NaNoWriMo Unsolicited Advice Part 2: Time

No Telling

Remember when you were in your early twenties and all the world was an unrealized epiphany? Every day filled with fascination, raw understanding, the daily freshness of discovery and insight? Other than the obvious developmental reasons for this, you were able to see the world as unending possibility because you had time to think about it.

If you’re still in your early twenties, then bless your heart. Those are some good years.

It’s not as easy to be reflective and creative when you’ve got eleventy-seven things to do after nine hours in a cubicle or whatever. And all those people you’re responsible for – where did they come from? Now you want to write a novel in a month.

We need time. A little silence wouldn’t hurt, either. Stop laughing.

For inspiration, I defer to T. S. Eliot and his boy Prufrock:

And indeed there will be time
For the yellow smoke that slides along the street,
Rubbing its back upon the window panes;
There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
There will be time to murder and create,
And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate;
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea.

(There are some more lines about wriggling on a pin and coffee spoons and being ignored by mermaids, but we’ll save those for later when we commiserate in rewrite.)

There is time, I promise. All you need is an hour. The ebb and flow of your daily madness may dictate which particular hour, but if you’re like me you have to steal it from something else.

I steal mine from 5:00-6:00 am. This works for me because The Perfect Grandson is asleep and all my synapses are firing up. The bonus here is that I leave for school full of self-congratulatory mojo for having written my 1,700-ish words already. Instead of walking around with guilt all day, I can let my story percolate and the rest of my life gets done.

Maybe your Magic Hour is late at night. Maybe you have to break up your hour into two Magic Half-Hours. It doesn’t matter, really, as long as you’re realistic about it. Just keep in mind that the first few days are slower than the rest and give yourself permission to miss the word count a bit until the story really takes off. Luckily, NaNoWriMo begins on a Thursday this year and you’ll have a weekend handy to get into the rhythm.

What if you manage to find extra time? Wow. Use it to hedge yourself against the unexpected, because at least one unforseen time-gobbling event always happens at some point during the month. Anticipate trouble. Embrace your bad luck now and write an few hundred extra words here and there.

Simplify everything. Use this weekend to cook massive amounts of freezable food. Stock up at the grocery store and vote early. Train your family to do some things for themselves and vow to live happily with the results until December 1st. Plan to stay away from Ebay, Facebook, Pinterest, or whatever vile online thing distracts you. Think Lent.

In December, we can all take toast and tea.

NaNoWriMo Unsolicited Advice Part 1: Planning

No Telling

This year’s National Novel Writing Month will be my fourth rodeo. I’ve written and helped others to write for awhile now and so I thought I’d sling a little advice out there to help writers who are taking the plunge.

Still haven’t decided whether or not to participate? Aw, go ahead. The worst that can happen is that you don’t finish. At best you’ll find yourself suddenly in December with a novel. Your novel.

The realistic commitment for November is to give yourself an hour a day. If you’re a cracker-jack typist and don’t look at your fingers, maybe 45 minutes. So how much time do you spend on Facebook watching kitten videos or reading what your friends ate for lunch? Seriously, write a novel instead.

No idea where to begin? Start with a character. They’re everywhere you look. When I was a little girl there was this crazy old woman who dressed up in her Sunday finest and pedaled a rusty Schwinn all over town. She had penciled-in eyebrows up to her hairline and failed to wear underwear occasionally, but she always sported a fine pillbox hat. I haven’t written her yet, but I will. It’s likely you have characters like this floating around in your memory or pedaling past your house. Build your story around the unanswered questions.    

Keep Planning Simple. I’ve seen folks compose elaborate, tabbed notebooks of plot twists, character biographies, geographical maps, and chapter outlines. Bless their hearts. If this sort of thing works for you, by all means use it to some extent. But beware, because I’ve also watched more than a few writers quit altogether the first time their fully-planned characters decided to change direction/motivation/gender/the whole plot, and your characters WILL DO THIS.

If you’re planning begins to look like a quadratic equation (whatever that is) or takes more word count than actually writing the novel, it’s time to step away from the computer. It’s possible to plan yourself into a corner and no one wants that for you. Remember, writing a novel isn’t about control as much as it is about possibility.

Think in Scenes. Before the first day of November, make a list of scenes. Don’t call them chapters because they probably aren’t. Open up Word (or whatever you’re using) set up a folder for each scene. Label each with a word or phrase like “They Find the Body” or “She Realizes He’s Cheating.” Why? It’s about frustration and choice – always leave a key under the mat so you don’t get locked out. If you find yourself suddenly stumped or blank or worse while writing one scene, CLICKETY-CLICK and you’re in another. At the end of your daily writing jag, copy and paste what you’ve written into a Whole Enchilada folder to get your running word count. Save it everywhere. Twice.

Keep adding these scene folders throughout the month. Once you’re writing every day and walking around with the story, new scenes will start popping up all the time. Ultimately you won’t use or need every single one and that’s just fine. Just don’t delete any scene folders, even the ones with only a paragraph or a curse word. Ever. You’ll thank me later when you decide to dive into revision.

What? You mean write the story out of my carefully crafted order? Absolutely. Here’s the thing:  you’re going to do it anyway so plan for the inevitable. Give yourself permission from Day One to alter or abandon course. It’s your novel – you can do whatever you want.

That’s why it’s fun. That’s why we do it.