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NaNoWriMo Type Along with Stephen Deas – Week Four

Follow along as Stephen Daes shares his week by week experience doing NaNoWriMo.

If you missed Stephen’s intro article, you can read it here.

If you missed any of the previous weeks you can read them here: week one, week two, and week three.

November 18th

Wordcount target: 80000
Words written: 72934

The real world got in the way somewhat last week and is going to continue to do so this week for me but on the other hand, it’s pretty clear that my nominally 100,000 word novel will be coming in at just under 90,000 words, at least in the first draft. But I will probably still be typing on 31st November. I hope the rest of you are heading towards being pleased at what you’ve done. Whether you’ve been setting targets, hitting them, missing them, whatever, if you’ve written some words, that some sort of achievement, right?

So anyway: advice and pressure and how these sometimes go hand in hand.

Advice

Order In Chaos by JohnKyoThere’s all sorts of advice, so much it gets in its own way. Writing advice covers the sort of things I’ve been saying in earlier posts–how to focus on the first draft, about not looking back, about ways to get started, about how to set up a productive day. It’s things like writing prose with no adverbs or adjectives, entire textbooks on bringing characters to life, how to structure plots, descriptive prose, pacing, all that malarkey.

The best thing to remember about advice is that it can be ignored, but keep in mind too that most is offered with well-meant intention. Nothing in any textbook or on any website is THE way to do anything when it comes to writing. All of it is a potential tool or tip or trick to help you write faster or better or in some way that could be more satisfying. Much of it won’t work, a little of it will. I suggest trying out something different now and then, just to see what it’s like. Spend a few thousand words stretching some different writing muscles and writing the kind of scene you don’t often write or that doesn’t come so easily but always keep in mind that advice is what it is, not gospel truth to glory.

Then there’s the other kind of advice that you can’t really try out first to see if you like it, the sort that is fundamentally about what story you should be writing. Example: I have been strongly steered of late towards the notion that genre publishers are looking for shorter novels in the region of 80-100k words with no great multi-volume story arcs, with common characters and setting across a series of novels, with plots that are fully resolved in each volume, one strong central protagonist and a colourful supporting cast. Crime series very much follow this vein – continuity of setting and character (and possibly development of both across multiple volumes but more often the setting stays much the same) while each individual volume presents a mystery and then solves it and that forms the primary plot.

Vintage Books by CarlChristensenI am writing historical crime right now so the structure has my attention and I can see its appeal, but since the next volume I’ll be writing is the third in a trilogy of more like 250k word fantasy novels and also the culmination of a series of ten books that all lead to one end and is an ensemble cast with multiple points of view, I can see I’m not really fitting that scheme right now. The next proposals may well be along the desired lines but I wouldn’t be surprised at all to find that, three years down the line when I’m writing the third of them, the advice as has flipped and everyone ones complex multi-character interwoven story-lines across multiple volumes. Time was, the genre industry, particularly fantasy, wanted a long series that would pick up readers at book one and keep the story going for as long as possible. Now the advice is for a structure where a reader can pick up any volume of a series and not really notice if it’s not the first. I don’t know when that will change again but it will, some day.

I know writers who have had industry advice suggesting they should throw ninety percent of their story away, focus on the remaining ten percent and expand that into a whole novel (it worked and was published). I know writers who had shown a sample of their current work in progress and been advised to switch the emphasis from one protagonist in a couple to the other, make them both a lot younger and aim for the YA market (it killed that project stone dead because it wasn’t the story that writer wanted to write). I’ve seem a promising project die early because the writer was told to plan for three books, not one, and simply couldn’t see what happened past the first.

Pens & Pencils by Unknown ArtistIf you go out there and start looking for this sort of advice about what the publishing industry wants, you’ll find plenty of it. Some of it will be confusing and contradictory and much of it vague. They can’t really tell you what they want because they can’t imagine it and that’s sort of the point – the industry wants something that blows their socks off because they couldn’t possibly have imagined it themselves. So do I, as a reader. The rest is dressing and editing. So my advice is to ignore all that advice and go and write the story that most makes you want to sing at the moon.

…And Pressure

…because If you’re doing NaNoWriMo, part of the reason you’re doing it is because you want a bit of pressure. I’m writing this series of posts because I want the pressure of publicly reporting in with my progress. I want the pressure of not appearing to fail and against a dumbass word target. I want that pressure because I have some fairly good reasons to get this draft done and out of the way as soon as possible. NaNo is about targets and measuring yourself against them and succeeding and failing and feeling good or bad about yourself as a consequence. We might do it privately or in public but we’re doing it to put ourselves under pressure by assigning a metric by which to measure our success and then measuring it, and no one likes to be a failure.

Tempus fugit by damianphotoartI suppose the notion is that if we fail, it motivates us to try harder next time. Does it? What if we fail constantly? What about the reward of success?

I suppose there is an ideal level of pressure for each one of us as individuals and that it varies wildly. Up to a point it motivates, too much and it crushes. We writers are a notoriously emotionally fragile lot and would all do well to know how much pressure is good for us and what the signs are for too much.

A daily word count is one form of pressure. Trying to conform to the constraints (and that’s what they are) of dozens of pieces of writing advice is another form of pressure. Deadlines are yet another. The “need” to write something commercially viable can be another. And you can have all that balanced perfectly and then something happens in the rest of life and suddenly that perfect balance doesn’t work anymore. It’s great to shoot for the moon every time as long as you’re content that mostly you’ll miss. If you can take some satisfaction from what you actually hit on the way then do it. If you can’t then it’s probably best to shoot for something a little easier. It is, in the end, just a story, no a reason for a nervous breakdown. So choose your pressures wisely, padawan, those that are yours to set.

Next week will be the final post, at which point I’ll have nothing useful left to say except not to stop just because you ran out of November. So please, if you have any questions, drop them in the comments to this and I’ll endeavour to answer them.

Title image by damianphotoart.

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