[Guest Post] Writing Utter Crap

We writers tend to tie ourselves up in knots. We know that the first draft doesn’t need to be perfect, but we still manage to act like it does. We have a hard time giving ourselves permission to write utter crap. We forget how freeing it is to not be perfect. An icon I found on LiveJournal years ago sums this up succinctly: Writing was so much easier when I sucked at it.

I don’t know about you, but when I was young and unaware of all the rules about writing and what makes good writing, it came easy. There was no stifling self-criticism. There was no paralyzing need for perfection. There was nothing but me and the words. I could immerse myself in story for hours at a time, without a single thought about grammar, plot, characterization, or any of the other trappings of good writing. I’ve looked back at some of the stories I had written back in my school years, and the poems — oh, the dreadful poems! It is all utterly unpublishable crap.

But I enjoyed every minute of writing it. I never entertained a single critical thought about any of it. And the words flowed with abandon.

That is what we need. Permission to write with the abandon of youth. Permission to suck. Permission to write utter crap.

Break the Rules

If you’re feeling stuck with your NaNoWriMo novel, or with anything else you’re writing, don’t just give yourself permission to write crap — demand it.

Sit down and write the most imperfect prose you can imagine. Break every rule in the Turkey City Lexicon. Fill your word count with adverbs and Tom Swifties. Don’t bother plotting or organizing your thoughts. While you’re busy telling (and not showing) your story, something amazing can happen. You may find the story suddenly coming to life in wonderful and unexpected ways.

Keep Moving Forward

The trick to winning NaNoWriMo all comes down to this: Keep writing forward. Don’t stop for anything. Here are a few tricks to help you keep the momentum moving forward if you feel stuck:

1) Summarize. Summarzing my get you through a rough spot, or a boring spot, or a creative block. After a few hundred words of summary, you may be surprised to find yourself struck with inspiration again. Keep the pen moving across the paper. Keep your fingers moving across the keyboard. Don’t wait for inspiration — make yourself an environment conducive for inspiration instead.

2) Complain. If you can’t even come up with a summary, write anyway. Even if the first words you write are “I don’t know what to write.” Be careful not to focus on that thought too much though. Think your way around the problem on paper or on-screen. The act of writing itself while you’re thinking about the problem may shake some inspiration loose for you.

3) Skip around. If you feel stuck on what comes next, skip it. If you know what the final battle needs to look like, but you don’t know how to get there, write the final battle anyway. Take Jonathan Lethem‘s advice and skip the transitions. Don’t even bother with writing a linear story. Write what inspires and excites you. The act of writing those scenes may even jostle out some ideas for how to get there. I wrote an entire short story consisting only of the good parts. No transitions. No summary. Nothing but the scenes that inspired me. It inspired an editor enough that she paid me for it and published it.

4) Shoot it all. Wakefield Mahon said it perfectly on Twitter: Shoot it all, edit later. Ignore Jonathan Lethem’s advice and write every opening door and every cup of tea if that’s what it takes to keep the creative momentum moving.

5) Make notes. If you decide that something needs to be changed do not go back and edit. I learned this trick from Holly Lisle. Any time you feel the urge to go back and edit, make a note instead, then keep moving forward as if you had already made the changes. I make notes in my writing by using brackets [like this]. Don’t waste time looking for the perfect word or going back to change anything you’ve already written. Note it, then move forward. You can go back and edit when you’re done.

Once you get the steam going — don’t stop. Don’t look back. Don’t become the literary equivalent of Lot’s Wife. If you look back, you risk turning your creative momentum into a self-critical pillar of salt. Keep your creative momentum moving forward.

Kimberly lives in a rural village near Madison, Wisconsin with her husband, two daughters, and a cat. She is a freelance copyeditor and proofreader and enjoys making money by reading books. Every now and then she even reads one just for fun. Her NaNoWriMo novel is The Hunter’s Daughters, a story about mothers, daughters, magic, rebellion, lovers, lost dreams, and … zombies.

[Guest Post] Writing as an Endurance Sport

“You’re doing WHAT?”

That’s the typical response when you tell someone you’re participating in an event to write 50,000 words in 30 days. The second response is “What do you get if you win?” For most people the idea of writing a novel in a month is, at best, a foolish waste of time. After all, don’t you know how few people actually manage to get published? The world of writing is a mysterious world indeed, and one that seems crazy to outsiders.

