Sunday, September 20, 2009

Get the Most from NaNoWriMo -- Never Fight Fair

NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) presents particpants with a challenging goal: complete a 50,000 word draft in 30 days. We want you to make the best use possible of those 30 days and to create the best draft possible. NaNoWriMo organizers admit "you'll write a lot of crap." Here's our second installment in how create a higher quality draft instead of 50k words worth of--well, you know.

Key to creating a higher quality draft is developing an author's mindset (the first step in the Novelist's Boot Camp Improved Writing Process), and a key part of that mindset is the well-known military principle of "divide and conquer ,"or as we teach in our workshops "never fight fair." You and your imagination and creativity against a 50,000-words-in-month-draft-manuscript goal is fighting fair. You'll have to create characters, story line, plot, setting, action, dialog and so on as you go, and write each scene as well.  You'll come to NaNoWriMo with whatever skill you have naturally and whatever training you've developed along the way.  It will be a fair and tough fight.

Even if you break down the 50,000 word goal into daily writing goals (about 1700 words a day) or hourly writing goals (about a typed, double spaced page an hour in an eight hour day), those are still challenging goals. Remember, those are writing goals, not dreaming up characters, setting, story line, action, and so on.

But we don't want to fight fair--we want your imagination and creativity to overpower the tasks or goals. We can't make your imagination and creativity bigger in the time provided, but we can make the tasks smaller.  The first way we'll do so is by dividing the tasks in NaNoWriMo (and the tasks in creating a quality draft) into much smaller chunks.  How small? Small enough that your imagination and creativity will have no problem accomplishing them. Small enough that you'll have lots of creative power left in reserve. Small enough that you'll gloat at how easy accomplishing those goals were, and small enough that you'll grow confident in your ability to easily accomplish the next goal.

So let's begin. In the next few days, write down the following and fill in the blanks.

1. "My book is a genre" (Romance? Romantic suspense? Science Fiction novel? Work of Historical Fiction? Mystery?)
2. "The things I really enjoy when I read my book's genre are: ________________, ____________, ...)"  What is you like about the genre? The description of the time and place, the characters' complex personalities, the forensic detail of police procedurals, what? List these.
3. "in my book's genre readers expect: _________________, ______________, ..." What are readers' expectations of your genre? For example, in romances we expect happy or emotionally satisfying endings, in mysteries we expect the detective and the criminal to have a one-on-one confrontation, in Science Fiction we expect the futuristic worlds and technology to impact every scene.  List these.

What if you get stuck?  Don't re-double your efforts; make the goal smaller!

Can't decide on a genre? Make your goal smaller--eliminate one genre you don't want to write.  Then eliminate one more, then one more, and so on.  Can't list all the things you like about the genre your book will be in?  List one, then put your work away. Come back later to list another, later for one more, and so on.
Take a few days to accomplish these tasks. When you do, you'll have focused your creativity on what you want to write, have in your subconscious mind (and your conscious mind) what needs to go into that book to make it enjoyable and satisfying, set yourself up for success when we create our next building block, and accomplished your first writing goal.


Monday, September 14, 2009

Get the most from NaNoWriMo - I

National Novel Writing Month (November 1st-30th) is a great time to focus your energies to meet the NaNo goal of writing a draft of a 175-page (50,000-word) novel. Over 100,000 aspiring authors did so last year, and thousands more will do so this year too. So NaNoWriMo would seem to be the perfect time to crank out that first draft of your novel.

Except even the NaNo organizers admit “you’ll write a lot of crap." Why? It's not just because as my old friend and author of more than 40 novels Robert W. Walker says "all first drafts are crap." NaNoWriMo organizers urge you to jump in and let the momentum of the month and your free-roaming creativity take you where they will. The result will be dead ends, throwaway pages and chapters, characters who will go nowhere, and on and on. NaNoWriMo is all about the experience of drafting, and some of that experience will be crap.

I'm an avid motorcyclist and it's said that a breakdown by the side of the road is all "part of the experience." Now, I've had that experience and breakdowns by the side of the road are crap. It's a much better experience to keep on riding. It's true that those who experience the crap of a breakdown feel better after they're back on the road, but my uncle D. used to hit himself with a hammer "cause it feels good when it quits hurtin'" (it's an Indiana thing). Plus life is short--would you rather spend it by the side of the road/writing crap or riding the open road/writing a quality draft?

Don't take a wrong turn here--NaNoWriMo is a great time to focus your energies, draw strength from a group, and crank out a draft. If you're an aspiring author, I want you to and urge you to participate in NaNoWriMo--and I want you to get the most out of that 30 days of intense effort and at the end of those 30 days I want you to have a well-progressed quality draft and a sense of accomplishment that very little of that draft is crap. Of course that draft will need revision and in Novelist's Boot Camp (both the book and the workshops) we provide the Triage and 7-Step Real World Revision processes to help you methodically revise and re-write your draft. But for now and in these blogs over the next few weeks leading up to NaNoWriMo, we'll concentrate on how to get more out of NaNoWriMo--more pages, better quality, a greater sense of accomplishment, and less crap.

Begin by understanding that writing a book-length work of fiction is a process. The Novelist's Boot Camp Improved Writing Process says there are seven phases:
  1. Developing an author's mindset
  2. Invention
  3. Development
  4. Drafting
  5. Revision
  6. Editing and Proofreading
  7. Moving forward/reconstituting
The first step is to change your mind and develop and author's mindset. While Novelist's Boot Camp goes into detail, at the heart of this mind change is harnessing your creativity by focusing on each phase, completing it, and then building on your success in the next phase. NaNoWriMo asks you to combine the first four phases in one thirty-day period--which means you'll end up with a lot of crap. To have a better NaNoWriMo, we'd like you to save that 30 days of NaNoWriMo for cranking out a quality draft by progressing through the first three phases in the weeks before.

For today, that means five things:
  1. Change your mind: See writing a novel as a series of steps or phases, not an amorphous blob of mystical effort
  2. Commit to being ready: Sign up for accomplishing the first three steps (Developing an author's mindset, invention, and development) before NaNoWriMo
  3. Prepare your writing space: You'll need whatever you use to write with--computer, pen and paper, typewriter (remember those?) and so on. Put these in a place where you're comfortable and can concentrate.
  4. Firewall your writing time: This has two parts. First, find three 20-minute blocks of time each day. If you can't set aside three, set aside two. If you can't do two, do one. No email, no browsing (except this blog!), nothing but focus on your novel. Every day is best, but if you have to skip a day or two, go ahead--there is life outside of writing fiction. Second, take out your calendar and block out the time between now and NaNoWriMo start (November 1st). 1/4 of that time should be dedicated to developing an author's mindset, 1/4 to invention, and 1/2 to development. Mark up your calendar accordingly.
  5. Go public: Talk to your family about what the next few weeks look like and tell them what they need to do to support you. Work any calendar and commitment issues out now. Tell your colleagues, friends, writing group members, Facebook and MySpace friends, and everyone else you can think of what you've committed to. Get a partner or a small group together--it will make the next few weeks more fun and you'll all make more progress.
NaNoWriMo is a great opportunity to have a great experience (not crap) and make significant progress on your novel, all while enjoying being a part of a national creative endeavor. Will having Novelist's Boot Camp as a ready reference be helpful? We think so, but it's not absolutely necessary.

Next up--kicking your writing goals to the curb.