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National Novel Writing Month

September 17, 2011

It’s past halfway through September, which means November is looming on the horizon.  Oh, November.  Excitement and dread, anticipation and trepidation – you are a month of mixed emotions.

And no, I don’t mean Thanksgiving.  Thanksgiving is pretty straightforward – engage in polite conversation while stuffing your face with the most delicious food you’ll eat all year.  I’ve totally got that covered.

This is a writing blog, so of course I’m talking about NaNoWriMo.

I’m not going to explain what that is.  If you want to know, click on the link.  They explain it very nicely.  I will talk about its value, though, and what it means for me.

I figure now is as good a time as any to post about it, since people are starting to prepare and the anticipation is building.  It’s so close and yet so far.  Gotta be ready.

Personally I think NaNo is one of the most valuable exercises in existence for aspiring novel writers.  It teaches two fundamental lessons:

1. How to make yourself write every day

2. How to make yourself write without getting hung up on editing as you go

A lot of amateur writers write only when they feel like it, when they are ~inspired~.  That really doesn’t work.  Writing, if you plan on taking it seriously, is work.  You can’t just work when you feel like it or every business everywhere would be filing for bankruptcy.   If you want to get something done, you need to work at it.  It’s not going to just magically write itself.  And every day that you don’t write is a day lost for your novel.  They add up.

I mean, look at me.  I’ve spent eight years trying to write my stupid fantasy book.  Do me a favor.  Don’t take eight years.  It sucks.

Regarding the second lesson, editing used to trip me up every time.  I’d write a paragraph or a chapter or whatever, then rewrite it, rework it, go back, rewrite it again, tweak it, start to write more, look back over it, realize it’s not quite what I wanted, scrap it, restart it… It’s a trap.  Chapter Two never gets written because you can’t let go of Chapter One.

NaNoWriMo taught me this:

Edit when you have something to edit.

Finish your first draft before you start your second.  Don’t edit as you go.  Finish the whole picture before fixing a small portion.  Remember: editing isn’t just about the individual words or phrases.  It’s about pacing, it’s about overall feel.  If you’re editing as you go, you’re only doing part of the job and you’ll have to go back anyway, and you’re really just holding up your progress.

My first year attempting NaNo sucked.  I had a 9-5 job where I was on the computer all day.  And writing at home was terrible.  Back then, my apartment wasn’t really furnished, and I didn’t actually have a desk.  I was typing at my computer on the floor.  Halfway through I totally killed my wrists.  I was also floundering for plot – I’d come up with a vague, overall plot, one that I really like and plan to re-attempt at some point – but I hadn’t done enough planning.  And let me tell you, if you hit a snag during NaNo, you’re going to have to work like a dog to get yourself back on schedule.

So I gave up.

Then I skipped a year because life happened.  Life happens.  It’s the worst part of trying to be a writer: having to do stuff other than writing.

Just kidding.

So last year I tried it again.  I came up with a plot I could have fun with but that I wouldn’t be heartbroken if I failed miserably or if it turned out terribly.  I planned it out, and I dedicated time each day to writing.  I finished with three days to go.

This year it’s probably stupid to try again – it’s theoretically my senior year of grad school, I don’t have a lot of free time on my hands – but part of it is about learning to juggle your schedule.  I have two plots that I can’t choose between so I’m going to cheat and do both of them: 25k words each.

It should be an adventure, as neither of them are my usual style.  A crime story with a supernatural twist and a supervillains-turn-superheroes piece.  I’m no criminal mastermind so I may find myself a bit out of my league, but really, it’s not about winning.  It’s about pushing yourself.  It’s about trying.

So now I have a bunch of prep work to do, and then November will be here before I know it.

And I’ll be ready.

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From → General Advice

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