Each year in November writers go into hibernation mode, scoffing any caffeine they can get their hands on and pounding on their keyboards, hoping to each that golden word count of 50 000 before December starts (anyone who hits this number is considered a winner). It's now November 2015. So game on, once more.
I used to think I'd never be able to write more than a few thousands words. I liked short, punchy fanfics which I threw up onto the Internet for a quick review or two. But then one year I started writing. And writing. And kept going. And somehow I ended up with 60 000 words. I was so shocked and thrilled - and knew I absolutely could do NaNoWriMo.
Below are this year's stats so far. I'm quite chuffed with the breakneck pace I'm keeping, but 10k a day is hard to maintain, even for someone who's attempting to be a professional writer.
Some people have criticised NaNoWriMo, saying you can't possibly get quality writing when you're vomiting up as much as you can. No first draft is going to be perfect, no matter what month it's written in. I'm not disputing that. But it's a LOT easier to edit 50 000 words of dubious typing than it is a blank page.
I use the NaNoWriMo method all year round. And I've written five books doing so.
And if there is one question you need to ask yourself, it's this:
How do you know you can finish a book if you never try?
At my last class for my certificate in editing and publishing, my lecturer said this: "When someone asks you at a party what you do, say you're a writer."
The thinking was that if you claim it, own it, then you can become it. Say it with enough confidence and no one will contradict you. I am writer. It's what I am. It's what I do. But in my experience, the judgement is always there. People have this image in their minds of me slumped on a couch, buried beneath open packets of chips and marathoning TV shows.
If I have a "bad" writing day, I feel guilty. Like a failure. How can I defend this day to someone who thinks I sit around doing nothing? Is my pitiful word count proving them right? Was sitting at my desk, clutching a cup of tea and glaring at my computer not good enough? Should I not have read that book because I had Writer's Block?
They say you need to read to be able to write...but is it acceptable as work?
And then there are months (for example, May just gone) when I pound out 50 000 words in 13 days. Nothing can touch me then. "I am invincible!" My name isn't Boris and I'm still not published but I can throw out this trump card when someone gives me that stern disapproving look.
Work for me consists of :
1.) Sitting at my laptop, be it in my study, in bed, on the couch or in a cafe sipping at a green tea latte. I will write. I will edit. I will plan. It depends what mood I'm in. But something will get done. Failing that, there's always my blog!
2.) Going for a walk or beating up my Wii balance board. Exercise gets my brain going. My mind sorts through ideas and characters and dialogue. Blocks get shifted. Showers are also helpful for this.
3.) Reading books, especially ones in the genre that I am writing in. This helps put me into the "zone". It's good to check out the competition.
4.) Not always sticking to a specific time. 8:30am-4:30pm is my usual aim. Sometimes I get overzealous and get back into it later at night. Sometimes I just can't go any longer than mid-afternoon. I can't force creativity. It feels hollow if I do.
Thing is, even though I do things with my day, I still have to prove it.
Friends think I have more time and more energy to hang out - I don't.
My family thinks I have all the time in the world to cook and clean and be a doting little wifey - I don't.
Sure, I'll put the washing on and write over it (sometimes leaving sheets in the washing machine for a wee bit long) but writing comes first. I am a writer first. A wife second. My husband-to-be is happy to support me because it makes me happy. I feel like I actually achieve things now that I set my own goals. And sometimes I wonder if the judgement from others has its basis in jealousy. It does not matter because this I know -
I am a writer. And I actually do shit during the day.
In my recent studies, I have learned there is actually a name for the type of writing I do - "organic". That means running in, guns blazing, writing hard and fast without any outline or planning whatsoever.
The most I do is write a few bullet points about each character - eyes, hair, build, personality. Sometimes I don't even bother with that and add it in later. I have a name, I have a "feel" for the character - that will suffice.
I like to use my characters like the toys and action figures I paraded in my doll's house as a child. I know my characters so well that if I put them into a new situation, they will show me how the scene will play out. Sometimes their character becomes known to me through their actions.
As someone pointed out, how can you foreshadow when you don't know the ending? When I was writing my first complete novel, I reached the fourth act and realised that suddenly dumping a surprise villain into my reader's laps was not going to be received well. So I scrolled back into much earlier places in my story and inserted clues. Until I knew what the conclusion was, I couldn't foreshadow - but that's what editing is for.
Whenever I try to outline, I fall into a pit, haunted by the thought that it's a stupid idea, no one will like it, etc, ad nauseum. I embraced the NaNoWriMo method because instead of being confronted with a blank screen after several hours, I would find myself with a buttload of text that I could then edit as I pleased.
There are events he refused to mention because they were uninteresting, events he misreported because of shame. But they were always there, and the people he interacted with had their own influence on the story, had their own struggles. I know what's going to happen.
I am writing with an outline this time - but strangely it is an organically written outline. Perhaps the methods don't need to be mutually exclusive.
Alyce Caswell is an aspiring writer who apparently lost her mind, threw away a steady job as an office junior and entered the realm of imagination.
She has blamed her accomplice and husband for giving her this most excellent opportunity.
Alyce has written articles, poems, short stories, books
and several embarrassing blogs. She hopes this venture will avoid the usage of cat gifs.
Links of Interest
A Rambling Rover
Alyce's travel blog which features various castles, stone circles and bemused musings about the Northern Hemisphere.