So what do we get out of it? Well, for some it is an endurance sport. Some people choose to test their boundaries by running marathons, or climbing mountains. And to these people the same questions could be asked. “You’re running 25k? Why? What do you get if you win?” The knowledge that you’ve won. It doesn’t seem like much, but humans thrive on competition. The act of winning is enough to spur us on towards greater heights.

But there’s more to it. You see, we’re not just in competition – we’re in community. There’s something about the experience of shared hardship that brings people together. Nobody runs a marathon by themselves, you run it with other people. Those other people give you competition (I’m ahead of two thirds of the other runners!) and they give you community (we’re in this together!) Both are necessary to reach your goals.

But why do we do this? Surely writing a novel in a year is the same outcome as writing a novel in a month? Why push ourselves? Because we have to. You see, there’s a vicious and evil monster that plagues writers worldwide. It’s called the inner editor. It’s that voice that says “That sentence sucks.” It’s a useful tool, in some settings, but in novel writing it is crippling. Such a high word count in such a low amount of time allows you to force the inner editor into a closet and lock it away. it means you don’t have time to spend three hours agonizing whether that comma sound be a comma, a semi-colon or a new sentence. You just don’t have the time.

So you write, and you write, and you write. And of course that first draft is rubbish. It’s ok. That is the most important thing that NaNoWriMo teaches. That it’s OK to write rubbish. You have a whole community of people, writing rubbish alongside you. And so you press on, desperate to get to that word count. And you finish the story. And yes, it’s crap. But that’s OK. it’s easy to edit something into shape once it’s written. But editing it before you even have it on paper is novelist suicide.

And so at the end of the month, if you have the dedication and the ambition, you have a novel. A crappy, un-edited novel. A crappy, un-edited novel you can then take your time the rest of the year and shape into the story you actually wanted to tell. You can polish it, and make it actually make sense.

But not in November. November is for the writing. At about 10,000 words, your inner editor comes screaming out of whatever hole you’ve buried it in and begins picking your novel apart. This is normal, and it’s funny to watch the NaNowriMo forums at this time. Everyone goes from “this is the best novel ever!’ to “I suck as a writer and am going to go be a fry cook now, that’s all I’m good for!”

But the people who have done NaNo for a few years come in and assure everyone that this too shall pass. And we all keep writing. Because it’s what we do. We’re writers. Even if you’ve only ever written school assignments, or fan fiction. You’re a writer. And writers keep on writing.

So if you’re thinking of doing NaNoWriMo, be prepared. It’s hard. You will curse the decision to join. But you will find companionship, support, and sympathy. A whole bunch of people crazy enough to take on the challenge with you.

Ki Vick is a freelance ghostwriter and novel writer. She is halfway through her first NaNoWriMo novel and is hoping to polish it up in time for publication early next year. She has been a writer for 6 years and lives with her husband in a tiny apartment in Dayton, Ohio.

Your PNP, Part Two: Planning & Outlining

Now that you’ve finished the first part of your Pre-NaNo Plan, you’re feeling confident and prepared for National Novel Writing Month.  You know exactly how much time you have to write and you know that you’ll have time to finish your novel.

But do you know what you’ll be writing next month?

The Pitch

Your first step in planning and outlining will be to create a pitch, a very short concept for your NaNo.  Usually, before I start any project, I begin with a pitch.  The concept can change later, but having a pitch to begin with is always a great idea.

Here’s my example pitch for this year’s NaNo, which can be found on my Novel Info page on NaNoWriMo.org:

A slightly eccentric college student buys a mirror at an antique/secondhand store only to find himself sucked in and caught in a strange Victorian-esque world where he most certainly does NOT belong…

The pitch is a one-sentence summary of the entire novel.  While there’s a lot more to this story – for example, the “slightly eccentric college student” has a name and quite a lot of backstory – the pitch is the bare bones of the thing.  It’s also fairly open-ended: ten authors could write ten different novels based on this pitch and come up with ten totally different ideas.

The Outline

Here’s the funny thing about outlines: not all writers need them.

That’s probably a funny way to start this section, but it’s true.  Not all writers need outlines.  Some writers do perfectly fine just going with the flow.  But for those of you who do need to, let’s get down to business.

Your best bet is to make a very general outline of the events of the novel and flesh it out slowly.  What are the major plot arcs?  From there, you can figure out smaller details, such as scenes and subplots.

You can outline as much or as little as you like – there’s no limit and no “right way” to do it.  Personally, I like having a decent-sized outline so I know where I’m going with my plot, especially during NaNo.  Having an outline usually helps me write efficiently, and writing efficiently is pretty much everything during NaNo.

