Last Minute NaNoWrMo Tips

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by Larry Brooks on October 28, 2010

It’s easy to blast NaNoWrMo.  I’ve done it myself.  Not because I think I’m above it.  Rather, because it invites the wrong goal. 

The point of it all is too easily missed.

It implies that the craft of writing a novel is quantitative rather than qualitative.  That simply finishing 50,000 words will take you closer to something.

Question is, closer to what?

The point is that it might allow you to discover something. 

That’s what’s up for grabs, here.  It is the point too easily missed.

The vast majority of NaNoWrMo participants are either new to writing or they’ve been around long enough to get that they need a goal with a fixed deadline.  If they’re new, and they don’t match the 50,000 word quantitative effort with an equal focus on the qualitative criteria, then the effort is wasted.

And that’s a shame.  Today’s post is intended as a last ditch effort to avoid such an outcome.

I’ve been assured that the exercise is a worthwhile one, and I’m now on board: anything that gets you writing is a good thing.

Then again, maybe not. 

Imagine National Learn to Fly month.   You’d have airplanes raining down on us beginning on day one.

Imagine National Take Out Someone’s Appendix Month. 

I know, lives don’t depend on your ability to successfully bang out 50,000 words.  But it begs the question: what does depend on it?

Think long and hard about that one in the few days that remain before you begin writing your NaNoWrMo story.  Your answer to that question will define your potential return on the investment of your November. 

If you can’t answer it, then chances are it’s already wasted time. 

That’s like going to boot camp without ever understanding that it’s all about going to war.  Because simply finishing 50,000 words without learning anything is nothing to brag about. 

The real question is, what have you really accomplished in terms of furthering your craft as a storyteller?

Tip #1: Set a Goal That Isn’t Quantitatively Driven

I used to play baseball in the minor leagues.  Did that for five years.  In all that time I saw only one guy who actually quit the game.  For everyone else, the game quit us.  And yet, in the many years since, 9 out of 10 ex-pro baseball players I run into or hear about claim they left the game to pursue something else.  That it was their choice.

That’s pure bullshit.

NaNoWrMo is like that.  Everybody secretly hopes to write something with a future.  And yet, 9 out of 10 of the folks I talk to about NaNoWrMo claim they do this for other reason.  To simple see if they can finish.

Also pure bullshit.

Make your NaNoWrMo story this year the birth of something bigger than the contest itself.  Make it a learning exercise, a birthing, a project you care enough about to nurture and develop far beyond the month of November.

That’s the Bit Tip here.  Care enough about the story you are writing to approach this properly.  To do it justice.  To prepare it for a life after NaNoWrMo.

There is much you need to know – about the craft of storytelling, and about your story – before you begin writing it.  The extent to which you grasp these fundamentals defines your ability to write something of worth.

You can’t just make up your story as you go. 

By the seat of your pants.  Without an intuitive sensibility about the fundamentals of structure and character and dramatic theory.

That’s lesson one.  If it takes NaNoWrMo to drill that one truth into your head, then the exercise will be worthwhile.  If you think you can reinvent the craft from a zero-base of knowledge, or from your vast experience as a reader/consumer of stories… welcome to hell, where everybody, especially you, is believing their own lies.

You can’t learn storytelling from reading novels any more than you can learn to fly by sitting in First Class.  It’s way harder than it looks.

The most basic fundamental of all: your story needs a hero… a hero with a problem or a challenge… with obstacles… with effort and failure and growth along the way… and with an outcome.

No travelogues, no linear memoirs, no stories without conflict.

And don’t overwrite.  Trying to impress someone with your pretty sentences is like wearing too much perfume on the first date.

Tip #2: Cast Yourself as the Hero in Your Story

Oldest advice in the writing world: write what you know.  Another take on this: write what you feel.

Write a story about something important, versus something you think it clever.

Bring your learning curve and your emotional reflection to the journey upon which you are launching your hero.  Make us feel what you felt when you took a similar path.

