Have you got 50,000 words in you?
You might say you don’t. Personally, I’m inclined to disagree, and I’m sure those committed to undertake NaNoWriMo for another year might be on my side of the fence.
Yes, it’s that time of year again, and here I am with another post about National Novel Writing Month. Although not participating this year, having managed some twelve months ago to come up with a 55,000 word tale I was fairly proud of (albeit a little less so upon re-reading), it seemed timely as we near the end of October to share a few thoughts on some of the things that helped me stumble across the line in 2014.
I offer these observations clearly not as a seasoned novelist, with a bio inclusive of numerous published works, but perhaps like some of you. Someone who thought: ”you know, I think I might be able to do that… but that’s over 1600 words a day for a month… but… ohh… gee… maybe I can’t — no, damn it, I actually think I can. Wait… I’m really not sure… ahhhhh!
That of course, is exactly my point.
Although every seasoned novelist started somewhere (perhaps even with NaNoWriMo), it can sometimes be a little difficult to conceptualise expert tips and tricks into your own situation, as valid and well-tested as they are.
So, after reading two posts recently containing such tips from a professional author, I will endeavour to pass on some advice of my own, in the hope they might assist in some way to lead you headlong into NaNoWriMo greatness.
I have previously mentioned author David Hewson and his book Writing a Novel With Ulysses. The book itself is about creative writing using text editor Ulysses for Mac and iPad, in which I wrote my 55k words in last November (the Mac app at least, with the iPad version coming later from developer The Soulmen).
Ok, to get this out of the way. Firstly, Ulysses. I absolutely love it, and use it for every piece of writing I do for this blog. The above guide by Hewson provides fantastic advice guiding the efficient use of Ulysses in a fairly large writing project (certainly larger than anything I had attempted at the time). While there are cheaper word processor/text editors out there (at the time of writing: $AU69.99 on the Mac app store; $AU30.99 on the iOS app store), Ulysses worked for me and I have not looked back.
Ulysses currently has a free trial running through to December 7 for the brave souls who may want to embark on NanoWriMo with it, and there is no better time to give it a run – NaNo or not. I remember thinking to myself half way through the free trial last November, if I manage to finish this damn thing and get to 50,000 words — I’m going to reward myself and buy this app. Just a thought.
Now, remember the three paragraphs immediately above when we come to the tip “the tools don’t matter”. Let’s get to it.
I’d encourage you to read the two posts by Mr Hewson, which I found myself nodding along with as I read, and if you’ve done any writing yourself you will probably do the same:
8 Tips for Writing a Novel this November – The NaNoWriMo Blog
Five ways to help you finish that book – Medium: David Hewson
However the stimulus for this post comes because, as well as reading and nodding, I also found myself thinking: yes I’d agree with that, however as a complete amateur, I’d also add…
So here I am… ”also adding”, to a small few of the thirteen tips contained in those original posts.
(Unless stated otherwise, quoted text is from either of the two posts linked above)
On considering your book as a journey
Hewson points out:
Yes, it’s a story with a beginning, middle, and end. But it’s also a journey, from life to death, ignorance to knowledge, love to hate or vice versa.
When you think of a book as a journey you then realise you need waypoints, movement, progress.
Of course a lot more detail and a good example of the above can be seen in the 8 Tips post, we see how an “inciting incident” and a further seven or eight scenes might provide 10,000 words.
To that I say boom! You’re a fifth of the way there! Well, perhaps not, although I do agree that a journey with a few stops along the way is a great way to look at it. Further, once you get rolling, it can be surprising how quickly the words tally up.
On sticking with the right tools
Here I’d add, this is really only going to work with the right tool(s) for you. I don’t necessarily mean Ulysses, Scrivener (also a 30 day free trial available), Byword, or heaven forbid even Word. It might be anything.
I get it — the tools matter, but not as much as the words.
However, remember you will need to be writing — a lot, over the course of November. Where will that writing take place? Will it be one place? Your desk? Many different places? Set yourself up to work whenever and wherever you can.
Are you going to need a companion iOS or Android app, or at least something that can access your Dropbox, iCloud or Google Drive easily and efficiently — and more importantly do so reliably? Or perhaps you will be writing on the one device you can take anywhere with you.
I think a some planning here might make things just a little less stressful if you are well set up to pick up your story just about anywhere you are.
However, if things aren’t quite working in the first few days and you do have an epiphany about changing something that will see things work far more effectively — I say go for it. Within the first few days my iOS solutions were not quite where I needed them, and a little tweaking of apps and syncing worked a treat.
So, tweak a little if needed, but please, have back ups and just don’t keep tweaking.
On time management
Manage your time effectively — you won’t have as much as you want or need. Keep the book alive by making notes … when you have spare moments.
Of course in relation to the previous point about the right tools — it is great to be able to work anywhere, but you most likely won’t be able to work everywhere. When you are not specifically writing is often when the best ideas come to you. Notebooks, a sheet of paper, a phone — all perfect tools for that killer scene, idea, or great line from one of the main characters. Anything you’d really prefer not to forget.
One of the main benefits in taking notes one my iPhone is the ability to send text to whatever digital tool you might be doing your writing in (assuming it is digital — I acknowledge some brave souls do this with pen and paper in longhand). I found this useful on a couple of occasions where a note became several hundred words, and it was far more efficient to drop them into the story than rewrite from handwritten notes.
