I wrote earlier about NaNoWriMo. The goal is to write 50,000 words by November’s end. I’m happy to report I currently stand at 53,010 words (160 pages) and counting! Nano is a great way to kick start a brewing novel and I’m so glad I did it. For 8 years the story brewed in my head, but I was so intimidated by the process that instead of typing it, each time I sat at the computer I wound up pulling a Snoopy, and getting stuck at the first three sentences. NaNo helps you remember that first draft is a first draft. The important thing is to get your story out, then you can go back and fix and improve it. Most people’s first drafts are not going to be Booker Prize winners. Not even Booker Prize winners turn in their first draft for printing. Nano also has a cool way of collecting energy from thousands around the world also writing during that month just like you and when your friends do it too like Tracy, Huda, Rozeena, well that just makes the experience that much more meaningful!
Winning NaNoWriMo doesn’t add to your fancy car collection or even put ten bucks in your pocket but you do get the satisfaction of accomplishing what few do, and what you barely believed you could do: become a novelist. Here’s my top 10 writing advice geared towards NaNoWriMo but applies to anyone trying to crank out a novel. My advice is limited to how I’m succeeding in the first draft.
1. Outline. Stephen King never outlines, he writes as he goes. I began with no outline but after some time I found myself bogged down and at that point I began outlining how I wanted the rest of the story to go. Some people outline before November to start straightaway. I outlined as I went along when I needed it.
2. Writing Groups. NaNoWriMo will help you organize a writing group. Groups get together at cool locations, drink coffee and write. Its also great to bounce ideas off a fellow writer when you’re stuck. They also help keep you focused. Maybe later on, once I’m more confident about my work, we might even exchange novels for critique.
3. The daily word count is advisory. Nano says to write 1,600-2,000 words daily. I wrote in chunks. One day I wrote 400 words, the next day 4,000 words. It just depended on the day and the inspiration. Sometimes people give up on Nano because they’re not keeping up with the word count, doing it this way keeps your spirits up.
4. Stifle your editor. Like, seriously, give him a wedgie and stuff him in a locker. Everyone has an inner editor, the meanest person (lets call him Bob) on the planet who sits on your shoulder wearing a checkered corduroy jacket and mismatching tie with a haughty expression, snickering HoHoHo as he puffs on his cigar informing you how much your story stinks and how you should spare your computer the agony and fling it across the rose bed. Pay him NO mind. Just like other mean people in your life, the more you listen, the more they affect you. Don’t let Bob bring you down.
5. Cringe. Write. Cringe. Edit. Once Bob is stifled, you might still feel icky about a paragraph or a chapter. Keep writing through it, even as you shake your head. If its unbearable, I go back after a few days and edit it to a more tolerable version but I try waiting a bit so I can be objective and actually edit and not just delete.
6. Skip around. you don’t have to write it linear. Lord Of The Rings filmed the first scene and the last scene at the same time because it worked for them. When I get stuck and don’t know how to proceed I jump to a little later or earlier in the novel and start writing that part.
7. Read. Read good work during your spare time, it helped me. Read bad work too when you’re down in the dumps so you can remind yourself you don’t have to be Jhumpa Lahiri to see your name in print.
8. Don’t Read Publishing Books. I think that was my biggest problem. They intimidate you and take away your drive at this point in the game. Its hard to publish. Making $ off of what you write might be darn well near impossible. But that should never be the reason to tell a story. It should be because it needs to be told and you want to tell it. At least at the first draft phase I’d stay clear of them. If you must, Stephen King’s “On Writing” is great.
9. Save it. everywhere. I wrote a story in which I poured my heart and soul in about nine years ago. My whole family knew the guy by name and even this past weekend he came up in conversation. He’s fictional but i had written him so he was as real to me as Harry Potter. Well, I saved it only on my home desktop and poof one day the desktop crashed and with it my story. Now, I save it on google docs, memory stick, and occasionally e-mail it to myself. Its better safe than sorry.
10. Don’t Plagiarize. Even in the first draft phase. I’ve seen folks borrow lines from here and there to fill in later. I look at people like Kaavya who let others words get in the way of what may have been a good novel ANYWAY, and I can’t help but think that its best not to risk it even in the earlier phases.