With the passing of Inktober, where online artists commit themselves to make and publish daily drawings, comes the beginning of NaNoWriMo. NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month, is the writer’s equivalent to Inktober, where daily writing and review culminate in a fully realized novel. Titles like “The Night Circus” and “Water for Elephants” were penned during NaNo, which led to worldwide acclaim for their authors. Other stories, often overlooked, are still great reads and a testament to the dedication of writers worldwide.
I’ve attempted to work through NaNo, taking stories I had pieced together beforehand and building on them. But between scheduling, exhaustion, school (at the time), and lack of proper planning, I soon surrendered within the first week. Though with the success of certain NaNo novels, the temptation is ever present. I mean, who wouldn’t want their works immortalized on printed paper at the local bookstore?
No, not those ones, slash fiction should stay online. Looking at you, Fifty Shades.
From one struggling wordsmith to another, the idea of composing a full work over the course of a month is daunting. The story arcs, character development, and tying up of loose ends is enough to give me migraines. So here, I will present a few pieces of advice to aspiring NaNo participants.
Have your story in mind from the start
The idea of brilliant freeflow writing and unbridled creativity was and is certainly appealing. Kerouac did it, Ginsberg did it, Burroughs did some weird stuff with it, but the romanticism is intoxicating. The image of a passionate writer at their desk for days on end is compelling, but often inaccurate. In a world of deadlines, obligations, and distractions, the idea that a person can sit down at a keyboard and produce a masterpiece over the course of a month without sleep is daunting to say the least.
So as a starting point for any NaNo hopefuls, know where the story is going before beginning. Have an end goal in mind, and perhaps a map to how it gets there. Impulsive writing is fantastic when executed properly, but even then there’s a thread of continuity. Picture a standup comedian, one who specializes in observational comedy. Russell Howard , Dara O’Briain, and Dave Chappelle are mesmerizing in their performances, but they have their routines preplanned. They’re loose enough to allow for interruptions, but still follow a set lineup. The end goal is preplanned, but anything that happens between the start and finish is free material. They’re able to work with unexpected additions to the act, but not deviate the entire show to focus on them. Knowing the end of a story is just as, if not more important, than knowing the beginning and middle parts.
What is the message?
Every story has a meaning behind it, be it a moral, a lesson, or an allegory for something greater. There should be a reason for why the author is writing and the audience reading a particular work. Maybe it’s self discovery, or explaining world events, or condensing great ideas to be understandable for a general populace. Whatever the motivation, there must be purpose behind a work.
So ask yourself: what are the ideas you want left lingering in your and other’s minds as the story ends? What story do you want to tell? It doesn’t have to be a deep and life-changing message (though that’s certainly welcome), as long as there are a few little nuggets in the tale that a reader can bring to mind weeks or months after setting down the book.
A personal favorite of mine comes from Patrick Rothfuss’s The Kingkiller Chronicle series, wherein the protagonist Kvothe describes a tavern game that, with its explanation, has managed to change the way I myself play games years after reading. Simple to learn, difficult to master, the character Bredon sums it up nicely. “The objective…is not to win, but to play a beautiful game.” That simple phrase has changed how I personally play games, stuck in there by some clever wordplay. When writing, what the lingering thoughts in the reader’s mind should be are imperative.
Go easy on yourself
It’s a difficult commitment, NaNo. Unless already a habit, daily writing, story mapping, revision, and editing can drive a person to exhaustion when added to a schedule. It’s important to remember, then, that although the story is important, self-care is doubly so. Find a comfortable space, maybe pour some tea and play soft music. Relax. Don’t be too hard on yourself for not meeting the daily word threshold. Diligence should be tempered with rest, objectives with realism. Unless that’s the preferred writing style, probably best to skip the espresso and heavy metal for 3am frenzied writing.
Take your time, pace yourself, and don’t feel obligated to do everything at once. A break every now and then is helpful, and sometimes stepping away for a minute can clear the mental blocks. Don’t expect to be perfect on the first try. Very few people can manage such an accomplishment, and that level of skill takes years of work. Remember, the novel doesn’t have to be finished by the end of the month. Revision and fixing can be done for weeks after the fact. So breathe, grab a drink, and be kind to yourself, young writer. The story will come in time.
Have you or are you participating in National Novel Writing Month? Do you have any advice for aspiring novelists? What wisdom can you pass on to those facing writer’s block or stress? Feel free to leave those answers and anything else you’d like to discuss in the comments. As always, my name is Crab, and I’ll see you next time. Happy writing!