Whatever you use here doesn’t matter. Just get those thoughts down.
While we’re talking about managing your time effectively, I would also add a comment about the lead in to the November 1 kickoff. Only making the final decision to participate in last years event a couple of days before it commenced, left a less than ideal lead in as far as planning and organisation are concerned. I had the bare bones of a plot outline in my head, however my point is, even if you are feeling rather less than prepared — it can be done. The rest of my planning and organisation came along as the story progressed.
When in doubt and the calendar clicks over to November 1 — just get going and let your characters take you at least the first part of the way. Now is a good time to glance at your calendar though — see that? There are still a few good planning days left before this mayhem begins.
On writing your way out of it
Mr Hewson sir, if only I had enough talent to write my way into it in the first place!
But here’s the hard truth: the most dangerous place any writer can find him or herself is the moment you think, ‘I can find out what I want to write by writing it.’
All right then — point taken. I guess the last thing you want to do is waste a few thousand words on a scene which takes you in entirely the wrong direction. Perhaps something to remember from our expert about taking a break to reassess:
Writing’s also sitting in a bar with a beer daydreaming about the book
Is it? Is it really? Of course it is — remember what we said about when those great ideas are going to come to you?
Probably wise words indeed. Just don’t make that the thicker end of the writing wedge — sit in that bar for too long and those ideas eventually will make no sense at all. Might I suggest a calming single malt could be an even better way to go about it, however I restate one of the original points — the tools don’t matter!
Back on track with my two cents here: Resist the urge to rewrite at all costs! Mostly. Absolutely, stop, think and perhaps head in another direction — but do anything you can to avoid rewriting too much as you go along.
Just remember — this is NaNoWriMo, and if it is your first, perhaps this is also your first full draft. You will likely write more words in the coming month than perhaps you’ve written in the past twelve — maybe longer. You just don’t have the time to make this perfect. This is not putting the finishing touches to your life’s work. It is not your masterpiece — not yet.
In the words of six-time participant/three-time winner Katie Maguire on her blog I Have Things to Say:
First drafts are shit
And there it is. The honest truth. If you’ll pardon me repeating that, my first draft is sitting in a draw with a couple of initial annotations made, and is still, well… shit (apologies again, I’m done with the language — it’s just that sometimes there is only one way to describe something, particularly if that is also the very word I said aloud upon first reading back over my draft).
If you get part, half or just about all the way through and begin to think: you know, this probably really isn’t that great. Guess what? Probably half of the other millions of WriMos are thinking the exact same thing. Others might be lying to themselves, and still others might (after many revisions) get published, however as the month goes on, everyone’s eyes are on the same prize — that 50k finish line.
Just. Keep. Going. Get it done.
On simple being better
Written in bold, with the suggestion to print out and keep, Hewson gives us the following:
Simplicity is always harder than complexity.
The point here is simple. A story told in a simple, straightforward way is far easier to understand than something overly complex simply for complexity’s sake. How to recognise it? Try this example:
You’ve just decided part way through this is actually a two-era story, part of which will take place in the modern day and the rest in Regency England featuring a mirror cast.
Thank you Mr Hewson, with that laugh out loud example above, we are just about done.
I would add here that the same rules apply to individual scenes or pieces of dialogue from your beloved characters. That said, sometimes you just need complex. An example? I give you, that classic piece of cinematography, Wayne’s World, where one of our heroes, Garth Algar hatches the “simplest” of plans:
OK… First I’ll access the secret military spy satellite that’s in a geosynchronous orbit over the Midwest. Then, I’ll ID the limo by the vanity plate “MR. BIGGG” and get his approximate position. Then, I’ll reposition the transmitter dish on the remote truck to 17.32 degrees east, hit WESTAR 4 over the Atlantic, bounce the signal down into the Azores, up to COMSAT 6, beam it back to SATCOM 2 transmitter number 137, and down on the dish on the back of Mr. Big’s limo… It’s almost too easy.
Complexity, when used for effect, can be quite powerful, however unless you have a real knack for clarity, it can certainly weigh things down over time.
My advice? Just write it as you’d think it or say it. Speak the scene out loud — even just in your head. Simple just works, and is an efficient way to plough on with the story. It also makes the whole thing much more readable for those who might eventually be on the other side of this situation. That’s right — your readers.
Truth be told, I’ve probably written almost as many words about NaNoWriMo as I’ve written in it. Who knows, last year may have been my one and only shot. If so, I am happy with how it turned out, and is something I would recommend to anyone considering having a go. It is indeed an exhilarating ride.
If that is you, then I hope some of what I’ve written here might help a little, or a lot. Perhaps it won’t help at all, and you’ll get “stuck in” and come out a winner in precisely your own way. In all honesty it will likely be the latter, given how different we all are, which is of course the best part of it. I’ll look forward to hearing how you went, what you found most useful, and if you don’t mind, perhaps use a few of your tips next time I find myself knee-deep in words one November.
So, November is indeed coming, and so is a flurry of words. Good luck with that word count, have fun, and be sure to raise your arms when you pass the 50,000.
I’ll certainly be cheering for you.