Moany Prose-Voice Moan About Getting Nowhere Fast In Week 2 Of NaNoWriMo

It is November. My belongings are mostly strewn across the floor of New Flat. There’s bubblewrap on the windows and tinfoil behind the radiators but it doesn’t quite keep the heat in. The fridge is full of things that can be made quickly – either added to pasta (mostly cheese) or eaten raw (mostly broccoli) – and the cupboards are too: we’ve got baked beans and instant noodles, pancake mix and more Chunky KitKats than any one person should eat in their lifetime. Social engagements keep being made and immediately broken: Don’t you know? It’s NaNoWriMo: I have no TIME for mortal human activities.

Everything is just as you would expect.

I am only a meagre PLURAL thousand words behind my daily target. I am vaguely disheartened. Being disheartened makes me reluctant to write and so I have involved myself in other things: I have crocheted an extra line to my Granny Stripe blanket (total: 2 lines); I have printed photographs I’ve been meaning to print for a while; I have made piles of lifeadmin papers to be filed at Some Point In The Future; I have finished How To Be A Woman and found it amusing and good in places but ultimately judged it to be lacking; I have planted basil seeds.

I have not written. Not really.

It’s all this Doing Other Things that’s the problem. All this ‘work’ I’m expected to do every day, which I dislike because it’s getting in the way EVEN THOUGH they pay me money for it. Not nearly enough, naturally. I check every month and there’s still no £1,000,000 bonus, though surely I’ve earned it by missing out on my calling as a Successful Author in order to administratize. They probably just keep forgetting. I’m sure it’ll turn up soon. Any day now.

The latest NaNoWriMo pep talk says that this is the week to be disheartened. Knowing that makes me feel normal again: I imagine NaNoWriMo participants all over the world looking glumly at their computers and eating too much popcorn, just like me. I think, we’re all in this together.

And then I think, I don’t want to let the side down.

And it makes me open Write or Die – just OPEN it, mind. Just to LOOK. And I might open it and think, well, why NOT try another 150 words? Another 250? Another 500? And I’ll do it, just because it’s THERE, you know, and if it’s THERE then I might as well give it a go.

The latest NaNoWriMo pep-talk suggests I do something ‘crazy’ in my story. It uses the word ‘kooky’, and talks about someone who last year sent all her characters off to the circus together. How nice. What a treat.  Maybe I’ll send mine off, too. It might not work being that – on the suggestion of A Human – one of my characters just pulled a gun on another (the Raymond Chandler technique, I’m told), but hey, I could probably get some words out of it.

Which, it seems, is pretty much the point of week 2: get some words out. No matter if they advance the plot or not, just get some words out. You’re over the initial flush of excitement and are trying to settle down into the long slog that is The Middle Bit: you need to get some words out; keep writing; stay in the game.

Pesky Middle Bit. It’s pretty important. It’s always the part I forget to think about until I’m in the middle of it.


Time to get some words out.

Top Tips from Sasperella’s Story Shack

10 days to go? Surely not.

I was supposed to have had TWO NaNoWriMo planning sessions by this point – this was going to be the year I got all prepared and stuff – but instead I had a Life Crisis and am now moving house. Stupid October. Never liked it anyway.

So that now I’m back to thinking about NaNoWriMo, what’s to do? I’ve discovered two new techniques for implementation this year and a new bit of tech to work with (you know how I love to have love affairs with new bits of tech that I then forget about three days later).

Numero Uno: Exercises in PRODUCTIVITY

Thanks to one wise Yorkshirian NaNoer I’ve now discovered the Pomodoro Technique (and all it’s pretty printables!). It’s fairly simple. You write a list of things you want to do then work on them in timed chunks of 25 minutes with a short break in between and then a longer one after every fourth chunk. Having a set time period in which to complete something is a technique that works well for me: I’m motivated by a deadline and spurred on by the growing anxiety that comes from worrying I’m not going to meet one. It’s a stressful way to work and CAN result in numerous mini writery breakdowns (fun!) but in my world of writing, stress = success. Which is why I find Dr. Wicked’s Write or Die (“putting the ‘prod’ in productivity”) utterly invaluable. You’ve got a certain amount of time (which you decide on) in which to write a certain number of words (which you decide on), and Write or Die layers on the stress (to a level that YOU decide on) until it’s done. Thanks Dr. Wicked, for making stress-based writing so much fun!

Numero Dos: Exercises in PLOT-UCTIVITY

See what I did there? I combined the words ‘plot’ and ‘productivity’ into a new word which means ‘your ability to plot productively’. WOW! HOW CREATIVE OF ME!

