Archive for October, 2011


October is when the weather starts to change and the mind starts to think about writing. Truth be told, I should be thinking about writing every month, but October is when it becomes almost a fever or compulsion. Suddenly I must have an embarrassing array of office supplies (because you can never have too many pens or legal pads), when I start thinking “What do I feel like writing this year?”

To the uninitiated, November is National Novel Writing Month when people all over the world try to write 50,000 words in thirty days. The theory is that everyone has a novel inside them waiting to be written, but they always claim they’re too busy or there’s not enough time. Nanowrimo hands you a set deadline and forces to decide if you’ll find the time to write.

This will mark my ninth year of participating in Nanowrimo. Every year I’ve crossed the finish line with 50,000 words. Only one year did I actually have a beginning, middle, and end of a novel, but the rules are not specific on the complete point. The dread “middles” are usually my problem.

I started in 2002 when I had just moved to a new apartment and neighborhood. I signed up on a lark, thinking there was no way in heck I could do this. But I had just returned from a cool trip to Vancouver Island with this idea percolating in my brain and thought “why not?” I also found a local writer’s group to encourage me along the way. Each successive year, with 2009 off for carpeting and a sanity break, I signed up and blazed through, still figuring things out as I went along. Most books were genre or mish-mash of genres, whether time travel romance or 1940s super-heroes or straight-up epic fantasy. Each year was a different challenge, but I had the little voice in the back of my head that said, “You’ve done this before. You can do it again.”

Some years I was more organized than others. I am not by persuasion an outliner. I have yet to figure out how to outline in a way that doesn’t make me feel like I’ve written/told the story. That said, I do need some planning, whether it’s location or characters. I used to write up a series of story questions for myself and outlined briefly the first couple of chapters, so I had a starting point. Some years I get through the first week and realize that initial plan wasn’t working. I promise you, there will be those moments too.

Some years I had different goals than others. Last year I willingly admit what pushed me over the edge was the Scrivener writing software coupon. Sometimes you need little things like that. Sometimes you just need to be surrounded by other people working on their novels to spur you on. But it’s not a competition or it shouldn’t be. I like the community aspect of Nanowrimo, but only in a Three Musketeers “all for one and one for all” type way, not “I am your nemesis and I will destroy you, bwa-haha-hah”. I will cheer you on just the same if you’re 10K ahead of me or if you’re behind me. We’re all in this together.

A writer that appeared at my former writer’s group used the phrase “stealing time” when he was struggling to find time to write around his busy schedule. And the fact was you had to steal time. You had to find those spare moments in the day, wherever it could be found. I scribbled a little here and there on my commute to and from work. I’d squeeze in hours after I came home. Even when I wasn’t writing, I was thinking about that story and what needed to be written. That way when I sat down at the keyboard I knew which scene to work on.

And that I’m sorry to say is the biggest tip for Nano. There are any number of word count tricks you can find in the Nano forums, you can plot and outline to your heart’s content, you can scowl at the pretty Excel spreadsheet, but the fact remains you have to do the time. I hate the blog posts that boil down advice to “a writer writes”, but in this particular environment, it’s very very true.

I won’t kid you. It will be difficult. There are days/nights you just don’t want to open up your writing file. You will lose the plot (if you had one to start with) or you will meet some character you never expected to write. You may stumble in those opening weeks. You may even hit the Great Wall of Despair. But once you hit that 40K mark, dear god, is it a sweet roller-coaster ride down.

Don’t worry. I’ll be there too.