Thursday, October 29, 2015
Traditionally, I have been somewhat of an ******e about NaNoWriMo. I began being an ******e about it in 2010, when I tried to use NaNo to write The Scorpio Races, and persisted in being somewhat of an ******e for years. We hissed at each other in the halls. NaNoWriMo stabbed my tires in the Target parking lot. I squeezed pimples into its Starbucks latte.
But this year I was driving along in my car shortly before it caught fire and I was thinking about NaNoWriMo, and in this blessed and liminal space I realized that my problem with NaNoWriMo was that I was too old. No, not too old. Too world-weary. No. Not too world-weary. It was just — I had spent too many years securely in the saddle to remember what it was like to be unable to even get a foot in the stirrup. I didn’t remember what it was like not knowing if you could actually finish a novel, because I had finished my first novel long, long ago (I was 11 or so. It was terrible. The first chapter was about dogs test-driving a car). I had lots of problems with my writing, but none of them involved the question of whether or not I could hit 50,000 words in a month. The question was not if I could make a word count. It was if I could make that word count story-shaped.
I probably still have that problem.
Anyway, this year, I can recognize that many writers are existing in that stage of still finding their stirrups, even if I will not be joining you in the official NaNoWriMo trenches. And in light of my early writing days, I do have a tip: don’t begin writing until you know one of these two things:
1) your ending*
2) why you’re writing this novel**
*If you’re trying to use NaNoWriMo to get better at writing, I’d recommend trying to write a complete story during the month of NaNo, even if it is less than 50k. I wrote a lot of fiction before I hit college, and the novels that taught me the most are the ones I actually made it to the end of. The one that taught me the least is the one I simply revised eleven times. As I learned from my time atMerry Sisters of Fate, my collaborative short story blog, you learn a lot more about story-making when you have to do all parts of it instead of just lovingly polishing the ugly seams out of something written by a less sophisticated version of yourself.
**Sometimes you don’t know the end of the story because you don’t know how the characters are going to play out and nothing you imagine for them feelstrue. You need to write it out. In this case, I recommend knowing why you’re writing the story so that you can return to that mission statement again and again as a touchstone.
After every chapter you write, ask yourself if that chapter has gotten you closer to 1 or 2. And if the answer is no, delete it. Start again the next day. Don’t be afraid to delete it just because you need the wordcount. A really inspired writing session can give you 10-30k words in a night. It’s always better to chase the story than the wordcount.
And don’t get freaked out. If you don’t make it, you can always post a surly Dear John letter on the internet for the next three or four years. It worked for me.