Saturday, October 23, 2010

NaNoWriMo - What to Expect When You're Expecting a Novel

By Nobilis Reed

So you're going to attempt National Novel Writing Month?  Bravo!  I applaud your courage.  Before you start, however, there are a few things you should know.

One: There will come a point where what you're writing no longer bears any resemblance to the outline you so carefully crafted ahead of time.

You have written an outline, haven't you?  It's a very important step.  It's what made it possible for me to win last year.  I had worked out who the characters were, what they were going to do, and where the story was going.  It was essential. I can't imagine attempting it again without an outline.  In fact, this year I not only have an outline, I have character sketches with individual character arcs for each important character.  While you're not allowed to write prose before November the First, you are allowed to write all kinds of other material to prepare, and I encourage all participants to take advantage of that loophole.

But as I said, there will come a time when you find that what you're writing no longer conforms to your outline.  You'll look at what you've written and realize that you have a choice.  You can either go back and fix what you've written to conform with the outline, fix the outline so that it works with what you have, or just forge on ahead.  When this happens, there is only one course of action which is in the true spirit of NaNoWriMo, and which will serve you well in succeeding.

Forge ahead.

You can go back and fix things later.  I recommend January or February.  Your novel will be a wreck, but it will be something you can work with.  You can't edit a blank page.

Two: There will come a time when you do not feel inspired to write, in spite of the fact that you understand that inspiration is not a requirement for writing.

You do understand this, don't you?  It's basically the first lesson of NaNoWriMo.  If you don't learn it, there's no way you'll finish.  In fact, it's the only important lesson.  You. Can. Write. Anytime.  You don't need to set aside three hours to get "into the zone".  You don't need to have perfect quiet.  You don't need to have inspiration.  You need to have a story, and something to put the words down with. That's it.

When you are struggling with writer's block, you have a choice.  You can sit there and wrestle with it, trying to figure out what's wrong with the piece and fix it.  You can give it a rest for a while, and come back to it later, perhaps writing something else in the meantime.  Or you can just forge ahead, even though you know that the words you're writing are not the best words you could be writing.  There's only one course of action which is in the true spirit of NaNoWriMo.

Forge ahead.

They may not be the best words you could have thought of, but they will be words and they will be recorded.  Again, you can't edit a blank page.

Three: There will come a time when you have to make a difficult decision, prioritizing writing against other activities, like cleaning your home, paying attention to your spouse, or other things that are ordinarily considered essential, in spite of the fact that you have told your loved ones that NaNoWriMo is important to you.

You have told your loved ones that NaNoWriMo is important to you, haven't you?  Having the support of those around you is essential to success.  Distractions are often mediated by a person rather than internally (though that happens too) and if you can touch base with a conversation that came before NaNoWriMo, then you can harken back to it, and do what you need to do to win NaNo:

Forge ahead.

Of course this doesn't mean you should quit the day job or delay taking the feverish kid to the hospital.  Those are easy decisions.  I'm talking about the tough ones, the ones where you worry that your relationship might suffer, or that you might be breaking a mostly-unspoken agreement that's kept mainly out of habit.  If you've had that conversation, then those difficult decisions become a bit easier.  Any damage you do to your relationships, you can fix over Christmas, when you won't be working on this novel anymore.

I think you can sense a pattern by least, I hope you can.  If so, then I think you can extrapolate my guidance for dealing with any other obstacles you might encounter, and you have the best advice I have for winning NaNoWriMo.

Good luck.  I'll see you in December.

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  1. Great post, Nobilis,

    Thank you for sharing the fruits of your experience - hopefully, those brave souls who are undertaking NaNoWriMo will take your exhortation in stride.

    Forge ahead.


  2. Hi Nobilis,

    Sound advice. I hope it comes in useful for anyone considering the challenge this year.



  3. Nobilis - thank you for your insights. Hearing from a veteran helped me in many ways.

  4. Hi Nobilis

    Welcome to our blog!

    So far I haven;t written a novel, but there is a lot of good advice here, particularly as regards making an outline.



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