Y’all have seen the letters to my 16 year old self, right? Looking back over the craziness of the last several years of NaNoWriMo, there are things I had wish I’d known back then. Things I now know, and could have used earlier. Some of those items might be useful to the NaNos just starting this year. The “fresh fish” to the program. The new participant just starting out with the insanity. More to the point, many of these facts are ones that I have been trying to impart upon my son who is joining in full for the first time this year.
To My Past Self on the eve of your entry into NaNoWriMo…
You likely know this already, but the novel you are about to work on will become the first Trunk Novel™. It won’t be your last. But you’re a smart guy, the signs are there. It is something much more deep than your first novel. It’s the first step on the journey you’ve been waiting for most of your life. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Stick to the basics. Keep it simple.
NaNoWriMo at its core will be an exercise in time management. It will teach you how to juggle your job and writing at the same time. The reality sits in line with what you are suspecting – many published authors can’t afford to do it full time. You’ll remember that strength and that odd genetic makeup that leaves you with multiple sleep disorders but the benefit of not needing eight hours of sleep a night. The farmer roots you’ve come from will expose themselves and you will become a morning person even when it isn’t deer hunting season. Use this time.
One of the best things this challenge will teach you, one of those facts we really need to learn is, it’s okay to stumble. It’s okay to even fall. By the end of this month you’ll be doing an eleven hour marathon drive. It will not be a fun one. It will teach you that sometimes we need to set aside our work until we are back into the right mindset. Allow yourself to say goodbye – you’ll understand in a few weeks.
There is no winning and losing in NaNoWriMo, just like there’s no crying in baseball. At the end of the month, even if you have 50,000 words sitting in a Word document what have you won? You’ll have a nice certificate to print out and hang on the wall and bragging rights. You’ll also have a story that may or may not be salvageable. In this instance, you won’t. Trust me. Everyone has a trunk novel. Everyone. Even Shakespeare wrote a “buddy guardsman” play that never saw the light of day. I hear he wrote the lead for Larry King.
Writers Block is a myth. Trust me on this one. If you are sitting with “writers block” then you are not in the frame of mind you need to be in. Step away. A forced story will read as forced. The last thing you want is your main character to sound like Liam Neeson’s daughter in Taken 3 – Terrorist Novelists. If you have to, give up a day or writing to come back the next day with your resolve redoubled.
You’ll know when you hit the groove. Believe it or not, you will get to the point where you’ll crank out that daily goal of 1700 words in an hour. You’ll top out at hitting it around the 45 minute mark. They won’t all be like that, but even Michael Jordan missed a free throw once in a while.
“If you stop moving, you die.” You heard this recently. It made you finally give up your cane. It relates to writing too. When November ends, it isn’t over. You’ll likely not start a daily writing routine for a couple years, but the sooner the better. You need to keep writing. Improve your craft. Your weakness is passive voice and tense. Learn to work around that. Learn to identify when you are screwing something up. Also learn to highlight your strengths. Other than knowledge of fighting styles and weapons, I don’t know what that is, but we’ll figure it out together.
Learn to be flexible. Figuratively. Sorry to say the spinal thing has killed literal flexibility for you. Some of those ideas you may think you love, you’re really just in love with the idea of them. It will be hard for you to believe, but your main character these days bounces from a socialite celebrity possessed by a wendigo (and you will learn way too much about current fashion) and a country western singer who hunts monsters in his off time (think one part Winchesters and one part Desperado – don’t worry, you’ll figure out who the Winchesters are). Trust me in that these are the characters that are speaking to you the loudest. Learn to listen to them.
Pay attention at the writing conferences. GenCon and the Writers Symposium, the trip you’ll take to Romantic Times (trust me on this one), even some of the local cons. Your fellow writers and – more specifically – the published ones, will be a wealth of information and advice. Some of them will become friends and mentors. Not all of them have walked the path that will work for you. You can figure out which of them is your way. Keep in mind that our way is the slow and steady race, not the sprint.
We have always been of the mind to roll with the punches. As long as it has less than a V8 engine in it, we can roll with the punch. Putting your piece out there for someone to critique is less painful than getting hit by a dump truck. And there is much less surgery involved. At the same time, it takes some getting used to. When critique groups pick apart your story and show you ways to improve it, this is because it will improve it. Don’t take it personal. You’ll learn this very quickly, and Anton Strout wasn’t really trying to make you cry at that symposium. Either that or he wasn’t trying very hard.
I’ll end this with some of the quotes on writing we’ll pick up between the time you are reading this and when I write it. All of them are helpful and one will give you a huge spike in hits on your blog. (By the way, start a blog again.)
Writing a novel is like making love to a gorilla. You’re not done until the gorilla’s done. – Craig Ferguson
You can’t edit a blank page. – multiple sources
It’s okay to suck, we all suck. – Anton Strout
That’s why they call it a first draft. It alludes to a second draft… and a third draft… – multiple sources
If the story is going slow, someone has to die or have sex. Possibly both. – source lost in my pre-NaNo haze
Future Zombie Joe