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Friday, October 31, 2014

Alea Iacta Est (10 Item Final Prep Checklist for NaNoWriMo)

The "Shock Both of Hers™" maneuver.
Perfect for indicating that your totally-not-you-with-hairdye
twin is "eviler" than you.
The die is cast. No more warnings about NaNo–if you ignored the advice, you ignored it. Nothing but encouragement from now on.

Hi everyone. Evil Chris here. Just hacking into the signal of some anti-NaNo tripe that Chris tried to slip in as an 11th hour warning. Fuck that guy...and not in the good way.

Did you miss me? Did you think that I wasn't going to join you this year? Were you resigned to putting up with goody two-shoes Chris and his insufferable warnings about NaNo without my fresh spring breeze to remind you that it's okay to be an artist however you want?

Never, dear readers. Never. As sure as Chris will be incessant about the dangers of NaNo, I will be there to call him a tool. I'll be hacking the signal all month to cheer you on and cockblock any negative Nancy bullshit he tries to fill your heads with.

I was busy having my tongue pierced, that's all. Oh don't even pretend you don't know why.

However....oh my. Look at the time. The month of madness is almost upon us. If you're anything like me, you looked at the calendar and said "Holy shit, is that the date?" I don't get many trick or treaters down here in the basement of Writing About Writing, so we didn't even have to go shopping for fun sized candy to remind me. And now we're scrambling to prepare for the grueling 30 day trail. Less than 24 hours to go!

I'm here to help with ten things you can do in just ONE day (or even one afternoon) to prepare you for NaNoWriMo.

1- Clear your calendar

On November 1st, you're probably going to clear 1667 words in only an hour or two. Plenty of time left over to hang out with some friends or catch Sleepy Hollow.

Easy peasy right? Why don't they just GIVE NaNo badges away.

Calm your flappy bits. Something starts to happen around day three or four and it gets worse and worse until you're well into week two. Excitement wanes. The grind kicks in. You hit parts of your story where you were a little fuzzy on how characters get from Thiscoolscene to Thatcoolscene. Maybe your fingers stop for minutes at a time while you contemplate what's next.

Suddenly it's taking you more like three or four hours (maybe more), and that's all the free time you have in the entire day. You're catching up on weekends. There's no time to be social. No time to go out. Your house is a disaster. Your lover has a permanent scowl on their face and is putting out "casual encounter" ads on Craigslist. You have to write, boyo! Welcome to the real NaNo–not just the first two days.

So the best thing you can do to prep, is turn November into the closest thing to a barren wasteland of time commitments that you can. Get out of your book group. Cancel that date. Postpone the cupcakes and tea until early December. Do the Delany reports this week so you don't have to stay late at the office next week. Tell Aunt Gurtrude that you have to skip canasta this month. Tell the fam who want to pop in for TG early and leave late that you just can't hang. Get out of as much as you can.

It's much easier to make some plans if you finish early one day than to try to get out of them when you're running behind.

2- No I said CLEAR your goddamned calendar.

Okay your first instinct is going to be to work out a schedule that looks good "on paper." Surely adding three to four hours of writing each day into a schedule where you technically have three or four hours open won't be a problem, right? You can just wake up at five in the morning for the next month, write for an hour, shower in thirty seconds, and run a few red lights on the way to the office each morning, come home write for two more hours, go to bed a little late, and never have to give up time with friends, family, or video games, right?


You might think you can squeeze a few of extra hours of writing in there without really giving things up as long as you technically find a three hour block in your schedule. That's the kind of driving, overwhelming, too-much, "WHAT-HAVE-I-DONE??!?!" schedule that you might be able to pull off for a week, maybe ten days if you're a real pro about crunch times.

Not for a whole month.

You're going to have to give some things up, and they won't be easy. Unless you literally sit and watch four hours straight of television every day, you won't have a clear, easy sacrifice to put on the altar of writing. It's going to involve some planning, some oblations, and probably something you're going to miss.

That's kind of how writing goes.

3- Warn your peeps

Only other writers and maybe a few people who have run marathons or eaten nothing but kale chips for a month are going to have the slightest fucking grasp what has compelled you to take part in such a soul crushing event. You need to prepare your near and dear for what's about to come or they will get pretty ticked off that you suddenly went completely off line as even remotely dependable for 30 days.

You're going to spend some time telling your lovers that they look great in their sexy underwear, but they'll have to take care of themselves tonight because you have to keep writing. You're going to have to tell your friend who calls you for two hours every time they break up with someone (which is like every week for FUCKS sake!) to grit their teeth and stare at the ceiling until December. You're going to have to tell your roommates that the door might be closed and you will just reach out for the pizza they offer, but it's not because you've suddenly developed a heroin problem. You're going to have to tell your buddies that they're on their own for takeout and Halo night. You need to let the blog you write for know that you're not going to be able to submit any articles for four weeks.

The polite thing to do is let them all know ahead of time that you're going to be an antisocial misanthrope for thirty days, but that it's not them. That way you don't have to cancel plans or disappoint them. Let them know it's coming. It takes a thirty second e-mail blast to keep them from being caught off guard in the moment, pressuring you into doing things anyway, or guilting you for not paying attention to them. You are about to become a oxygen sucking fuckwad, who cares for nothing but your stupid, cheesy-ass story, for the next thirty days. The least you can do is give the people around you a heads up about it.