If you don’t like outlines, though, there are indeed alternatives – including the alternative I picked this year.

The Summary

Instead of an outline with bullets and numbers, you may opt instead to write a summary of the novel with all the main plot points explained.  My summary is two hand-written notebook pages long and covers the main body of the story, although it leaves the ending (and quite a bit of detail) for me to flesh out as I write.

Summaries are better for the literary-inclined, as a bulleted or numbered outline will be more visual and less wordy.

Conclusion

The second part of y our PNP focuses on helping you build a skeleton for your NaNo novel.  Once you have a skeleton finished before November begins, you can get to work fleshing it out when you start marathon-writing on November 1.

Writing a pitch, outline, and/or summary can help you reach these goals faster – and you’re less likely to get 100% stuck if you have a loose plan.  Of course, always remain open to change: During NaNo, anything can happen.

Is there anything else writers should do to prepare for National Novel Writing Month?  Leave your ideas and advice below!

Your PNP (Pre-NaNo Plan), Part 1

National Novel Writing Month is coming up fast!  This annual event, held throughout November and sponsored by California-based nonprofit The Office of Letters and Light, challenges writers of all ages to complete a 50,000 word novel – or 50,000 words of a novel – in 30 days or less.

I know what you’re thinking – you don’t have time to write a novel, even though you always said you would, or maybe you’ve tried before and never managed to do 50,000 words.  Yet that’s not necessarily true.  It’s entirely possible to find both the time and motivation to complete a novel for NaNoWriMo – but you may need a PNP: Pre-NaNo Plan.

Examining your schedule

The first step of building your PNP will require you to take a look at your schedule and start sorting things out.  When do you have time each day to sit down and write?

This might be the hardest part of the PNP, especially for students.  There’s that big exam on December 2 that you need to study for the entire week beforehand.  And of course there’s the 8-hour (one-way) drive home for Thanksgiving.  And the on-campus club activity meetings every week.  And you work 30 hours each week.

Maybe, with all those things on your plate, you need to start to rearrange your schedule.

First, think about how long it takes you to type a single page in manuscript format – standard-sized printer paper, one-inch margins, double-spaced – which amounts to approximately 250 words each.  During NaNo, your goal of words per day will need to be at least 1,667.

What does this mean for you?  For starters, it means that, if you’re counting each double-spaced page as 250 words, you need to write at least six and a half manuscript pages per day to accommodate your NaNo goal of 50,000 words.

From there, you can plan accordingly.  Here’s an example: I know that if I’m really on a roll, it takes me about 10 minutes to write a single manuscript page, but more often it takes me 15 to 30 minutes to write that much, or about 22 minutes on average.  Therefore, I need to dedicate about one hour and 15 minutes per day in November to working on my manuscript – bare minimum – in order to reach my goal.

For a college student, dedicating an hour and 15 minutes every day can seem pretty steep, and I know I’m a bit of a fast writer based on my typing speed and pre-planning.  However, there are ways to get around this.  If you know there’s one day per week you really can’t work on a manuscript, take that day off – just add that hour and 15 minutes to another writing day.

You may also be interested in participating in regional NaNo writing events, which take place over the course of several hours and gives participants plenty of time to write and have fun together – which brings us to our next point in building a PNP.

Finding enemies allies

When building your PNP, you want to include time to build and meet with a writing group.  Finding a writing partner or joining a group is a great way to keep you motivated – especially if you keep it competitive.

Get a friend to be your NaNo partner and compete for first finish.  Your partner needs to be as dedicated as you are!  In the end, you may want to have a reward of sorts for the winner: for example, the loser has to buy a grilled feta sandwich for the winner.

You can also utilize the NaNo website to find your allies.  Check out the forum section of the NaNo site – and make sure you mark your region in your information!  Joining a region allows you to check out your regional forum, where you can meet up with new people in your area.

NaNo’s regional forums can really help you out when it comes to allies – several Municipal Liasons, also called MLs, organize write-ins, meetups, and other NaNo events at local bookstores and coffee shops.  You can also use the forums to suggest your own meetups or write-ins as well.

Conclusion

Part One of your PNP should focus on actually finding time and motivation to complete those 50,000 words in November.  Once you’ve figured out whether or not you have time to do it – and/or rearranged your schedule accordingly – you’ll be able to work on the PNP Part Two: Brainstorming Your NaNo.  Check back later for Part Two, coming soon!

Did you find this article helpful?  Please let me know in the comments below!  You can also follow me on Twitter or Like my page on Facebook.