Tip #3: Write Short Chapters

A successful story is all about dramatic tension.  Something that builds, layer upon layer, and increases in pace and stakes as you go.

Make each chapter a bullet.  Aim it at a specific narrative/expositional target.  One revelation per chapter.  Each chapter is a single stair, taking the reader higher.  And be sure to toss in at least three landings on this literary staircase.  A place where the stairs head in a new and unexpected direction.

This is called mission-driven storytelling.  Know the mission of each scene you write before you begin it.  Writing a scene that seems to be searching for its own purpose is what will keep your story from working.

Tip #4: Read Everything on This Site About Story Structure

You need a hook in the first 20 pages.  You need to set-up a major revelation (Plot Point One) at about the 20th percentile of your story, a moment that reveals both the antagonist in the story and the stakes for the hero.

The hook and the First Plot Point are very different things.

The key is making the reader feel the weight of what the hero has at stake.  You have about 10,000 words to do it.  Don’t cut it short, and certainly don’t go beyond that point to lower the boom.

The First Plot Point is when your story really begins. 

From there it gets more complicated.  Four distinct parts of the story, each with a different contextual mission.  A mid-point that throws back the curtain of point of view.  Character arc.  Thematic resonance.  A Second Plot Point that is the beginning of the end.  Pinch points.  And a whole bunch of character nuance.

All of which by the way, you absolutely need to know like the back of your writing hand.  At least before your story will work. 

See Tip #9 for more on this one.

Tip #5: At Any Given Moment in the Story, ask Yourself Certain Questions

What is the hero after here?  What is the reader feeling?  What remains to be revealed?  What is at stake?  What is the mission of any given scene?  What is the sub-text of the story (theme)?  What is the sub-plot of the story?  How am I demonstrating character arc?  Am I on pace for optimal structuring?

It’s all right here.  Stay up tonight and dig into these archives.  They can empower your November far beyond your highest expectations.

Especially if you don’t even know what you don’t know.  Again, see Tip #9.  That’s the point: allow NaNoWrMo to take you to a higher level as a storytelling.

Tip #6: Give Your Hero A Life Before You Crack It Wide Open

During those first 10,000 words you have a job to do: make us understand and empathize with the hero.  To know what the hero needs and wants, which becomes the very thing that you will put in jeopardy at Plot Point One.

We don’t have to like your hero – indeed, the beginning of character arc is often composed of that which needs work – but we do need to empathize with her or him.  To feel the journey as if it were our own.

Show us a hero of depth and purpose.  Or not.  But make us feel it either way.

Why?  So when you put your hero in the way of opposition, we root for them.  That’s the key to everything.  You need to make us feel – relate to – the hero’s journey.

Tip #7: Write the Story In Context To How It All Ends

In a successful story there’s a little thing called foreshadowing in play.  And it can’t happen until the author knows precisely what’s down the road. 

Especially at the end of the road.

An early draft – especially a first draft – is often a search for the story.  But it doesn’t have to be.  You can actually plan the story ahead of time – that isn’t against the NaNoWrMo rules, by the way – and write a draft that is an execution of a story rather than a rambling, random search for it.

This alone can make the difference in your outcome.  The more you know about your story before you write it, the better your draft will be. 

Tip #8: Pay Attention to How This Process Makes You Feel

Writer’s block is one of two things: the writer has fallen out of love with the story (they can’t figure out how to make it compelling), or they have written themselves into a corner and don’t have the requisite fundamental awareness of dramatic theory and structure to get out alive. 

The latter is the result of using the draft to search for the story.  Which is precisely what happens if the goal is to simply finish 50,000 words.

If you feel lost or confused, it’s because you aren’t allowing the paradigm of story structure to lead you to what needs to happen next, in context to what you’ve already put into play.

The solution is sticking to the basics: four parts to the story, four different contexts, all separated by specific story milestones with a narrative purpose.

Just like a pilot or a surgeon.  There are certain things you need to do at certain times.  And you can learn them before you write a word.

You may not understand how a wing makes flight possible, but there isn’t a pilot on the planet who doesn’t understand that you need that wing to get off the ground.

