My drug of choice is writing––writing, art, reading, inspiration, books, creativity, process, craft, blogging, grammar, linguistics, and did I mention writing?

Saturday, November 3, 2012

15 Things To Remember About NaNoWriMo if You Ignore the Advice and Do It Anyway

Hello everyone.  "Evil" Chris here.   I figured I'd give Chris a break and hack the signal when he's not doing anything important.  Right now he's weeping into a pillow, so...probably as good a time as any.

I'm at 8532 words by the way!  Not too shabby for day three.  But I didn't come here to brag.  I came here to talk about NaNo.

Even though my less evil counterpart makes some compelling points about NaNo, and even though he really does just want people around him not to burn themselves out like folks who go on an 800 calorie diet, his highly conditional appreciation for the good parts of NaNo might not be winning him throngs of Nano friends.  Because of his constant fear that he is not making his tale cautionary enough to save some talented, enthusiastic young writer from feeling like a loser, sometimes his approach isn't the most popular among those who actually know and love NaNo.  Most of his (and I say "his" even though I should say "OUR") friends tend to have a friendly, jocular relationship about the whole thing, but every once in a while someone gets pretty upset that if he's not going to grab pom-poms and a big foam glove #1 glove that he should just sit in the corner and keep his nasty nuanced opinions to himself.  Anyway, he's upstairs crying into a pillow because someone called him a troll or something.  I'd call him a touchy little priss, but....well, he's me, so I'd probably do it too....although I'd do it evilly.  I'm also feeling a real no-one-picks-on-my-good-clone-but-me feeling and I really I hope I can sit down and eat sardines or something until it passes.

Anyway, I figured maybe if you were already walking this path, you'd like some slightly more inspirational thoughts on the subject.

1- First of all good luck.  This is no easy task, and there is a reason the completion rate is just south of twenty percent. It has broken greater writers than you beneath it's spurious heel. You should almost be saying to the great writing muse deity, "We who are about to die, salute you!"  I know a lot of factors go into a win, so may the metaphorical wind be at your back. May family members not breeze into town early or stay late, may the cat not need emergency vet care, may no really nasty midterms be scheduled, and may your boss never ask you to stay late. Godspeed NaNo writers!

2- 1667 is the magic number.  You need to write this daily. Seriously. Don't fuck around with that "I'll write more tomorrow" crap. That's a downward spiral that ends in too many mint juleps and a bag of Kettle chips as big as you (but still not big enough to get the taste of shame out of your mouth). Daily writing is the key to creative flow anyway.  Might as well start here.  If you do have to go into "debt," write as much as you can, and don't just skip the whole day.  That's bad, bad news and it adds up much, much faster than you think. You can do a little bit of catch up on the weekends and you can assume you're going to be pounding keys like bullets in a Rambo movie during the four-day weekend, but if you don't take a big chunk daily, you're probably going to fall too far behind to reasonably catch up.

I can average about 1000-1250 words an hour at the "just write/freewrite" pace, but I've been doing this for twenty-five years.  For most newer writers, it's more like 500-750 words per hour (average). That means you're probably looking at about three hours a day. At least. So if you don't write most of that daily allotment, you will very quickly be looking at 10-12 hours of catchup each weekend. That's probably more than most people can deal with, and I'm sure you have some other things that need doing.  Same goes for that holiday. If you're a couple thousand words in debt when your triptophan coma kicks in, no problem. If you're twenty thousand words behind, you'd have to put in a pair of 15-20+ hour days to finish up. Not gonna happen.

3- If you win, feel awesome.  Pop some champagne. Take your partner to bed (or yourself if that's not an viable or attractive option.)  Ride that euphoric wave and enjoy it.  You've earned it. That feeling...right there...that's why artists do what they do. It's just about the best thing in the world, and you deserve every serotonin and dopamine dripping second of it!

