Tuesday, October 25, 2011

TUESDAY TIP It's #NaNoWriMo Time! #nano #pubtip #writing #amwriting #myWANA

Every year, tens of thousands of writers around the world gather in the month of November and churn out hundreds of millions of words (actually, last year, I think the word count topped the billion mark). It's an event called NaNoWriMo, which stands for National Novel Writing Month (though it's an international event). It was started in 2001 by Chris Baty whose great little advice book, No Plot? No Problem! has helped more than one "nano'er" get started with the event.

What is it? What's the point of it? The basic gist of Nanowrimo is an eent designed to break through writer's block (and if you believe in that mythical beast, I also have a unicorn to sell you ^_^) The idea of the event is to provide an environment for the entire month where writers are spurred to write. I really don't understand the need for spurring because I don't find writing painful (and spurs hurt!) but I suppose misery loves company and there are many would-be writers out there who  cannot actually bring themselves to start writing. All of these types hold each other accountable on a daily basis via the Nanowrimo event. There are also a lot (read a LOT) of writers who are writing all year long and just enjoy the way high energy of the site during November. I fall in to this latter category.

Participants in the event often call each other all sorts of names--but only in good humor--from "nanos" to "wrimos" though I don't think there's ever been a stand off between nanos and wrimos; unlike Team Jacob vs. Team Edward, the nanos and wrimos are all united with a singular goal of writing 50,000 words in 30 days.

Fact: writers write.

That's it. There's no qualification to it. Writers don't write only when....or only if....or except in November (grin). Writers write. Always. Other than the tips I gave in my August, 2011 article for breaking through your mental resistance or writing for the "wrong" reasons, below I'll go over a few things you can do if you want to participate in Nanowrimo 2011 but you're still unsure whether or not you can do it. You can. Everyone can. Not everyone should, but that's a discussion for another day. Today is Tuesday Tips for Preparing to do Nanowrimo 2011. Click through the jump break to read on.

Note: I shall NOT be participating this year as I am currently way too busy with 3 novels already in process to start a new one. I have a publication schedule taking me through the end of 2012 so I probably won't do Nanowrimo next year either, but it's possible. As Emperor Gregor says, Let's see what happens.

The Tools
One of the biggest distractions nano'ers indulge in is collecting tools to "help" them write or write better, or prepare better. You know what? You can do Nanowrimo with a pencil, eraser and pad of paper. Well, so long as you can read your own handwriting, you can. I can't but that's why I type 100wpm. I love tech toys but really, it's not about the tools.

If you really feel the urge to get new tools just for this event, you really need to get them now, get them installed, setup, get yourself familiar with how they work and do not let learning the tools eat up your nanotime. You only have one week left to do all of this. Get your environment set up right away, iron out the bugs and bumps, make sure now that you've got everything you need to write daily starting next week.

Why the stress of preparation ahead of time? You're only going to have so many hours in the day. The point of Nanowrimo is to write words, not format them, not organize them into folders and outlines, not to make maps and cross-reference articles which might be of interest if you happen to get to that subtext in your plot. Just words. That's it. They don't even have to be the right words; there just have to be 50,000 of them.

You'll need to upload your words (or some facsimile thereof) to the Nanowrimo web site to be verified so using a word processor saves the step of typing them in later, after you've composed them (but you can do the Nanowrimo activity on paper--can't stress that enough!) In fact, they used have a method where you could manually type in your word count number--and on the honor system they'd believe you--but I think for the final count, you still have to upload something.

Word Processors
Microsoft Word is the most common one but if you don't have Word and you were considering getting it just to do Nanowrimo, don't bother. First of all, it's really expensive. You can get OpenOffice (OO) free of charge under the Creative Commons license and the Word-like program there has nearly every single feature MS Word has--just a fraction of the bugs!

Avoid the heavy word processors completely. Unless you are like me, and have been using MS Word for so long (I've been using it since it was released on the DOS platform) it's second nature to you, the bells and whistles are just going to distract you.

Try Microsoft Wordpad (which comes free with the Microsoft Windows OS) or Notepad which is a plain text editor available on both Windows and Mac platforms are more than enough for just churning out words--and not worry about anything else. Stay focused. You do not have to have the right words, just 50,000 of them by November 30th! Can't say that enough. Make it a mantra! Don't have to be the right words, just 50,000 of them.

A word processor I've heard about lately for the MacOS (and coming any day now to the Windows platform) is Scrivener. The folks at Literature and Latte (makers of Scrivener) have promoted their product through the Nanowrimo site for a couple of years now and they've taken inputs from the nanos on what tools writers need and want for their novel-creation process.

As a result,  Scrivener is not only a word process, it is a book builder. In fact, it's even got tools for connecting volumes of a series for the author's organizational purposes. I do this myself with my own organizational compulsions--I mean, talents--but it's nice that Scrivener has built in tools for organizing related works.

