In November, many diligent souls decide that they are finally going to write that novel that has been clattering around in the back of the brain for years. And for reasons unknown to tortoise writers like me, they decide to attempt to do it in one month!
It takes me a year to write a book. Believe me, I’ve tried to do it in less times. I regard Kevin Anderson with both awe and horror as he manages to author several books a year. I am convinced that neither the Energizer Bunny nor Timex Watches could compete with him for sheer endurance.
So why I am never going to attempt Nanowrimo, nor cheerfully dictate a novel while hiking up a mountain, I think I might have some useful writing tricks for those hardy souls who have taken to their keyboards this month. And they may be even more helpful to writers like me, who need considerably more than 30 days to produce a coherent story.
Writer’s Tip #72. Rome wasn’t built in a day.
You cannot write a book today. Maybe in 30 days you can, but you cannot write a book in one day. You can write a scene, or a chapter and perhaps even several chapters. But if you sit down to the keyboard and say, “I’m going to write a book today!” the sane part of your brain will say, “WHAT? What was that? No. You can’t. And if you can’t write a book today, then there’s no sense in writing this scene. Or that chapter.” So. Set yourself a reasonable goal for your writing day. And when you get stuck, if you get stuck, then I suggest that you resort to what I call The Finishable Task List. This is a list I keep on my desk. It is a list of tasks that mostly are not writing tasks, but they are tasks that can be finished in one push. Today’s finishable task for me was that I took the shoebox of daffodil and tulip bulbs and I went out in the rain and I planted all of them. Done. I neatly draw a line through that. Tonight, even if my writing does not go well, I will look back at that list and say, “Well, I did get that done. And it is now done forever.”
Do not put sweeping the floor or feeding the cat on that list. Those are items for the ‘You will NEVER finish doing these tasks’ list. It’s good to do some of those, especially if you don’t want the health department or the SPCA descending on you. But completing them will not give you the satisfaction of thinking, “I buried those bulbs. I will never have to plant them again. And if I am lucky, they will now come up and bloom for years and years and years. Or they will be eaten by mice. But in either case, they are no longer on the corner of my desk! They are finished!”
Somehow, it is easier to go back to the Chapter That Will Not End if the tulip bulbs are planted, or the fence posts are painted.
Writer’s Tip #83 Track your output.
This is one thing that Nanowrimo gets right. It encourages you to set a goal, and to work toward that goal. And it encourages you to measure your success every day. If you register at their site, you can even get little badges for attaining writing goals. For some people, that really and truly works. But again, if you don’t think you can write a 50,000 word novel in one month, set yourself a goal you think you can do. It can be time or words. You can say, “I will sit at this keyboard for 45 minutes. I will not leave my writing program, not for Twitter or Facebook or anything. I will sit here even if I just sit here and stare at a blank screen. No solitaire allowed.” Or you can say, “Today I will write 3 pages. No matter how awful they are, I will write 3 manuscript pages and I will not get up until I have written those 3 pages.” This falls in line with my philosophy that I cannot write a scene in a really wonderful way until I’ve written it badly. I can’t fix it until it exists. So write that terrible dialogue or name your characters Dick, Jane and Sally because you absolutely cannot think of any creative names at the moment. But get a chunk of your story on the screen or on paper today.
And finally, this is a tip that I received my Lucius Shepard, may he rest in peace. We were talking about how often the story seems like a boring slog. The writer knows what is going to happen, and now he has to press key after key after key to make it happen. It’s not that the scene is boring. It might be that it’s just a hard scene to write. Lucius told me that was why he always had several books or stories going at once. When he came to a slog and just couldn’t force himself to go on, he simply shifted to a different project. He didn’t leave the desk chair, but kept on writing on a different story. This has worked well for me in terms of novels and short stories. I’m not sure I could work on several novels at once. But because I often have a deadline, there will be at least one novel that I MUST work on. But that tempting little short story that is dancing at the edge of my brain is a terrible distraction. So it’s okay to take a break from a complex scene in the novel, and do four or five or even ten pages in the short story. Just remember to come back to the novel!
That’s it and I hope someone found it hopeful. Putting some new material on my website was on my finishable task list today. And it has provided me with a short break from the current work-in-progress. So back I go to my page count and I wish you well in meeting yours for the day!