It’s only a few days until NaNoWriMo starts again so I thought I might give you a little bit of encouragement in your attempt to write 50,000 words in 30 days. What most people don’t understand is that writing the 1667 words you’ll need to write every day is not as difficult as it seems. As a matter of fact it’s as easy as writing a blog post every day.
If you’re in the habit of blogging on a regular basis, and some of you are, then you already have the discipline to write at the “blistering pace” needed to reach the goal. Many other authors, all of far more successful than I am (or probably never will be), will tell you that 50,000 words in a single month is standard for a full-time writer who makes his living from the printed word.
For the purposes of this exercise, and to help you understand that it is very much within your ability to “win” NaNoWriMo, we’re going to take the very blog post you’re reading. I’m not sure if I did this last year or not but that really doesn’t matter. What matters is you’re going to get a word count the end this blog post and a time-stamp that will allow you to understand how quickly one can generate the requisite output consistently.
This is not to say that individuals who choose to write a single page, or perhaps two, per day are doing anything wrong. This is their method and it may or may not work for you. If I thought I could make a living by only creating one or two pages of publishable prose per period then this is what I would do. As it turns out, I don’t hold that belief and I feel that the so-called prolific author (who produces a book a year over the course of a career) isn’t going to achieve the same success as a self published author as s/he would in the old system.
Questions of discoverability and price point aside, we’re just focusing on output. Good output, of course, but not necessarily direct-from-my-fingers-to-the-bookstore-perfection. Whatever you end up writing the month of November is going to need to be not only proofread but also edited, preferably by someone who isn’t related to you by blood or marriage. Unless of course that person does those things professionally, then knock yourself out.
For those who win NaNoWriMo, please beware those who may want to “publish your book”. I’m sure many of them are fine, upstanding companies but you need to understand copyright law and the contract they’re offering before you sign anything. A publishing contract is just like an auto loan or mortgage: it’s a binding legal contract and should be treated as such.
Now that my aside about the perils of signing unread documents has concluded, we can continue on with your productivity.
Every once in a while you’re going to get stuck and this is going to greatly impact your productivity for the day. I have had 3000 word hours followed by 900 word hours because I sat there tapping the keyboard trying to figure out where to go next. If that happens, here are some things you might want to try:
Why is the character feeling this way or acting this way?
There comes a time when, just to get through a block or sticking point, you should go into a little bit of back story about why your main character is the way they are. This may include some of that Act Zero stuff I spoke about a while back, or it could be a brief conversation with an adversary or confidant who is trying to talk the character out of the actions they’re planning.
Put them in a car (or any other vehicle) and let them run around with it.
I’m not talking about a ride to Mordor via the scenic route that takes up 14 chapters. I’m talking about a few moments alone for the character, as well as you the author, to either reflect upon what has happened or think about what is going to happen.
Have the character engage in one of their hobbies.
If they don’t have a hobby that you can get from your character sheet, make one up on the fly. Bowling always made John feel better. A little finger painting makes Johnny focus. Jimmy skips stone on the water in a zen-like state contemplating his navel. Something like that.
You may wonder if it’s detrimental to include such rambling paragraphs, but the underlying premise is to take a break from the main story and let your mind wander little bit. None of what you are typing needs to be in the final product, but some of it may spark a connection in your subconscious that will allow you to go forward with the story you intended to tell before you were blocked.
Just like some of the greatest songs in rock ‘n roll were created from music inspired by the lead guitarist’s finger exercises, so too can the writer use a portion of an imagination exercise to refresh her mind and allow her to get back on track with her story. This doesn’t mean that every time you go off on a mental side street that you’ll come back with elf-magic that will amaze your reader, but it does allow you to keep your butt in the chair and your fingers on the keyboard.
It also helps if you have an idea of what you’re going to write before you actually write it. I’m not one of those people who can just sit down and start typing a story with no idea what I’m going to write. That doesn’t mean that most of what I write is not spontaneous, but it means that I have to at least know the subject matter about which I am writing before it begins right.
I don’t know every line of dialogue in Dick and Jane’s witty banter beforehand, but I do know that they’re driving to a Jersey City laundromat to get the safe deposit box key from Sammy the Snake, who’ll only trade the key for the rare whiskey that Dick and Jane spent the last two chapters stealing from a Moroccan antiques dealer in Soho.
Without knowing where they are going or why they’re going there, I tend to get a little flustered. Maybe you’re like me, or maybe you’re not. But part of the beauty of this whole adventure is finding out what kind of storytelling are and where you can find a method to increase your productivity.
And that my friends is what nano is actually about: but in share fingers on keys. That’s how you write almost 1700 words a day. You start with one word and follow up with another and repeat.
For your information what I have written about took me half an hour. Is it perfectly polished prose? Of course not. But I’ll tell you what it IS: just about 1275 words.
So If I can put that many words onto the page in less than the time it takes me to get a pizza delivered, I know the only issue I’ll have is with the ‘sitting down’ part. I can’t help you too much with that.
So for those of you who are in the habit of blogging or even just in the habit of keeping a personal journal, it shouldn’t be too much for you to continue doing what you’ve already been doing and reach that magical number by the end of November.
Best of luck to all of you. Final Word Count for this blog post (after these words): 1300. And that ain’t even my whole day 😛
Be safe and be well.