Hey guys, I’m saying up front nothing in this post is my work and I claim none of it (I make that so obvious to satisfy the lawyer in me 🙂 I’m just re-posting the pep talks and tips I liked from Nanos past.
“I don’t particularly like comparing novel writing to climbing a mountain, because it’s been done, but let’s face it: it works. Look at this fairly standard map of plot structure:
I mean, it looks like a freaking mountain.
If you’re anything like me, you reach that “rising action” stage about halfway through your manuscript, lift your head to the heavens to see how much of the book is left, and consider camping out where you are for a while or even rolling back down to the bottom. This may happen to you on November 15 or somewhere thereabouts. I am here to tell you two things:
- Do not be alarmed. This is normal.
- Do not camp out, and do not climb back down.
There is a lot of writing advice floating around the Internet, and there are also a lot of “don’t bother with writing advice, just put your butt in a chair and work!” manifestos. (Which was my motto for the past year and a half, actually.) Some of this advice includes:
- “Getting to know your character” exercises (questionnaires, quizzes, free-writing, etc.)
- “Mapping out your plot” exercises (break down your plot into the plot structure diagram above, map out each scene and make sure each one shifts the story from a positive place to a negative one, or a negative place to a positive one, etc.)
- “Prose and voice” exercises (read your manuscript out loud, never use adverbs, alternate short and long sentences, etc.)
There are also many discussions about whether you are a “pantser” (writing by the seat of your pants) or a “plotter” (mapping out your stories beforehand), someone who writes from beginning to end, or someone who jumps around in time, and so on.
Some of you might know exactly which one of those things you are—you have a process, you know which pieces of advice work for you, you have a routine—and some of you may feel hopelessly lost. My advice to both camps of people, from my (still admittedly few) climbs up manuscript mountain, is the same:
Let go of your process.
Let go of stressing out about your process.
Let go of finding your process.
Let go of all of it.
When you reach the place on Manuscript Mountain that makes you consider admitting defeat, and the tools you have used to get as far as you have are no longer working for you, consider using someone else’s tools. Pantser? Try plotting. Plotter? Try literally burning your outline (safely! In a trash can or something!). Perfectionist? Try writing the worst scene you can possibly muster. Strict beginning-to-end-er? Write whatever scene is burning a hole in your brain and fill in the gap later. Whatever you do, don’t hold so tightly to whatever writer identity you have formed for yourself that you can’t innovate, change, and grow.
It is not important that you stay the same writer you are now, or that you have a definite routine or pattern. I started my first book in the middle, with no outline, and finished my third book with a detailed one, written from beginning to end. I thought I knew what kind of writer I was, but ultimately I found those definitions limiting rather than freeing. If I can let them go, I can become whatever writer each story requires me to be.
What is important, far more than the definitions we cling to, is that we finish the stories we are burning to tell.
So, fill your writer toolbox with as many tools as you can, even if they seem silly or like they will never work for you. You don’t have to make detailed outlines, or fill out character questionnaires, or do free-writing, or keep a journal, or draw maps if you don’t want to. But it helps to have new tools to pick up if the old ones stop working for you.
And consider getting desperate. Desperate to write, desperate to get that story on the page, desperate to let the characters speak, and desperate to finish. Get so desperate that you will try anything to make it work. You have a deadline. It is November 30. You can do it. But you might have to throw all your preconceptions about yourself and your writing out the window.
No manuscript is perfect the first time through. You don’t need to worry about perfection right now. But you are participating in this magical month of generally antisocial behavior and potential caffeine overdose because you believe that pushing through a manuscript in a month will help you in some way, and that means you need the wild, thirsty freedom of a writer who will get to the end.
Don’t be a plotter or a pantser, a strict butt-in-chair person or an exercise-doer, a beginning-to-end-er or a time jumper—don’t be anything other than whatever you need to be to keep climbing.
And then, for the love of all things writing and book-related, revise the crap out of Manuscript Mountain.”
“Imagine you’re given the keys to a mud-bogging Bronco, or a dune buggy, or a Lamborghini. And then, you’re pointed toward a field. A soccer field outside a high school, or maybe just a wide open grassland. Nobody there. No kids playing. No animals frolicking. In fact, right now, nobody is here to see you at all.
You have total freedom to rev the engine, slam the pedal to the floor, and gun it through that field. You can do donuts, spinning the car wildly about, flinging up mud, leaving tracks that look like the calligraphy of an old, mad god.
You can slop mud on the car. You can get out and dance in the grass.
