In which I briefly come up for air

As I wrap up my NaNo – I estimate I have about 4k to go – I’m looking around at all the things I’ve let slide in November, as I always do, every November. I see I haven’t blogged in almost three weeks, but neglected social media is the least of my problems. You should see the dust around this place. Thanksgiving is in what? Four days? Egads, I say.

But that’s as it should be. Networking and maintaining connections is important. Dusting is important. Making pie for all these people is important. Outlining and researching and editing are all important. You couldn’t neglect those things year-round the way you do during NaNo, which is why NaNo is only once a year. But while things like research and social media and pie can all support your writing, nothing supports it so well as actually, you know, writing. By which I mean, writing actual words in an actual document, which as it turns out, is not the same thing as thinking about writing or talking about writing or intending to write when you have the time. If NaNo is about nothing else, it’s about reconnecting with that one simple, yet sometimes elusive, concept.

Lots of people want to be writers. Less actually want to write. Fewer still are willing to make sacrifices to do it. Congratulations to all the people who made time to write this November, however painfully, and at whatever cost to the cleanliness of your clothing.

I expect to resurface after Thanksgiving with the self-absorbed posts about NaNoWriMo behind me, clearing the way for self-absorbed posts about a variety of other topics. American Horror Story is wrapping up. The Following is coming again soon, and it was such a disappointment the last time around that I may take my revenge by watching it again just so I can say mean things about it. Catching Fire is upon us. And get ready people, because The Desolation of Smaug is! Finally! Coming!

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.

And the answer is none. None more black.

scrivener13

My Scrivener project sure is looking blank, isn’t it? Of course the text part should be blank, what with it being October 31 and all. But the right pane is usually full of notes and things. That’s not so bad; I can live without notes and things. Much more concerning is the second pane from the left. That one might look like it’s full of stuff. But what it’s actually full of is a whole lot of nothing, a black and bottomless pit of you’re-screwed.

That is my Questions That Need Answers document. It’s typically one of the first things I finish when I’m planning a project, if not the very first. Let’s say my story idea is about a ragtag group of nine charged with saving the word by destroying a supernatural weapon before the dark lord can get it. That immediately generates a lot of questions: What does this weapon actually do? How can it be destroyed? What powers, abilities, and resources does the dark lord have? How can these be resisted or neutralized? What vulnerabilities and limitations does the dark lord have? How can these be exploited? And if there’s a giant eagle who can just fly everyone everywhere any time Gandalf asks him to, why can’t he just bring the person holding the weapon over to the fiery mountain and be done with it? And so forth. The point is, these questions need answers.

So what I normally do is, I answer them, and then when I’m writing the first draft, I keep that document in that left pane, handy-like, to refer back to as I write. This year’s document has lots of questions.

Sadly, it has no answers. None. Zero. Not even one.

Perhaps you’re wondering why I’m posting this, then, instead of actually coming up with answers. That’s because it’s pre-NaNo cleaning day, which is an important day for practicing your procrastination techniques.

 

Post title ripped off from Nigel Tufnel in This Is Spinal Tap

In which I quote Monty Python five (three, sir!) three times

What happened is, I spent a month or so developing a story idea for NaNo (although not very well, it must be said), then yesterday I tossed it out in favor of a new one. So the credits have been completed in an entirely different style at great expense and at the last minute. In this case the expense is mainly in form of sleep.

But that’s okay. NaNo is all about making room for the unexpected, right? Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition! And look how well that turned out.

To those doing NaNo, Happy Halloween and happy writing.

To those who hate NaNo, Happy Halloween, and by US Thanksgiving you can be thankful nobody’s posting about NaNo anymore. And there was much rejoicing.

How to win at caffeine

Just in time for NaNo, I tried brewing some Republic Chai the proper way this morning:

  1. Bring 1 cup of milk and 1 cup of water just to a boil, reduce heat
  2. Stir in a gob (sorry so technical) of honey until melted – their chai honey is a good choice, but any honey will do
  3. Add 2 but so heaping that it’s really 3 teaspoons of chai leaves
  4. Simmer 4 minutes
  5. Strain – if you haven’t got a tea strainer, any fine strainer will work, as this tea hasn’t got a ton of tiny particles

That makes 2 cups, which I strained into my 3 cup pot. Then I was sad that I didn’t make 3. If I can’t hit 80-100k with this on my desk… actually, it doesn’t matter, because I still get yummy chai so I WIN.

