Wednesday, 26 October 2011

NaNoWriMo advice

I have several friends who are doing NaNo for the first time this year, so I wrote this for them. Now I am the Palmerston North ML this year, so I thought I would share it in case it was useful for others.


Some brief (and hopefully humorous) advice for the undertaking of the crazy ride that is NaNoWriMo (affectionately known hereafter as NaNo) from one who has been here before.
(Note: Some of these are more serious than others. I trust you can tell the difference.)
IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE PERFECT. It’s a first draft. Makes mistakes. Mess up. That’s the glory of a first draft, because you can go back and fix it later. Just have fun. Leave perfection for the second draft.
WRITE. This is the absolute most essential thing to do. You can plan all you want, think all you want, but unless you sit down and write the story you’ll never find out what happens. Write at least 50 words a day. Write at least 10 words a day. Every day, write something. This keeps the story active in your head. And even if you only write 100 words a day for the whole month of NaNo, that’s 3,000 words you wouldn’t have written otherwise. So take off your editor’s hat, put the phone off the hook, and WRITE.
MIRACLES DO HAPPEN: Written yourself into a corner? No problem! Just write “And then a miracle occurs” and go on as if that incident never occurred. You can delete it later: right now you need the word count.
DON’T LOOK BACK: Don’t reread. It’s a first draft. No one cares if your main character changes her name three times or if she’s now driving a Panzer when she used to drive a Sherman. Never read back more than a few paragraphs and that just to remind yourself where you left off. Move on.
IT DOESN’T MATTER: Your six-year-old could write better than this? It doesn’t matter. Your characters are more wooden than Pinocchio? It doesn’t matter. Your plot makes no sense? It doesn’t matter. You can’t remember the difference between ‘disinterested’ and ‘uninterested’? It doesn’t matter. You can deal with all that stuff later: right now all that matters is getting the story down on paper. It’s a first draft. It’s not supposed to be perfect.
THERE IS NO DELETE KEY: For this  month the delete key on your computer does not exist. White-out and twink are mythical creatures you only think you’ve heard of before. So what if that was a terrible line you just wrote? Who cares? It’s words on the page. Move on. I recommend putting a sticker on your delete key that says “Pressing this button will cause the end of the world”.
SKIP AHEAD. Is this bit boring and you don’t feel like writing it? Type “And stuff happened” and skip on to an interesting bit. You can fill in the gaps later. You don’t have to write everything right now.
LET THE CHARACTERS DO WHAT THEY WANT. If you’re writing a Regency Romance and your characters suddenly decide to go on a five month trip to the Himalayas to hunt for yeti, let them. It’s a first draft, you can take it out later. It’s easier not to fight characters and they can take you interesting and unexpected places. (And you might find that actually what you wanted to write was an action/adventure yeti hunt and not a regency romance after all.) But the point right now is to get words on a page. If you have to blow up the nearest star to get the story moving again, do it. Nothing’s permanent, you can go back and undo it. The important thing is to get writing.
BREVITY IS NOT YOUR FRIEND: Never use three words if six will do. Or rather: the foolish and unnecessary use of inappropriate brevity in your story writing will needlessly shorten the amount of writing you find yourself capable of doing so it is both imperative and important that you should instead be as prolix and verbose as you possibly can in order to get that word count skyrocketing in a hurry.
YOU DON’T HAVE TO WRITE 1,667 WORDS IN ONE SITTING: 1,667 may be your daily word count for NaNo, but you don’t have to do it all at once. Sure, some people can churn out 4,000 words in one go but most of us can’t. Write 500 words before work, 500 words at lunchtime, 500 words before dinner... Write 250 words, clean a room, write 250 words, clean the next room... Find what size chunks work for you. (Of course, if you feel like writing more, go for it!)
YOU’RE PAID BY THE WORD, NOT THE LETTER: Don’t write “obstreperous”, write “shirty”. It takes less time to write (especially if, like me, you forgot how to spell “obstreperous” and had to look it up) and gets the same meaning across. Use those good old Anglo-Saxon words like fight, love, and sleep. Short and sweet and simple.
MULTIPLE NAMES ARE GOOD: Give your characters two names (Mary Sue!). Give them three. It gets you two or three words closer to your goal instead of one every time you name them. Or you could refer to them by their full name (“Daniel Jackson” = two words!). If you can give them a title as well, so much the better (“Colonel Jack O’Neill” = three words!). And forget pronouns, use the full name at every opportunity (“Jack lifted his gun and glared at his enemy” = 9 words. “Colonel Jack O’Neill lifted Colonel Jack O’Neill’s gun and glared at Colonel Jack O’Neill’s enemy” = 15 words!)
HAVE REALLY REALLY LONG CHAPTER TITLES: E.g Chapter Four: In which bad things happen, as we might have suggested previously were going to happen although it has taken us an awful long time to get to the point where they do happen despite the fact that the events in this chapter were actually what was supposed to be the start of the story and so we’re an awfully long way behind while somehow an awfully long way ahead. These can be deleted later, but can give interesting insights into what the author was thinking at the time of writing...
If there was only one piece of advice you were to take away from this it should be: It doesn’t have to be perfect. I’ll repeat it, because it’s important: IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE PERFECT. Also, have fun!