You can do whatever you want.
This is not something we’re particularly used to, as adults. My toddler gets it. He isn’t fenced in by the boundaries of adulthood—which, okay, yes, that means he doesn’t necessarily know not to shove a ham sandwich into a whirring fan (instant ham salad!) or not to climb the tallest thing and leap off it like a puma.
But it also means he doesn’t know why he can’t just pick up a pen and start drawing. It means he has no problem grabbing a blob of Play-Doh and creating whatever his fumbling little hands can manage. It means that he’ll grab a Transformers toy and half-transform it into some lumbering robot-car monstrosity—and when an adult might say, “No, no, it’s like this or it’s like that; it’s a robot or it’s a car,” he’s like, “Uh, yeah, no. Go back to your tax forms and your HGTV, stupid adult, I’ve just created a Frankencarbot and you can go hide your head in the sand-swept banality of grown-up life, sucker.”
His entire creative life is the “Everything Is Awesome” song from The LEGO Movie. Because he doesn’t know what he can or can’t do. He doesn’t know about art or form or criticism or any of that. He can do whatever he wants. (Ham sandwiches and fan blades aside.)
And you can do whatever you want, too.
The blank page is yours. Cast aside worries over art and criticism. Imagine a land without rules. Imagine that nobody has ever told you that you cannot or should not do this thing. Those people were wrong. Forget those voices. Because, for real?
It’s an empty field and you’ve got the keys to a freaking Ferrari.
It’s a white tablecloth and you’ve got ketchup, mustard, and relish.
It’s a blank page and you’ve got all the letters and words you need.
Rev the engine and take the ride. Paint with all the colors the condiments at your table allow. Create whatever robot-human monstrosities your mind cares to conjure. Crack open your chest and plop your heart onto the page.
Right now: just write. Donuts in an empty field.
Leave your mark.”
“So Writer, you’re trying to write a novel in 30 days. Has anyone told you you’re crazy yet?
You’re not crazy. I promise. I know because I’ve written a novel in a couple of months. And yes, I’m a human being (just ask my editor, or my wife) and I do sleep. The book even got published. So anyone who tells you it’s impossible is wrong and you should probably stop taking their advice. Unless it’s your mom. Then just stop taking her advice about writing (you should still floss once a day).
There’s no getting around the fact that it’s hard, though, is there? By now you know that better than anyone. Maybe you should give up on this whole novel business and go relax. Or work at a paying job. But I say, keep at it. Because, like I said, it’s possible. And as you must suspect, it’s a pretty fantastic feeling to have written a book.
So how do you do it? Here are some tips on making it to December 1 without going crazy or giving up. (Though if you have to do one of them, I’ve always found sanity overrated.)
Outline. If you already have: gold star; proceed to the next piece of advice. If you didn’t, don’t worry, because it’s never too late to go back and make an outline. An outline isn’t something to be scared of, it’s just a chapter-by-chapter description of the scenes that, lined-up together, make your book. On the count of three, tell me the story that unfolds in your novel. All the way to the last chapter. Now write that down. There’s your outline. Easy, right?
Lie to yourself. Honesty is a great quality, but we’re writing fiction here, so you’d better get used to a little light lying. Tell yourself you can do this. Tell yourself your book will be great. The world will love it and you’ll be the next J.K. Rowling, J.D. Salinger, Art Spiegelman, or whatever flavor of author you hope to become.
Get into a writing routine. Think it’s hard to write every day during NaNo? Most professional writers keep this kind of pace all year round. Holidays, birthdays, vacations—you name it, we’re writing. The trick is making writing into a daily habit. Same time. Same place. Same hot beverage of choice. Every. Single. Day. Again. And. Again.
Don’t do it alone. If you live with somebody, tell them to be unpleasant to you if they see you doing anything else during your writing time. Buy them a water gun. If you live alone, have friends call and check on you. And if you have no friends, you will have no trouble writing a book in 30 days. What else do you have to do? (I’m not knocking friendless people. We’ve all been there.)
Don’t stress. I don’t mean to undermine the above, but remember this is one month, not your entire writing career. Try hard, learn from it, and if you don’t get to 50,000 words, figure out what you did wrong so you can get there next time.
Stop reading this. Start writing. Now. (Or at midnight your time.)”
So again, none of these are mine. Just a little sharing of the pep talks for the Nanos and those who just love to write. And the reason I’m just sharing authors’ pep talks, because I need to get my butt back to writing my book!