Tuesday, October 23, 2012

If NanoWriMo Has Taught Me Anything About Writing It's...

"Be careful whose advice you buy, but, be patient with those who supply it. Advice is a form of nostalgia, dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it’s worth." ~Baz Luhrmann - Everybody's Free (To Wear Sunscreen)

NanoWriMo takes dedication, persistent, and the ability to
ignore the inner critic.  Solid advice for writers of any age
.

I'm scheduled to speak to a high school class about NanoWriMo next week.  The teacher tells me she is looking for pointers and encouragement for herself and her students.  Of course, I was honored.  NanoWriMo is a sacred tradition for me, right up there with my birthday, Yule, and Litha.  It's the only organization I donate to annually.  No matter the state of my life prior to November, NanoWriMo makes things better.

But what kind of advice do I give 9th graders? If there's anything I've learned, it's that NanoWriMo is hard.  It requires the dedication on the level of co-dependency; planning on par with a small community event; and a sense of humor normally associated with psychopaths.  Anyone who writes 50,000 words in 30 days IS crazy.  And not just a little, my friends.

In my email response, I broke down my lecture into four sections:

  • Shutting Off the Editorial Brain:  I touched on this in my last post and there are dozens of articles that will tell you the same thing.  When drafting your novel, whether at a neck-breaking pace or not, the editorial side of your brain is NOT your friend. It's the part of your brain that sounds like your parents, a teacher, and even your own friends.  It's the part of your brain that says this isn't right, or you can do better, or that's dumb.  Don't believe that side of your brain.  Shut down that voice.  Make it your enemy until March when you can make the 30-day mad dash to edit your severely nonsensical manuscript via NanoEdMo.
  • Where Ideas Come From:  I can't say this enough.  Ideas come from life.  If you don't feel you're getting enough ideas from life then you aren't allowing those ideas in.  But if that isn't concrete enough, then I will tell you that I blatantly solicit ideas.  My favorite is through a simple post on Facebook about 15 days before I write my outline.  I've gotten zombie velociraptors, vampire-ware platypuses, underwater cities, and finding a way to fit the cool name Karl Gunner Buckley into the plot.  If you ask, they will tell you.
  • The REAL Writing Lifestyle: It is nothing like you see in Hollywood.  Well, maybe when you get to the Stephen King or J.K. Rowling level it is.  But for us everyday writers it's more mundane.  For me, writing is a lot like dating. It always feels uncertain, like I'm constantly chasing the next good idea, catching it briefly, enjoying it, and then moving on.  I'm all dreamy about the anticipation of writing and become intense when that's my focus. Computers rarely enter the scene until it's all written by hand (yes, even this post). I don't care what I write on--a notebook, an envelope, my date planner, or the backside of my Spanish homework.  Likewise, I'm less refined when involved in a writing project. There are days when I'll write in my pajamas all day, not showering until 4pm, or eating until noon.  I've locked myself in a bedroom, car, and a dressing room to get work done.  Writing reeks of desperation.  It's what makes it feel good.
  • Finding Time to Write: The best way is to tell everyone that you are doing this INSANE thing called NanoWriMo and probably won't have extra time for the next 30 days.  It prevents a lot of hurt feelings, a lot of unnecessary interruptions, and it makes people eager to see you when you come through the other side.  I warn my boss every year.  He thinks I'm crazy, but also thinks it's neat I've succeeded for the past five years. Somehow I feel like I should tell you to turn off the TV, get off Facebook, and put away the video games.  But honestly, everyone's preferred work environment is different.  The quieter it gets, the less I like open spaces.  I love noisy rooms with strangers a la Barnes and Noble.  I write with the TV on all the time.  I check Facebook frequently as a form of inspiration though I do dismantle the chat feature. And I probably play more DJ Hero during the month of November than any other time.  It's how I blow off steam when I'm done with my daily quota.
Oh, about that daily quota.  Honor it.  It takes 1,667 words a day to reach 50,000 words in 30 days.  If you miss a day, make it up--hell prewrite it if possible.  Use the word count graph on the NanoWriMo website to help you keep track.  There's nothing more satisfying than seeing your progress. 

Finally, don't EVER feel defeated.  I participated for 3 years before I ever finished all 50,000 words in 30 days.  But guaranteed once you do you'll wonder like I did, "Why the hell didn't I do that before?"

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