They ship in two days, so you have plenty of time to get some before Friday even if you can’t find it locally. Seriously. You can thank me later.

What would Illidan say to you?

As of this writing, the countdown timer in my sidebar says I have 7 days and 8 hours until NaNo begins, and, well… this is me.

I suspect this first draft will contain lots of passages about what everyone is eating and characters who don’t grow personalities until some time in January. But there’s not a lot I can do about that in 7 days and 8 hours. I need to choose my battles wisely. Whatever prep time I can carve out around Halloween and all the other goings-on over the next week needs to be dedicated to those things that are absolute critical path items.

Okay then. I already have tea, candy, and Tastykakes. So:

  1. Wine
  2. Plot

Well, that’s not so bad. It’s only two.

How about you, fellow writers and wrimos? Are you ready? What last minute preparations are you making?

Eleven tips for a glorious (yet painful) NaNoWriMo victory

The NaNoWriMo site is doing its annual relaunch today (or so says Twitter). Yay! I’m a planner so I start thinking about NaNo in August, and by the time October rolls around I’m all aflutter and abuzz and awhatnot. For me, relaunch day has always been the official kickoff of NaNo season rather than the actual first of November.

This will be my tenth NaNo. I think my worst year I stopped at 15k. Last year I got to 100k. Of the nine I’ve done, I’ve won six and lost three, which means I know how to do both!

Your mileage may vary, but I can only think from my own head, so these are my top eleven tips for making it to the 50k mark and beyond:

  1. No matter how great you do during week one, you will want to quit during week two. Everyone does. The trick is: don’t.
  2. Take some time in October to make a plan with your own word count targets for each day. The standard 1,667 is all well and good if you can actually write 1,667 words every day. But look at your calendar. You’ve got all the things and all the stuff. Some days it’s just not realistic to think you can write more than 500 words, which means you’ll need another day where you can write 2,834. Get out your calculator, make honest assessments of your time, and figure out exactly where that 50k is going to come from.
  3. Never get more than 5k off your goal if you can help it. Making up five thousand words is doable. Ten is in forget-it-I’m-just-gonna-go-watch-TV territory.
  4. You may have a lovely vision of two free hours with the door locked and the phone off and the tea hot and the scented candles lit. That’s a nice dream. Now let it go. If you’ve only got seven minutes, write for seven minutes.
  5. Whether you’re a plotter or a pantser doesn’t matter. What matters is that you go into November feeling as ready as you need to be. Make a list of things you can do in October to make it easier on yourself, and see how many of them you can knock out. (My list.)
  6. If you’re having trouble getting the words flowing, try changing POV from third to first or vice versa, or from character to character. It’s okay that it’s sloppy. That’s December’s problem.
  7. Things like continuity and logic and whether you called that character Barry in one chapter and Toby in another are also December’s problem. Just keep going.
  8. The week two slump is such a pivotal moment it deserves two spots on the list. The importance of sticking out week two, by any means necessary, cannot be overstated. If you make it through that, you’ll finish.
  9. Think about what, specifically, you want to get out of this. Maybe you want to get into the habit of writing daily; maybe you want a complete first draft; maybe you just want to see what happens when an angry clown falls in love with a kindergarten teacher only to find that his intended is actually a zombie from the planet Corn. Those are goals, so write them down. Then define success according to them. It might mean more than fifty thousand words, or it might mean the word count actually doesn’t matter that much to you, or it might mean you’ll be happy as long as you come away with a deeper understanding of planet Corn. Whatever it is that you want, know it going in, because NaNo is precisely as useful (or as silly, or as fun) as you make it.
  10. Make no mistake, it’s going to be painful. No matter what you do. It’s okay that it sometimes makes you want to just rip out your eyeballs, strap them to your keyboard, and burn it all while playing the angry mob from Monty Python and the Holy Grail in the background. That doesn’t mean it’s not fun!
  11. Yay, you did it! Now what you’ve got here? Is a draft. If you’ve written it in hopes of a wider audience than just yourself, it’s going to need love and care and rewrites. So don’t celebrate so much that you go drunk-dialing agents, ‘k?