So it is with the basic principles of storytelling.

Tip #9:  Identify What You Don’t Know

NaNoWiMo is a time of learning.  Of discovery.  Certainly, there are more participants who will discover the basic tenets of craft – through omission if nothing else, and possibly upon autopsy of the story come December 1st — than there are those who will create a publishable story.

That said, both are possible. 

Pay attention to the pain.  It is asking you to do this right.  To learn.  To discover what will make your story sizzle.

Tip #10:  Don’t Finish.  Make This the Start of Something.

Beginning NaNoWrMo without the ambition to create something of value, to simply experience the act of writing 50,000 unstructured words, is like getting married without the intention of making the relationship work.

Certainly we begin our primary relationships without knowing everything.  The discovery of the unknown can be part of the bliss, because you can apply that learning toward making the future even richer.

And yet, there are always certain principles in play that make the relationship viable and help it grow stronger.  Violate them and you end up in divorce court.  Or simply miserable.  The learning curve of a relationship isn’t as much about discovering your partner as it is about discovering the basic physics of living and loving together.

About learning how to love.  And love has expectations and rules.

You get to choose the outcome, by virtue of how you honor those physics.

So it is with writing a successful story.

You are giving birth to something here.  Allow yourself to fall in love with it.  To imbue it with a solid foundation based on what has been proven to work. 

Not something you make up or fake as you proceed.

I wish you a successful NoNoWrMo journey.  Storyfix is here for you when you get stuck. 

Or, if you want to discover the love.

Allow me to suggest my ebook on story architecture: Story Structure – Demystifed.  It will completely change your NaNoWrMo experience, and just possibly transform your story into something with a future.

{ 26 comments }

Everett October 29, 2010 at 12:26 am

I’m gearing up for NaNoWriMo, too, along with half of the country, it seems. Thanks for this list; I also wrote up my to-do list for getting started well: http://bit.ly/cfk844 Good luck to you in the contest!

Anne Lyken-Garner October 29, 2010 at 12:48 am

Amen! I’ve never been tempted to join this comp, even though writers all around me talk about it.
I don’t know, there’s something about being pressured to write that doesn’t appeal to the writer in me. I already write every day.
You have some really great points here. I hope that everyone who’s joining NaNoWriMo can read it.

Lou Belcher October 29, 2010 at 3:21 am

Thanks for the great post. This is my 4th year of NaNoWriMo. It has been of great value to me. One of the best benefits is just getting into a wonderful groove of concentrated writing each day… no excuses.

Have a great month.

Mike October 29, 2010 at 5:26 am

Larry,

This is my first NaNoWriMo, and your tips have helped move it to something with real purpose, thanks! I’ve been digesting your tips and story structure series in bite-size chunks over the last few weeks, and now feel ready to at least make a first attempt at real writing. Now that I understand how to build the underlying structure, I’ll be able to really tell if I have the ability to finish the building.

Tony McFadden October 29, 2010 at 5:47 am

Another good post Larry. Thanks

Edward Conway October 29, 2010 at 6:24 am

The problem here is simple: Storyfix has great ideas on improving what you write, and NaNoWriMo is about writing without worrying about the current state.

We have editor in Storyfix, and creator in NaNoWriMo: both are necessary for great writing.

That said, you are missing the point: NaNoWriMo is about setting aside the rules, the editing, and all the barriers to getting thoughts onto the page and writing. There are many people who will never become great writers because they never get around to diving in-this is what NaNoWriMo addresses.

There are also many people who won’t become great writer’s because they never learn about what makes writing great. This is what StoryFix is for.

They have different purposes. We need the wild abandon of NaNoWriMo and the structured polishing of Storyfix, just as the Greeks needed and honored both Apollo and Dionysus.

Please stop bashing NaNoWriMo. If you don’t like it, fine. Move on to what you do best and let the rest of us enjoy what we enjoy.

