Tracy McCusker of Dusty Journal has kindly offered to illustrate a comic for the month of November, highlighting the joys and trials of National Novel Writing Month. Check back for more installments throughout November. And! If you’re looking for an illustrator for your Nano novel, check out Tracy’s portfolio of awesome illustration work. She does terrific work at a great rate, and I say that as a happy client.
It’s that time again! Actually, it’s not, but you can smell it in the air: that smoky melange of burnout, hope and desperation that is National Novel Writing Month. Though I’m probably not participating this year, here are some links from last year to help you gird up for your journey through jacked-up word counts and mutual despair!
- For preparation and planning ahead, try out The Hailstorm Approach, your guide to prepping in seven days or less.
- Learn from my mistakes, because I’m sure not going to: Seven things I learned from National Novel Writing Month
- Before you get demoralized, read this! Then get demoralized. 13 Ugly Truths About Nanowrimo
- If there’s a better role model for anything than Jack Burton, I don’t know who he is. Winning Nanowrimo the Jack Burton Way
- Didn’t finish this year? Didn’t finish last year? Read this. Should you feel bad about not finishing Nanowrimo?
- Here’s my guest post on WrimosFTW about writing 10K in a day. Now kind of old hat!
- Tracy McCusker talks about setting goals and what to do when you’ve bit too much off.
- When things get really bad, here’s a bit on writing through the wolf’s hour.
Wallpapers for 2013 won’t be done for a while, but come on, man, it’s September.
I’ll continue to post updates up through November. Are you ready for some football?!
This Nanowrimo (and yeah, we’re just about done with talking about Nanowrimo for another year, in case you’re plumb tired of it yet), I saw a lot of people swearing by Write or Die on Twitter and in blogs. I’d given it a try once or twice, but it never really grabbed me until I combined it with the up-and-coming Twitter sensation that is #wordmongering (see below). Also, on a mostly-unrelated note intended to cash in on someone funnier than me, Write or Die always makes me think of Eddie Izzard’s indelible “Cake or Death” routine:
The concept behind Write or Die is this: You write X words in Y minutes (you choose both, you lucky devil). Once you start writing, you have to keep writing. If you stop for any reason, the screen slowly turns red, and a few moments later, you start hearing the most annoying sound in the world, which persists until you start writing again.
(There’s also a “kamikaze mode” in which the application starts deleting words if you stop writing for too long. No thanks. I can easily imagine one unexpected phone call turning a writing session into a ballad of shame and wasted lives.)
At first, I was pretty dubious about this concept — isn’t typing like a crazy person the enemy of coherent prose? Don’t I write sloppily enough without extra prompting? I certainly thought so, until I realized how well Write or Die clicked with my convictions about falling out of love with a first draft.
One of my biggest writing hurdles has always been overcoming perfectionism in my initial draft. I read a big radioactive pile of advice about how the first draft is just the beginning, and first drafts are crap, and so on. I never really believed it until I typed “The End” on a few books and realized just how much work those books needed — and, until Write or Die, I didn’t realize how much I tend to agonize over word choice, descriptive details, and other tiny hurdles that slow me down.
Certainly, there’s a time and place for careful word choice, but the first draft generally is not that time. Write or Die makes sure it’s not the time. Stare into space for too long searching for just the right power verb, and the Devil’s Interval will start sonically attacking your genitalia. Which is more motivational than you might think, and less risky than writing while having a small child use your groin as a punching bag.
So I dropped ten bucks on the application. It’s the best ten bucks I’ve spent on writing tools in the last year.
I put this concept to good use combining it with #wordmongering, a community-driven 30-minute word sprint founded by Monica Marie Vincent (@MonicaMarieV) and Alice M (@notveryalice). Thirty minutes to write as many words as possible, and to blazes with your (writing) inhibitions. Normally, I can churn out maybe a thousand words an hour if I’m feeling “on.” With this technique, I could crank out over 1500 words in thirty minutes. After a quick break to give my fingers a rest, I’d come back for more.
I went from a daily output of around 1,200 to over 5,000 combining Write or Die and #wordmongering. And if I don’t feel like socializing between writing sessions (which is frequently) I just skip the ‘mongering and stick to beating the clock.
Now tell me about you.
Finding a new writing process is always exciting, especially when it really works. So I’d love to hear about your process. What are your writing routines and habits? What really works for you? What doesn’t? Please feel free to leave me a comment below. I’d love to hear what you have to say.
(Also, a shout out to a few of my fellow wordmongerers: @JulieJordanScott, @Ava_Jae, @mohio73, @frbrown906, @GeorgeSirois, @digitalinkwell, @BPuttroff and anyone I may have missed! Interested in joining? Come on over! We have cake.)
Another National Novel Writing Month has come and gone. Maybe you pushed through and collected your intangible little badge. (I did. Nary a free drink nor swooning supermodel in sight so far. I have been lied to.) Maybe life got in your way and you got distracted. Maybe you stopped caring about your book. Maybe you just stopped feeling like writing. Maybe space chimps replaced your brains with Captain Crunch and you liked it. Life rolls on.
So let’s say you didn’t finish Nanowrimo this year. Should you feel bad about that?
Yeah, I think maybe you should.
Bear with me.
About two-thirds of the way through this year’s Nano, I struggled a lot — as I do pretty much every year. (November really is a terrible month for a project like this, especially if you’re not used to daily output. Newcomers to Nanowrimo invariably discover this with keen astonishment, many of them waiting for that mythical “better month” when, presumably, life will stop happening.)
I was way behind. I disliked my story. Other time obligations intruded. I lost sleep. My fingers hurt. Walking Dead was on. And so forth.
