Ten Tips for Getting Through NaNoWriMo without Losing Your Mind (Part II)

1. Technically by the rules of NNWM, you’re not allowed to begin putting pen to paper or fingers to keys until midnight local time on November 1. That does not mean you can’t begin to brainstorm and keep ideas in your head, so by all means, begin to do so. Think first of a genre or a character before even devising a plot, and at least begin to think of a hook for that character. It’s much easier to have one main protagonist whose psyche you can really mine for material than a huge, sweeping ensemble cast when it comes to your NNWM book, primarily due to the short word count and abbreviated time you have to work. Make this character fully vivid in your mind so that by the time you sit down to write your first few sentences, you can simply mine that character’s personality for material, even if you have yet to design the plot.

Ten Tips for Getting Through NaNoWriMo without Losing Your Mind (Part I)

As autumn approaches, lots of writerly types start thinking about whether or not they want to participate in National Novel Writing Month (for more information on what NaNoWriMo is, check out <http://www.nanowrimo.org/&gt;). Many of us decide to try but then flounder and fail. Many of us succeed but feel our efforts are a bit shabby. And many of us don’t sign up at all because of fear, perceived lack of time, or writers’ block.

Over the next few days and weeks, I’ll share some of my successful concepts for making NaNo painless and fun and get you in the habit of writing on a regular basis.

If you’re even remotely considering participating in NaNoWriMo for the first time or the tenth time, you’ve got over three months to adjust your writing processes so that you feel comfortable and confident that you can write an entire book in just thirty days. It’s an achievable goal, even with holidays and work and all the busyness of daily life, trust me. You can do it.

Learn from your editor

If you have other people look over your writing and you ask for editing/copyediting/proofreading work to be done to it, pay attention to the kinds of advice and help they provide and attempt to not simply make those changes but to understand the reasons for those changes as well. For example, if you see a lot of comma additions or deletions, don’t merely update your manuscript but take the time to say, “I am noticing a pattern here. What is the actual syntactical rule I’m not following?” Your editor will thank you the next time you present them with something to look over, as they will save themselves quite a bit of red ink if you have fewer errors with each piece you show them.

Three Phases of Writing

Writing is 85% prewriting, 1% writing, and 14% rewriting.

Prewriting, Writing, and Rewriting

That’s not a lot of writing time, is it? Bear that in mind. The heavy lifting comes at the beginning and the end. I might argue that different styles/genres/types of writing might have the prewriting and rewriting percentages adjusted slightly, but the actual sitting down and churning out paragraphs of prose? That’s actually pretty negligible, which is why some folks are shocked they can actually manage to reach their goal in NaNoWriMo or similar challenges. You just have to get over the prewriting hurdle and then on the other end be willing to actually revise what you’ve written.

I was just listening to an interview on Marc Maron’s podcast where he talked to musician, writer, and performer Carrie Brownstein about how tough it was to write a book. They both joked that your house is never cleaner than when you’re supposed to be writing. And kidding aside, while some activities designed to procrastinate getting over writers’ block can actually be considered part of the prewriting phase, ultimately it really is procrastination. I think if most people realized that sometimes just showing up with fingers on the keyboard and going can be the best way to get over a hurdle.

After all, you’ll be rewriting anyway, right? Let go of that fear and just write.

Ask “What if…”

Quick tip for today: If you’re suffering from writers’ block and you write speculative fiction, take out a sheet of paper and start writing “What if…” at the top of it. If nothing is striking you, pick up a newsmagazine or listen to some news or science reports. Take inspiration from things actually happening. Many times, a strange news event will spark you to want to ask yourself that question. Given other circumstances, what would be an outcome of a particular event? This very questioning is what has led to the alternate history genre, for example.

Pretend you’re recording the audio book for better dialogue writing

The flow of your language usage is something that isn’t always readily apparent as you’re just writing. You go along, mindful of usage and what you’re trying to say, but prose writers aren’t always concerned with the poetry of language or even simple ease of comprehension. If you know what you’re trying to say, of course your reader will too, right?

Not necessarily.

Whenever I’m tasked with reading someone else’s fiction for feedback as an editor or beta reader, I know too often I use the cryptic note “awkward” without much explanation. And yet sometimes it’s just that…it’s awkward, and I can’t always articulate why. One cure I’ve found helpful occasionally is to force someone to read these awkward phrases aloud. This is often just enough to demonstrate that intangible problem with the flow of the language.

I think, too, reading dialogue aloud in particular can be quite helpful, because it can help pinpoint things that don’t sound natural or appropriate to the era your story is set in.

Long story short: if it sounds like the person reading the audiobook version of your story would stumble over it, it should be rephrased.

Making dark subjects funny

I have hints of humor running through a lot of my work, even the genre-based stuff, and I admire and relate to a lot of people who would be called comedians or comedic writers/performers. Every now and again, a comedian gets in trouble for saying something that takes things a little too far, and that’s where I do start to feel torn. Is it okay if it’s meant in a humorous light? Is it okay to be offended? Where does one draw the line with subject matter, political correctness, etc.?

Ultimately, I think with scary/bad situations that you’re trying to make light of in order to defuse them, there needs to be an element to it that makes it still clear that you’re not advocating the original issue. If it’s not obvious to your audience that you’re being ironic/satiric/pointing out why the bad thing is still bad, then I think you’re no longer being funny and instead are just being mean. If you thought otherwise, work on your wording or delivery as applicable.

News and updates

It’s been a busy time lately. On July 1, I hosted another edition of Ghostlight LIT, featuring 8 Dayton, Ohio-based authors and poets in a relaxed coffeehouse setting. Like our April version of this event, this one was well-attended and a big hit. The next outing for this series will be in October and will feature a Halloween/horror theme.

My short story “Found Girl” will be appearing in a women’s fiction holiday anthology from Twenty or Less Press. More information that when I have it!

I’m writing up a storm lately, with many stories and novels in various stages of completion. I’m also very close to the release of my first full-length short story collection, Grinning Cracks. Unlike my chapbooks, this collection will be available in both print and ebook editions, for both Kindle and Nook. Look for more information on that soon!

I’m still working on editing Virginia Bower’s novel The World’s Your Jail, hopefully still coming out sometime in 2012 from Dioscuri Books, but I’ve lately had some very serious computer issues that may delay this slightly. The good news is I’m probably going to get a big system upgrade and learn the importance of making many, many backups in multiple places. The bad news is this may all take a while to get up and running, so bear with me. Let’s all take a moment of silence for my MacBook Pro, which the folks at my local repair shop kindly determined was “vintage.”