NaNoWriMo – The Fast and Furious Guide

crest-05e1a637392425b4d5225780797e5a76

We’ve been having a conversation on WhatsApp about how to do NaNoWriMo. Here is my Fast and Furious Guide. It defies all the laws of good writing, but it may help you clock up your 50,000 words, and once you have those, you have the first draft of your book.

About plans

So first, sketch out a rough plan. Spend five minutes on this. Don’t agonize over it.

Next, write a one- or two-line premise to remind yourself what you are writing about. Ask yourself, ‘Whose story is it? What happens?’ That’s the absolute basic.

Now, expand on that. Ask questions of your story. Add the answers to these questions to your premise or synopsis and allow it to expand and expand. When you wake up in the morning, your brain will tell you what’s going to happen next. This is the bit that non-writers have a hard time understanding. The founder of NaNoWriMo understood very well that it is only by total immersion in your work-in-progress that you will come to be a part of it and live it. Day by day, this intimate contact with your story and its characters will show you the way. If you do not believe and you do not commit, this won’t happen for you.

About scenes

So, you have in front of you your expanding story outline. Now write the scene that first comes into your mind. You can write your scenes in any order, and then put them in order after NaNoWriMo. For now, just throw words down on the page.

If you already have a synopsis, that’s brilliant. Roughly divide it into three sections following the traditional Three-Act structure that we have talked about in the past. Do this not because it is the solution to plotting, but because it will give you a quick plan to work to. Remember always that your plan is organic. New ideas will come to you in the writing of your story, and you need to be flexible enough to accommodate these ideas.

Divide your first section or Act into scenes. Start writing the scenes in any order. As mentioned before, editing comes later.

Trick your mind

Do not share. Otherwise you will want your work to be perfect. It will be a first draft so it won’t be perfect and, because it is not perfect, you will stop writing. You will be paralyzed. This is why you should just write, and not blather on to other people about what you have written.

The setting up of your novel on the NaNoWriMo site means nothing. It is for you, psychologically, to know that your novel exists and that what you have outlined there on the site is roughly what you are going to write. I say ‘roughly’ because it is your book and you can change anything you like.

The technical stuff

During NaNoWriMo you actually write your story on your own laptop, or computer, or in your notebook. You are not required to upload anything else. You will need to type your work into a Word document because at the end, when you have come to the 30th day, or have finished the first draft, you have to copy and past your text into the NaNoWriMo word counter. On the basis of this you are issued with your ‘winning’ certificate. Your manuscript is not checked for content, grammar, spelling, or anything else. It is not printed or published anywhere. The upload is merely to check that you have in fact written 50,000 words or more.

About first drafts

Working towards a first draft and not stopping to edit pushes you towards reaching your desired word count. Many people get blocked because they feel dissatisfied with a sentence or a word that they have written and, because of this, they never move on. You can go back and tweak a bit here and there if it makes you feel better, but NaNoWriMo is a quirky kind of event, the aim of which is to get you unstuck about always thinking about writing that book and never ever doing it. It also tests whether you have the staying power to engage with a long piece of writing. Most people don’t. It takes stamina and seat glue. You have to say ‘no’ to invitations during the month of November, you have to live and breathe the writing. Won’t you do that for yourself for just one month?

Expanding your plan

So, your plan is roughly divided into three sections or Acts. You need to aim for three sets of scenes. As you work through some of your early scenes, the later scenes will come to mind, and as they do, you add them – the outline of them – as they appear, so that by the time you move on to the next section, your scenes, or most of them, are already in place.

As I said before, your story is organic. The synopsis, plan, scenes are in place to keep you on track. You elaborate these as you go along. You must write down ALL your ideas in the same document. It’s all part of your word count. At a later stage, when you have substantial material in a particular section, you can divide that text into chapters, but this is not essential since that would really just be cosmetic. Editing, and the division into chapters can come after NaNoWriMo when you begin the real work, and when you have found out what your book is really about. Your plan is there so that you don’t lose the plot. Follow the plan, but as a guide only.

Writing in company or in secret

By all means, find yourself a ‘writing buddy,’ but just for support and encouragement. Don’t start philosophizing about what you are doing or it will never happen.

