This section of Starry Eyed Potboiler, the Mind of a Writer, while normally geared towards the craft of storytelling and writing, will have a November bent to it. That’s right, WriMo’s, we are nearly the end of the very first week of this year’s event! Are you excited? Are you covered with ink stains? Can you smell the scent of graphite in the air as you furiously sling words on the page? Are you grinning from ear-to-ear watching your daily word count soar above the slanted line of the daily minimum?
Or perhaps everything isn’t coming up roses for you this year. Maybe your plot, your characters, your word processor, or your muse aren’t playing nice. Well, whatever your situation this November 7th, this post is for you my hearty wordsmiths. Read, heed and enjoy!
I am going to cover 10 Tips & Tricks that you can sheathe at your side to slay the might 50K Word Dragon by November 30th. Armored with their wisdom, the magic of their mystical power and keen, razor sharp ideas, you shall be victorious! Or at least feel really good about yourself and your novel.
1. Write every goddamn day! – This cannot be stressed enough. I have heard everyone from Chuck Wendig (Terrible Minds Blog) to Kelly Blanchard (Cinemagraphic Writing) state this. Writing is a craft, a skill and most of all, it’s work. You’ve got to do it, day-in and day-out. You’ve got to practice it, to make it a habit. You’ve got to build a habit, to make it fluid. When it becomes fluid, then the real magic shines through. So twist those tales, sling those words, smith your story. Every. Damn. Day.
2. Have Goals – One of the things that I learned in the military is that if you don’t have goals, if you don’t write them down, if you don’t look at them every day… you’re going to fail. Each morning starts the same way for a leader (and a writer is a leader). You look over your goals for the day, the week and the month. You compare them to your schedule for that day. You determine what can be done, what cannot be done and what can be pushed off until tomorrow. It’s like performing triage. So get out a piece of paper, or print out a calendar. Write 1,667 words at the top of each day. That’s one of your goals, to hit that mark. Now, write down everything else you have to do. Get groceries, wash the dog, pick up the kids from school, pay the electric bill and so forth. If it starts looking like those things will interfere with your word count… well, tell the kids it’s time for a character building lesson and that they’ll have to walk home. Ok… maybe not that drastic, but hey, you spend 15-20 minutes sitting in the car waiting for all the other parents to get their curtain climbers, take a pad of paper with you. Knock out a few hundred words. Either way, your working towards those goals.
3. Cut out distractions – This can be a huge one for some of us. You sit down at your desk, the dining room table, a footstool in the living room or a chair on the back porch, and it never fails. Little Susie wants some ice cream, Bobby and Tommy are fighting over who gets to sit where for dinner, or your significant other is miffed that you spend more time with your Main Character than them. While we can’t just lock these people in a closet until we’ve made our word count (I’m pretty sure that might fall under abuse), we can do things to ensure that they understand that “Right now is not a freaking good time!!!” Ok, maybe do it in a nicer tone of voice. Lock the door. Turn on music. Go somewhere that you won’t be interrupted. No place in the house? Go out to the car in the garage and write there. Can’t get some peace and quiet? Go in the bathroom, turn on the shower and sit on the toilet and write. Either way you do it, find some way to separate yourself from the distractions. Just until you’ve hit that 1,667 word count for the day.
4. Have a plan – Yes, I know. You’re a pantser. It’s ok, I’m not telling you to break out full-on outlines that map out every detail of your plot, story arc and character development from word one to word 50,000… what I am suggesting is that you know where your story is headed. Have an idea, if not the beginning, middle and end, then at least the next scene that you plan to write. It doesn’t have to be “John and Marsh will go into the abandoned cabin for some hanky-panky and end up discovering that the Bog Murderer is none other than old man Wivers!!!” It can simply be, “the next scene I write will be a cut short love scene with some suspense.” If you know where you are going, that tendency to sit and stare at a blank page, or screen won’t get in the way as much as it normally does.