Redrum

While trying to choose an idea to start developing with this year’s NaNo it occurred to me that horror, from a planning perspective, is backwards. A lot of people who write non-horrible stuff start with a hero, or a situation involving a character who will become the hero, and go from there. But with horror you really need to start with the monster.

NaNoWriMo: the planning that isn’t plotting

It’s T-minus-45 to NaNoWriMo. The debate between plotters and pantsers will be raging, as it does every year, in forums and blogs across the writerverse. People will be vehemently defending the merits of outlining in advance/discovering their novel as they write it, and in many cases judging the other side, even going so far as to declare how “real writers” do it.

I think a lot of time is wasted on this argument that could otherwise be spent on important pre-NaNo activities like shopping for the best price on Fun Size Baby Ruths. The way I see it, you’re probably going to fall naturally into one category or the other, and letting your brain work how it works is more important than how someone else wants to tell you to do it, or how your favorite writer happens to do it. So just figure out which one you are, and be that.

But plotter or pantser, NaNo requires a lot of preparation that has nothing to do with the actual content of your story. There are two reasons you don’t write at this pace year-round. The first is that it’s only suited to first drafts, and if all you ever wrote were first drafts you wouldn’t be getting very far. The second is: you don’t have time.

Well, you don’t have time in November either. That’s why you need to spend time beforehand setting up as many things as you can to run on auto-pilot. Things like:

Soundtrack
You’re going to need a playlist that can, among other things, energize you when you realize how much your novel sucks and don’t see the point in typing another word of it. How big a job this is depends on how much you think your novel will suck, but it never hurts to be on the safe side and get your music in place ahead of time. I like to have theme songs for all my characters, and a theme song for the story itself, and then some theme songs that are just for snacks.

Speaking of snacks
Stocking up on candy and caffeine is of course the top priority, but it can’t be the only one. Some of us have families depending on us for their survival, and all of us have ourselves depending on us for our survival. Take it from someone who’s been there: if week 2 finds you weeping softly in a junk-food-and-takeout-induced stupor, unable to focus enough even to remember your protagonist’s name, or your dog’s name, or your own name, this is bad for your word count. Somewhere along the line you’ll want to mix in something healthy and home-cooked. Something with vegetables.

I use a nifty app called MealBoard to plan my meals in advance and then generate shopping lists for me on the fly. When November 1 hits, I know what’s for dinner all 30 days, I’ve bought as many ingredients ahead as freshness will allow for, and I can get the rest each week with a list generated in the grocery store parking lot, solving plot problems as I walk up and down the aisles rather than thinking about what I need.

Also, NaNoWriMo is just one of the many experiences that can be improved by a slow cooker. Cooking Light has a great list of slow cooker recipes that I go back to again and again. But if even reading a recipe is too time-consuming, that’s fine too. Just throw in a slab of meat and whatever vegetables are in your fridge, add a cup or two of liquid (wine, beer, cider, and stock are all your friends here), shake in whatever spices strike your fancy, and there you are. You can do all that while your morning tea is steeping, and that’s the last time you have to think about your dinner until you’re actually eating it.

Household maintenance
This one is easy: clean really, really well right before Halloween. Then adjust your definition of “clean” for 30 days. If you’ve got a family member or roommate who objects to the new standard, be sure they know where the vacuum is kept.

Oh and by the way, it’s holiday season
If you’re American, maybe you’ll be hosting Thanksgiving dinner or traveling for the holiday. If you celebrate Christmas, maybe you’ll type your last word only to look up and discover, with much panic, that it’s only 3 weeks away. Plan, book, and buy what you can in October.

And speaking of holidays, Halloween is an important one for NaNo. Have more candy than trick-or-treaters. Apply leftovers to noveling.

So get moving, people. November, much like winter, is coming.