NaNoWriMo – The Fast and Furious Guide

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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.

 

 

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Writers on the edge

Lots of writers out there are ‘on the edge.’ Perhaps they are not writers at all, but they are thinking about writing and they are almost or nearly writing. The purpose of a writers’ workshop as I see it is to get these writers on track or, if they have strayed, to get them back on track. This is one of the reasons why I set up The Abu Dhabi Writers’ Workshop – to support writers, but also to help them help themselves.

The Abu Dhabi Writers’ Workshop, which met for the first time in June 2015, has held over 30 sessions and run over 90 workshop hours. At the last count there were 606 members. Most of our regular writers have set their goals and are most definitely on track. However, it’s now possible to have a better overview of the issues encountered by some of our newer writers and from time to time I hope to discuss these here on the All Write In Abu Dhabi blog.

How our writers write, their writing process, comes up for discussion on a regular basis. I think there are warning signals that we need to watch out for that indicate all is not well with our writing process. Here are some of them.

You need to review your writing process if …

  • you’ve been writing for a long while and have little to show for it;
  • you lack the ideas and inspiration to keep going;
  • you’ve lost your direction;
  • you’ve lost sight of the story you wanted to write;
  • your rough draft hasn’t moved on for some time;
  • you keep adding subplots to your novel;
  • you write infrequently;
  • you read only rarely.

I’m sure I can come up with other signals, but these should be enough to get us started.

Obviously people take different approaches to their writing. The way you write may not suit me. The way I write may not suit you. The three approaches most commonly described in the how-to-write literature are as follows:

Pantser writing – called this because it is when people write ‘by the seat of their pants.’ These writers begin writing, then figure out where their story is going as they write. Sometimes this works very well. Sometimes it is a disaster with the writer ending up wandering about in the dark wood of the soul.

Freestyle writing – in which the writer writes scenes out of order and then organizes those scenes into a coherent structure.

Outline writing – here the writer puts together a detailed outline, working out who does what and when, and adding in the related subplots. When everything is in place, they go full speed ahead and write their first draft. Have a look at this video in which crime writer Jeffery Deaver explains his approach to outlining:

There are no rules. You can write the way you want to. However, successful writers usually establish the rules that work for them and stick to those rules. If your novel is getting written, and if your work is getting published, you’re doing something right. If you’re floundering in a mire of words, join us at The Abu Dhabi Writers’ Workshop and find out about the writing processes favoured by our most seasoned and successful writers.