-Edward Conway

Gill Hill October 29, 2010 at 6:58 am

I am doing my second nano this year and hoping to succeed. I did ‘win’ last year, and got to 50,000 words. But I had no idea where they were going, and a year later I still haven’t finished that story.
In the time since that nano I have been writing shorter stories and reading this blog A LOT. Deconstructing movies (just did Shutter Island) and learning so much from this site about structure. So this year I am looking forward to nano with a new goal – to write a story with a plot. I have spent the last 3 weeks planning, and figuring out my plot points, mid points, pinch points. Nano will help me drive through this, get the impetus to get the writing done. But storyfix will, I think , allow me to actually have some semblance of a novel when I am finished. Thanks!

Bruce H. Johnson October 29, 2010 at 7:00 am

Only Naturists, here, please — no pants.

NaNoWriMo is probably great _if_ you’ve got something behind it. You’ve got to have a minimum level of the Six Core Competencies just to form your story. Otherwise, you — the pantser — is just running around blindly in a forest. You keep running into trees, following blind game trails, getting ambushed by rabid birds and every other “adventure” you can think of involving wilderness and wildlife.

The “wild abandon” of NaNoWriMo can either exercise your fingers and your frustration level or enable you to discipline yourself into something worthwhile.

Get yourself set up with at least some semblance of a structure, some characterization, some decision on POV, some genre and other basics. Naturists only — no pantsing.

Now you can sit and let your creativity fly with a purpose. Now you can let “it” run full blast because you have an excellent (hopefully) idea of where you’re going and how you’re going to get there.

Sit down and force out the pantsing and you have a miniscule chance of ending up with something worthwhile. More than likely, you’ll end up like the little kids at the end of a picnic — totally worn out by doing nothing all day.

Patti Stafford October 29, 2010 at 7:36 am

Great post Larry. I enjoyed #10. I may participate in NaNo this year, at least that’s the plan. But I don’t intend to have my novel finished in 30 days. As slow as the planning is going, I may not have it written in 90 days. LOL.

I would like to say something to those who are “upset” with Larry’s feelings about NaNo.

I don’t agree with every single thing Larry has to say, but I respect his opinion. When it comes to structure, he knows his stuff–hands down! When it comes to writing a publishable novel, he apparently knows his stuff there too. He’s published. Are you?

Larry’s site states—up in the top right (in case you missed it) that this site is not about motivational bullshit. He tells it like it is. He’s opinionated and while I may not agree with all of his opinions, I do respect them. This IS his website and I happen to like opinionated people.

If it upsets anyone that Larry is not on the cheering side of NaNoWriMo, then maybe you should skip his posts that relate to NaNo and just read the others.

My opinion? Not that anyone asked, but hey, I’m opinionated too. I kind of sit the fence about NaNo. On one hand it’s great for getting people to sit down and write and make an attempt at churning out 50k words. But on the other hand it’s sad that people will think they’ll end up with a complete novel at the end of it. It is possible, but it will take months of rewrites to have a polished product.

I know one writer (a friend) who plans for at least a month in advance. Her outlines and summary are so detailed that she almost has a complete novel before she even begins writing the actual story. Will she have a work worthy of publishing? I do believe she will. Yes it will need edits and rewrites, but not to the extent that most people will have to edit theirs after NaNo.

(Note to Larry: She is a pantster turned outlining fiend. LOL)

And, if you’ve followed Larry for any length of time (a year) you’ll notice that he has softened a bit towards NaNo. He’s perfectly aware that people do need to write daily. I believe he’s most upset because too many people go into it with the false hope of having a publishable manuscript at the end. Which is why if I participate, I don’t intend to “win.”

Just my two cents.

Patrick Sullivan October 29, 2010 at 7:51 am

I’ve been ready for this month to get here for a while. The story’s been in my noggin’ growing for 4 months. I have a complete scene list across 2 major and 2 more than minor plotlines. I reread some Story Structure Demystified to make sure I wasn’t forgetting anything.

Now I just need midnight to hit so I can start pounding out 2-3k words/day. I want at least most of a rough draft by the end of November so I can spend the last half of December editing (I am a big believer in the idea of you have to put some time between you and the work before you start editing) then get it out to a few alpha readers and see where I’m standing.