4- However, if you do not finish, you are not allowed to feel like a loser.  This is one fucked ass event, and not winning ISN'T losing.  You are not allowed to question your worth or ability as a writer.  You are not allowed to give up.  You are only allowed to say "maybe I bit off more than I could chew, and I should try it again at a slower pace."  Please.  A bazillion writers have written a gagillion books at a much slower pace than NaNo including Stephen King. Even he says 3 months for a good draft and he wrote Salems Lot while I was punctuating this sentence. Not finishing has nothing to do with your ability.  This is one of the main reasons people like Goody-Two-Shoes Chris don't like this event.  Goals are good.  Writing to finish is good.  But when you turn a really (really) ambitious goal into a contest and slap around words like "winner," it can sting to not succeed.  Don't let it.  Just shrug and keep going.

5- You may simply be a more slow and steady type of writer.  Lots of us are.   The other Chris is. NaNo works really well for some people's creative process, but it's far from the only way to fly.  If you're not the 50,000 words in 30 days type, THAT DOESN'T MEAN YOU'RE NOT A WRITER!  It doesn't mean you'll never write a novel.  It just means that a wild month of überchaos is not your cup of Bailey's and hot chocolate.  Find a way that does work and let us freakazoids get our extreme ridic on without you.

6- When it's over, recognize that you just participated in an event where quantity trumps quality, and that is almost the exact opposite of what art usually is (quality over quantity).  If you're serious about whatever you produce from NaNo, your work has only just begun.  There are a lot of other parts to the process.  Give them as much enthusiasm as you give NaNo, and you're cooking with gas.  Don't...and you'll probably just have a draft of something you did once tucked away in your bureau drawer for a long, long time.

7- A lot of writers will get prickly about NaNo for the same reason that quaint New England villages hate being overrun by leaf peepers.  Try to appreciate that they spend all twelve months (not just the one) taking this stuff very seriously, and how it can feel to have an extra half million loud and rowdy people show up who get self-righteously pissed off every time they dare to offer a little perspective that they're probably not writing a straight-to-print masterpiece.  Yes, these writers probably shouldn't be dismissive of an artist who's just doing things in a different way.  They certainly shouldn't be derisive because that's just their ego talking and they're just being unfair.

But at the same time, try to be respectful that you're on their turf and they may know a thing or two about the creative process and how to write successfully that you don't.  They may have seen dozens, hundreds...even thousands of excitable younglings go before you saying exactly the same thing you're saying now about not harshing their squee. They may have even picked up a few bodies on the road, and cursed NaNo for ruining the creativity of someone with genuine talent.

Or maybe that's just me.

Don't be the equivalent of the drunk tourist they find taking a shit in their Jack-o-lantern that gets pissed off at the "townie elitism" when asked to use the public bathrooms in the bus station across the street.  If you show up with a little bit of reverence for writing and for what they go through year round, you'll be welcomed in as one of the club even if you only want a temporary membership card.  These people aren't really elitist.  Most of them are the pariahs.  Anyone who shows some respect will be given it in return.

8- In over a decade of NaNo--millions of participants and hundreds of thousands of winners--only a couple hundred books started during the month have ever seen publication by a major house.  This includes the already-published authors who take part.  Keep what you're doing in perspective.  You have come a long way.  You have a long way yet to go.  Now keep going.

9- If it's not happening, slow down before you burn out.  You probably know someone who did something too much.  I have a friend who used to sign up for 21 units every semester on top of a full time job and a robust social life.  Somewhere around about the fourth or fifth week of the semester he dropped out of school citing that he was just absolutely burned out.  We tried to get him to just drop a few classes, but he was absolutely exhausted and completely burned out. This went on for years, and my friend wasn't any closer to a degree.  Then about three years of this pattern later, my friend dropped down to 12 units during the second week of school because--in his words--"I could tell that if I kept going, I would burn out."  That friend graduated five years later...the simple self-knowledge that if he kept going at that pace, he would completely burn out got him to his goal faster than trying to overdo it.  There's a metaphor in here somewhere.  I'm just certain of it.

10- During NaNo, people might give you crap about NaNo.  You could get all defensive and pissed off at them, but it's better to think of it as practice.  This is just the warm up lap for how mean people will be when they're looking at your craft instead of your process, and this is the kid gloves my friends.  If you're serious about writing, you're going to get criticism your whole life long.  Writing groups won't understand your vision.  Literary critics will tear you a new one.  Even your friends and family will tell you how they read it, and you'll want to argue with them.  You'll want to tell them they read it "wrong" instead of acknowledging that their reading might involve a place where you haven't yet quite succeeded as a writer.

