Saturday, December 1, 2012

NaNoWriMo 2012

So - at some point in early September I decided that this would be the year I would win NaNoWriMo. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month, and it is a personal challenge whereupon you promise to write 50,000 words toward a story in the 30 days that comprise the month. The idea is to turn off your inner editor and accept that you will inevitably write a great deal of, well, bad writing. But that's okay, because NaNoWriMo isn't about quality, it's about quantity. It's about getting the ball rolling and you telling yourself, "Yes, as a matter of fact. Yes. I can write a novel."

I tried NaNoWriMo for the first time in 2010, but failed miserably. Then in 2011 I'd thought of participating, but couldn't think of a story I wanted to write for it. For this year, I decided I'd come up with something and stick to my guns. And 2012 was the year I made it.

Here are some things I learned/tips for next year:

  • My brain doesn't like focusing on one thing at a time, which is no surprise, really, since I'm usually reading two or three books simultaneously. While working on Q., I came up with two ideas for new stories and material for a few existing others. 
  • Since churning out 1,667 words a day for one story meant it was all I could really give my attention to, I got tired of Q. fairly quickly. Like, two weeks in, quickly. Thinking about writing every day became exhausting fast. The only solution I could come up with was being ahead by a day or more for most of the month. This is specially helpful if you're prone to headaches or the like, as I am. You can force yourself to stay up for another half hour when your schedule gets busy, but a migraine can get you out of commission for a whole day, regardless of how much you may want to write.
  • Next year, I'll make sure to cross-check my word count. I found out about two thirds into the month that OpenOffice has this bug that makes it so that it counts the ending quotation marks in each line of dialogue as a word. I followed the instructions I found in a forum and changed them, which set me back about 600 or so words. Worse still, when I thought I was ready to validate my novel, the NaNo engine told me I was actually 832 words short. Luckily, I finished a few days early, so this wasn't so much of an issue, but can you imagine trying to validate your novel five minutes before midnight on November 30 and having this happen? Yikes. You can use Google Docs or Yarny to double check. 
  • I write better when I don't have to. For example, let's say my goal today is 33,333 words. At 33,200, I am agonizing. My characters have nothing to say, and I've already described the metallic sheen of the walls of the room which encloses them as thoroughly as I know how. There is no more backstory or internal monologuing. And then I reach 33, 334. Suddenly I have this sudden bout of energy and inspiration, enough to write and write until I go 500 words over my initial goal. If this happens to you, use it to keep writing and get ahead on your word count. Your future self will thank you.  

  • Outline, outline, outline. I used to write by just writing, letting the words fall on the page and figure out where each had to go on their own. But lately, and especially with this story, I've begun to outline. It makes it easier to write because I am working toward a goal. This article suggested NaNos treat October as NaStoPlaMo, or National Story Planning Month. I did. I planned and planned and had a long list of characters all ready for November. But then I also chucked the outline. Not completely, oh no, I have a few good ideas in there that I'd eventually like to get to. They're just going to take longer, now. My character was supposed to be in Stavanger and then directly make her way out of Norway and down to Venice. She's on her way there now, but she's in a submarine. And a whole lot of things I hadn't planned on happening have happened. So, I  built a safety net, but I ignored it when I could. And it was fun to ignore Past Jessica for a minute and just write.
  • Speaking of Past Jessica, I did my very hardest to make sure I wouldn't hate her at any point this month. "Write a few hundred more words," I'd tell myself. "Future Jessica will appreciate it." And appreciate it I did. Thank you, Past Jessica, for being so kind. (I promise I haven't gone time-traveler schizophrenic on you. {Me, too}). 
  • I write out of order. A lot. And I'm such a purist that no, whatever I wrote for the ending scenes didn't go into the NaNo wordcount. Why did I write them anyway? Because it's kind of annoying when your character is tugging at your sleeve all, "You know, what I say in this scene here is heartbreaking and clever. You should write it down so you don't forget it." What a self-centered little jerk. She thinks the story's all about her. 
  • Reading is important. I read whenever I could, whatever I could. It helped keep me in a literary mindset and made it easier to write. Surrounding yourself with words makes it so that you're constantly thinking of how to frame scenes and express ideas using those same tools. Being exposed to stories in general (movies, TV shows, video games, etc.) is good help, but I found that reading was especially nourishing.
  • I made an iTunes playlist. This is where my love for movie & video game soundtracks comes in handy. Those types of songs are terrific at expressing particular moods and atmospheres, which helps when you're trying to do something similar in a different setting.

  • Eat lots of chocolate. It's a necessity. 
  • I made a Pinterest board. I'm a visual person, and all the images I kept in that board were immensely helpful. What did I add? Cities and other places Q visited/will visit, articles of clothing she or other people are wearing, knickknacks, and other images that just look like they belong in her universe. The more you can convince yourself that the world you're creating is real, the easier it will be to write about it. Images, I find, are good for recreating the atmosphere of a place. This and the iTunes playlist I created were constantly on the background whenever I sat down to write.  
  • Do research before you start writing (this is what NaStoPlaMo is for) but don't kill yourself over it. You might not even use half the stuff you come up with because it just doesn't make it into the story. And try not to do too much research in the middle of it. Make it up as you go and fix it later. My character spent most of NaNoWriMo in a submarine, and I have no idea if anything of what I described or if the terms I used are accurate. I'll just ride a submarine later and fix it all. You know, standard writing procedure. Same with historical background and universe nuances. I came up with a lot of systems for the way the government Q lives under keeps its citizens in check, but I haven't sat down to perfect it just yet. As it stands, my story is full of holes and contradictions, just the way I like it. Anyway, that's what NaEdYoShiMo is for. 
  • I made a cover to go with Q. It's fun and it's as if the book is already done. I mean, it's practically published. Hurry up and go to your local bookstore, or they may run out before you get your very own copy. 

  • Most importantly, forge on and don't look back. That sentence doesn't make sense, the voice in my head says. And you keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means. "Shut up," you're supposed to reply. And keep writing. Always keep writing. Because, yes, as a matter of fact. Yes. You can write a novel.


Other conversations that took place in my head during NaNoWriMo:

Me: Okay, Q, let's tell these people about where you're going next. 
Q: South. Because I hate being cold. And you know what Foley did? He threw me into the water of the fjord yesterday. It was FREEZING. And then, to get him back, I--
Me: ...

Me: Okay, I need two people here.
Two New Characters: We'll do it.
Me: Great. But don't get any ideas, I just need you to carry her to the infirmary. This is your only scene.
TNC: No, it's not.
Me: Of course it is. After this, you're done. You can keep scrubbing floors in the kitchen or whatever it is you do all day.
TNC: Nope. We're part of a subplot.
Me: A subplot?
TNC: Yep. We'll tell you about it later. 

Me: Q, where's your bag?
Q: Merp?
Me: Your bag. You know the one. Your grand-mรจre gave it to you years ago and you carry it everywhere and there are INCRIMINATING OBJECTS IN IT. Where is it?
Q: Oh. Oops. 
Me: ...

Did any of you do NaNoWriMo? Did you win? What did you think?

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