Thursday, October 20, 2011

NaNoWriMo and the Uncomfortable Zone

Earlier this week I talked about risk taking. Today I am talking about NaNoWriMo as a form of risk.  If you have not heard, every November hundreds of thousands of writers (200,500 in 2010) step up to the challenge of writing a 50,000 word first draft of a novel in thirty days. There are regional groups around the world that organize write-ins, launch parties and after-parties. So what’s the risk here and why take it?

NaNoWriMo is really about stepping out of your comfort zone. You may have “thought” about writing that novel. But as my father always says “And we know what thought did, right?” Trick question. Thought does not do anything.  But moving from thought to action can mean taking risk.

So the part of your brain that likes the word “no” says “What if you don’t finish 50,000 words? What if my first draft is shitty (with a nod to Anne Lamott)? 50,000 words! You’ve never written anything longer than a grocery list.  You don’t have the time. Why bother writing no one will like it.”

So why bother?  If you a writer, if the bug has bitten you, then you know you have no choice. The story must be heard, the characters demand attention.

So you’ve never written anything longer than a grocery list. There is only one way to know if you’ve got 50,000 words in you. Start.

What if the first draft is shitty? That’s why we edit and edit and then edit again. Sometimes referred to as rinse and repeat.

But no one will read it. Most likely no one except you will read the first draft. But after an edit or two you will call on some of the other writers you’ve met along the way to form a critique group (sounds formal but it’s often not.). They will become your beta readers and help you make the additional cuts and changes to begin polishing your novel.

Remember what I said in the earlier post. No sane person takes a risk with preparation. So how do you prepare when NaNoWriMo is a little more than 11 days away. First, don’t panic. Second go to the NaNoWriMo site, if you haven’t already, and sign up.

Then you need to do some preliminary activities:
1)      Decide if you are a paper or electronic writer. I write on my laptop because I have no patience for re-typing it later. For those who know me, I am a terrible typist when going direct to electronic. Factor in my handwriting and the scratch outs and arrow I’d have to follow.  A nightmare worthy of Stephen King.
2)      Write down your ideas and characters.  Even if NaNoWriMo on the surface appears to be an activity for pantsers, you will do better even if all you have are main character names, setting, time and four or five sentences about the plot. I recommend if you can to have some idea of beginning, middle and end.
3)      Stock up on snacks and beverages and any writing supplies you may need.
4)      Tell your friends what you are doing or, if you are not ready to come-out as a writer, tell them you have a 30-day flu and will be in quarantine. That can help handle the “enough time” problem.

What’s the benefit of taking the risk: You get the start of a novel. Make it to 50,000 words and you get a really cool certificate and bragging rights.  You meet other cool writers.

You also learn how to turn off your inner editor.  Many of us can kill a project by beating the same page to death instead of moving on. To get to the finish, you need to keep plowing ahead.  I will share a little technique that I began using. It feeds my inner editor just enough so she doesn’t whine.  I type my first draft in track changes mode.  Not to edit text, but for the nifty comment bubbles.  If I’m writing a new unplanned scene some prior information may be missing. If it stays in the next draft, it may need more set-up.  I put a note to go back and do that in the comment bubble. It helps me keep moving forward.

Maybe you are like me and want to use NaNo to experiment in a new genre. To step out of your comfort zone.  I will have a first draft done of one WIP before November1, so I’m going to try something new in November. Then, in December, after my current WIP has rested I can return to it with fresh eyes for the first round of slash and burn edits.

So are you taking the risk of creating something in November and joining me in NaNo?  Ah, you want to know what I’m experimenting with in November.  Let’s just say if it works, it will be HOT.