Hey all, Dani here.
Welcome to a special edition of Weekend Writer. Yes, you are getting a Weekend Writer post on both days of the weekend this time around. Why? Well, because this particular book fits best in two segments, and I feel that both segments are necessary to have at the early stages of the month. Hopefully you’ll understand why after you’ve read both of the posts.
It would be really cool for all of us who want to write creatively (whether that is poetry, stories, novellas, novels, screenplays, RPGs, video games, whatever) to be able to help uplift and inspire each other, and keep ourselves motivated to strive for our dreams, so I decided to start this blog series here. This series will be a lot of me working through books on writing and creativity, maybe doing and sharing some writing exercises, and possibly doing some writing based discussion posts. It’s going to be an adventure for sure, and I hope it helps you as much as it is helping me.
Chris Baty, founder of the wildly successful literary marathon known as National Novel Writing Month, has completely revised and expanded his definitive handbook for extreme noveling. Chris pulls from over 15 years of results-oriented writing experience to pack this compendium with new tips and tricks, ranging from week-by-week quick reference guides to encouraging advice from authors, and much more. His motivating mix of fearless optimism and practical solutions to common excuses gives both first-time novelists and results-oriented writers the kick-start they need to embark on an exhilarating creative adventure
Section One: A Round-Trip Ticket to Novel-Land: Gearing Up For Your Writing Adventure
The first edition of this book came out in 2004, and between that time and the release of the revised and expanded edition, NaNoWriMo founder and writer Chris Baty had come up with a whole bunch of additional tips and tricks for the book, as well as realized that a few parts needed to be fine-tuned a bit. So the revised version was released in 2014, and it’s the version that I own. I did have one of the original versions, but I replaced it with this one. I’ve read it a few different times, and I like that it is a quick read filled with tons of tips and tricks for getting through NaNoWriMo, as well as advice gathered from a number of participants over the years to make the experience truly great for anyone.
“The biggest thing separating people from their artistic ambitions is not a lack of talent. It’s the lack of a deadline. Give someone an enormous task, a supportive community, and a friendly-yet-firm due date, and miracles will happen every time.” — pg 19
Each of those elements is important, but I feel from all of my experience with NaNo and with writing in general, the most important of those is the supportive community. The very first time I did NaNoWriMo I was a freshman in college, I wasn’t writing with anyone else, and I had no local region to join. There was nobody for me to really share the experience with, and it made the month rather grueling, especially when adding all of my schoolwork into the mix.
My second year I managed to drag a small handful of friends in with me, and we would all gather in small study rooms and write for hours and hours. It was definitely better than my first go-round. By my third year I signed up to make the city where I went to school an official region for NaNoWriMo, and I started hosting write-ins on campus and out in the community.
Those were the 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2009 NaNoWriMo’s, the time I was in college. I am still a member of that region, because I only live about 45 minutes away, and so I can sometimes still attend events. But when I returned home I became much more active in my local region. I was the ML here in 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016. But then I had to step back a little because of a whole lot of life events going on. I’m still an active participant, and will gladly give advice where I can.
I love NaNoWriMo, and so I try to share my experiences and help others if I can. Back to talking about Chris Baty’s book, now.
Chris learned a few things from the first year of this crazy month of writing (which the first year it was in July, and then it moved to the now standard November). One of those is that waiting to experience life and reach some sort of enlightenment before trying to write is overrated. Think of how many books you could write if you just stop waiting and sit down now to try writing. Yes, the books you write in your twenties will be different from your forties, and both will definitely be different from what you write in your sixties. The point is if you just keep waiting you could be letting a great book slip away from you.
Another lesson is that being busy can sometimes actually be good for your writing. If all you have to focus on is your writing then you will most likely slow down and agonize over word choice and sentence structure and all of that. Or worse, you’ll find every other task that needs to be done except for writing. So you’ll run errands and clean the house, but you won’t sit down and write. If you have a hundred things to do a day but you also want to get writing accomplished, then you’ll sit down and write with abandon, not actually focusing on if the words sound amazing, because you don’t have a lot of extra time to spend on making everything perfect.
The third lesson is that plot happens. You don’t actually have to do research or do any planning before starting to write. Hey, if that’s your writing style though, that is perfectly fine and you’re doing a great job. But you literally can just open up a computer and start writing. The characters and plot will slowly pull themselves together as the words are slapped onto the page. Research and fine-tuning can be done starting with the second draft. That’s totally fine.
Finally, the last lesson Chris pulled from the early years of this event is that writing just to write has its own rewards. The more you write, the better your writing becomes. You start to naturally learn about character development and story structure. It really is a hands-on learning experience. You figure things out by trying them.
Have I literally written about a thousand words on this post and I’ve only made it through the introduction section? Yep, it certainly does appear that way. Hmm…maybe I should make this a three-part write-up. Yeah, I think I’ll do that. But first, I think I’ll get through my commentary on Chapter One. Let’s go.
The most important element to this whole process, according to Chris Baty, is the deadline.
“A deadline is, simply put, optimism in its most ass-kicking form. It’s a potent force that, when wielded with respect, will level any obstacle in its path. This is especially true when it comes to creative pursuits.” — pg 32
Baty also points out that there are a number of published novels that were written at high-speeds. Some of those include Interview with a Vampire by Anne Rice (five weeks), The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson (three days), and Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk (two weeks).
Oh, and self-care is also important. Writing a novel means spending a whole lot of time sitting at a computer and typing away. Make the space as ergonomic as possible, take breaks to stretch and rest your eyes, and go to sleep if you’re feeling too tired.
One of the main reasons a deadline helps is that it gets us out of the mentality of the one day novelist. You know, as in “One day I’ll write a book.” That ends now. Just go write one. You can do it. And the great part about NaNoWriMo is that the deadline gives you a month to get through 50,000 words of a novel, and if after that you decide that you’re done, then it’s over and you can check “write a book” off your bucket list. Nobody said you had to try and publish it after you write it.
So now we’ve gone over why the month long pursuit exists. Why 50,000 words? Honestly, Baty says he grabbed the shortest book he could find on his shelf–Brave New World by Aldous Huxley–and did a rough count of the words contained with in. But over the years the number has stuck around, because it is a good number, not too easy but not too difficult. Most people can accomplish the 1667 a day word goal in just an hour or two, so even if you have a full-time job and all sorts of other craziness in your schedule, you can still manage to do this.
No matter how talented you are, your first draft is going to be ugly anyway. So just write it.
And don’t go at it alone. So many think of writing as a solitary pursuit. And it is, because unless you are co-authoring a book, you are writing it by yourself. But that doesn’t mean that you need to be alone. Find your writing region, find other people who want to write a book, and set up times to just get together and write. You don’t share your writing then, you don’t critique their writing then, you just sit around and each work on your own project. It honestly does help you feel less alone.
Finally, hey, back to that deadline. It only works if you can hold yourself accountable for it. The easiest way to do that is to tell other people what you’re doing. I’ve done it on my social media, and in person to my friends for years. “Hey everyone, I’m spending November writing 50,000 words towards a novel.” You can even go so far as to having your friends come up with rewards or punishments for reaching or failing on your goal. I just stick with the traditional NaNoWriMo Wrap Party. I don’t need my friends suggesting that if I fail to reach my goal by the deadline that I need to mow their lawn or shovel snow or wash the dishes. No thank you, I have to do that enough at my own home.
All right, that is all for today. I will be back tomorrow with the next few chapters of this book.
Where to Get a Copy
You can also check with your local library.