Twitter pal Beth Kemp wrote a quick blogpost about this year’s upcoming NaNoWriMo and I thought I’d just write a rambling post about it.
If you’re doing NaNoWriMo this year: huge amounts of luck. I’ll be writing with you but I won’t be officially taking part in NaNo but I still get those encouraging letters from them which is great. Writing is a solitary pursuit so being able to be part of the storm of creativity happening is genuinely fun – there’s a sense of camaraderie The forums are a good place to go if you feel your brain’s going to break, but remember this one thing:
I first heard about BIC from a website called Magical Words which really is one of my favourite websites to sit and read over lunch or first thing in the morning with a cup of tea. I lurk and don’t really comment but in the past I’ve fan-girled at them as these are a group of writers whose work I love. But, back to BIC – it means butt in chair. Jane also mentions this in her very charming book Wanna Be A Writer. (The second one, I’ve just noticed this very second is also up on Amazon on sale for your kindle, as cheap as chips!)
And that’s how your story will get told. With your butt in the chair – no other way. Not when you hang out on the forums whining about not having time or chatting to pals on twitter and Facebook I should know this, trust me – I spend a lot of time online. I’m also really good at making excuses, we all are. But really – take yourself seriously and take your writing seriously, even if this is the first time you’re doing it and you feel scaredandworriedandterrifiedandunsure – writing is hard work, it really is, but it is also tremendous creative fun.
If you’re lucky enough to have stretches of time to write in, set yourself a timer. Write for forty minutes or forty five minutes, then spend fifteen minutes taking a comfort break and mainline some coffee or tea and a biccie or five. Then get back to it and set yourself small goals and genuinely, don’t be bothered if you don’t make these goals at first. Athletes have to practice to get good – writing is the same. Writing is also habit-forming, I have to warn you. Once you’re in the mindset working on something, it’s really hard not to want to do it.
I believe in rewards. If I finish say two thousand words today, I get to watch two episodes of Supernatural, or we go out for dinner or something similar. It’s not just about output, it’s also about putting back in.
Exercise is also important – walking the dog or go to gym – these things are “down time” for your brains (my down time is doing the ironing and nailing 10k on the cross-trainer) so you get your mind to relax a bit and trust me, amazing things will happen if you let it relax because that thing that’s been bothering you about that scene…whammo! solution. I’ve seen countless blogposts and tweets and Facebook updates from writers going: had a shower this morning and a plotpoint was resolved during my morning facial routine or more randomly, I had to stop and phone myself whilst doing grocery shopping to leave a voicemail message because I came up with this new idea for a scene. It’s when you’re doing random non-writing things that you will get breakthroughs. So do try and do non-writing things during NaNo.
What else? Have fun. Nano is supposed to be fun. Your writing is supposed to be shitty and rubbish. I know, I know: I cannot possibly continue writing if I’ve not revised within an inth of its life the previous chapter I had written the day before. Write the bloody next chapter. And the next. And the next. And then, once it’s all out there, then you go back and fix it. It’s taken me around nine years worth of writing and rewriting and faffing around to learn this. If you can’t write without revising, maybe challenge yourself – do something outside of your comfort zone – say to yourself “Self, this month I’m going to write everything down in a crazy mad rush and not edit a thing until this draft is my bitch” and see how it goes. Tricking your brain into challenges is very easy.
I’ve done SCBWI workshops where the tutor’s made us do exercises like this and man, it fries your brain but you know what? It is so liberating. And why? Because we’re human and we get used to doing things the same way, until it becomes habit. And then you do it because it’s easy. And then when it’s easy, things become dull and boring and dear god, then you lose the will to live because your writing’s not fun anymore. *falls asleep from exhaustion*
One big thing though: at the end of November, unless you are truly magical and blindingly talented, what you’ve got down is the start of something rather splendid. BUT! It’s not the end. It really isn’t. You may not even have finished your work in progress so get it done and by “done” I mean, get the first draft wrapped it. Let it rest, go back, re-read it, make notes to yourself about things you want to change and stuff you want to add / take out. Revise it. Read it again. Wash. Rinse. Repeat. Several times until what you’ve got is the best possible thing you can possibly write and then send it out. It won’t be on the 1st of December. It will probably be sometime in 2013. Don’t send your stuff out on the 1st of December. Agents and editors are prepared for that – they’ve seen it happen and they know what to expect. Again, unless you are the next Sylvia Plath or Ernest Hemingway your stuff won’t make a dent in their slushpile. Take your time to revise it and edit it. Get feedback from beta-readers. Pay attention to what they’re saying. See if it fits your vision of your story – if it resonates, change things.
Writing your first draft and finishing is one of the most amazing (also frightening) feelings in the world. And you know what? You will respect yourself for it. Out of hundreds of thousands of people who say: I’d like to write a story you’re the one that’s done it. You sat down and you bled words onto a page and you finished it. And as amazing as that feels: it’s only the first step. But OWN THAT STEP because it’s one more milestone behind you on a longer journey.
And good luck with it!
PS: I’d like to point out that in no way am I pretending to know stuff and that I’m setting myself up as a random guru of writing (falls off chair laughing at that idea) so the above blogpost is based on things I’ve learned personally the hard way and advice I’ve been given by well-meaning friends, agents, editors, published writers and other concerned folks whom I know. All of it is common sense really and most of it is stuff to find out for yourself if you’re prepared to look for it.