It will be part of your success as a writer (or retreat into bitter misanthropy) to learn to deal with that criticism.  To identify the spirit in which it is offered, give the critic the benefit of the doubt, and even to appreciate the effort that went into giving it.  (Is this meant to tear me down or to warn me about common pitfalls?)  To separate the parts of the criticism that apply to you from the parts that don't.  (If this part is about those who submit their story on Dec 1st, and I don't do that, do I really need to take it personally?) To be willing to accept that not everything you do is without its downsides.  (I acknowledge these things could be problematic, but I want to do it anyway!) And to be willing to incorporate the most sincere and thoughtful criticism rather than blow it off.  (Maybe I should consider continuing to write 500 words a day after Nano since I really want to be a writer.)

I have to learn to smile at someone who says "NaNo produces a lot of crap, and I hope you keep working on Dec 1st," and appreciate that if I just don't take it as a personal attack, it is a cautionary tale and a sincere word of encouragement.  That's actually kind of nice for someone to say when I'm sure it would be easier to just let me ride off the cliff.  If I can't do at least that, then my first non-awesome review is going to cause my face to melt Raiders-Of-The-Lost-Ark style.  Chris is an assbrain, but he really is an assbrain whose worst crime is not wanting to see young writers get ripped off, burn out, submit rough drafts to Random House, or piss off professional authors by calling themselves novelists and clogging up the plumbing of the publishing industry for serious writers.

11- The reason NaNo is so seductive, and the reason it feels so good is because it involves specific, measurable goals and you have people cheering you on.  This can be a lesson, my NaNoing peeps.  It can show you how to get the most out of the Dec-Oct writing season. Set other measurable goals and get yourself some cheerleaders.  It will work just as well then.

12- Do it however you want!  Screw the "rules!"  Write fewer words.  Write non-fiction.  Write on something you've already started.  Write a series of short stories.  Do this however you damned well please.  Anita King is blogging about the SEVERAL ways she has (and encourages other to) tackle the event.  Please remember that if you played life by the rules you wouldn't be writing novels in the course of a month in the first place.

13- Embrace teh suck!  Don't even bother trying to tell people it's better than it is.  Be proud of the fact that it isn't. The whole point of NaNo is that you're going to write unbelievable crap.  You're throwing spaghetti at the wall.  Not all of it is going to stick, and that's really okay!  But that is so much better than sitting in front of the blank page and trying to be perfect.  The shitty first draft is a concept that so few writers really understand--this event celebrates it.  Enjoy!  It may be the only time in your life that you give hundreds of hours to something without worrying about the quality.

14- You can do it.  It's probably about three hours a day.  You might have to skip a movie.  You might have to skip a party.  You might have to turn off the video games.  You might have to go straight from writing a paper for school (or a blog) to your NaNo writing, but you can do it.  You can.  It is within the human capacity.  You got this.  Go forth!

•But there is one place I agree with the assbrain Chris hard and fast:

15- On December first...don't stop writing.


  1. You've been doing this for 25 years? Did you start writing when you were in the womb?

    1. I think maybe you're assuming I'm younger than I am. Well, technically, I am only a couple of weeks old, but I've been cloned and memory/personality overlayed with a guy who's thirty-eight. I had my first peak writing experience when I was ten, and I've really been writing with increasing regularity since I was thirteen or so.

  2. Sounds like it's like a gym intensive for writers. I might use NaNo as a container to speed.me.up cuz I've been at the same project for a very embarrassingly long time and maybe joining forces with others committed to getting things done will enhance that ability in me. I have high expectations for quality which is why I let myself go slow. I will probably stop November 20th and go back to bring a turtle satisfied with whatever quickened. Never cared for passing grades unless I really cared to learn the subject. I just want things to go according to my vision and should probably be less stubborn, so the 'forcing oneself to sit down and write without being inspired' community should help. team