Thursday, September 17, 2015
NaNoWriMo: Moving From Wanna-be to Pro
I started out with the lofty ambition of writing not just something, but THIS BOOK, daily, of producing that magical number of words (1667, IIRC) and getting that draft down in thirty days. As I was teaching boating this summer, I had been researching and getting my basic plot outlined, but couldn’t spend the hours at the keyboard. It’s all in my head, right? All I have to do it get it out, right? I’m a professional working writer already. This should be easy.
The first thing I discovered was that I am producing closer to 1000 words a day, and my total to date is about half of what I’d hoped to see. I just run out of steam. I have to go away and think about how the next segment starts, how the scene plays out, who says what to whom, let the book develop itself beyond the outline. I could always follow Mickey Spillaine’s sage advice and “bring on a man with a gun” (in my case, a new monster) when I got stuck, and see where things went from there, but I do have a pretty solid dramatic arc. I know where I am going, but sometimes need to work out the details of how to get there, especially when the characters and story run away from me, which is a great feeling, but can be hard to handle.
The second thing is that Real Life does its best to interfere. This surprises me every time I go into draft mode. The burst of creativity that a first draft requires is always very rough and utterly consuming, taking all my time and energy. I get cranky. I don’t have time for interruptions. But Real Life won’t go entirely away.
Still, when I finish this blog post, I will take a small walk, with eager dog, and come back to write the segment in my head. As usual, the book is growing and changing before my eyes as characters develop themselves, as their relationships complicate, and as new monsters appear. Dog walks make for good thinking time. I need to think it through before I write it down.
What I like about working the NaNoWriMo Idea: I like having a deadline, the firm commitment and a plan to reach it. It keeps me from procrastinating. It helps me avoid laziness. I like the closed-end compression, which makes me live in the new book most of the time so I don’t have to play catch-up after longer gaps. I like the rearrangement of all that can be rearranged, so I can really push at this draft with as few distractions and interruptions as I can manage.
What I don’t like: If I was more concerned with getting something, anything, down on the page so I will have the Magic Number of Words by the Magic Deadline, I think quality and continuity would suffer. I’d have a faster draft, but not a better one. There may be an impetus to stop and leave a draft for too long after producing it in under such pressure, and somehow, I think, many people never go back to finish.
I'm balancing things pretty well, though it’s too soon to say for sure. I’m making compromises with the NaNoWriMo format, while trying to keep the deadline and compression I like. The draft won't be done in 30 days; it’ll be closer to 45, but it will be solid. It will be the story I want to tell.
When you prepare for NaNoWriMo, you’ll be more successful, I think, if you keep a few points in mind.
Do prepare your book. Pre-write the book in your head and with pen and paper as much as you can. Know who your characters are. Have outlines of their stories individually and for the book as a whole. Think about them and what they’re going to do. What’s going to happen to them?
Do prepare your life to remove distractions during this pressure-cooker period. Get your teeth cleaned. Get the snow tires on the car. Get the cat’s shots. Put your garden to bed. Pay the bills — yes, in advance, or at least all written out and ready, including stamps, to mail. Figure out what you’re going to eat, for the month, and make sure you’re stocked up on what you need. Pay attention to nutrition, exercise and rest. You’ll be more effective as a writer if you do.
Do get your priorities straight. If it’s important to you just to get the words out, just to give that story life by getting something, anything, on paper, that’s valid. Go for it. If it’s more important to get the quality and dramatic arc down, know that, and spend more time pre-planning the outline. That is valid, too.
Do cut yourself some slack. Your child will step on something and need to go to Urgent Care. You will have to work overtime, or your spouse will, and you’ll be on Parent Duty. It’ll snow and your chains will break. Then there is Thanksgiving. What possessed you to say you’d bring pies made from pumpkins from your garden? Make the commitment, schedule the hours every single day, but know that life will interfere. Don’t kick yourself or others, just get back on track.
Do make your writing life your real life. Don’t stop when NaNo is over. Participating in NaNoWriMo gives you the chance to move from wanna-be to serious working professional writer. By setting up your life so you can effectively participate, you can develop a system to use indefinitely, while still having a reasonable life. Writing is for the long haul, not just a month a year. To be a working, professional writer, you must schedule your work, but also give yourself days off, give yourself time each day to eat, sleep, bathe, exercise, attend to your family and home and have some fun. You’re not going to finish a book in thirty days. You will finish a partial first draft if you’re lucky. If you want to ultimately have a finished book, take what you have learned, modify it for the long term, and keep right on going.
That’s what serious, professional writers do. They keep on going.
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