Eleven Tips for Surviving Week Two

It’s November 5, which means some of us – and I’m not going to mention any names – are already feeling it: This is stupid. It’s not worth ignoring my family and losing sleep and making all these other sacrifices for. That’s all fine for the people who are writing good books, but mine is just stupid. My characters are stupid, my plot is stupid, and this whole thing is too much of a mess to revise into anything worthwhile. I’m too tired for this. Because it’s tiring and stupid.

Or maybe you don’t know what I’m talking about. Maybe you’re having a great time and your book is brilliant and you just can’t wait to write more of it. Good for you! And of course I won’t be cackling when, somewhere between now and, say, November 9, it hits you too. What kind of person would that make me?

All joking aside, it seems nearly universally true that week two brings a dip in enthusiasm and energy, to at least some degree. It’s by far the easiest point during NaNo to fall behind and peter out. So here are my best tips for making it through that nearly-inevitable second week slump:

Get playful. Do something fun. Even if you’re writing serious literary fiction. Come up with something, anything, that you will look forward to writing, not because it’s smart or worthwhile or important, but because the actual writing of it will make you giggle. It need not fit in with your plot as you see it right now.

Give every single one of those playful ideas free rein. Have a sudden urge take your main characters and flee your plot in favor of a trip to another dimension where the dogs are in charge? So send them to another dimension. Don’t worry about whether it makes sense. It’s all words.

But rein them back in when necessary. The other dimension thing didn’t work out? Want to go back to the point of departure and do something else instead? That’s okay too. Just take that dog dimension and move it to its own Scrivener card (I always have a folder called Deleted Scenes and Extra Features for exactly this kind of thing), or if you’re working in Word or similar, somewhere at the end of the document under a big divider line.

As long as you don’t delete them. Are you crazy? Why would you want to lower your word count like that? Don’t delete anything, ever. You wouldn’t delete your youthful mistakes would you? The bad relationships, the even worse jobs, the unfortunate fashion choices? No you wouldn’t (for the most part), because even though they didn’t work out, they taught you things and helped shape who you are.

These rejected scenes are doing the exact same thing for your story. And there might be a description in there, an insight into a character, something you can’t see right now but will find value in later.

There is really no overstating this: it is not your job to make value judgments in November. Keep all the words.

Torture your characters. Conflict equals story, right? Besides, why should you be the only one suffering? Think about what’s bad in your protagonist’s situation at the moment, then find a way to make it worse.

Change points of view (character edition). Need a breath of fresh air? Write from Sally’s perspective instead of Harry’s for a while.

Change points of view (office edition). If you have a laptop, this one is easy – go write someplace else. If you’re anchored to one writing space only, find smaller ways to change things up a little. Burn a different candle, open or close the blinds, tape pictures up around your monitor. Anything that will make this feel less like the same slog it was yesterday, and more like a new and different slog.

Toughen up. I know, this one sounds harsh. But if that whole playful thing didn’t work out, you might need to go the other way. You’re writing a book. That takes work. Work is not fun every single day. You don’t have to like it; you just have to do it.

Remember that a lot of fiction is at least a little bit stupid. I like to answer that this-is-stupid voice with a little game I call Imagine The Pitch Meeting:

“You see sir, it’s about these people who are batteries? Except they don’t want to be batteries anymore.”
“You see sir, it’s about these guys who use coconuts to make horse sounds, so you don’t have to spring for actual horses in the production, and then they kind of wander around and meet some people, and they’re looking for a grail, except not all that hard, and then they never find it.”
“You see sir, it’s about a sponge. Who lives in a pineapple.”

All stupid, right? But two out of three of those came out really, groundbreakingly well. And the third, while in fact stupid, put smiles on millions of children’s faces and made truckloads of money, so that’s something. It doesn’t matter if your story seems stupid. Everything seems stupid when you’re tired. Stupid is a value judgment, and as we’ve already established, making those is not your job right now.

Have your I Didn’t Give Up reward all ready to go. If on day 14 you’re still on track, or at least within shouting distance of it, make sure you get something good.

Okay fine, quit if you want to. But not until November 15. Make a deal with yourself that you will push through this week. If you still want to quit during week 3, then you can do it.

2 words on the street

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