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Wednesday, November 4, 2009

NaNo, Anyone?

Okay, kids, it's November, which means, on top of making ourselves crazy with holiday plans and trying to remember what to give thanks for, it's time for NaNoWriMo once again. For those who are deeply enmeshed in the writing community, there is no explanation necessary. We all know what NaNoWriMo - affectionately shortened to NaNo by the diehards - means: One month of self-induced lunacy whereby we cough up 50,000 words of a novel in a 30-day time period. No pressure!

As frightening as it might seem, at first, NaNo is actually a very good exercise for everyone who ever considered putting pen to paper. Or fingers to keyboard, as the case may be. First, it gets the writer into the mindset of writing something every day - and shouldn't we be doing that anyway? It also teaches the writer about setting goals by committing to a certain number of words or pages a day, and discipline, by actually sitting down to accomplish those goals. But perhaps the most important thing, in my mind, that it accomplishes is that it gets the writer to write. You can talk about writing all you want, but unless you actually sit down and start the process of committing words to paper, you are not a writer. You are only a writer when you actually write.

So if you decide to take the plunge this year and join NaNo, here are some of my tips for you:

1. Don't over-think the process or you will never get past the Chapter One heading. Don't worry so much about paragraph spacing, punctuation, grammar, etc. That is what editing/revising is for. This is only a first draft.

(This is a hard one for me because I tend to over-think everything, but I've learned that if you curb that impulse to be absolutely perfect the first time out of the gate, the words will come and you can polish them later.)

2. Don't listen to the little voice inside that says, "I could've done page so-and-so better...I'll just go back and fix it." No. Don"t go back, always go forward. Again, this is what editing/revising is for. If you're afraid that you might forget what it is you want to change, keep a notebook beside you and make a note to change such-and-such on page-whatever. Then keep going forward.

(I am immersed in a constant battle with my internal editor. I love it when I win - but the editor gets its revenge in the rewrites.)

3. Don't forget to post your daily totals on the NaNo site. When you see that number in black and white, it will give you a sense of accomplishment and encourage you to go on.

(I forgot to do this, so when I finally remembered to do it yesterday, I was pleasantly surprised that I had already topped the 10,000 word mark. Not that I expect to write that many words every three days - I was just on a roll.)

4. Don't worry about trends and whether or not your story will fit in with what is being published today. Just write the story that's inside you, clawing its way out. Leave the marketing worries to the time when the story has been polished and is ready to be sent out. And if you try to follow the trends and write something that is already popular (vampires, anyone?) but don't have a passion for what you are writing about, not only will it show in the writing, the story will most likely fizzle out long before you reach The End.

(I've fallen victim to this before, not during NaNo, but just in the course of my writing, and then I lamented the fact that I could have spent the time writing something I was really passionate about, rather than what I thought publishers wanted.)

5. Add buddies. Believe me, having someone there to encourage you in your writing is a priceless commodity. Two of my best writing buddies are right here on the Moonlight blog, our own Carrie and Gracen. They are my own little cheerleaders who help me over the bumps, help me through the tough spots, and spur me on to the resolution. They also take me to task when they think I'm holding out on them and have teased them far too long (ie, The Jane Austen Society Pages). And I, in return, do all of the above - and hold out a little longer on the long-awaited kissing scene. What can I say? I like to build up the tension before I give the readers what they want.

6. Have fun. Yes, writing is a job, it's work, and can be very exhausting, but it has to be fun. If you don't have fun writing, it will show. You should take pleasure in the whole process of creating characters and throwing them into challenging situations. If you start to dread the idea of sitting down to write, then you should probably re-think your reason for wanting to do it. If it's for the fame and glory, then it's the wrong reason. Many of us will never reach the same heights as Stephenie Meyer, Nora Roberts or John Irving, but we write for the sheer pleasure of writing. This doesn't mean that we don't want anyone to read what we write, we just write for ourselves first. Or at least I do.

7. Write the stories you like to read. Believe me, you will be reading your own story so much over the course of conception to publication that, if you don't like to read the type of story you're writing, you will hate the story long before it comes out. If it comes out. I have chucked out story ideas on many occasions, at varying stages of progression, because I just didn't like the idea anymore and couldn't bring myself to work on it any longer.

8. Most important: Just write. Now is not the time to talk about your dreams of being a writer. Now is the time to live the dream. Start the process, continue the process, finish the process. Only when you reach The End will you know for certain if you are a true author - or if it was better just to dream about it. If you reach the end and can't stop thinking about what you just wrote and want to dive back into it,, you are a writer. If you reach the end and find yourself thinking about the next book you want to write, you are a writer. If you have more than one idea kicking around inside your head fighting to be the next to come out - I feel for you! - you are a writer. But if you come to the end and dread the idea of having to go back and revise what you just wrote, maybe this isn't your calling.

(For me, I couldn't imagine not writing. I have been doing it since I could hold a pencil and nothing has stopped me from pursuing my dream. Not falling on hard times, a stint in a shelter, being diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis or raising a child with bipolar disorder and Asperger's Syndrome. Writing is my therapy, my blessing, my saving grace. It has gotten me through all of the trying times and sustained me through the lean times. I don't write because I dream of being the next Stephenie Meyer. I write because I couldn't imagine a life without it. Kind of like breathing.)

Well, I hope you enjoyed my tips today. If you have any of your own, feel free to add them in the comments. I'm curious to read about your writing process. If you want to learn more about NaNo, check out the link below:

You can find me here, under the screen name peefie23:

Feel free to post your own screen names and indicate if you want us to buddy you. I welcome all who are willing to add me as a buddy.

Good luck with all of your writing - and reading! - ventures. ~ Margay

5 Moonbeams (comments):

Molly Daniels said...

Love love LOVE #7: "Have fun"! Don't put so much pressure on yourself you turn into Evil Bitch Writer:)

I'm at the (ahem) 800 word mark. Sadly behind, but I'll catch up!

Margay Leah Justice said...

Molly, I'm glad you liked it! And don't worry about being behind. I am today, as well. But there's always tomorrow.

Sheila Deeth said...

I loved your list, but my November's so totally chaotic. I'll keep your suggestions by me till Feb when our writers' group tries a mini-Nano.

Margay Leah Justice said...

Oh, good! I'm glad they'll be helpful to you in the future, Sheila.

Gracen Miller said...

Great post, Margay. I love to write as well. Almost every waking hour at least some portion of my thought process is devoted to writing. I was sitting at the chiropractor's office this morning waiting for my turn and in my head I was mentally processing the next scene. I drive and think about the characters, the scenes, dialogue--okay, probably not the best time to be thinking about writing, but my muse doesn't give me the option of picking and choosing appropriate times. When I go to bed, in those moments before sleep my brain is usually spiraling with thoughts--sometimes this hinders sleep...the evil little muse bastard! Basically, I never get away from the characters in my head, at least not until their story is complete and sometimes then I have a hard time pushing them out of my head.

My only problem with NaNo so far this year...I'm not writing on the story I'd committed to. *bangs head against the wall* I have two I'm working on, DragonBlood and Demon Eyes, both I need to complete, but I'd hit a roadblock on DragonBlood. So, I thought this was the perfect time to finish Demon Eyes since I knew how I wanted it to progress. But when I sat down to write I was shoved into the DragonBlood storyline. I guess I can't complain since I've already gone over 9,000 words, but still...t would help if my muse were less schizophrenic! LOL

BTW, thanks for reminding me to post my word count! I haven't done that yet, so I'm headed over there now.