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NaNoWriMo Type Along with Stephen Deas – Week One

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.

November 1st

Wordcount Target: 0
Words Written: 0

I bring this up, and the next few days, mostly so I have all my ducks in a row for making excuses. I had a read-through of a novella I was sort of hoping to get done over the course of this first weekend and a run through the last comments and holes in the chapter-by-chapter breakdown of November’s project. It was looking like 3-4 hours work. It was also World Fantasy weekend.

November 2nd

Wordcount Target: 0
Words Written: 0

Yeah. . .World Fantasy is a blast and that 3-4 hours from yesterday doesn’t . . . seem . . . to have quite . . . gone anywhere. Still, it’s only a few hours, right.

November 3rd

Wordcount Target: 0
Words Written: 0

And the last day of the convention. Return home utterly sleep-deprived. At least I can probably count on not getting Con-Crud from this one since I went with a stinking cold in the first place which has turned, it seems, into unstoppable coughing fits.

November 4th

Wordcount Target: 5,000
Words Written: 804

Not the start I was hoping for. I suspect I’m not alone in finding that the very hardest word to write is also the very first one. I’ve managed to do all sorts of other things, though. That work I didn’t get done over the weekend? Done. Competition to run on the blog? Done. Car booked for service? Damn straight.

Tempus fugit by damianphotoartSo there are a few things here. The first is some bad planning on my part. I had work scheduled in for the weekend of a convention, which wasn’t smart. I had a heavy work day scheduled for straight after a convention, also not so smart. Remember that bit about looking ahead at what you have on through November and making sure you take account of what else needs to be done and make sure you set yourself realistic ambitions? Well yes, I recommend you do that a bit better than I just did.

This sort of early hiccup is also why I plan in a few days off where I can catch up if I need to. I may not have exactly hit the ground running but at least I know I haven’t broken my entire plan for the month from the very first day. Maybe I’ll catch up on my work days, but if I don’t, there’s always the weekend. Having some contingency makes me a whole lot more comfortable. Whether that works for anyone else probably depends on how rigorously you like to plan your work and how obsessively you then follow your progress against that plan. As someone from the more obsessive end of the spectrum, I strongly advise a plan that’s robust to the occasional day of abject failure.

Second thing: That bit about cheating? I have a synopsis for this novel that runs to about 6600 words, breaking the story down chapter by chapter. This might or might not work out well, I really don’t know yet, but at the very least, if I have an attack of doubt following such a poor start, I can throw the synopsis into the manuscript and con myself into thinking I’ve actually done 7400 words. For those of you who don’t obsess about wordcount, that probably sounds utterly absurd but for those of you who do, sometimes this works. Sometimes you have to trick your own inner demons.

Once Upon A Time by Artist UnknownThird thing: Getting started. As far as I can tell, it’s pretty common to find the very hardest part of writing to be the getting started part. That applies both to the beginning of a new project when you have a blank page down in front of you and also on a daily basis when you need to get going and pick up from where you left off. So here’s a trick for getting started if you’re struggling: pillage. Take the opening paragraph (a hundred words will do, maybe two) of something else, something that either you like a lot or that fits well with the set-up for the story you mean to tell. Paste it, verbatim, into your blank page. Then rewrite it according to the story you’re trying to tell. Rewrite it exactly once and then keep going.

It might seem odd and yes, I’m advocating plagiarism to an extent, but bear in mind that this is simply to get going. So steal the opening from something you love and let that writing someone else did inspire you, let the flavour of it guide your own words. DO rewrite it exactly once – only once because the point is to then keep going with your own words and at least once because part of the point is to get the fingers on the keyboard doing stuff and if you don’t rewrite it, you’ll stare at instead.

If this seems odd and wrong and like you’re stealing something that isn’t yours, remember that this is a trick, nothing else, to get the creative juices going and the fingers tapping on a keyboard. It’s a couple of hundred words. You will rewrite and probably either get rid of it entirely or change it beyond all recognition. That happens later. Opening paragraphs are hard and they get a lot of attention and effort because they’re the first thing a potential reader sees and they carry a lot of weight but you you don’t need to worry about that now, you need to worry about that when you have a completed first draft of something.

