all the best of luck during NaNoWriMo. I'll be right there beside you, down in the trenches, scribbling away. At the end of this post I've compiled a list of links that I call my "survival pack". Now, back to Jim's pep talk.

Here are the highlights:

"Nobody is born knowing how to write"


So true! Although I'm reminded of something Stephen King wrote in "On Writing":
[W]hile it is impossible to make a competent writer out of a bad writer, and while it is equally impossible to make a great writer out of a good one, it is possible, with lots of hard work, dedication, and timely help, to make a good writer out of a merely competent one.
I'm sure that Mr. King meant to be encouraging, but after I read that paragraph, for a whole week, I lay awake at night terrified I was a Bad Writer and there was no hope for me. I suppose it goes without saying I had a raging case of writer's block!

As a kid I was told there was an Unforgivable Sin. If anyone committed this sin they could not be redeemed and were doomed to hell. That worried me. A lot! Then someone said, "Look, if you're worried about committing the unforgivable sin, you haven't committed it".

Back to Bad Writers. If you want to get better, then you can. The only people who can't get better are those who don't try. If someone isn't a good writer (and, as Jim Hines points out, none of us come into the world that way) but they think they're awesome ... well, that's a problem.

So, never give up! All it takes to be a good writer is honesty and practice. Lots and lots of practice. (At least that's what I believe. I'll let you know how it goes. ;)

"There's no one right way to write a book"


Jim Hines writes:
There’s a lot of advice out there. Try different things. Experiment. Figure out what works for you. Anyone who preaches the Gospel of the True Right Way to write (or sell) a book? Smile and back away as quickly as possible. All those readers out there don’t care how you wrote the book. They just care if the end result is worth reading.
What he said.

"Give yourself permission to write crap"


I've found that if, on my first draft, I don't give myself permission to let it all hang out I'll wind up with something lifeless--if I'm able to write at all. Apparently I'm not alone. This is what Stephen King has to say:
If you're a beginner ... let me urge that you take your story through at least two drafts; the one you do with the study door closed and the one you do with it open.

With the door shut, downloading what's in my head directly to the page, I write as fast as I can and still remain comfortable. ... There's plenty of opportunity for self-doubt. If I write rapidly ... I find that I can keep up with my original enthusiasm and at the same time outrun the self-doubt that's always waiting to settle in.

This first draft--the All-Story Draft--should be written with no help (or interference) from anyone else. (Stephen King, On Writing)
Stephen King goes on to say that, after you write the first draft, you should put it in a drawer for a few weeks. Forget about it. Write something else. When you come back it's no longer your baby. At that point you put on your editors cap, open the study door and let the world in.

But the first draft is just for you. Write crap if that's what it takes. Just write.

"Do edit and rewrite"


I would add: Join a writer's circle/critique group.

A number of years ago I wrote my first full-length book. I hadn't intended to write a book, I started out writing a short story for my parents at Christmas. I was a university student and wanted to give them something from the heart. Well, that and I couldn't afford anything else!

The short story morphed into a book, my first, and--gleeful at my achievement--I wrapped it up and gave it to them.

I waited impatiently while my parents read it. (Are you done yet? Are you done yet? Are you ...) When they had both finished I asked what they thought (something writers should never do! If someone loved your book they'll tell you). They were polite but it was obvious they hadn't cared for it. I was crushed.

Well. A few months ago I re-read that story. It was truly awful.

I'm not sure if my story would have turned out better if I'd put it away for a few months and come back to it with a fresh perspective. I think, often, our first attempt at a novel is just not very good and we need folks, other pairs of eyes, to examine it and give us a fresh perspective. Especially in the beginning.

A great way to meet people willing to read your work and give you their honest opinion is to join a writer's circle/critique group. If there isn't one where you live there are many online. I can recommend Critters.org. I was a member of Critters for a number of years and benefited enormously.

Write Every Day


This tip comes from me and is about life after NaNoWriMo. If you have a day job and kids and a life it can be excruciatingly difficult to write every day. But you don't have to write thousands, or even hundreds, of words. Some days life is going to overwhelm you. That's okay. But try to do a little bit.

If you're working on a first draft, try to write a couple hundred words. If you're editing, try for half a page. 

I'm a great believer in Jerry Seinfeld's Chain Method (How To Write Every Day: Jerry Seinfeld And The Chain Method). Try for that unbroken chain of X's. It will keep you from walking away from your novel for a week or two and forgetting were you were; losing the mood of the piece.

Of course, during NaNoWriMo you're not going to have to worry about this. It's kind of like a month of Write or Die.

#  #  #

Best of luck to everyone on the cusp of NaNoWriMo, the caffeinated month!

I've put together links to a few articles that might be of use:

The NaNoWriMo Survival Kit


- NaNoWriMo: 5 Tips On How To Get Ready

Jim Butcher: The art and craft of writing:

- Jim Butcher On Writing
- Jim Butcher: How To Write A Story
- How To Build A Villain By Jim Butcher

See also:
- 8 Ways To Become A Better Writer
- Writing Resources

Outlining:

- Orson Scott Card & The MICE Quotient: How To Structure Your Story
- Mary Robinette Kowal And The Mysteries Of Outlining

Characterization:

- 3 Ways To Create Incredible Characters

For when you're stressed and need a timeout:

- Helping Writers De-Stress: Meditation Apps

For those "butt in chair" moments when you just need to write:

- Write or Die: The App
- Aherk! Makes Writing App 'Write or Die' Look Tame

The postscript: Finding A Home For Your Book

- Query Tracker: Keep Track Of Your Stories
- 10 Reasons Why Stories Get Rejected

2 comments:

  1. I agree with your comment regarding writing everyday. It is important to do something for your writing everyday. If it is not writing new material, it could be editing, advertising, blogging, anything related to your little piece of art you wish the others to see.
    I am one of those who has a day job that requires a lot of my time (no, I am not complaining about that, it pays very well and enabled me to buy a house recently). In addition I like to go exercise regularly. Yet I make sure I pen down a 50-100 words minimum a day. It could simply be an idea that came up during the day, or a sentence with words you really think are fun to put in a novel. Write, just write...

    ReplyDelete
  2. Oliver, congratulations on buying a house! That's a major accomplishment.

    Excellent writing advice, 50 to 100 words a day adds up. Thanks for your comment. :)

    ReplyDelete

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