As October is easing its way out of the picture, I’m feeling the NaNoWriMo itch. I believe I complained about this before (back in Jan.), but still—I.Can’t.Wait for November to get here. And as I’ve spent countless non-productive hours some of my spare time researching various NaNo suggestion sites, I decided to come up with some of my own. Even though this will be my first year as a NaNo-er and therefore have no personal techniques or anecdotes of my own to provide, I figured that it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what works and what doesn’t. There are tons of sources all over teh interwebz that repeat the same few suggestions over and over. And as I read them, I kept thinking that most of them were complete bollucks. Bollucks, I say!
(I love that word.)
So, you may ask, what are my credentials give me any valid reason to provide tips on doing an event that I’ve never before participated in? To this I reply that I’ve visited TONS of sites of people who have participated before and feel that I have sufficient intelligence to extrapolate successful tactics out of the mounds and mounds of repetitive advice available on the subject. In short: because I can read. And so, I present, for your NaNoWriMo-ing pleasure…
5 Tips on Staying Sane Throughout NaNoWriMo
- Stop and edit the second your Inner Editor tells you to.
Let’s face it—word count is the primary directive for NaNo, but, as every good writer knows, the word count doesn’t matter if it’s the WRONG WORD! 2,500 words is great, unless they’re juvenile, sloppy, or just plain wrong. You should stop your creative flow immediately and fix these errors the second you sense them. This guy has no idea what he’s talking about—ignore his stupid internet suggestion. Didn’t you know that anyone can put up a page on the internet nowadays?
What’s that you say? That last sentence feels wrong but you’re not exactly sure why? Then at all costs you must put on the brakes and stare at it until you figure out why! That last thing anybody needs or wants in a rough draft is for there to be the opportunity for edits later. Why correct at a future date when you can do it now? HINT: The “immediate edit” technique is only successful given an extreme amount of concentration. Therefore, identifying the mistake (and therefore rectifying it) can only be accomplished if you maintain unceasing eye contact with the offending word, phrase, or sentence. Taking your eyes off for a moment will immediately break your connection with the problem item and it will NEVER get fixed.
- Don’t attempt to write every day.
Who’s got that kind of time anyway? Between a job, a spouse, kids, significant other, friends, traffic jams, phone conversations, Twitter, pets, housecleaning, staring at the ceiling, that other project you’ve always been wanting to do, etc. who really has time to devote DAILY to this endeavor? Isn’t it enough that you’re even trying this writing project in the first place? What god of writing demanded that you have to sacrifice every day to do it and FOR A WHOLE MONTH?! In case nobody informed Chris Baty, there are 30 (three-zero. As in one-two-three-four-five-six-seven…THIRTY!) days in the month of November. Really, Chris? 30 days to crank out 50K words? You’ve got to be smoking crack.
It’s hard enough doing that much in that time frame, and writing every day will only make it more tedious. Isn’t writing supposed to be fun? Aren’t we all supposed to be enjoying ourselves and our characters and the silly shenanigans we tell them to do? Trust me, writing every day is not necessary to keeping your writing mojo going and will only make it all the worse. When you encounter that silly plot snag, sit on it and think for a couple of days. It’s true that to actually achieve the 50K-in-30-days goal, you have to average something like 1,667+ words/day. But still. Catch up when you can. You’re guaranteed to reach your goal if you want it bad enough—so on days that you don’t make the daily word count, just WANT IT just a little harder to compensate.
- Don’t talk to other fiction writers.
What actual merit do you suppose you’ll get from talking to other fiction writers? You’re talking to people who’re trying to do the SAME EXACT THING AS YOU. So, hypothetically, what happens when you hit a bad case of Plot-Hole-itis and you check out one of the NaNo forums for a fix, or call up that writing buddy you know who’s ALSO doing NaNo….and they’re suffering from the same problem? Know the old saying about how two wrongs don’t make a right? Same thing applies to writers. One person with Plot-Hole-itis can’t cure someone else with the same disease. All you’ll be left with is a drinking buddy willing to head to the nearest bar to drown your identical literary sorrows over a pint and commiserate over your fictional misfortune. Damn the gods of fate….and plot holes. Drinking buddies are great, but not something that’ll help you during NaNoWriMo.
Also, there’s a reason that established fiction writers tell amateur writers to collaborate: so they can steal your ideas. That’s right. Every idea in your head right now is a bestseller. And if you tell it to someone else, someone who’s got the same writing goals, struggles, and aspirations as you, they’ll steal it in a heartbeat and make it into THEIR national bestseller. Who are fiction writers if not legal liars, eavesdroppers, and thieves? Pass along your smart idea and they’ll make it brilliant. Seek advice on how to get over the writer’s block (that inevitably hits half-way through NaNo) and they’ll give you advice to make it worse, just so they can get ahead in the word-count or get their NaNo novel to the agent first. So the bottom line on other fiction writers: don’t trust ‘em. And certainly don’t seek out their company.