A couple of friends tried to cheer me up. Hey, if you don’t make it, that’ll be okay, they said. You can just pick it up in December, champ. No big deal.
Only it was a big deal, and it took me a little while to parse out why attempts to comfort me and let me off the hook only aggravated me further. And then it hit me.
If you didn’t make Nanowrimo, and you’re unhappy about that, then it means you were serious. Or, at least, you wanted to be serious.
And if you fell short of your goal and didn’t feel the slightest bit bad, then maybe what you were doing didn’t mean much to you in the first place.
This is true of everything in life, not just writing. There’s nothing wrong with feeling bad about missing the mark you were shooting for — as long as you get back up and try again. Reams of cliched platitudes have been built on this fundamental principle.
Yes, Nanowrimo is a big, frantic communal goal, and falling short, especially when you see other people go racing past you, can hurt. But don’t lose sight of why it hurts — because, presumably, you really want to write.
Don’t let that disappointment turn into something bigger than it is. It’s not a sign you “don’t have what it takes.” It’s not a soul-crushing insight on your total lack of character. Don’t start playing Pink Floyd’s “Time” over and over while squinting into the middle distance and crying. I said stop it.
Now, maybe Nano didn’t work out for you and you feel just fine about it. That’s cool too. It can be a sign you’re not serious, but that’s not necessarily the case. Plenty of writers start out with Nanowrimo and reject it without blinking an eye. Not a thing wrong with that, as long as you replace it with a process that gets your ass in the chair and words on the page. Whatever works, as long as it works.
But if you find yourself feeling crushed by this year’s Nanowrimo — take your time. Get a little sad about it. Get mad at yourself if you want to. It’s okay. Work through it.
Cool. Now get back to writing.
The final entry in the wallpaper series is a bit tardy, and I apologize for that. It should come as a surprise to no one who participates in Nanowrimo that time can… get away from you a little. As a result, there are a few days missing from the weekly wallpaper, but this one chronicles the final days. Many thanks to the people who have made kind comments about these wallpapers throughout the month — I hope it’s helped keep at least a few people motivated. Good luck finishing, if you haven’t already.
If I do these again next year, I’m definitely finishing them all by November 1st.
Around this time in National Novel Writing Month, I start seeing a litany of familiar fears and complaints from first-time participants. My plot isn’t working. My story’s boring. I don’t know what to do next. I’ve hit a block and I can’t write another word. This is literally the worst thing I’ve written, quite possibly the worst thing anyone has ever written.
I’ve got bad news, guys. Those fears aren’t endemic to Nanowrimo. They are the tiny ankle-biting gremlins of the writing life, and they will be with you all your days. You might as well start naming and feeding the little bastards right now. You might placate them for a while, but they can never truly die.
I don’t know a single writer who hasn’t had moments of crippling doubt about their own work. Most writers I know have days where they feel like they’d just as soon hang it up. Every one of them has felt like a failure at one time or another, myself included. But the real writers keep writing, and if you want to be one, just repeat these three simple words: permission to suck. These words form the map that leads out of the caverns of despair and self-loathing. They are tranquilizer darts for the ankle goblins.
Although a lot of writers (and editors) seem to look down on it, I’ll always owe a lot to Nanowrimo, because it taught me one of the most valuable lessons in my writing life: there’s every chance your first draft is likely to be complete shit, and that’s okay. Seriously, it’s okay.
A lot of aspiring writers I know want to start at the top and work their way up. It’s natural. The desire to rattle off a brilliant, life-changing work in a couple of coffee-addled weekends and bask in the adoration of our peers is something most of us have probably entertained at one time or other. It’s an idea shot into our heads by movies and television, where a writer lights up a cigarette and creates something beautiful in the space of a pop-anthem montage. We buy into this and let it poison us. Some aspire to being great before they dare aspire to being decent. Some decide imaginary greatness is preferable to real mediocrity, and so they may never start at all, and they sure as hell never finish.
It took me years to figure this out, so I know that it may seem difficult. But your draft doesn’t have to be perfect. It doesn’t have to be great or even good. It has every chance of being born into the world an ugly, mewling, mutant thing, warty with flaws and riddled with issues. Accept it. Embrace it. Love it anyway, and let it grow into something more. Don’t toss it off a cliff Sparta-style because you took one look and judged it too weak to live.
If you find yourself struggling with your draft, despairing that it’s shit, wondering if you have what it takes to be a writer, the test is right there in front of you. Either give yourself permission to suck and finish what you started, or expect perfection the first time around and invite crushing failure. If you’re struggling with these doubts and you want to push past them, there’s really only one choice.
So go nuts. Hit the gas and punch through that plot hole like a semi running a roadblock. Inconsistencies? Who cares? One-dimensional characters? You can add dimension later. Loose ends? Tie them up on your way back through, because believe me, you will be back. The Plot Police aren’t going to show up to your house and start marking down your mistakes in the Book of Life. You can screw up. It’s okay. Just remember why you started this thing, and let that carry you through to the finish.
Now go forth and be awesome. Or, you know, go forth and suck. Just keep writing.
Break your writing into manageable chunks with a brand-new wallpaper for Week Two of Nanowrimo, covering the next seven days. Sorry for the overlapping day (Monday), but I realized too late that starting a week on a Tuesday… kind of awkward. Cheers, and I hope you like it. Also, if you haven’t already, please check out the many other wallpapers I have up for grabs.
A reader requested that I include the Nanowrimo word count on the original wallpaper, so here it is. I don’t have time to do the rest of the color variants this way, but I might get to it before the month is out. This is also the last time I’ll mention the wallpaper until next week. So, check out the wallpaper page and once again, cheers and happy Nano-ing.