National Novel Writing Month is round the corner and I’m already excited about it. NaNoWriMo started several years ago for San Franciscan Chris Baty and some of his friends to finally get their crap together and write the novels they always said they were going to. Now it’s an event with hundreds of thousands of writers around the globe, all attempting to write a minimum of 50,000 words in one month.
Since starting NaNoWriMo, my writing work ethic has shot up, leading to me writing (checks spreadsheet) 765,664 in the last two years. This includes rewrites, edits, blog posts, reviews and such but it’s still that much wordage towards creativity. I’m sure I’d have accomplished some of that without NaNoWriMo but it helped cultivate this instinct in me. I’m pretty sure it was in Writers on Comics Scriptwriting Volume Two (ISBN 9781840238082) that Brian Michael Bendis said that you need to exercise your writing skills like a muscle. The more you do it the faster and better you get. Even if you’re not inspired for a specific project, write something. It’s this mentality to a much higher, more fun and disturbing level that NaNoWriMo exists.
50,000 words seems like a lot at first but it’s not actually that much. The Great Gatsby is just over 50,000 words. The Red Badge of Courage and The Notebook are both a little over 50k and weirdly enough both books I’ve read this year. I wouldn’t recommend them. You could do better than those guys and this is the month where you can prove it. Well, actually you can write the draft which will set you on the way to proving it. NaNoWriMo is about quantity, not quality. It’s possible to get good work out of the month’s writing, especially with preparation, a helpful community and caffeine, all of which I’m down for.
So you need an idea. You could leave it right until day one to try. There’s a weird faux-factionism in the NaNoWriMo camps between Plotters and Pantsers. Those who plot everything out and those who fly by the seat of their pants. Both can work. They can, but I’ve found the more prepared I am, the better my odds of finishing are. The same with those around me in the community. Even if it’s a rough outline. Pantsers have to be pretty damn good to carry it off, but then for a lot of writers this is literally just an exercise and something fun to do. Spew out the wondrous word-vomit and sift through it for any nuggets of gold. I’ve heard from some amazing pantsers. I’m not one of those guys though, I have to prep. Here’s where I show you my process. I tend to go off the deep end with preparing for these things so adopt as much or as little of this as you want. It’s all here just in case it can be of help to anyone else.
First of all we get the idea of what we’re doing. The logline, the pitch.
“A cosy chocolate box murder mystery mixed with Lovecraftian Horror” is what I’m going for this year. It doesn’t need to be “X meets Y” but that’s often a good foundation to start off with.
If you have characters already, that’s cool. Write names down, go to random name generators, let the characters and the pitch percolate for a bit.
Maybe at some point here think about the theme, the tone, basically what this project is *about*. What are you saying? This can happen later, but I admit I tend to start thinking about it at this level. My previous project, Lightning, is all about family, the concepts of normal & weirdness then on the surface of all of that it’s about superpowered people solving their problems by abusing power and avoiding responsibility.
Do you have a start to the project? Do you have an end? Even if you do nothing else, knowing these before November 1st will give you something to launch from and somewhere to aim your word cannons at. If you get stuck (and in NaNoWriMo you WILL get stuck) then you’ll know what to go back to. If you have the beginning and end, maybe work out the big dramatic moments. Each one is like a touchstone, a waypoint for you to look for when writing. Once you’re there then you’re on to the next one and that momentum can keep you going.
Let all of these ideas evolve and mutate into beautiful monsters in your mind, but write them down whenever they turn up. I like to have a notepad for each project and the one above this section is the one which I’m using for this year. I dedicate at least one page to each character, to each chapter, anything like that. Any time I hit upon something like, “Robert’s allergic to peanuts,” I note it down. If I know the arc of chapter one it goes in, at least until I scribble it out and start again, then I ignore all of it during NaNoWriMo. Even if I do that, I’ll have something basic I started with.
We’ve got all the brain stuff going on. That’s cool and hopefully you’ve got a pretty notepad to put it in. Do you want to go even further with your prep? I know I do.
These are index cards. I don’t have an index card problem, honestly. It’s just that my flat is mainly made out of board games, comics, notepads and index cards. They’re only little but they’re still 25% of the flat’s contents somehow.
I use them for two things in my writing; scenes and characters.
Those continuity notes in my project notepad, those are rough. I keep a treasury-tagged stack of cards with the character details. This includes what they’re wearing and how they speak. If I forget what I’m doing with a character then it’s in here. Hopefully I can keep my facts straight when I write but even if I don’t, these notes will be there for when I edit.
The other use is for scenes. I tend to have a separate treasury-tagged pile for each chapter. For Lightning I had fixed character perspectives so I coloured in the tops of the cards to show whose scene it was. I write in a mainly linear fashion so if I get any ideas for further in the project the cards can be scribbled on and added to. If I need to move them around it’s easy enough to do that, too.
Finally there’s the best thing. The community.
The first year I took part in NaNoWriMo I heard there was a Brighton community and only turned up to their final event. I barely scraped by the 50,000 words. The next year I vowed to take part in some of the ‘write-ins’ where writers would all gather in a coffee shop and write together. People could bug one another for ideas, take part in ‘word wars’ where they would all write as fast as they could for ten or so minutes. The winner would get a prize from a bag of lovely tat and sweets.
As the years went on, the Brighton and Hove community expanded. Last year we had 327 novelists. Looking at our region’s page we wrote 5,900,762 words between us. That’s pretty amazing.
I’m the municipal liaison along with my D+Pad Magazine collaborator, Fred Black. We’ll be arranging a couple of write-ins, a chat room write-in and a wind-down event each week for the month of November. There will most likely be some satellite events as we do have people from all over the south coast joining us.
The Brighton & Hove community is still showing last year’s forum posts and information but soon it will be cleansed, ready for the 2015 NaNoWriMo frenzy to begin. If you’re in the Sussex area, then visit us here to take part. If you’re not then do have a look for your local community. I like to feel we’re inclusive of all people, we know writers are often skittish with other people and socially awkward, so we try to be inviting and inclusive for all involved. We arrange pick ups from Brighton Station so that people can make it safely to our events.
There’s the Panic Jar, an entity of pure random plot horror. If people are stuck for ideas then they can draw something out of the jar. If they have an idea they want others to make use of, they can add it into the jar. There’s also an Adult Panic Jar, which all should fear. There is also an achievement system because this whole event hasn’t been gamified enough yet. We have punchcards which have certain goals. If you reach them then you get a punch. In the card of course, not a literal punch.
So yeah, there’s a ton going on with our community. Hopefully others will be doing similar things. Check back here, at the Brighton & Hove Community page, at the Brighton Wrimos Facebook Group, the currently-neglected Brighton Wrimos Twitter account and the NaNoWriMo G+ page for more information leading up to the event.