NaNo’s motivation is amazingly powerful, and it’s the reason I do some writing the rest of the year, it helped remind me why I’d always wanted to write before I gave up on the idea originally.

Mark Dykeman October 29, 2010 at 8:56 am

Hi Larry, long time lurker, first time (I think?) commentator.

I want to focus on one point you brought out:

“Make your NaNoWrMo story this year the birth of something bigger than the contest itself. Make it a learning exercise, a birthing, a project you care enough about to nurture and develop far beyond the month of November.”

I’m going to go out on what may seem like a tangent here for a moment, but I think it’s related.

I fully support the idea of NaNoWriMo. I dabbled a bit a couple of times, but I crashed and burned in pretty much the way that you’ve described above. I didn’t make it past day 2 either time. This was a valuable learning experience in its own right.

This week I was thinking that it would be cool to have a non-fiction version NaNoWriMo, where writers weren’t forced into thinking in the format and restrictions of a novel. I realize that it’s a different beast, but I think it’s a worthwhile exercise. So, a few of us are going to try GloManWriMo starting in November. The overall goals are different, but we’re borrowing heavily from NaNoWriMo.

To tie it back together, GloManWriMo, I think, is trying to address the main concern that you address in your post: that it should be a learning experience, not just a marathon or endurance test. In our case, writing a manifesto will help a person take some ideas and flesh them out in more detail. That process will definitely prove to be a learning experience if we avoid the temptation to copy and paste the word “I” 333 times, 30 days in a row.

You do bring up an interesting point, though: maybe NaNoWriMo could be positioned as a smaller enterprise, like writing a novella or a series of related short stories, where it’s less of a month long marathons and more of a series of short, controlled sprints. I think that your advice on short chapters (Dan Brown suddenly popped into my head for a moment) is a good way to help making NaNoWriMo a bit more structured. Instead of having one big jumbled mess at the end, you might have some smaller works that would be in better shape. Maybe that’s a valid training exercise…

It’s good to see a different approach for NaNoWriMo for those who want to approach it with some strategy.

Larry October 29, 2010 at 8:59 am

Point, counterpoint. Ain’t it grand?

To you frustrated folks who didn’t get my point… okay, I get it. I SAID that. You like the experience. The motivation. The commradary. The challenge. Your goal is as much about this stuff as it is to finish. That’s good.

It’s like entering a marathon, right? I completely get that. To see if you “can.”

But… a couple of things to think about.

You may say it’s all about the experience, but believe me, most writers intend this manuscript to turn into something worthwhile. Which is good. So why not prepare for it properly? That’s all I’m saying. Geez, would I have stayed up late writing to you about these 10 days to make the experience better if I didn’t support your effort? Read it again — this is about how to make your NaNoWrMo better, more productive.

Not everybody who enters a marathon has illusions of trying out for the Olympics. But practically everybody doing NaNoWrMo seeks to publish, and it might as well be THAT book. So do it right. That’s all I’m saying. Prepare.

Even without an Olympic goal, you wouldn’t enter a marathon without preparing, would you?

Few things in life work with “wild abandon” and no rules. Orgies, for example. Fingerpainting. Gluttony. Getting lost in the forest. It’s a short list.

This is art. But more than that, this is craft. For most, this is a dream they’re pursuing. So any “write with no rules” approach is… broken. Invalid. A wasted opporunity.

nancy October 29, 2010 at 9:12 am

Larry,
Again, I agree with everything you say here. Let me offer two other things I’ve learned post-NaNo.
1) Don’t include too much back story and if you do, weave it in. I just reread Stephen King’s On Writing, where he says, everyone has a back story, and most of it is boring.

2) My writing coach said that first-time writers should submit manuscripts of 100,000 words (no more, no less).
That means that your Nano story will need to be expanded, but not tripled, like mine was.

