By: Sam Martin
It’s that time of year again, writing fiends– spooky, frightening, horrific writing preparations! Yes, on top of getting jazzed for
the best holiday ever Halloween, writers around the world are preparing (or pantsing***) their National Novel Writing Month masterpieces.
If you are new to NaNoWriMo, it can seem like a rather masochistic endeavor. “What, write 50,000 words in a month?” you might ask. “While working? While also sleeping at times? And you call that a novel?”
Really, though, it is a valid point- especially the buttsbuttsbutts thing. Let me explain: NaNoWriMo’s whole deal is that you write and write and write and write without worrying about editing, and in the end you are left with a draft of your novel. It’s not even a first draft, it is in many cases a ZERO draft. You’ve written out everything, even the things it doesn’t need… but by doing that, you’ve also inadvertently written in the things your novel couldn’t survive without. This might not sound like it makes sense, but if you’ve ever stayed up late to do a research paper you can relate to the feeling of doing Nanowrimo. Bear with me, it’s
memory metaphor time!
You’re at the library with your laptop, surrounded by other people struggling to pull an all-nighter to finish up a thesis paper that needs to be six pages long. So far you have two. You have used the words “for example” and “extrapolate” and “therefore” so much that you can taste them. They taste of exhaustion. You struggle to rewrite one sentence perfectly instead of moving on to your next point.
The smell of coffee and undergraduate fatigue absolutely permeates the air, along with your classmates’ various perfumes. Someone next to you takes their hair down and you can smell their floral shampoo. Someone five tables away is wearing Axe body spray. You accidentally write “Axe” instead of “example” twice.
Around your second cup of coffee you feel nauseous, and you wish you didn’t need to drink more, but you have to. The barista downstairs at the 24hr coffee shop in the library is just too cute for you to go buy an energy drink from the vending machine. The third and fourth cup seem to be actually putting you to sleep. But lo and behold, when you hit the sixth cup around 1am, you are suddenly overcome with inspiration and word-elongation comes as naturally to you as the coffee-fits.
You type fervently, blindly, just watching as the word count increases with every hour you work. Who cares anymore if you said “extrapolate” again? It’s a good word! The TA should count himself lucky, getting to read such descriptive pieces! Hell, you can use it again, I bet, and they wouldn’t even notice!
You write until you get your point across, meet your page goal, print the sucker out, double check it’s saved on your USB, and then you debate napping in the library or trudging back to the dorm. Dorm is further, but damn your back is killing you.
The next morning, after you sleep a couple hours that feel more like minutes, you go to turn in your paper and don’t even want to look at it. Why? Well one, because you’re tired, and you had way too much coffee Boss-man. But also because there’s a good chance you could stand to edit it, take out a ton, rewrite lots, and just scrap entire thought processes, and that can be to difficult to do right after you complete something.
In this scenario, you didn’t give yourself the luxury of completing a draft, revising, and completing a better draft. Had you not procrastinated, you probably would still edit the paper within the coming weeks. But for the sake of the metaphor, you could not edit. You just needed to get it out of you, like the six cups of coffee you drank seriously you’re going to get ulcers. You hand it in and if you get a good grade- hey! Bonus! The big relief for now, though, is that you have a finished product DONE.
Writing for NaNo is kind of like that, except there is no deadline to turn in your finished work and I don’t have a 24hr coffee shop near me.
You will have a novel at the end of your month-long ‘all-nighter’ in the same way you had a research paper in this scenario: for all intents and purposes you do have it, but it could be so much better. The main point is not making a masterpiece (so now you can go back and read that opening line with all its intended sarcasm, lovelies) but to make a completed novel for revision later.
The reason for writing like this, for getting a finished product out of your mind, is so that you can edit after having gotten a “few hours of sleep” away from your novel. How long you sleep on your novel depends on you! I have done NaNo for two years, and have still never edited/revised my first completed novel from two years ago. It’s still too fresh to me. And that’s fine, because it is so much easier to edit a completed novel than to have an unfinished idea that you are constantly revising.
You can cater this experience to your writing style. Some brave souls think, “Hey this doesn’t sound stressful enough, I want to try for 70k words.” Damn, son, reach for the stars and all that! 70,000 words or more from scratch is bound to add some wear and tear to your wrists, though, make sure you stretch. But hey, why do you have to start from scratch, anyway? Why not take a half-finished novel and vow to finish it, even if it just takes 30k words?? Create your own word count goal, you rebel!
Some people like to plan, and outline, and world-build before they undergo something this huge. I planned last year and this year, I get it! It’s comforting to have direction, especially when dreaded writer’s block hits. I’ll link a masterpost on characterization and worldbuilding tricks at the end of the article. I find this method especially helpful if you have had an idea for a long while and you want to see how to end it. If you can come up with an ending in the planning stage, it can be that much easier to reach it in the writing stage.
Others like to go by the seat of their pants (***HENCE ‘PANTSING’) and just see where their characters or prose or world or inspiration takes them. I did this my first year, and came up with a really wicked scenario I probably never would have imagined otherwise. The constant writing just brought it out of me. I’ve heard this called the sandbox method, where you have no idea what trouble or conflict can arise and you are just going to write whatever makes you happy. If your sandcastle collapses, screw it, build another one, build a parking lot over it, build a school for kids that can’t read good- it’s complete freedom!
Whatever style you choose to write in, I just highly encourage you to try.
Even if you don’t make your word count, forcing yourself to write a little every day will do what practice does for anyone: hone their ability to be better at the thing they practice. (I feel like perfection is unattainable in writing, yo, don’t hold that above your head)
So if you are a writer looking for that extra push to get your butt in gear and get a zero draft of your novel out, this is your sign. Go to nanowrimo.org and make a profile, put up your novel, and then on November 1st GET GOING! Here’s a masterpost of tips and tricks to get you started if you’re still feeling a bit apprehensive. A
lso add me as a writing buddy, username Samzilla!
Do you write? Let’s write together! Send in any prompts, passages, apps, or links that get your writing flowing!
Email all writing inspiration to email@example.com