There is nothing to stop you from signing up and using a pseudonym. Do your writing in secret and don’t tell anyone, but try to challenge yourself by keeping up your word count. If you fail miserably no one will ever know. There is no money to be spent, there is no one telling you what you should or shouldn’t write. This is actually just you challenging yourself and showing yourself that you can clock up a large number of words that tell – in the form of a rough draft – the story you want to elaborate.

Why?

People who do NaNoWriMo realize that the real work of the writer comes later when they build the bricks and the sand and the miscellaneous rubble into a designer house. That happens after NaNoWriMo. If you have no materials to work with, you cannot redraft, rewrite, elaborate, and you cannot produce anything worthwhile.

Focus and trust

So, during the 30 days of NaNoWriMo, keep a notebook by your side all through the day and write down any thoughts, lines, descriptions, scenes that relate to your story. If you’re focusing, and doing this right, the story will come to you and you will never be staring at a blank page.

Let me know if you are encountering any problems and what the nature of those problems is. I may be able to suggest a solution. Keep writing, especially this month.

 

 

Advertisements

Ghost Writers

If someone is a member of fifty activity groups, the chances of him or her coming to a writers’ workshop and sitting still long enough to write a story are pretty slim.

The writers’ group I founded in Abu Dhabi back in June 2015 now has 1,952 members. A group of these writer-members meets weekly, and out of around sixteen who sign up on the Meetup site for our free workshop sessions, usually about eight turn up to take their places in the café where we meet. What happens each week to the other eight, one can only guess. One assumes they were abducted on their way to the workshop. Sometimes we never ever hear from them again.

RIP

Many of our would-be attendees have plenty to say for themselves. Some send messages to say that they ‘really want to come’ to our workshop, and ‘definitely intend to come,’ but they are ‘just so busy at the moment.’ Well, with those fifty other groups to attend, they would be, wouldn’t they?

Some say they would indeed come if I could only move the group into the centre of town, or if I could change the meeting time, or if I could shift the day of meeting. Of course, call their bluff and change the location and the timings, and not only do those people not show up, but they vanish from the face of the earth. This is why we now refer to them as… ghost writers.

I sometimes wonder if analyzing the nature of the other groups chosen by these writers would give me a profile of the type of people who sign up for a writers’ group that they most likely won’t attend. Meetups much loved by our ghost writers include: the Abu Dhabi Blockchain & Cryptocurrency Meetup, the Abu Dhabi Agile Scrum Exchange, The Abu Dhabi Bucket Listers, The Abu Dhabi Corniche Boot Camp, The Abu Dhabi Dance Lessons Meetup, the Abu Dhabi Civil Engineering Meetup, and the Abu Dhabi Meditation group.Meet Up Logo

I like to keep an open mind. Many of our best writers have come not from the English departments of schools and universities, but from oil companies and IT departments. I also tell myself that I should be very happy when those who are expected do not show up. It must mean that the group has served its purpose of giving them a sense of community and motivation and, as a result, they are comfortably ensconced at their desks hammering out the ideas that will make up the next chapter of their book.

I mean… they won’t be in a shopping mall or at the cinema, will they?

Why you need to start writing yesterday

It may come as a shock to you to learn that you are not the only writer in the world, or in your country, or – indeed – in your neighbourhood. In fact, it would seem that every other person writes. I keep bumping into people who tell me, ‘Oh yes, I’ve written a novel.’

So, what’s the difference between one writer and the next?

Well, some writers are committed, and some are not. Some write every day, and until the sun goes down. Some have objectives, and some do not. Some prioritize their writing, and some drop tools to do other things… go out with friends, work late at the office, chat to people on social media. Yesterday they decided to write something, but today they’ve decided to go to a movie or to go out for a meal instead. You’ve got the idea. The writing isn’t going to happen.

IMG_3180

Meanwhile, you need to hear a few statistics. In the United States alone there are over 200 MFA writing programs (Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing). In 2016, more than 20,000 people applied to these programs. Every year these MFA courses produce 3,000 writing graduates. A few of these have some moderate successes. Many more go on to teach… usually on MFA programs.

In short, there’s a lot of competition out there. While you’re sitting around thinking that you might like to be a writer, and that you might start writing seriously tomorrow or the next day, you’ve actually already been left behind in the dust of others who are a whole lot faster and a whole lot more committed.