- At all costs, do not enjoy yourself.
What’s the goal of NaNoWriMo? The NaNo website, at the top of its FAQ page, will try to tell you that the goal is: “Writing one 50,000-word novel from scratch in a month’s time.” But that’s from the contest perspective. What is the goal of the NaNo writers? At the very bottom of the page, they reveal the actual goal the writers should care about:“To be added to the official list of winners, you must reach the 50,000-word mark by November 30 at midnight.”
That’s right, writers—the goal is TO WIN. Which makes this a competition. And who enjoys competitions the most? Well, in the end, the winners. But, to use a running metaphor, before they get to be winners, the people enjoying themselves the LEAST are the ones working their damndest to reach the finish line first. The ones trailing at the back of the pack are usually not working very hard, and, are likely much happier than the ones who ran until they puked their guts out. Ipso facto, the writers enjoying themselves the least are the most likely to win.
So where does this leave you, as a NaNoWriMo participant? Hopefully puking your guts out from tension, anxiety, and malnourishment because you refused to leave your computer (sparing only enough time for bathroom breaks and the quick dash to the pantry for another pack of Zebra Cakes) to make your 50K word-count. The second you start to sense yourself feeling any measure of positive anticipation, self-satisfaction, or happiness at your progress, you should immediately flog yourself over your computer (either literally or figuratively) and get back to work. Relish every sleepless night you spend writing “just one more paragraph” or the feeling of shame you get every time you tell someone you’re doing NaNoWriMo and, when they ask what your story’s about and you enthusiastically answer, they give you a dumb cow stare and ask, “Oh. That sounds….nice.” Even train yourself to enjoy the ulcer that you’ll develop towards the end of the month over the anxiety that your character may NEVER make it out of that canyon and therefore won’t be able to reunite with her lost love (causing her to die loveless and alone by the end of the story), which is what was SUPPOSED to happen because you already wrote that final Happy-Ending chapter and now have to figure out some way to connect the two parts or the story will fail and SUCCESSFUL ROMANCES DON’T END LIKE THAT WHAT THE HELL’S WRONG WITH YOU NO AGENT IS EVER GOING TO WANT THIS! Remember: if you can see the finish line, it’s because you took your eyes off your work. And that story’s not going to write itself.
- Don’t prioritize your writing.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know the magical social group “they” all tell you that you should prioritize the important things in your life if you want to get them done. Like, if you want to start working out regularly, you have to schedule it in to your daily/weekly plans and commit to not letting anything else get in the way of your workout time. Or if you want a successful marriage, you set it at the top of your list of Things To Care About and devote countless time and energy into making sure it stays at the top of that list. Making time to write, especially during the stressful duration of NaNoWriMo, is often approached in the same vein. But what the workout gurus don’t tell you is that people can still be fit after missing a couple of workouts. And look at any wrinkled couple that boasts having had a 50 yr. anniversary for proof that marriages can still remain long-lasting based on sheer apathy alone. Writing is exactly the same. If you’re a writer, you’ll write. If you aren’t, you won’t. This is simple literary Darwinism. So, if you were meant to be a writer, then it’ll work itself out, and you won’t have to worry about prioritizing or not. (Refer back to Tip #2 if you need a reminder on how this relates to the common NaNo misconception of “meeting your daily quota.”)
If you don’t get to it today, guess what? There’ll be another day after that. And unless “today” happens to be Nov. 30, that statement will be true. But if “today” DOES happen to be Nov. 30, then you were screwed to begin with because you obviously didn’t care enough about NaNo this year to follow the suggestions in Tip #4, so this whole post really doesn’t even apply to you. Loser.
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In summary, if you manage to follow these 5 tips, I can guarantee that you’ll stay sane throughout the month of November. Because that’s what a self-proclaimed “writing frenzy” is all about, you know—staying completely and rationally sane. Ignoring those voices. Not obsessively worrying about what’s going to happen to your character because you haven’t written your way to the climax yet. Stopping at the end of your scheduled, orderly writing time and sleeping fitfully through the night without being woken up by characters who aren’t tired and are screaming at you to keep going. Enjoy November, NaNo-ers.
But, just in case these tips don’t work for you, maybe keep that coffee pot going. Or bulk up now on your supply of Shotgun or Cocaine. Perhaps go ahead and warn your friends not to invite you out for any social outings (“Ok, when will you be free?” “Uh….December?”) I’ll save you a seat on the couch.