As I’ve mentioned before, November is National Novel Writing Month, aka “NaNoWriMo,” and a lot of my friends are gearing-up to give it a shot. I however will be continuing to work on my wuxia project in an attempt to have it finished and polished for the convention in May. BUT I’ve completed NaNoWriMo a couple of times, once in 16 days, so I’m throwing out a couple tips to folks :
1. Look over Kerouac’s tips for spontaneous prose. Print Jack’s tips and keep them in your writing area. Yes, some of them are asinine and make no sense. Remember that your objective is to shoot 50,000 words onto the page that loosely resemble a novel. It’s not supposed to be genius straight from the pen, and it probably won’t be – first drafts rarely are, AND THAT’S OK because it’s spontaneous. And it’s prose. Specifically, pay attention to these :
“8. Write what you want bottomless from bottom of the mind.”
“21. Struggle to sketch the flow that already exists intact in mind.”
“22. Don’t think of words when you stop but to see picture better.”
“28. Composing wild, undisciplined, pure, coming in from under, crazier the better.”
This was Jack’s manifesto. Make it yours for one month.
2. Text on the page. There are a lot of cool writing programs and apps out there – yWriter and Scrivener come to mind right off. There’s actually an offer that if you complete NaNoWriMo, you can buy Scrivener for half off. Thing is, you don’t need these to write -what you need is text on the page. The vast majority of the time I use Wordpad, not Word, but Wordpad. It’s simple and does what I want, which is put text on the page. yWriter and Scrivener are great organizational tools, and one can do some nifty stuff with them or even MS Word, but the ultimate goal is still text on the page. Pretty fonts, colors, clipart, and such won’t put text on the page.
People sometimes hear what I have to say about writing programs and go, “So are you saying that organization won’t help me?” No, I’m saying that your ultimate goal is text on the page. Sure, organization can help you get there, or you could get obsessed with the organization and never get anywhere. Your time to organize is NOW, before it starts, because when November hits, your goal is TEXT ON THE PAGE. If you still haven’t gotten it, the fundamental message is “regardless of how much organization & planning you have or haven’t done, your goal is still text on the page.”
My own personal opinion on this is that for first drafts you need as *little* organization as possible – organization is brain work, and you need to write that first draft with everything BUT your head. This brings me to my next point :
3. Write naked. Jack said, “5. Something that you feel will find its own form.” Shut your brain off and write what you feel. As terrible of a movie as “Finding Forrester” was, there was a great quote from it : “You write your first draft with your heart and re-write with your head. The first key to writing is to write, not to think.”
Good stories usually invoke emotion, and a good way to invoke emotion in text is to write naked – be spontaneous and emotional and yourself. Be unafraid and naked and show us your dark shit along with your glorious shit. Slap a different name / race / gender on your character and write about that incident that scarred you all those years ago. Own it. Hurl yourself mercilessly at the story or don’t tell it. Look to Jack – “24. No fear or shame in the dignity of yr experience, language & knowledge.”
Put clothes on it later, when you’re done. Use your brain and edit, dress it up all fancy afterwards, but get it out first. “But my grammar sucks, and there are plot holes, and the world isn’t well-established, and when I started writing, the story I wanted to tell didn’t follow the intricately-planned plot I laid-out before I started and…” Man, life is rough, isn’t it? Better get your blankie and your pacifier. OR you could go back and look at Jack’s advice and compose wild, undisciplined and pure, the crazier the better. THE CRAZIER THE FUCKING BETTER. GET NAKED AND WRITE.
4. Make Spartans feel like they’re cowards. It’s November 14th and you have a whopping 500 words written. Time to give up, right? There’s always next year. Or the year after. I mean, at some point you’ll finish, right? Maybe in 2063. Yeah, you should just wait until then.
If you have 500 words on 11/14, I’d like to remind you that you have 500 more words than I did when I went from start to finish in 16 days. Am I some sort of god or mythical being who bends the rules of reality? Well, yes, but that’s beside the point. People whip out 100,000 word novels in a weekend. I sometimes hang out with a blind guy who’s quite a successful painter. Maybe a handicap is just what you need.
This is you declaring war against your attention span. Against your lack of creativity, against your inner editor, against your fear and all that other bullshit standing in your way. Yes, that’s a lot of stuff to fight against at one time, but if you weren’t interested in doing it, why are you still reading? Declare war. There is no surrender. Spartans will retreat before you do – there is no “with your shield or on it,” there is only “with your shield, SMEARED WITH THE BLOOD OF YOUR ENEMIES, BITCH.”
Which brings me to…
5. Even if you don’t finish, finish. When I first did NaNoWriMo, I read a great line that went something like “whether you finish or not, you’re writing the story you always wanted to write, and that’s the point.” I once went to a NaNoWriMo meeting where someone asked “what if I don’t finish.” I quoted the above line, and other NaNoWriMo vets got huffy and responded with “well you HAVE to finish!”
Sure, I get it – without the artificial deadline, there’s no real reason to struggle. Stay on it while November is ticking away, but when it’s done, whether you “won” or not, finish the story. NaNoWriMo is a battle, and you declared war.
The other side of this is if you write 50K and aren’t done with the story, KEEP WRITING. “But what if it takes me 250K to finish the story, Ben?” TOUGH SHIT. LIFE IS ROUGH, AIN’T IT?
You have 720 hours to write 50,000 words. If you sleep 8 hours a day, that leaves you with 480 hours to get it done. If you work a full time job in addition to that, you have a measly 240 hours. Assuming you don’t spend that time screwing around reading blogs, facebooking, or watching American Idol, that’s roughly 209 words an hour. Sounds daunting, doesn’t it?
Print Jack’s Rules. Text on the page. Write naked. Make Spartans feel like they’re cowards. Even if you don’t finish, finish.
You can do this. Now stop reading this blog and make your preparations.