Today is officially the first day of NaNoWriMo (for the uninitiated, that’s National Novel Writing Month). Participants from all over the world pledge to write a 50,000 word novel during the month of November. I have “won” NaNo for the past three years and today I am vowing to do it again. There is no right way to do this. At the end of the month the NaNo people are not going to read your novel. They aren’t even going to look at it to see if you actually wrote something that makes sense. So theoretically you could write “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” 5000 times like the lunatic caretaker in Stephen King’s book The Shining.
But don’t do that. Also don’t stress so much about word count that you play tricks like loading up on adjectives or writing out your characters’ full names including middle names every time you mention them. Okay. If you want to do that, fine, do that too. There really is no right way to win this thing. What’s important, at least for me, is to get that first draft out and on paper so that I have something real and “finished” to work with in December. (Who am I kidding? In December, the last thing I’m going to want to look at is this mess of a first draft. I’ll leave that to January.)
My other rules (because in the end I really am a rule person) are as follows:
1. Write at least 1667 words per day (this is the minimum number to reach 50,000 by Nov. 30.) But I will need to write more some days to make up for the fact that I will not be working on Thanksgiving. Plus I just need a buffer for the days when real life—in the form of making meals, driving the kids places, and cleaning the toilets—intrudes.
2. Don’t bad-mouth what I write. This is a hard one for me. I am my own worst critic and there are many days when I read over what I’ve written and pronounce it all as crap. And maybe it is. But I don’t need to tell myself that. Would I treat a writer friend that way? Um, no. I would find something kind and encouraging to say about the crap that she's written.
3. As a corollary to number two, let my writing go where it wants. So if I go off on some weird tangent about where kids sit in the middle school cafeteria or get lost in a flashback within a flashback within flashback, that’s okay. I need to remember that sometimes those unplanned digressions lead to the real heart of a story.
4. And that’s it. Of course I also hope I come up with a story that has a beginning, middle, and end. One that has characters and a setting and a plot that makes sense. And it would be nice if it had a point. But maybe some of this will have to come with the second draft.
Here are a few final words of wisdom:
Trust the process.—Mary Casanova
Jump off the cliff without building the bridge (or something like that)—Libba Bray
It’s not rocket science—Linda Su Park
Oh well, nothing to do but start.—Carolyn See
PS: anyone out there reading this blog who signs up to do NaNo this month, “friend” me on the NaNo site, and we can root for each other. My NaNo name is jodycasella.