But, if you still want to be a writer, here are a few things you need to do:

  1. Give up your socializing.
  2. Decide what you want to write, and plan your writing projects.
  3. Commit to and prioritize your writing.
  4. Stop talking about what you’re going to write, and write.
  5. Read like a writer. In other words, read to learn.
  6. Keep writing until you’ve completed a first draft, however terrible that is.
  7. Rewrite and improve, using the ideas and insights gained from your reading.After that if you are still not making any progress, consider that writing may not be for you. Think about trying your hand at some other art form. How about painting?

A Thought Or Two About Fictional Twins

Double Vision                                                                                                                 There is something about twins that makes them a subject of fascination for readers and writers.

Twins, or their equivalent, have been popping up in fiction throughout the history of literature. We have evil twins, separated-at-birth twins, sickly or mad twins, wicked sisters, rival brothers, but also changelings, soulmates, dark halves, lookalikes … and all of them threatening to unpack our emotional baggage. People just hate it when you tell them you saw their ‘twin’ in the supermarket. It undermines the human quest for uniqueness.

In her book Twins in Contemporary Literature and Culture (Palgrave Macmillan, 2005), Juliana De Nooy examines the various and most fascinating manifestations of twins:

Identical and conjoined twins offer counter-intuitive images of one being in two bodies and two beings in one body, and thus may be seen to lend themselves to explorations of the nature of the self.

Consider for a moment when you last met twins on your own reading travels.

Schizophrenia                                                                                                                   We find them in Ian McEwan’s Atonement (2001) – Jackson and Pierrot, the brothers of the disreputable Lola. We find them in John Banville’s 2005 Booker Prize-winning novel The Sea – the wordless Myles, and his sister Chloe. I remember finding them years back when I read Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things (1997), another Booker winner. (What were the Small Things? I can’t remember.) Roy’s Esthappen and Rahel die tragically, I believe, by drowning, while Banville’s Myles and Chloe wade out together into the sea to meet their fate:

They were far out now, the two of them, so far as to be pale dots between the pale sky and paler sea, and then one of the dots disappeared. After that it was all over very quickly.

In Richard Ford’s novel Canada (2012), which explores the themes of assimilation and belonging, Ford’s narrator Dell and his unalike sister Berner are fraternal twins. Dell reflects:

I sometimes found myself thinking of Berner as an older boy. Other times I wished she looked more like me so she’d be nicer to me, and we could be closer. Though I never wanted to look like her.

The desire for the closeness that comes from similarity threatens our human need for individuality. Canada2 Zadie Smith’s ground-breaking novel White Teeth (2000) uncannily anticipates the rise of fundamentalism in Britain. One son Magid is sent back by his father to Bangladesh to be educated and ‘challenged,’ while his twin Millat remains. But which twin is ‘safe’? Millat goes on to join the dubiously-acronymed ‘Keepers of the Eternal and Victorious Islamic Nation,’ (KEVIN):

… he stood schizophrenic, one foot in Bengal and one in Willesden. In his mind he was as much there as he was here. He did not require a passport to live in two places at once, he needed no visa to live his brother’s life and his own (he was a twin after all).

This is the schizophrenia of a split cultural identity as exhibited in the twins of Smith’s novel, but transferable to a population of confused individuals. White TeethSacrifice                                                                                                                                In her book Negotiating with the Dead (2002), Margaret Atwood has a whole chapter on ‘duplicity,’ or this ‘world of doubles’: ‘Which Twin has the Toni?’ Atwood describes a magazine advertisement for a Toni home permanent. Two identical girls are shown with two identical hair perms – one an expensive salon hairdo and the other the cheaper home version. ‘Why was it that I suspected fraud?’ asks Atwood. Is this a clue to the twin syndrome? One twin is merely a copy of the other. As Atwood observes:

In his book on human sacrifice, The Highest Altar (1989), Patrick Tierney would have it that the successful twin represents the living society, and the unsuccessful one his dark alter ego – the one who was sacrificed and then buried under the cornerstone in order to deal with the Underworld, propitiate the gods, and protect the city.

NegotiatingIn life, one of a pair of Siamese twins must often be sacrificed to save the life of the more complete other. This is the lot that falls to Marion and Shiva, the twin protagonists of Abraham Verghese’s surgery-for-beginners-novel Cutting for Stone (2009). In Gillian Flynn’s best-selling crime thriller Gone Girl (2012), Go – short for Margo – comes very close to taking a murder rap for her twin brother Nick. In literature, twins – or at least one of them – are expendable.