Black and White Wireless Keyboard by TheHappyCactusAnd here’s a trick for getting started each day or at the beginning of each writing session: stop each writing session in the middle of something where you know exactly what happens next. Even if you leave the last couple of hundred words off the end of a chapter or stop mid-scene. This works for me (sometimes) because it means I know exactly what I’m doing as soon as I sit down to write the next time. It makes the first five minutes of writing time easy, and that means I can get both brain and fingers engaged without having to worry too much. I also find it keeps my mind thinking between writing bursts about what happens further along instead of what happens immediately next. It may or may not work for anyone else but if you habitually find yourself sitting down to write and getting immediately stuck, it might be worth a try.

Fourth thing: procrastination. That business where you go and do all sorts of other things that sort of need to be done and feel like a useful and constructive use of your time that aren’t actually writing. Yes, I got lots of things done, including writing this, that seemed useful at the time but didn’t help the wordcount. Here’s another trick pillaged from another author: sod word-count, allocate chunks of time through the day to write and then write in them and pay no attention to how many words get done and then stop as soon as the allocated time is up. This is pretty much how I got my 804 words out, by getting towards the end of the day, realising I’d done sod-all and putting aside an hour to just do at least something, never mind how much.

November 5th

Wordcount Target: 10,000
Words Written 1,590

I do have two more pieces of advice: firstly, DO work on several projects at once, so if you get stuck on one, you can simply switch over to the other. Sometimes an hour working on something else is all you need to unblock; even if it isn’t, the other work is all still useful, right.

Secondly, DON’T work on several projects at once if you’re doing NaNoWriMo and trying to write a new first draft from scratch and the other project is doing the edits to the previous volume in the sequence which you rewrote about six billion times and polished until its sparkle made the Star of Africa look dull. Because really, that’s just demoralising.

I think maybe I should just come up with a new plan, get these edits out of the way and then see if I can knuckle down. Tune in next week to see how that all works out . . .

Title image by damianphotoart.

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7 Comments

  1. Avatar Anne Lyle says:

    Sympathies on the horrible cough – I had it over the weekend and got barely an hour or two of sleep each night, despite going to bed early 🙁

    This is why I booked the week after WFC off work – I knew I’d need to a) recover and b) catch up on my word count. I managed about 500 words each day at WFC, mainly by dint of forcing myself to write after my morning shower whilst my hair dried. I know that what I wrote on those days is clumsy and stilted and will need a major rewrite (assuming this book even works out), but the story is moving forward and that’s all that matters.

    I seriously don’t envy you trying to polish a finished book and write a first draft at the same time; getting the former out of the way first sounds like a very good idea!

    • Avatar Stephen Deas says:

      I usually work on several things at once although I find I’m moving away from doing that. In this case, editing the prequel to the draft I’m writing is pretty helpful in finding the voice for the main character, as well as reminding me of a few things. I have my mojo running now through a few not terribly original tricks I shall explain next week. I read your story in Unexpected Journeys yesterday. Very nice.

  2. Avatar Bibliotropic says:

    Usually I intend to work on one specific project through NaNo, and then about halfway through the month I lose steam and end up switching over to a second project. It’s why I have so many half-finished first drafts sitting around that I always forget to go back to until much later, and then at that point the idea’s usually simmered in my brain long enough that rewriting the thing from scratch seems like a better idea than just continuing from where I left off. I really need to break myself of that habit.

    Also, I’d probably be over half done NaNo’s 50k word goal right now if I counted the reviews and other blog posts I’ve been writing in the meantime. But that always feels like a cop-out, so I only do that if I spent a week not writing and then I panic that I’m way behind, but oh look, stuff I already wrote that I didn’t count! :p

    • Avatar Stephen Deas says:

      NaNo shouldn’t really be about wordcount in my view, it should be about getting that thing done that you want to get done. It takes a certain discipline to keep going with a MS right to the end without going back and working the opening over and over again. I’m not counting the blog posts and the editing either.

      I feel I should be wagging my finger at you but consider it a conditional wag that is only actually happening if what you do with the month leaves you dissatisified.

      • Avatar Bibliotropic says:

        I’ll just be happy if my motivation doesn’t fizzle out halfway. I’ve written so many half-manuscripts that it’s not even funny at this point. I’m terrible at actually finishing things…

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