Wednesday, August 1, 2012

6 Tools To Survive NaNoWriMo

Well, I’ve done it again. I’ve decided to drag myself through another virtual writing boot camp. I signed up for National Novel Writing Month’s summer program, Camp NaNoWriMo, which takes place in both June and August. The objective is the same as November—write 50,000 new words of fiction in only one month. 

I don’t feel anywhere near the amount of anxiety as I did in November. I survived this experience once and I know I will again. In fact, I don’t even plan to “win” this time around. My objective is using this program as a tool to complete the shitty first draft of my novel. By September 1st, I will possess a complete novel with a beginning, middle, and end that I can edit and rewrite into something publishable. I am EXCITED!

The following is a list of strategies that helped me to survive National Novel Writing Month and complete over 50,000 new words in only 30 days. Feel free to follow them or disregard them as your needs desire.  There is no one-size-fits-all plan for life or for creativity. I can only share with you the wisdom that I gained through my November experience. You’ve probably heard some of these principals before, as I used wisdom from other writers and resources to get me through it all. Also, I left out the obvious tips like turning off your phone and staying off the internet unless for research. 

NOTE: These exact principals can also be applied to writing any first draft or any other project where creating a high word count in a short period is your objective.

Six Simple Survival Strategies
1)   Take Notes:  Keep a small notebook with multiple writing implements or a handheld tape recorder near you at all times. You will need it to jot down or record ideas and ponderings you’ll have during the day. This is especially important to have near your bedside.  We often wake up with ideas or snippets of dreams that inform our story. These are gifts from our subconscious. Let’s not look a gift horse in the mouth by letting these epiphanies slip away unremembered. I especially like the tape recorder for this as I find myself far too groggy to use a paper and pen when I first awaken.

2)   Stay Flexibile:  Having your novel mapped out step by step, chapter by chapter, scene by scene, sounds like a thorough approach. However, you will likely find yourself forcing plot points and character development rather than events happening organically by the logic of the fictional universe you’ve created. To put it simply, have a plan, but also be open to inspiration.

3)   Ritualize Writing Time:  Just as your bed should only be used for sleep and sex, do your best to write at the same time and same place daily. This will allow your mind to relax into creative mode more easily and soften the transition from your every day life to your creative life.

4)   Avoid Over Thinking:  Be completely right (write!)-brained as you move through the creative process. Do not be analytical or critical of the work you are producing.  Do not allow censorship or judgment in your writing space. Save that mindset for the rewriting process. Go with the flow even (especially) if it feels uncomfortable.

5)   Ponder Your Story:  Were it a perfect world, we could sit in our writing space all day long and create at our leisure. In reality, we have many responsibilities. Ponder your characters and plot while you’re at your day job, cooking, cleaning house, ushering the kids around town. You’ll fuel your creative mind and keep the enthusiasm for your story on high. *Remember to keep your notebook or tape recorder from step one within reach at all times!*

6)   One Goal--Word Count:  There is only one goal for NaNoWriMo and that is to produce word count. It doesn’t matter if you don’t like what you’re doing or love it, if it sounds cliché or is vibrant and original, if its clunky or poetic, all you need to do is write, write, and write some more. I’ll say it again— do not allow judgment or censorship. Save that for the second draft.

What if I get stuck?

          It is inevitable that at some point during a month of solid writing you will get stuck.  This is where you’re on your own.  Evaluate your creative process and move forward the best you can.  Here are a few things that work for me:

1)   Ask yourself, “what happens next?”:  I learned this technique in college and it works like a charm. If you ask yourself or your characters “what happens next?” you will get an answer. It may not make a lot of sense in the moment but follow it wherever it takes you.

2)   Write with all your senses:  When you’re stuck, try to describe the scene with all of your senses. This includes not only the five physical senses, but also the nonphysical senses of emotion and intuition. It will open the story up and give it more depth.  You may stumble upon something you didn’t even know was there that might be the key to uniting the entire plot.

3)   Don’t let a good idea derail another good idea:  As I’m in the middle of the writing process, it usually happens that an epiphany or idea for my story (or in some cases an entirely different story) will suddenly pop into the forefront of my mind. I keep that handy notebook of mine right next to me so that I can record the idea for later and keep it from throwing me off the task at hand.

4)   Take a break:  Maybe you just need to get up and walk around for a second, grab a snack or drink, or even just quit for the day.

5)   Have fun:  Creating fiction is one of most rewarding and exhilarating activities that I know. I love it like I love ice cream and swimming and warm summer days and feeling my baby wriggle around in my belly. I know that if I’m stuck and it feels like work, then I should lighten up and have more fun with it.

6)  Take your characters on a road trip:  I don’t mean this literally though it may be fun to see what happens if you jam all of your characters into an RV and send them across country. What I do mean is take them out of their normal environment and put them somewhere new. This will often reveal things about them, their personality, and their relationships that you didn’t already know. You could also simply stick them in a room together and make them talk to each other. This also works quite well and is fun to do.

7)   Avoid transitions:  If your character is going from home to the library, we don’t need to see how he tied his shoes, stood at the bus stop, sat next to a smelly man on the ride over, and then walked an extra block so he could stop at the coffee shop before entering the library. Just take us there!  Leave a line of white space and pick right up at the library. If any of that transitional stuff is important (it probably isn’t) then simply work the information in while he’s at the library.