Introduction (because I like titles)
There’s the Force and the Dark Side. There’s the glass half-full and the glass half-empty. There’s the bright side and the Dark Side of the Moon. Okay, my parallels kinda fell apart there at the end, but you get the idea, and in a way my comparing a smily face with a classic rock album is a good way to lead into bad NaNoWriMo advice.
Go online and you’ll find countless blog posts where the writer shares writerly advice that’s sure to make your NaNo experience the best it can be. Yeah, I’ve written a few of those myself. But I’ve come to realize how important balance is in the world and the writing world is no different.
Therefore, I’ve dug deep and unearthed the worst NaNo advice possible, advice that’s certain to produce an experience you’ll work hard for eleven months to not repeat…
I’ve seen it happen: The NaNo participant allows emotions to rule beginning on Day 1. Enthusiasm reigns. The writer rises early the first day and attacks the keyboard with a vengeance. Prose so extraordinary you’d weep simply hearing the computer key clicks flows forth until they must stop because their tears are making the keys slick. Over 3k words on the first day. Twice the needed average! How can anything go wrong?
Sorry to say, everything can go wrong.
They struggle to reach that lofty number on Day 2 and by the end of the week they’re adding their grocery list just so they have something, anything to justify a word count update. Burn out. Fade to black. Days without production. Time running out (great, now Dark Side of the Moon is stuck in my head).
It’s all about pacing.
That’s why I now have a system that allows me to ease into NaNo. No more feverish, sweaty assault on Day 1 that’s destined to end in dried sweat even your wet dog will shun. Instead, I can wake up late, brew some tea, and take in the November morning while contemplating the upcoming holidays. Perhaps there’s some drizzle descending, the colors of the autumn leaves intensified beneath the moisture.
Yawn. Sip some tea. Check my mail.
Okay, time to work. To follow my system you start slow and restrict yourself to the easiest part of the story. Thus, that first day is restricted to the easiest words: a, an, of, to, and, the…you get the idea. If you feel an over or a nice coming on, pull back. Take a break. Note the sweat starting to form on your brow. Yeah, that was close. Those are second week words. By the end of the month you’re warmed up and slinging nouns, verbs, and adjectives like greasy burgers in a place you’d never dare eat. It all comes together and suddenly there are actual sentences. Why? Because you laid the groundwork earlier in the month and now it’s paying dividends.
*I plan to expand this system in my upcoming class Getting There from There. It’s only $9.99 for the rest of your life and you can bequeath it to your children and their children and…
I know, I know. Everyone talks about fleshing out characters. Make them seem like real people so readers can connect with them. Believe it or not, I agree with that advice, I just disagree with the process most people advocate. Worksheets? Biographies? Psychological profiles? Good gosh, the next thing you know you’ll find yourself in the cemetery at midnight with a hunchback assistant in search of the perfect model for your protagonist.
Forget all that.
Think about it. Everything you need to know about a character is already in your head. Who do you know better than yourself? You already put your heart and soul into your work so why not your brain? Go ahead, slap that brain in there, base each character on yourself. They’ll jump off the page at the reader because each one will be a lifelike representation of you. No more writer’s block because all you need is one question (go ahead, hang this on your computer, tweet it, spray paint it on public buildings): What would I do?
The benefits don’t end there. Following this advice makes dialog a snap! For instance:
Somehow I knew she’d seek this particular basement to hide in. It’s what I would’ve done if I’d been her and she was looking for me, but then I suspected she’d come looking for me here, which is why I was here looking for her. I pulled out my gun and pointed at her.
She sneered. “I knew you’d do that.” Damn.
I tried to outflank her in our tête-a-têtes and upped the psychological game. “I knew you were expecting me to.”
She glared at me and I knew I was glaring at her. The same blond hair. The same blue eyes. Shoot, the same dress that was hanging in my closet. Was it still in my closet?
She grinned and struck the same pose I struck when I’d had too many drinks. I think she was drunk. “I bought it at the same sale you did. I also know you forgot to load your gun this morning.” Damn, again. She pulled out a gun of her own and pointed it at me.
“Okay, I’m not a morning person. Thankfully, neither are you. Have you checked your gun.”
“I never bluff.”
“I know you never bluff, but I always give the standard response.” I knew that already. Her face contorted and flushed. She threw the gun to the floor. “Damn it, okay, I forgot to load the gun.” I knew it.
She had a second gun. This was going to take awhile.
Everyone believes this is a requirement from day one. Not so. Inspiration in the form of your muse can happen anytime and there’s no better way to jump start that muse like an old car with discontinued parts than to wait for just the right occasion at the end of the month.
We Americans have already created the perfect moment to provide all the inspiration we need: Thanksgiving. If you live elsewhere you may need to latch onto a different holiday or bring together relatives you’ve been avoiding all year. You can even create your own holiday. Regardless, make certain everyone partakes to excess.
Yes, I realize it’s the equivalent of the eleventh NaNo hour and you still haven’t brought your novel together. So many words, so many characters running amuck for no reason. You need that sputtering muse to provide the element that wraps it all up like a bow on a Christmas present you can’t afford (whoops, I jumped ahead a holiday).
Again, Thanksgiving, or its equivalent.
You’ve weathered the storm. The turkey is settling. It’s the aftermath. You survey the scene and there it all is waiting for your fingers to reach the keys. Your muse is dancing on the table and no one cares.
…Uncle Mike slumped over the table, one hand outstretched as if reaching for the true meaning of life, but finding the pumpkin pie instead. The empty hand. The broken crust ring. The pie still caked on his lips representing his final thoughts. There’s cranberry sauce in his hair. That was a mystery and perhaps a clue. Could they get prints off the sauce? It might be their only hope.
…The turkey carcass waits. It stirs. What fools these humans. They require sustenance to live and now they are easy game. The turkey sleep of impending death. The carcass rises! That which they’ve carved is of no concern, for it is but a covering. They’re all helpless. Now is the time to strike.
…I was too late. Walking alone, house to house, each scene was the same. Football playing, but no one watching. Bodies strewn about in grotesque poses that revealed the horror that was their last moments. I was alone. I had no bone to pick because I had no bone because I wasn’t invited to dinner. Now, they’d paid the price and I was spared. Turkey armageddon. They never saw it coming. I never saw it coming.
Conclusion (because this is the end)
Actually, I don’t have a conclusion. I got you this far. What more do you want? Besides, NaNo doesn’t require a conclusion at the end, just an ending, which is technically different. Well, okay, you get the neat Winner badge and all that and you get to sleep on December 1st unless you have to go to work where focus and concentration include characters, arcs, and plot points. Yup, that’s right, you should have taken the day off.