It’s all well and good being productive and bashing out hundreds (thousands?) of words a day, but what the hell are you going to write about? If you’re like me and you find fleshing out the basic idea of your plot fairly challenging then have a go at the Snowflake Method. The website is a little old school but the information that’s there can be incredibly useful. I have a habit of coming up with a central character, an idea of their story arc, a (very) vague plot(ish) and a load of images/scenes that I’d like to happen along the way. It is VERY DIFFICULT to write anything worthwhile with only the above, and that’s where the Snowflake Method can help you. By making you start at the beginning and forcing you to spend time on working out a strapline for your story (which is flexible – you can change it as you work through the method to incorporate any new ideas you come up with), the whole thing immediately becomes more focused. The basic building blocks of your story are there: character, conflict, theme (hopefully) and context. You then take this strapline and flesh it out to a paragraph, then that paragraph to a whole treatment. You start small and pull out the strands to make it into something big and sprawling. Then tie it all together.

Spider with 1000 legs...

This is stupid but I always imagined the process of writing a story as “making a basket out of a spider with a thousand legs”, where ‘a thousand’ basically stands for ‘lots’. I made a drawing to explain:

The circle in the middle is the spider’s body – the strapline or central ideas for your story. The lines coming out of it – the legs – are the threads of your story; characters, actions, plot points, conflicts, places, etc. To make your basket – and your story – you take each of these individual threads and weave them together. It’s simplistic and childish but then, I was a kid when it occurred to me and it always stuck with me.

I’d have drawn a basket too but you can probably tell from my spider drawing that I’m a bit [read: very] artistically challenged.

Numero Tres: Take your writing EVERYWHERE

I have this problem: I have to have a JOB. It’s disgusting. I have to go there EVERY day, and I can’t just sit about and write things on my laptop, I actually have to do some of this WORK stuff they always leave around for me. Highly inconvenient, especially in November when I’m trying to write an entire bloody novel. Luckily for me, though, the world has invented Yarny, a cloud-based writing tool that allows you to plan and write your entire novel online FOR FREE. I’ve only just started to use it, but it’s been fantastic so far: I can keep it open as a tab on my browser so that if I have an idea for a character, plot point, piece of dialogue, character development or anything, I can just click in, jot it down, and it’s saved! And when my lunchbreak comes round, my novel’s there waiting for me to work on it! GENIUS! It’s a bit like One Note in that there are lots of little places to keep lots of little bits of writing but less irritating, beautifully simple and accessible from ANYWHERE. I love it so much that it makes me swoon a bit.

So there you have it: three top tips from Sasperella’s Story Shack. Do you have any hints or tips or tricks of the trade? Anything you find particularly useful in helping you meet your word count? Any bits of kit that we writers are DEFINITELY going to need this November?

NaNoWriMo 2011. And swearwords.

Oh SHIT! Shitty shit McShit. It’s September already. SEPTEMBER! How the hell did that happen? Where has the time gone? Tell you what, trying to become a roller derby superstar sure makes the months roll quickly by (pun intended).

For the uninitiated, September is the month before the month before NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, that wonderful and terrible writery month of self-loathing, melodrama, repetitive strain injury, procrastination and glorious, GLORIOUS writing. September is the pre-planning-month month of planning; October the actual planning and pre-start Complete Collapse Of Faith In Everything You Hoped To Achieve month; November the month of furious writing, frequent breakdowns, and comfort eating. There is a reason why we do it but I’ll be damned if I can remember what it is… I think we writery types must be slightly masochistic.

The target is 50K. Last year I ground to a halt at 16K. I couldn’t be displeased with the result: I’d written SIXTEEN THOUSAND WORDS. Some of those words – heck, meaty chunks of those words – were even pretty good. And I’d been writing again. I’d forgotten how ridiculously satisfying it is when your characters start to flesh out, when you start writing in a voice that is distinctively theirs, when the decisions they make come out of a thought process that is particular to them. When you write characters or a conversation or an entire scene or series of scenes, and it is BELIEVABLE, has the smack of truth to it, is entirely logical and plausible within the context of the world you’ve built around it, there’s this incredible sense of having created. Out of nothing but your imagination you realise these characters, these events; you bring them into the world; you make them real.

Deep. Compelling. Rich. Just another day out at Sasperella’s Story Shack [immediately changing blog name to this]. Pull up a chair. Pour yourself a cuppa. Stay a while.

So far, as usual, I have done no NaNoWriMo planning. I’ve done some very general thinking-about-plots for non-NaNoWriMo ideas but these tend to be meandering, disconnected scene ideas, or long, complicated and overblown plans for the first three scenes of a story. I have a collection of characters, a collection of ideas, but they all seem to be from different stories, which I’d bring together in one ugly patchwork if the different stories didn’t seem to me to require completely different settings and voices… tough times; tough decisions. Focusing is the problem, I think.

What about you, writery people: do your characters naturally fit together? Are your ideas coherent? How do you force your brain to take one thing and run with it rather than dancing from this character to that idea to this vision of the world and then the other, ad infinitum? What tricks do you have? What strategies? What advice?

Good luck fellow WriMo people. See you at the start.