(This is a repost of my Mad Genius Club post this past Wednesday. Real life has been eating me alive. I won’t bore everyone with all the details but it includes imploding tech and a series of health issues with my mother. I am so ready for this year to be done with. In the meantime, I am spending the next few days holed up, trying to catch up on work lost when the hard drive died an ignominious death.)
In case you haven’t figured it out by the last three MGC posts, NaNoWriMo is almost upon us. For the uninitiated, NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing Month. It is the bane and the boon of many writers. We look forward to it with excitement and, at the same time, more than a little fear. Excitement because of the challenge and fear because how in the world are we going to write a complete novel in a month?
True confession time. I’ve done NaNo several times before but only once “officially”. By that I mean that I’ve only signed up on the national site once. Part of the reason is I’m not much of a joiner. Part was because I did NaNo for myself and not anyone else. So why join a national site? Shrug. That’s my warped sense of reasoning there.
Anyway, at our last critique group meeting, I asked the other members who would be taking part. Two instantly shot their hands up in the air. They first took part last year and discovered the goal of writing 50,000 words over the length of a month helped motivate them into putting butt in chair and words on the page. The others looked at me with varying degrees of non-comprehension to fear. So, after explaining exactly what NaNo is, I started trying to address the fear.
And this is where I deviate from the traditional goals of NaNo.
When you tell someone that they have to set a goal of 50,000 words over 30 days, eyes will glaze, complexions will pale and breathing becomes shallow. You can smell the fear in the air followed almost instantly by denial. There is no way they can write that much. They have jobs and families and real life and and and. . . .
So I go straight to the heart of NaNo, at least to me — committing to do something for the month. Not every writer writes novels. They write short stories or flash fiction. The thought of having to write long works turns their stomachs and they dig their heels in. Then there are the writers who agonize over every word. A good day for them is getting a couple hundred words down on paper. Then you have the writers who edit as they go. How in the world are they supposed to write an entire novel — and edit it — in 30 days?
So here’s my approach. You set a goal. Preferably, you accept the full 50k word challenge but, if that blows your mind to such an extent that you shut down, you set something more realistic — and you work toward meeting it. You don’t beat yourself up if you fall short on your daily goal. The final goal at the end of the month is what you have to keep your eye on. Sit butt in chair and write. Plain and simple. Write.
Something else you have to keep in mind is that you don’t have time to edit when you are doing NaNo — at least most of us don’t. So you have to turn off the internal editor and just trust yourself. Editing will come after you finish the challenge. Since 50K words is a very bare bones novel for most of us, we’d be going back anyway to fill in the blanks and flesh out the details.
What I have found NaNo does best is teach writers to trust themselves to write. It might drive plotters crazy because you don’t have time to site down and do a detailed outline — much less fight your characters to keep them sticking to your outline. For pantsers, it is an exercise in letting yourself go but with the knowledge that it needs to make enough sense at the end of the month that you can edit it into a workable manuscript.
Another way I deviate a little from the original goal of NaNo is that I don’t insist on folks starting a brand new piece for the challenge. As a working writer, if I were to put aside a current project for a month just for the sake of NaNo, I’d go crazy. The project I stopped working on would continue to demand attention. Worse, by the time I went back to it, there is the possibility that I will have lost the voice. That is a very bad thing — who wants a shapeshifting kick ass heroine who suddenly sounds like a ditzy airhead?
So here’s my question: how many of you are taking part in NaNo and how are you approaching it? Are you joining one of the local support groups and taking part in their activities or are you sticking to the lone wolf school of writing? Are you starting a new project or working on a current one? Or do you think NaNo is the biggest joke ever played on writers? (I’m sort of leaning toward the latter, at least part of the time, and I have this vision of a couple of guys sitting around laughing at all the writers they’ve pulled this con on.)