Scrivener also has built in tools for outlining and editing. Take it for a trial run if you haven't seen it before. There was a recent blog I found through a Twitter friend by someone who's using  Scrivener on a Mac and really liked it. Jamie discusses 5 tips for preparing your  Scrivener environment for doing Nanowrimo specifically. If you've never used this before, though, I advise against trying it out for Nanowrimo. Learn to use it another time--and use it for next year's event.  This year, just one week away, use what you know.

Whatever method of writing you've already mastered is the right method for you.

How to Prepare & Execute
It's really not about the tools. I love tech tools (I'm a webbiegrrl after all) but it's really just about the writing, so your preparations should focus on being ready to write, not being ready to use your new writing tool.

One preparation that helps a lot of people (not everyone) is to outline a rough idea of what you want to accomplish. This is just "notes to self" not an official outline you would ever share with a publisher or something. It's just to give yourself a daily guide to where you should be focused when you sit down to write.

If you do the math, you can see you need to write just under 2000 words a day to make 50,000 in 30 days so on your outline, also make a note of how many words you think each part of your story idea will require. If you have a section where you're kind of "fuzzy" and don't know if you can write that part, here's the best advice you are ever going to get for Nanowrimo:

Instead of forcing yourself to figure out the fuzz, skip it. Just put a placeholder like [talk about Joe's past here] or [name of city where this happened] or whatever plot point or prop or setting detail you want to put in and worry about it later. Do not waste days -- or even hours! -- on details like that for Nanowrimo. You might spend a week doing that kind of research the rest of the year, during the normal course of writing, but for Nanowrimo writing, don't. Just move on.

Why? Why deliberately leave things unfinished and why plant details you'll have to edit in later? Because the key to Nanowrimo is to keep up your pace, your rhythm. If you're on a roll and stumble to a halt over some detail, toss it. Just toss it aside into those little brackets of a note to self and move on. If you don't, you are basically creating a writer's block where one did not exist. Oh and then you have "find your place" again afterwards. Don't do it. Don't stop, just put in a placeholder and keep writing.

What Else Do Nano'ers Need?
Those are really the only things I think anyone needs for a successful Nanowrimo:
  1. A word processor you are familiar with using
  2. An outline or solid idea in your mind of what you want to accomplish (begin with the end in mind; have a goal; know where you're going before you set out so you don't get lost on the way).
  3. The ability to let go of the details and stay focused on rolling out the words, non-stop.
Okay, there's one more thing you'll need. Comics. Debbie Ridpath Ohi, the Inkygirl who Will Write for Chocolate has often published Nanowrimo related comics daily for the month to help support her fellow nano'ers. She's so famous and so busy these days, she's not really doing our little event so religiously but she is still a source of great comic relief should you need one. There are other comics posted to the Nanowrimo site. You should log into the site daily and check the Dashboard but try not to spend much time on the site until after you've accomplished your daily quota of writing.

Many nanos fail to meet the 50k mark because they have spent so much time in the forums or in groups talking about writing instead of actually doing it. Just do it, as the Nike ad sez.

As I said at the start, I'm not doing the event this year (nor have I since completing Nano2006 midway through the month) but I really enjoy the energy of all those writers gathered together so I keep my account active and up-to-date. Once they reactivate the "Buddy" feature, please feel free to add me. I'm -sry (with the dash or minus sign before the "s"). Click here to access my profile.


Ruth Madison said...

I definitely am a writer and I write every day, but NaNo has its own charm.

I like to use it to set personal challenges for myself. The sense of racing against a clock can be fun, and also building up an outline but not allowing myself to start the story until a particular date has the feel of anticipation of a holiday.

My challenge for myself this November is to write the entire draft of the novel I have planned for the spring. I expect it to be 80,000 words.

Ruth Madison said...

Oh, also, yWriter is a free program that is similar to Scrivner. It's only for PC, though, while Scrivner is Mac based. I really like yWriter and highly recommend it to people as a way to organize a document the size of a novel.

Webbiegrrl Writer said...

Hi Ruth,

Yes, I've seen your gushing reviews about yWriter over on the Novel Publicity Facebook page ;) You really REALLY love it!! Thanks for contributing the suggestion - I just have to remind anyone getting any ideas about trying it out that you only have one week left to get the hang of it--then it becomes an obstacle not a tool of facilitation.

Your writing tools, no matter what you choose, should facilitate the activity for you, personally. Some people prefer to use speech-to-text programs and not write/type anything at all! It really depends on what works for each individual writer.

Wow, Ruth, you're going to attempt 80,000 words in 30 days? That's an ambitious goal! Good luck!

Last year, I used Nanowrimo as a means of scheduling myself and "proving" (just to myself) that I could work to a deadline. I set out to edit (completely revise then also proofread to a final form and format into the correct eBook manner) one chapter a week for 20 weeks (or 6 mos). Oh and while working the day job and everything else I do week in and week out. It was a struggle, especially once Nanowrimo was over and I had to find my own fire to keep up the pace!

It's a really good feeling to know you can set a schedule and then work to the deadline, like a true professional. Nanowrimo has so many good uses and results! There's really no downside.