Who can say how many twins have fallen for the sake of fiction?

The complete article ‘Which Twin has the Toni?’ first appeared in the IATEFL Literature, Media and Cultural Studies Newsletter, Issue 46, March, 2015. More on twins in the next post.

References

Atwood, M., 2002. Negotiating with the Dead. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Banville, J., 2005. The Sea. Basingstoke: Picador.

De Nooy, J., 2005. Twins in Contemporary Literature and Culture. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Flynn, G., 2012. Gone Girl. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson.

Ford, R., 2012. Canada. London: Bloomsbury.

McEwan, I., 2001. Atonement. London: Jonathan Cape.

Roy, A., 1997. The God of Small Things. London: Random House.

Smith, Z., 2000. White Teeth. London: Hamish Hamilton.

Tierney, P., 1989. The Highest Altar. Viking.

Verghese, A., 2009. Cutting for Stone. New York: Vintage.

Lighting the blue touch paper

Once upon a time, when I thought of coaches, I thought of this:

Then, when I got a little older and anyone mentioned coach, I thought of this:

However I soon realised that actually a coach was one of these:

And then I discovered In Treatment and decided that a coach must be a person … someone very much like Gabriel Byrne:

But that’s not right either, is it? Gabriel is not a coach. He’s a psychotherapist, and he does a lot of analysing. He says things like:

‘Don’t you think that the feelings you’re having are linked to your dog’s rejection of you when you were just five years old … when, after licking your hand, your dog threw up … and after that you found that you could never relate to puppies … so, when your fiance brought you a present of a cute little puppy all dressed up with a blue satin ribbon, you saw this as an act of aggression …’

With apologies to any psychotherapists reading this – definitely no offence intended. But no, this is not what coaches say as I now know very well after spending time in the company of a very fine group of coaches this summer, courtesy of our sponsors NAWE (National Association of Writers in Education) and the Arvon Foundation, and our trainers Deb Barnard (Relational Dynamics 1st) and Anne Caldwell (NAWE).

So, to clarify, a little bit of information about coaching and how it can be applied to writing. I work as a coach with people from the arts and cultural industries and – in particular – with writers and artists who have to deal with issues such as prioritising, processing negative feedback, dealing with blocks, goal setting, overcoming limiting beliefs, defeating procrastination, dealing with stress, maintaining motivation, completing tasks, and developing confidence in their own abilities. As a writer myself, I have had to face many of these challenges. So, believe me, if you’re a writer too, I know what you go through on a daily basis.

As a Relational Dynamics coach, I help people to see ways of progressing with their work – and also their life – in ways that they may not have thought of. We all have our own answers to the challenges we face in life and work, but very often we don’t know where to look for those answers. I work with writers as well as clients in other fields, helping them to explore their goals, their current reality, their options and what they will commit to in order to achieve their goals … and when they will make that commitment.

Where appropriate I combine my coaching skills with NLP, facilitating the client’s own self-directed learning and development and helping them to gain clarity around what it is that they want: the client already has the answers, but has to find them out through a personal reflective process. In working with students and young people my aim is to help them achieve their full learning potential.

Through the Abu Dhabi Writers’ Studio I offer guidance on how to develop as a writer, think creatively, enhance writing techniques, build writing confidence, and establish and achieve writing goals. Many writers I encounter have side-stepped from successful working lives to take up a new interest and direction in the world of writing. Often their talent has almost gone to waste due to friends and family not taking their efforts seriously, or due to lack of feedback or simply not knowing what to do next. Through a variety of workshop activities, the Abu Dhabi Writers’ Studio supports these writers from the writing stage through to constructive feedback, to redrafting and to submission for publication.

For practising writers who have work in progress, we have … well … the Work In Progress writers’ group, meeting weekly to write, to read and discuss their work and to exchange ideas about the writing life.

For further details about the Abu Dhabi Writers’ Studio and Work In Progress, you can mail me at AllWriteInAbuDhabi@gmail.com

And now, just a final word of clarification. Yes, I am a coach … but I absolutely do not work here:

Though, who knows? It’s probably a very good place to find inspiration. Don’t rule it out.