I'm a WriMo, Are You? – Our Write Side

You’re a what?

I’m a WriMo, as in NaNoWriMo.

It’s a term for those who participate in the annual November National Novel Writing Month. We are WriMos, not to be confused with WiNos (or could we?). I embark on my 5th year of NaNoWriMo in hopes to complete my short story collection. Yes, I do think there are 50K more words that can be written, even as some complete stories need a bit of fleshing out, completion, or rewriting.

I am not scared (Liar. My pants ARE on fire.) I have learned that the only thing that can stop me from finishing is me. I am fantastic at getting in my own way. I assure you of this. So, what do I do for prep?

My quick answer would be nothing, but that’s not really correct. I have to prepare mentally, and I have to remind my family that I am going into NaNo mode, which means when the MS Word or Google Doc is up, unless you’re dying (or bringing me coffee), leave me alone. Mommy has checked out for the duration…

So, let me give you some tips on how I manage to survive NaNo year after year, even if I don’t meet the 50,000 word goal.

Tip #1: Don’t stress

No, I’m not insane, and yes, I know you already are. But stop. You’re not going to burn in writer’s hell forever if you don’t meet the 50K mark. That only happens when you misuse you’re (ha!) pronouns and overflow on adjectives. Seriously. Set your goal, do your best to write every day as much as you can. Some days you will exceed the suggested word count, and some days you won’t. Don’t let that status grid put excess pressure on you. It’s only a graph. It’s not like they put it there purposely to overwhelm you (or maybe they did. It always gets me in the end). Just do what you can with what you can, as often as you can. That 50k goal is just a number. Even if you don’t meet it, you still win. You wrote, and your story grew. That’s all that really matters.

Tip #2: Forget the word count stats graph.

Really. In fact, I suggest you only update your word count once a week. Minimize the stress and give the pressure a good ol’ kick in the hiney. Depending on the program you are using, you can keep your own word count going. It’s a defeatist move to add your word count and have the stupid thing tell you “at this rate you’ll be done by Christmas.” Yeah, whatever. At least it gets done, right? That’s the main point of NaNo. All the rest is just decoration.

Tip #3: Do writing sprints.

If you are on Twitter, @nanowrimo does quite a bit of sprinting throughout the day to help people overcome any blocks that keep them from writing. Sprints are useful because you write for a set amount of time, just writing, not fixing mistakes, ignoring the red squiggles under words, until the time frame is up, then you share with the others how many words you finished. Don’t be dismayed if your word count isn’t as high as others. It’s not a race, just a focus on writing. Take a short break and come back to your project. Try another sprint or do it on your own. I’m always amazed by how time disappears while in writing mode.

Tip #4: Start the next scene before you walk away.

Keep your momentum going. If you start the next scene before you walk away, when you return, you’ll be able to pick up where you left off without much trouble. I’ll explain using a sample from my own work, an unfinished story I call “Rolling in the Deep”.

Here is the ending of the last scene I wrote:

“You asked earlier what they wanted in exchange for helping us. This is what they want.” The captain picked up the crying child and cradled her in his arms. “They want us to raise her, protect her. She must have a great destiny ahead of her. We need to go ashore. The queen gave us a bounty to ensure we found the child.”

         “…And that’s how the pirates were defeated, at least according to the captain. You showed up at the church right after. It wasn’t until yesterday that I remembered this and put it all together.” Father Brown finished.

Since I have a tendency to walk away and get sidetracked, I added the beginning of the next scene:

Celia suppressed the laugh that rose from her belly. She did not believe for one moment that he conveniently happened to remember this story. And, while Father Brown did not come out and state it, she understood what he intimated. The very idea that she came from the ocean, that there were people living in the ocean, sounded preposterous to her. Yet, she could not deny her dreams. Her hands rose instinctively to her throat. Her soft, unmarred skin met her fingertips. Her human legs stretched out in front of her without bidding.

This may not mean anything to you, but for me, it always brings me back into the story, and I am able to remember where I left off and stay following the direction of the story. This is probably the most important tip I can give you other than to “Just Write.”

My second year of NaNo, I took on a little project that twisted and turned with sci-fi, paranormal, and etc aspects. The story itself moved along quite well, but at the end of the month when I hit that 50,000 word mark, I was so exhausted and burned out, I stopped, even though the story wasn’t finished. And that brings me to the next tip…

Tip #5: Finish the story

Your story may not end at 50,000 words. Honestly, that’s just a mark. Most full length novels are closer to 80,000 or 100,000 words. Don’t make the same mistake I did, dropping the story my second year and walking away. Life gets busy (at least for me) and when I finally returned, I had completely forgotten where it was going. These 50,000 words are still floating around in my files waiting for inspiration. I’m bummed. So, take a break, write a short piece of flash or two, then return to your story, working on it each time you write (even if it’s just 10 minutes a day) until it’s complete. At that point, you should put it aside for a short while (a couple weeks to a month) before returning to it so it’s fresh and you’ll catch more errors.

Tip #6: Edit as you go

I know, I know. They say not to do this, but honestly, do you really want to spend all that time fixing stupid little typos and such? I don’t. Now, to be clear, I am not talking about full on editing where you cut this scene or kill this character. I’m referring to all those squiggly red and blue lines that pop up while you are typing.  I mean if you are anything like me, I’m quite confident your page is filled with them. My fingers tend to move faster than my brain can think, and it gets me in trouble quite often. Just think of it in this way: Remember when you were a teenager and your mom told you to clean your room? You always did the barest minimum to make it look clean without actually cleaning it. Stuff all the clothes in the closet and under the bed, pile all those half written chapters and penciled character sketches on a heap on your desk. Just enough to make the floor visible. Right? (Be honest. We all know you did this, too. It’s a rite of passage.)

So in that sense, all you’re doing is cleaning up the edges, dotting your t’s and crossing your i’s, fixing all those your and you’re, their and there, adding that missing letter or i before e except after c…

Tip #7: Reward yourself

Writing consistently is a big deal. Whether you meet that 50k word count or not, your story is further along than it was the day you started. Reward yourself daily. Week 2 will get difficult because it seems longer than it really is, the motivation is weak, and you just need a little something to boost your spirits. Reward yourself.

Tip #8: Just write

Some days the words will struggle for release. This is normal, it happens to everyone (even Stephen King!). Don’t get discouraged. Open a blank page and just spill everything that’s in your head and write. Just write. Write til your mind is clear, or the time limit is up. These “braindumps” are excellent exercises to keep your creativity in shape. You might even find a jewel or two within those words to inspire you.

I know you’ll find lots of tips for conquering the NaNoWriMo beast. These are mine. I am by all intents and purposes 100% a pantser (I write by the seat of my pants. I don’t do outlines or anything, I just write. That is a pantser). This is what works for me. These might work for you, and they might not. Either way, I’d love to hear your processes, and to discuss these things with you either here in the comments or on the special NaNoWriMo board in our forum. (Yes, you should join, then you don’t have to get on Facebook!)

Come back next week and I’ll break down the different writing programs for you.