4- Do a dry run and time it. (Also triple it.)

Write 1750 words. (That's about 6-7 double spaced pages if there's not too much dialogue.) If you are pedantically into the rules of NaNo, and don't want to start your novel until November, write something else. Do a free write. Write a short story. Write a letter. Write a manifesto about how shitty you are at cleaning the litter box from the point of view of your cat. It doesn't matter. You're just seeing how fast you can splatter the words onto the page.

Time yourself.

The problem is, how fast you free write when your blood is up will not be the same speed as how fast you can work on a novel when you've written yourself into an unclear scene and you're tired and want to go out with your roommates to the new Thai place and you're fucking sick of this stupid event and who the fucking hell had the bright idea to write a fucking novel in thirty days anyway? Fuck that person....and not in the Marvin Gaye way.

So you need to triple the time it takes you. This will not be 100% accurate but this will give you a good sense of how much time you need to block off each day. For some people, that will be three hours. For others it will be six. I can't tell you how many yahoos just started writing without any kind of idea how long they would need and by the second week were saying things like, "Gee, I wanted to do NaNo, but who knew it was going to take more than TWO hours a day?" (Well anyone who had any idea how fast they write would have known that, you tool!)

5- Jot down an outline (or prepare to go off the rails)

Some writers swear by outlines (especially for certain kinds of writing) but I'm not a big fan because they tend to railroad characters, and plot should be driven by character, but if you don't have some idea what general direction your story is going to go, you will probably wander aimlessly for pages at a time.

Now....wandering aimlessly isn't actually a bad thing in writing, especially if it helps you to figure out your characters a little better. It just means most of it will get cut (which would be true anyway of a draft you write in 30 days). But a lot of writers will feel like they're stuck or lost and face the urge to just give up or to throw everything out. Especially when you only have ten more days to get yourself to the really cool end you've imagined, this kind of losing the plot can be terribly frustrating.

So unless you plan on facing your day with a shit eating grin and saying "Holy fucksticks my characters are off the rails, completely meandering, and I don't even know what the hell is going on! What a day to be alive!" you might find that a loose outline is a good idea. Know basically what's going to happen each day you sit down. You don't need more than a sentence. That's thirty sentences–you can write that in just a few minutes before tomorrow.

Just don't OVERplan.

6- Don't overplan

This might seem counterintuitive, but you don't want to make extensive outlines or sit and over-plan your story. The more you do that, the greater the chances become that you will start to fall in love with its brilliant countenance or some shit, and then you won't want to write it with pulse pounding fecal spray that is NaNoWriMo's page-filling pace.

You'll want to slow down and "get it right." That's awesome, but it's exactly the opposite of what NaNo is about.

NaNoWriMo is projectile diarrhea aimed roughly at the toilet. If you bring the Sunday paper, light some candles, and turn up Steely Dan in the next room so that you can hear it, you're doing exactly the wrong kind of....um...writing.

Simply put, you don't want to be too invested in this story. If you are, the horrific quality bilge pump that you have to spew out onto the page in order to hit your word count in under ten hours a day is going to make you single tear that you're not doing your magnum opus justice.

None of this crap. You have to promise to do wrong by your draft.
NaNo is grudge sex of writing.

7- Repeat after me: "This will never get published"

You must let this idea go. Yeah, but maybe if I... Let it go. But possibly with enough editing... LET IT GO! But if I flesh out that one scene and then hire an editor.... FUCKING LET IT THE FUCK GO!!!!

You are not not not not not going to publish this "novel."




Maybe....just maybe...a year or two from now.....there might a book that has a few of the same plot points and several characters with the same name, and that book might be ready for publication, but it will not be this book. It will barely be recognizable as based on this book. This book will never ever ever ever get published. No matter how much time you spend cleaning up the grammar, it is barely even a zeroth draft.

A few grizzled vets might have just enough know how to crank out something at this pace that will only need "a LOT" of revision and editing (particularly if they're mostly self-publishing for a niche audience), but for the vast majority of writers––even the professionals who take NaNo on––the fingerprints of a very rough first draft will be all over their work.

Realizing that is the key to having a good month because the last thing you want to do is get hung up on doing it right. If you're sitting paralyzed in front of your computer because you're worried about how to phrase something to get published you have missed the entire point of NaNo.


8- Set up some support

Get a friend and meet up three nights a week. Sign up for a writing group–even a NaNo group. Tell everyone that you're going to do it on social media to commit yourself and then give them daily updates. Make it transparent in some way. We always do better when people are watching.

These shouldn't be the kind of people who will be assholes if you have to quit. The last thing you want is someone going "Oh Gee what happened to your NOVEL Writer McWriterkins, or did you give up and wet yourself like the baby you are?"

If you have friends like that, kill them.

But even without that kind of anti-encouragement, just having some transparency will help. Better yet, get a few bunkmates for your stay in Questionable-Life-Choices-Land. Grab some other people who are doing NaNo and encourage each other, maybe even schedule some writing sessions where you'll just sit and write for a couple of hours with no pressure to fill the moment with social energy.

