This morning I finished the NaNo section of my novel (i.e., the 50k part of it) and had to have a quick dance around the room with my arms up making that sotto voce “raaar” sound meant to indicate that large crowds of people are cheering for you. Hey, I know I’m a huge dorkasaurus, but sometimes you just need to pat yourself on the back. :)
I still have the big final battle, the ending chapters, and all of the bits in between to do – probably another 20k if I’m lucky. That leaves it a bit on the thin side for a novel, but with the illustrations I think it will be fine. I don’t know if other people write like this, but a lot of what I still need to do are transitions and strengthening characters and plot – since I was working in Scrivener, in a chapter and scene type of format, there needs to be a lot of smoothing between those scenes. After I get a reasonable alpha-type draft, then I’ll start the rewriting for a first draft – that one I might show people. It may take a second draft before I let anyone read it.
There are some scenes and characters that I really, really like. I’d written earlier about accidentally plagiarising a short story that I must have read a post on somewhere, and how disappointing that was to realise. Well, one of my favourite characters has come out of that rewrite, a cocky streetwise girl named Malenka who leads a band of guttersnipes and pickpockets. I love her scenes. And then, on the other hand, there are scenes that I wrote when I was just trying to force out another 500 or 1000 words, and they are as stiff and lifeless as cardboard. The scenes where I was having fun and being in the flow are like night and day to the ones where I was forcing it for the daily wordcount. All of those will have to be rewritten or trashed.
Overall, NaNoWriMo was a great experience. There is an amazing community of would-be writers (and quite a few professional ones) that support each other. I’ve met some wonderful people, and I very much look forward to reading their books someday. I’ve never had a problem with discipline, but I did have a massive writer’s block before I started. I’ve been thinking about this particular story for decades, literally – and thanks to having a competitive, supportive framework within which to work, I finally got over my fear and did it.
What was each day like? What did I do to finish NaNo with relatively little despair and bloodletting?
1. Write at the same time every day.
I have an advantage in that I am currently not working. I’m trying to build a freelance art business, but my longterm (and pretty lucrative) career as a large-scale ecommerce project manager, UI/UX designer, and developer is over. So, although we may not be able to pay the mortgage much longer, I did have the free time. So I would get up at 5:30 or 6:00am, have breakfast, and write at least 2000 words. Sometimes I wrote more, and I used the cushion for those days when I just couldn’t bear to write anything.
2. Eat breakfast.
Sounds dumb, but I think it really helped. I normally don’t eat breakfast, but will have coffee and either dry cereal or some toast. (Dry cereal? Long story. The first time I ever remember noticing someone with body odor was on the schoolbus, and I thought they smelt like Cheerios and milk. I’ve never had milk on cereal ever since, but I love some dry Special K Red Berries.) Anyway, I’ve been forcing myself to cook (cooking is a massive pain in the ass at 5:30am when you’re still half-asleep) and eat it (I felt sick-ish every single morning. Plus the fat from bacon, gammon, etc. did bad intestinal things to me. TMI?). But protein and slow-release energy food really does help, I felt as though my brain was working better. I know, it sounds dumb.
3. Don’t check mail, or Twitter, or read any blogs until you are done for the day.
Twitter is the devil. I found that if I just had a quick peek before I started, I would leave it open and check it every two minutes. No Twitter. No surfing. No lolcats. Nada. By the way, I just checked Twitter right now. I have the attention span of a gnat, and have to cut out all distractions because I am easily subverted by Teh Shiny.
4. Organise and Plan.
Apologies to pantsers out there, but if I had tried to do that I would probably have struggled to even start, let alone write every day. All through October I did outlines and character sketches, I did my research, collected reference photos, and I got everything set up in Scrivener (which I love with a passion and want to have its babies). I set up a structure in Scrivener with chapters and scenes inside the chapters, with notes on what I wanted to write for each. I did everything that I could do without actually starting to write. When I did start, I knew what I needed to do. If I got stuck on a certain scene, I could move to another since I knew what needed to happen in each one. For me it worked superbly well.
5. Reward yourself.
Rewards work. They work for training dogs, and they work just as well for motivating yourself. I know you’re all evolved and all that, but trust me – throw yourself a bone. What I did was allow special treats, such as a stiff drink that night if I’d done enough words – and with me out of work right now, believe me that is a treat. I may think that vodka is another food group, but it is a very expensive luxury that we don’t have very often. I did during NaNo, and it helped. I’m also going to use my 50% off for being a NaNoWriMo winner to buy a copy of Scrivener for my very own, because I have to have it.
6. Write through the suck.
You won’t be Shakespeare, or Stephen King, or even Barbara Cartland. Ok, that last one was a joke, but you know what I mean. Don’t fret about it, just write. Even if it is so horrible that you are writhing with embarrassment as you write it, keep the ass in the chair and write de damn words, mon. You’ll make it through the suck part to something that you are actually excited about as you write it. There may even be tears (the good kind). But you’ll never know unless you force your way through the wall of suck.
7. Don’t give up.
Again, that sounds too simple and obvious – but I would guess it is probably why most people abandon their projects. They don’t have car accidents or get kidnapped by the Mafia or anything, they just stop believing. Believing in yourself is one of the most difficult things that you can do, trust me. I’ve always struggled with it. I didn’t write this book for most of my adult life due to a simple fear of suckage. Embrace the suck if you have to – it may be bad, but at least you never gave up.
8. It really helps to have supportive people around you.
I can’t describe how much my husband helped me just by giving me the space and support to do this. No, I didn’t ask his permission, I’m not a 50s housewife. But we sabotage the ones we love all the time, it’s a human thing. We chip away at each other by being dismissive or threatened or jealous or selfish. Thank you, Phil, for not being any of those things. I’ll make it up to you later. :)
That’s it, I suppose. We’re having a mini-celebration here, with a bottle of wine and everything. (Hey, a bottle of wine is a real luxury in this house. The French drink it like water, and it’s dead cheap over there. Why is a bottle of mediocre wine so expensive in England?) I wish you your own celebrations and victories as well.
Oh, and I’ve also started this…illustrations! I haven’t painted in ages, so that is the next challenge.