October 26, 2009

For those about to Nano

I’m not doing Nanowrimo this year. The current wip is going well and (hopefully) has less than 50k to go anyway. To do a true nano I’d have to change horses midstream so to speak which I don’t want to do.

But I have done Nano successfully a couple of times in the past, so I thought I’d talk about some of the things that helped me do it. There lots of advice about pre-planning and plotting, wording up friends and family and meals/housework etc out there on the internet (for a start, there’s Heidi’s posts), so I won’t talk about that. Instead I’ll talk about how to get the 50,000 words you need (or at least how I did it).

I’m not a plotter, so each time I did Nano I just started with a soundtrack and a vague idea for a book. These days I’d probably have a collage and also have done a bit more thinking about the plot and the big turning points as my process is a bit different. Do whatever prep you need to do.

Being a Virgo and an accountant in the day job, I worked out that 50k/30 days is 1666 words a day, so I set that as my daily goal. For me, that’s one and a half to two hours of solid writing a day. My normal word count goal on my day job days is 1000 words or so, so it’s an extra 45 mins to an hour of writing time I need to find. You need to work out how many words an hour you can write comfortably and figure out your time from then.

I took the slow and steady approach (ie I could stop if I wanted to after 1666 words rather than pushing on for hours a day to get to 50k as fast as possible) but there were quite a few days I wrote extra (which gives you a buffer for the unforeseen I’m-exhausted/my-relatives-have-dropped-in/the-dogs/cats/kids-are-sick days). Other folks go hell for leather, so pick one based on how much time you have/can write per day.

So how do you sit down and produce day in/day out?

1. Don’t let the internal editor slow you down. Write fast and don’t look back. Nano is about getting a dirty draft out, not something polished and beautiful.

2. In order not to let the internal editor slow you down, tools that don’t let you edit too much are invaluable. I had an Alphasmart when I nano’d, which is brilliant, but because I also need to type on an ergonomic keyboard most of the time, I also used to make my window in Word smaller so I couldn’t see so many lines of type. These days I’d also use something like Dr Wicked’s Write or Die (I just bought the desktop version but there’s a free online one too…desktop is probably safer when you’re trying to avoid the glittering call of the internet to get words out). It’s amazing what a difference this makes. My average speed using Word the normal way is 4-6 pages an hour. With an alphie/Write or Die or a minimised page I get closer to 8-10 pages an hour. That’s a big time difference!

3. Turn off the internet and shut down any other programs you don’t need open. If you have a Mac, consider using using an app like Think (or Scrivener's full screen) that makes your desktop blank apart from the program you have open.

4. No, really turn off the internet. Check your mail/twitter etc once an hour or so for just a few minutes (use a kitchen timer) while you stretch/drink/pee.

5. Tape your favourite TV shows and use them as rewards along the way.

6. Use a kitchen timer and do word sprints where you type without stopping (as far as possible for 15 minutes etc). Or do word wars with a friend where you email at the start with how many words you want to do in a set period of time and then email at the end to report back (Write or Die desktop even has functionality for this).

7. Use friends for encouragement and support but don’t get sucked into too much time in the nano forums etc (at least not until you’ve hit word goal for the day, see 3 & 4).

8. Try and have a few different methods of writing available to you. When you get bored and/or stuck, change to a different computer, a different wordprocessor, a different location. Even write by hand (though this requires extra time to re-key which is not necessarily ideal, so if you do it, just do it for a short time until things flow again). On my computer I have Word, Pages, Scrivener and Write or Die as options. I also have a netbook and my alphie. A change of scenery often seems to fool the muse into going to work. If you don’t have multiple options then change your font, the size of the page, the background colour, the page layout etc so it feels different.

9. If you don’t have a writing ritual (like playing your soundtrack or lighting a candle or sitting in a certain chair) already, try and develop one to help trigger the words.

10. Go with whatever weirdnesses of plot and story come up. Let the muse have fun. If you get stuck, jump ahead to another bit (or jump back and insert another scene). Just keep typing.

11. Make sure you stretch and look after your hands/back/neck and eyes. Crippling yourself is not a good plan!

12. Invent the deskchair timelock release seatbelt and strap yourself in!

I use all of the above, well, not 12, in my daily writing anyway to get me around humps and doldrums and stuck bits anyway. Some of them will work for you and some won’t. Nano will teach you things about your process and your abilities.

I learned that I could quite happily write 1000 words a day but day in and day out, seven days a week for a month, 1666-2000 is pushing it for me. I can big word counts for the last week or two of a book but a month is too long. My hands get sore and the muse gets drained. Each time I’ve done Nano, I haven’t written or even been able to revise and edit much at all during December and early January. I need that recuperation time, which for me is a bit counterproductive and is the main reason I haven’t Nano’d for a few years. I also learned that I’m quite happy to pants. Some people will learn that they can’t and they have to stop and fiddle and tweak and edit as they go. Which might mean they can’t write 50k in a month. Or they might be super fast and be able to.

I learned I can write 50k (and a reasonably coherent 50k) in a month if I have to. This stood me in good stead when I got a full request from an online synopsis pitch session. None of that book was written but because I knew I could, I just knuckled down and wrote it in a month and had it on the editor’s desk in less than two from the request. In that case, it did help that I’d done the synopsis in advance and thought about the plot more than I usually would.

Anyway, that’s all I know about Nano-ing. All or some or none may work for you. For those of you about to partake, have fun! May your ninja pirate were-monkey epics be awesome and your fingers nimble! And don’t overdose on the coke and chips and m&m’s as writing fuel or you’ll spend the next few months doing WorkYourNanoButtOffMo (sadly, a lesson learned the hard way in my first nano thanks to lime doritos).

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