So, it's National Novel Writing Month again, or it will be on Sunday: to its friends, November is NaNoWriMo. The idea is that you have a month - and nearly the shortest month of the year - in which to write a complete novel. True, their target is 50,000 words, which is too short for most industry definitions of a novel for adults: the real point is that it you're planning to create a complete story - a beginning, a middle and an end. Not a notebook full of bits of scenes, not an endless tweak of the first 15,000 words, not a collection of abandoned starts: a story. There's a website, a forum, an online word-counter, downloadable certificates of achievement, and so on... and all to help you hit 11.59 on the night of 30th November, with a story finished.
I've blogged about the thinking behind NaNoWriMo before so, if you're intending to dive in on Sunday, here are some suggestions which might help to make the most of the month.
- Do lots of thinking beforehand - so you know where you're going to start, or what the big scenes will be, or where you want to end or ... anything which means that, come November 1st, you know what moment of character-in-action you are trying to get down on paper.
- Do whatever kind of imagining-on-paper (which is what other people call planning) will be most useful, and save you having to stop mid-flow. Sketch-maps, timelines, notes of ages, lists of real-life events, collections of images, mind-maps, freewriting, clusters, a planning grid or a layout in Scrivener ... all of these help.
- If you find you're procrastinating, some of this post might help.
- If you find it hard to get going each day, don't start by trying to write the next sentence, but take a tip from this post: sit on your hands (as it were), work out what about the scene-in-prospect does get your creative engines firing, then micro-plan how the scene will be built. After that, writing it is only a matter of joining up those dots with actual prose.
- If you don't do any of those preliminary things, and on 20th November you hit the 30,000 word doldrums then the same imagining-on-paper things can also be used to pick yourself up, dust yourself off and get going again.
- Remember that in NaNoWriMo more (even) than any other writing month, the law of Don't Fiddle applies: decide what you're doing today, do it, and then stop. Then not only will you be adding new words, you won't be making a muddle of the existing ones.
- Remember, on the other hand, that sometimes the best use of NaNoWriMo is to get a story out of your system, learn what the getting of that story onto paper has to teach you, and decide that's enough.
- If you do, on 30th November, feel that this project does have some kind of resonance or potency, then don't send it out: set about writing the "second draft for your reader". NaNoWriMo is only a start. But it can be an amazing start.