9- Forget the extra caffeine (but do stock up on snacks).

NaNoWriMo is thirty days. Don't bring out the "study for finals sprint" playbook to get yourself through a thirty-day endurance event.

Caffeine is a stimulant that is useful when you have to stay up, say, all night for a midterm. It's not so great at keeping you revved for an entire month. In fact, depending on your metabolism, somewhere between a couple of days and a week or so, you're going to pay the price for all those hours of running your body at more RPMs than it can handle. And while you're crumpled into an unmotivated heap of excuses who needs two days straight of sixteen hours worth of sleep just to find the motivation to go across the room to grab the remote to turn on House of Cards, you will scratch your head and wonder how people actually manage to get through NaNo without burning out.

It's a matter of some boastful humor how much caffeine NaNo'ers tank up on during the event, but that's actually a sure way to burn out, so don't let the culture of one upmanship convince you to throw you off your game. NaNo "survival kits" always include coffee, but they never seem to include a fucking good night's sleep and some vegetables.

This will get me to November 2nd....
You need to go the long haul. You need the right amount of rest and sleep (real sleep), you need good, nutritious food, and you need to lay off the drugs (except your meds––you take those, hear me!). You don't need to treat your body like a temple or some shit, just be aware of the physiological effects of tanking it up with stimulants.

You don't need to cut out caffeine altogether either. Then you'll just be trying to write while going through withdrawal. (I just wrote that to give you a good scare on Halloween.) If you drink five cups a day, then you should stick with five cups a day. If you drink two cups a day, stick with that. You just don't need to be having more than normal.

What you do need is food. Stock up on some snacks to have around the house so that your stomach has no power to distract you from writing. (That is like the first trick your brain will pull if it wants to get out of something that feels like work.) You want some zero or low prep food that you can just grab and get back to work, not something you have to take several minutes to cook.

10- Prepare your heart to be cold like the Siberian tiger. 

I would write three novels in November (and one every other month)
if your human keyboards weren't so small and annoying.

Game time peeps.

Time to be cold, like ice. Like Candice from high school when she dumped a nice guy like me to go back to Tony. No...even colder than that. Like dry ice.

No. Even colder than that! What's colder than dry ice?

You. That's what.

NaNoWriMo isn't just a physical endurance and discipline activity. It is a battle with one's own shadow Link (except it's not possible to just sit in the corner using duck and attack to win). The emotions will come crashing down all month long. Take a moment to be ready for that.

"This is the best novel crafted by the hand of man." "This is the worst novel ever written including that avant garde 'shit sculpture' book." "I can totally do this." "I am never going to make it. I am the worst human being imaginable." "Why did I ever think I had this in me?" "Why did I kid myself into thinking I was a writer?" "I am a quitter and a bad person." "I'm no writer." "I am the best, and this is the best." "I'm crap. This is crap."

You gotta leave it all behind. Take a deep breath. Look at yourself in the mirror. Screw your courage down to the sticking place. You have to be cold to all those feels. They are shadows of the truth made monolithic in the crucible of NaNo's structure. We all feel them, but you'll be feeling them all in 30 days. From the first breathless jolt of creative magic that you are writing something that is going to make you famous and rich to the bitter end when you realize you've saved up way too much writing for the long weekend, and you're not going to make it and hate yourself. None of those feelings is real. It's all the NaNo talking.

Take a moment of reflection to keep this all in perspective. This is not writing. It's one event loosely based on one part of the writing process. You are not genius. You are not terrible. You are not the first one to hit turbulence five or ten days into the event and not think you are going to make it. You are not the first writer to doubt yourself. And if you don't make it, you are NOT to question your worth as a writer.

But you've got this. 1667 words a day. Just crank it out and ignore your brain. Ignore the hurt. Ignore how tired you are. Ignore the voice telling you that you'll never make it. Ignore your doubt about the quality. Ignore your friends telling you that it's no big deal. Ignore it all.

Because I'm going to make you a promise. If you finish that 50,000th word, it won't hurt anymore. And for just a minute–just one transcendental minute–even your self-doubt will shut the fuck up and give you a respectful nod like proud teacher in a martial arts movie.



  1. I have a slight question on this: Given all the work, the failure rate, and the fact that you'll never produce anything you can actually publish, what exactly is the point of NaNoWriMo?

    When I first heard about NaNoWriMo years ago, I never really got why anyone bothered. Surely anything you can achieve during that month as far as writing habits go could be more easily achieved by slower, more steady progress, with less anguish and lower risk of burnout.

    So, What's the point? Is it just bragging rights? Is it the inspiration of a mass event? Am I just completely missing something?

    1. Hmmm. Interesting question Lukas. Perhaps I, evil Chris, will have to field this on a Mailbox this month.

      Though to do a "quick and dirty" answer, I think your pretty close with your guesses. Also, I think a lot of people don't really know HOW to do writing, so a set of rules that tells them what their process should be has a real seductive quality.

  2. Excellent piece, especially the "Repeat after me, this will never get published" part. Really fun and so true!