5. Change of venue – Just like anything in life, change is good! If you spend most of your November writing from your desk or the dining room table at your house, open up your Home Region on the NaNoWriMo website and check out if there are any events happening. Go to a coffee shop, treat yourself and write from one of their tables. Go for a walk and find a park bench where you can people watch and write. Changing your scenery can have a profound effect not just on you, your attitude, but also your writing. Sitting at a local deli, eating a sandwich and writing, might give you an idea for a character in your next chapter. Watching the bartender at your local speakeasy wipe down the bar might prompt you to take a different turn in your story. Any way you slice it, changing things up can be a great benefit to reaching 50k.
6. A dirty, underhanded trick – Or two. There are a few of them running around out there. Here is, at least, one of mine. In exposition (i.e. descriptions and such, not dialogue) I don’t use contractions. Anytime I am tempted to write “He wasn’t really staring at her cleavage…” I change it to, “He was not really staring at her cleavage…”. The first sentence is seven words long; the second eight words long. If a sentence is roughly ten words long, then 50,000 words is 5,000 sentences. Cutting out contractions could be a difference in approximately 5,000 words, or 45,000 and winner-winner-chicken-dinner 50K. Ok, one more. Don’t rush. Plain and simple. Your character is going to go into an abandon cabin with her love interest and discover the Bog Murderer is old man Wivers? Splurge. Describe just how run-down this little place is. Have your characters comment on it. Have them bring up the past as they enter. If you know, from thinking about your character’s back story, that they’ve done the dirty in other odd places, have one of them bring it up and then tie it into the current scene. Before long your 2-3 page chapter will have grown to 9-10.
7. Title your chapters – Some people don’t like doing this. They want to do a different approach to their format, and you know that’s just swell. However, you are worried about making that 50K, so adding a 3-5 word title to all 20-24 chapters, suddenly adds in… wait, I got this. Five plus two is seven and twenty-four times seven is… Math is hard. 168 words. It might not be a lot, but hey, it’s 168 words you didn’t have before.
8. Do Not Edit – I’m going to repeat this for those of you in the cheap seats: DO NOT EDIT. Don’t let your inner editor come out. If he needs something to do, hand him a stack of grocery lists, your review submission for Oprah’s Book-of-the-Month Club, your third grader’s history homework, anything, but do not let him look at your novel. Tell him to relax, put his feet up and enjoy a month off. Tell him that come December, or January if you need time off over the holidays to recoup, he’ll get to edit willy-nilly to his heart’s content, but this is November and what do we say to the inner editor in November boys and girls? Not Today.
9. Talk to other writers – This right here, is a tip that can be your bread and butter. Find other writers in your genre, your region, your age range, your career set or even writers from outside any of those groups. Talk to them. Find out how and what they are doing to keep the steam building in their word count train. Offer your own suggestions. Cheer them on. Pick a handful of writers from the NaNoWriMo site, buddy up with them and send them little notes every few days telling them how impressive their word count is. Guess what will happen? They will do the same to you. And when you have that positive reinforcement going, it will drive the momentum of your writing and push you further and further down the track to 50K. You also might just develop some life long friends along the way. Bonus!
10. Do it for a reason – Having a completed first draft isn’t enough? Pick something. Your kids, your spouse, your high school English teacher, do it for them. Make yourself a promise that you are going to keep writing, no matter how hard it gets. You are going to complete this challenge, and you are going to do it in honor, in recognition of, heck your going to do it to set an example for someone else. So that they can see that it can be done. Whatever your reason is for participating in National Novel Writing Month, make it a personal one, one that you can look at and give yourself renewed strength and drive.
So, there they are, all 10 tips & tricks to drive you from word one to fifty-thousand. Know this, stalwart novel knight. I and all of the people of NaNoLandia have faith in you. Yes, the mountains are high, the forest is dark and deep, but to quote a great man, you have promises to keep and miles to go before you sleep. Now get out there, slay that 50K Word Dragon, make us proud! Cheers!