Wednesday, 29 October 2014

It's That Scary Time of Year Again

As October wanes there is a terrible, daunting and spine chilling event on the horizon. If you're thinking Halloween, you're not thinking scary enough. No, I'm referring to Nanowrimo.

Not a greeting from an alien being, but an event that occurs every year in November, where thousands of would-be-writers lock themselves in their fortress of solitude and attempt to hammer out 50,000 words before December 1st. That might be a whole story, it might be a couple of stories or it might even just be the first quarter of an epic fantasy with a dark lord and mysterious strangers appearing at opportune moments. The important thing is getting 50,000 words written on your story(s) before November ends.

I've done Nanowrimo once and it was really, really hard. I don't actually remember if I managed it or not (which suggests I didn't) but it was a great experience for a few reasons;

  • It made me sit and write almost every day.
  • It forced me to write over 2000 words in every sitting. Well, actually it made me write 500 words one day and then 3500 on another.
  • I realised by the end of the process what an incredible ball-ache writing a novel is.

That last may sound like I didn't enjoy it; I did in fact and would highly recommend it. But it is still an indescribably painful, frustrating and emotional process to actually get 50,000 words on screen in such a short time. Even more painful when you read your manuscript and see you've created a monster that should be locked away in the darkest trunk you can find, and then sunk to the bottom of the sea. But that bit doesn't actually matter (another thing I learned). What matters is actually getting those words down and realising that you are capable of doing it. One of the biggest hurdles to writing is the fear factor, and a big fear is that you just can't hack it. But actually, you probably can. It may make you white haired and gibbering in a corner of the room by the end, but you can do it.

I won't be doing Nanowrimo this year, though I am using the month as an incentive to write at least 500 words of something everyday. I have a spreadsheet and everything:

DateMonthWord Count GoalWord Count ActualDifferenceAccrual GoalAccrual ActualDifference

As you can see I doubled my goal yesterday. This blog post will get me today's target. Geeky? Yes. Useful? Definitely. I am a master at procrastinating, even though I really enjoy writing once I'm sitting down and actually doing it. But it's a game me and my subconscious have to play; I'll tell myself to do something, and the other me will say "okay, in a minute". Five hours later and I'm practically screaming at myself to do the thing I want to do. But I still find distractions and shiny things. In fact to understand just how bad this can get go to Hyperbole and a Half to read the post that I think may have been stolen from my own head.

So, in the face of my own never-ending ability to not do the thing I need to do, I need to come up with ways to trick or force myself into it. The above spreadsheet is my whip with which I will hit myself to get shit done. It has worked before, but I think I made the goal too high, so I soon just threw the whip away and played Plants vs Zombies instead. This time I've kept it low; I know I can clear 500 words in under thirty minutes, if the wind blows right, so it's not as daunting as setting 1000 words as the target instead. Hell, this 'ere blog post is already 790 words so I'm totally on target for today.

If you do decide to take on the Nanowrimo challenge - I highly suggest you do if you want to write novels or short stories for a living - then I can only offer the following advice.

  • Do play the numbers game: you will not always be able to hit your daily word goal, so there will be some days you can allow yourself to write very little, as long as you write a lot on another day.
  • Schedule days off. Seriously, it will stop your brain from dribbling out your ears and down your neck. No one wants brain matter on their clothes.
  • Try to get some sort of story plan together before you start. Even if you only plan each day as it happens, it really helps to have thought about what you're going to write before you sit in your writing chair. Otherwise you'll end up staring at the screen as though you're looking into the great empty eyes of Cthulhu before it devours you.
  • Do not beat yourself up if you don't actually write 50,000 words in the time frame; the point of this challenge is to get into the habit of writing, and prove to yourself you can churn out the words when you need to. Think of it like exercise: you may not be able to run the whole marathon and get to the end drawing on your hands and knees, but just getting over that finish line is proof that you are a super-amazing wonder-person who may not be able to fly, but it is not through a want of trying. And you have the broken bones to prove it.

If you want to be as geeky as me I really recommend some kind of spreadsheet too. Not only does it allow you to track how you're doing it also means you can make really nifty graphs and stuff to show your good and bad days, or if you add it, your best times of day to write. And then, when you see the fruits of your labours in those pretty charts you can give yourself a pat on the back, and proudly say, "I am a geeky writer".

Victory hedgehog believes in you!

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