Shirls October 29, 2010 at 9:48 am

Larry, that is a fabulous post. I’m going to print it out and read it frequently. You remind me of one passionate professor we had, coaching us just before the finals.
No, I won’t be participating in Nanowrimo. Been there, done that and ended up hating my story and hating myself. Three times.
But this post – it’s going to be with me like a security blanket. I’m sure it’ll be of great comfort to those who leap into those swirling waters, too.

PatriciaW October 29, 2010 at 10:32 am

Having done NaNo “unsuccessfully” before, I totally agree. This year, I’m focused on working on my already in progress story. But I’m going to be mindful of the tips you provide here because they’re great tips, no matter where one is in the process. I need to ask some questions and pay a bit more attention to how it all ends as I’m writing through this middle portion.

Shane Arthur October 29, 2010 at 10:41 am

Larry, you had me at orgies!

Seriously though, I agree. I follow the #amwriting has tag on search(dot)twitter(dot)com and I see so many people talking about reaching their word limits as if that’s the only measure of success.

I wish your publisher choose November for your 6 Core’s publication date.

Kelly October 29, 2010 at 11:20 am

Hello, Larry. Kelly here.
Whew! Just read all of the above.
Would recommend writers consider “cramming” these publications this weekend: (reading before 11-1-10) “Story Stucture Demystified” and “The Three Dimensions of Character.” December 1st, read “Get Your Bad Self Published.”
‘nuf said.
Hope your move went well, and you stayed dry.
Happy writing!
Cheers, Kelly

Curtis October 29, 2010 at 12:33 pm

“If you think you can reinvent the craft from a zero-base of knowledge, or from your vast experience as a reader/consumer of stories… welcome to hell, where everybody, especially you, is believing their own lies. ”

Most folks love learning the hard way.

claudine October 29, 2010 at 4:03 pm

Really thought-provoking read.
I think your tips are great, but they are better addressed during pre-planning for Nano (definitely allowed) and post-Nano revisions.
I’m not a published writer, but before Nano, I wasn’t any kind of writer.
I’ve done it three times, and hope to publish my second effort.
For me, Nano is not for doing it right, but, as others have said, for ignoring the inner editor, giving yourself permission to write garbage, lots of it, and watching the magic pop out here and there.

Claudine

Ruth October 30, 2010 at 3:31 pm

Another great post! I like the staircase analogy… makes it very visual.

Tony McFadden October 30, 2010 at 11:27 pm

Heads and Tails. Yin and Yang. Waves and Particles.

Both sides of the same coin here folks. The 30 Days of NaNo are indeed meant to force writers to leave the editing behind and to go forth with the greatest of gusto. Stopping to edit while writing takes the shine off, and doesn’t help create the habit of writing that NaNo is trying to help you create.

But to go balls to the wall with absolutely NO plan is like running in the woods with a blindfold on. It can really hurt.

I’m going to start writing in 6 hours and 40 minutes and I will not be editing while I go, but I’ve got a structure in place, I’ve got my plot points defined and for every day I know what I’ll need to write.

But I don’t know exactly WHAT I’ll write until I write.

The structure – architecture – espoused on this site is, as @claudine said, for the prep. Too late now if you’re reading this for the first time. In six hours and 35 minutes (time’s a-ticking!) I’ll be writing without editing, re-booting the discipline I need to write and enjoying the hell out of the camaraderie.

Best of luck all.

Karen McGrath October 31, 2010 at 6:24 am

NaNoWriMo operates under the supposition that editing can hold you back from writing a full length novel. For those with perfectionism issues, it works wonderfully. For those with snobbery issues…well…have fun in that lonesome world!

I did it for the first time last year without an idea, a plot, any structure, characters and outline. Oh, well, I had an outline but I didn’t use it. Yes, you heard me correctly. NOTHING to start. I got one short scene from a dream two nights before we were ready to go. A woman waking up to a fire in her bedroom. That was it. No title, no tagline, no synopsis and no excerpt. I wrote the tagline for NaNo fooling around and then wrote an excerpt that had nothing to do with the story of the fire, again, fooling around just to put it on my author page.

