It is November 15 which means I should be halfway through drafting a novel, and I am, so the world is a shiny, happy place for a few hours and I dance and I smile and my workmates edge away from the crazy lady.
I love NaNoWriMo for this annual push and sense of communal urgency to create a work of fiction as whole as possible inside the month. In some ways, the arbitrary restrictions of the Nano game have taught me a lot that I needed to learn about the discipline of writing. I’ve had a crack at Nano every year since 2006 and ‘won’ it only twice so far but I’ve got my best game on this year.
So what exactly has NaNoWriMo taught me about writing?
- Turn up and tune in. Sit. Write. Sitting in the chair is no good if the clock’s not ticking and the words aren’t coming.
- Deliver the words. Want to write a book? Produce a daily word count towards it. You set the rules, but measure yourself. Do whatever works for you. I like gold stars. There is a part of me that is still 8 years old and will do *anything* to get a gold star on a chart. I wish I’d known years ago that all it would take to relight my writing was about $3 worth of shiny stickers and a wall calendar!
- Have fun. If the writing is getting boring, you’re doing it wrong. Call a friend and bring in your plot ninjas or drop your characters into hot water.
- Say no. Say no throughout September, and October to things in November, especially if you hold down a day job. You’re going to need those weekends for your story. You’re going to wish you had some holiday time to take or a long commute. Daydream and note down ideas and keep saying no to everything else. Time is words.
- Kill your darlings. Yeah, I stole that one from Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch* (via Faulkner). I’d heard it before but never really understood it until I re-read some of my rambling, no tension, and precious manuscripts and nodded right off to sleep. I’d put so much effort into making beautiful characters I didn’t want anything bad to happen to them. Oh dear. Total snooze fest.
- Finish. Is that obvious enough? I didn’t get that for a long time. I thought – ‘I’ll get back to that one next week’ and … nothing. So now it doesn’t matter how, or where the plot ends up, or what weird contortions I put those characters through, together we’re all getting to the finish.
That gets a first draft done. It is admittedly small draft, but a whole one. It is no where near half way through completely finishing a novel, but it is an incredibly satisfying milestone along that path and it feels great. So today I mark halftime in the word production schedule and celebrate being on track with a nice shiny gold star. I wish you all the very best in your writing goals too.
Have you played the Nano game? Please share your writing tips in the comments.
* The full quote.
Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch: “Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it – whole-heartedly – and delete it before sending your manuscripts to press. Murder your darlings”.