National Novel Writing Month can be a crazy cool, challenging, and rewarding experience. Leading up to this year’s event I knew that success was dependent on how well I prepared. I’m not a “by-the-seat-of-my-pants” kind of writer. I need structure. So, I took the month of October to brainstorm. I explored old story ideas and browsed through my sketchbooks looking for inspiration. Come the first of November I was ready to dive in. And in the process of NaNoWriMo 2016, I learned quite a lot…
1. Editor Needs to Take a Back Seat
One of the biggest hinderances to making progress on a story is the internal editor. That’s the jerk who wants to get hung up on grammar, run-on sentences, misspellings, or for that matter, with anything actually making sense in your story. To break past this spoiler-sport’s attitude, I had to learn that being an artist or creator comes before being an editor. Fixing the mess I make can come later, but first I gotta get my hands dirty.
2. Focus on Characters, Not on Plots
Story is all about the characters. They need to be real and interesting. The story isn’t about what happens, it’s about whom it happens to! This was important for me to remember because often my protagonists are terribly flat and boring. They don’t change, they don’t have personality, and they don’t have… well, much of anything really. My protagonists end up being silent observers, taking backseat to the narrator. But, characters should drive the plot, not the other way around.
3. If Stuck, Induce Chaos
Sometimes the track you are on is doomed, the path you’re taking leads to a dead end. At times like these you have to “stir the pot” and make something ridiculous happen. Mess with the hero. Send something completely random and nonsensical his or her way, something bad or weird. Screw with your character. Mess them up. Send them something that completely contradicts their existence or the story previously established. Throw a curve ball. Get out of your comfort zone.
4. Write What You Want
This seems obvious, doesn’t it? Write what you want to write. I have the prerogative to completely change course, if I want to. Pursue what excites you! I often get caught up in the need to complete the project, and I don’t actually enjoy the process. I’ve had this realization in my art making too. If I don’t like writing, why am I doing it? Do I merely like the idea of being published? If so, that’s a long and unhappy journey.
5. Enjoy the Process
I read an email from diyMFA creator Gabriela Pereira where she identified two kinds of writers: whose who write for the money, and those who write because the love what they do. She presumed that those following her, affectionately called “Word Nerds”, were of a later category. This really got me thinking. Do I actually enjoy writing? Sure, the idea of being published one day, of having a completely piece of writing is appealing. But do I enjoy the process? If not, I’m in for a long and boring writing career. Once you finish one story, then there’s always the next and the next one. It never ends, because my satisfaction is found in being done, instead of doing. Or will I be content once my first and only work is complete? Will that be the end? I hope not. Either way though, if I’m going to do this, why not enjoy the ride? Now of course, being disciplined is important, and to prioritize or sacrifice some things in life for certain goals to be accomplished—that’s important. But at the same time, you gotta enjoy yourself. You have to make time to just have fun! So, why can’t the 90% of my time, the hard work of writing the story be fun, and not just the 10% of polishing and publishing? I want to have fun in the process. Understanding what that looks like, however, is the next part in my journey.
6. Write Regardless
This final point was perhaps the most important, something that I continually strive to do better. The biggest challenge is that no matter what happens, you just have to keep writing. It doesn’t matter how you feel. Just keep writing. You can’t anyone or anything get in the way of that disciplined effort of write, write, write. Just keep going, ignoring the internal editor, the disobedient cast, or the no-show creative muse.
I participated in National Novel Writing Month this year (my forth attempt and my second win), and I succeeded. I made it to 50,000 words in thirty days. I really needed that win!
I used NaNoWriMo 2016 to push the roadblock on a number of stories, practicing the “write regardless” mantra. I did it, and in the process I learned several valuable lessons that will no doubt help me on my continued journey as a writer.