That little novel clocked in at 52K by Nov. 30th, received another 16K in the following months and was accepted for publication last May. It will release in ebook and print in April 2011.

NaNoWriMo strips the constraints of writing classes, books, seminars and the like off you and sends you into the realm of experience.

You can spend a lifetime learning about war. You’ll know nothing about it until you’re on the battlefield.

NaNoWriMo 2010, here I come!

Mike Rickard October 31, 2010 at 3:15 pm

I’m not participating this year as I’m still writing the story I started in last year’s NaNoWriMo and although I’ve still yet to reach the 50,000 words, (not far short now,) the story has grown into something larger, with no wordcount as the limit, but rather the story will be finished when it’s told.
I bought your ebook Story Structure Demystified recently and found it extremely helpful in giving context to the parts of the story & helping me in knowing what I needed to do next. Happily, most of what I’d written already conformed to the structure of act 1, so now it’s onward to act 2 – Thanks for the help!

jennifer blanchard November 1, 2010 at 8:38 am

Great post! This is the first time I’m going into NaNoWriMo with a plan–and a good one at that. It’s also the first time I feel like I will actually stick with it and write my 50,000 words. Writing with a plan rocks!

Karen McGrath November 1, 2010 at 10:00 am

Larry, I’ve been all over this website and I just want to say thank you for all the info on structure. It’s priceless!

Karen :)

Marie Raven November 1, 2010 at 11:55 am

This is a very good list of considerations for people who want to do more than just slapping 50k words on a page which, while it is a possible place to begin the long process of producing a novel, it is far from a finishing step for the same. I used to be VERY skeptical of NaNoWriMo. I’m now a sixth year participant, a hopeful third year 50k+, and the first year ML of my region. I’ve been writing a long time, and I never sit down at the pen or keyboard without the intention of quality. I also don’t ever sit down at the pen or keyboard with any surprise that what I write might be really, really lame today.

A generally unstructured event like this has two major camps, I think. First, people who are proving to themselves that they can write something. Some will come out of it realizing they don’t like it as much as they thought they would, and move along. Others will be empowered continue down the path of learning. Some of those people will never ‘get it’. I know those people, some who participate in NaNoWriMo, and others who don’t. Think about learning anything, though; or better, think about teaching someone to do something. If I come to you and say, I would like to learn how to play piano, you do not immediately lead me onto the stage in front of a full house and say ‘Toccata and Fugue. Go.’ You show me where the notes are, set me up with some scales, and ask me to play them 50 times. Or maybe 50k. We probably don’t even start talking about anything that sounds like music right away. Now, if I already know how to play piano, and tell you I want to get on that stage in front of all those people, at that time we can start talking about Toccata and Fugue, and it’s a little different story.

The other camp is being confronted in a change of process. I can’t write all the time like I do during NaNoWriMo. That would be ridiculous. For one thing, I’d never revise or edit or re-write, and that’s… not a good thing. On the other hand, if you are a runner, and live every moment of your moving life as though you are running a sprint, your heart will explode. Nobody wants that, now do they? Being forced out of my usual process helps me compartmentalize to put some things on the back burner and focus on others. The franticness of November makes me confront things in the actual draft-one getting-words-on-paper stage that I’m bad at, and that – if let to my own, unsupervised devices – will avoid.

Slightly less related to the direct process of writing, participating socially has expanded my writerly support group a great deal, as well, which goes a long way toward keeping me honest throughout the rest of the year, too. I’ll settle for being in a state of getting stuff on paper. When I have a lot of friends who are doing that, I spend a lot less time procrastinating.

I’m not trying to be defensive by any means. Very, very few NaNoWriMo endeavors will produce something that is even the twinkle in the eye of a later published novel, and the assumption that just being able to put x-thousand words on paper means you can be the next [insert successful novelist here] is ludicrous. However, I can 100% guarantee that if you -can’t- put x-thousand words on paper, you won’t be. Some folks have an instinct for how to do this without needing to be told, helped, or brow-beaten by people like me, and that’s cool too.

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