“You fail only if you stop writing.” – Ray Bradbury
All right. Let me get this key bit out of the way:
Do not take my writing advice.
Have I published some stuff? Yeah. Have I written stuff and gotten paid for it? Yeah. Have I ‘found’ an agent who was willing to represent my longer work? Again, yeah.
But I don’t know what I’m doing. I’m a total effing noob.
But NaNoWriMo? My people, I can do NaNoWriMo. To quote Samuel L. “Bad Motherfucker” Jackson, I’m the NaNoWriMo Foot fuckin’ Master.
One year, I got food poisoning and spent three days in intensive care. And finished. Another year, I did it with fifty people reading and commenting and bitching about each day’s output. And finished. Once, I started eight days late, landscaped my front yard, tiled my kitchen and master bath, and found out I was gonna be a daddy. And finished. I’ve done it as a big group project. Twice. I did one with a 3 year old underfoot. And finished.
Point is, I can’t give you much advice on writing (and what I can give you, you should fucking well ignore), but I know how to do this NaNoWriMo thing (and maybe have something decent afterwards), and I’d like to share a few tips on the how.
Just a few. Like… five, maybe. Let’s go for five.
1. When you’re writing, write
“Planning to write is not writing. Outlining…researching…talking to people about what you’re doing, none of that is writing. Writing is writing.” – E.L. Doctorow
Here’s the thing. You aren’t going to have much time every day to write, unless you quit your job or something. (Pro tip: don’t quit your job.) What that means is when you get 20 minutes to write, you need to write. Don’t Google facts to fill in your story with. Don’t look up a n y t h i n g on Wikipedia. Stay the fuck away from tvtropes.org.
(Jesus, I just lost like half of you to tvtropes.org, didn’t I? Dammit. There’s half your day gone, and you people are going to blame me.)
If you think you need a fact in the story, make something up. If you don’t want to do that, then put some kind of flag in the text that tells you to come back LATER and fill in the fact. I use [these things].
“Are you fucking kidding me, Tom? It’s going to take us [fact here] days just to get to the base camp — no way will the time-lemurs survive.”
Like that. Except not crappy. Then you can just come back later and do a search for ‘[‘ or ‘]’, and find all the places where you need to fill stuff in.
The point is, if you have like a half-hour to get some words down right now, you’d better get some words down.
2. Four bites, every day
Roger Zelazny said:
I try to write every day. I used to try to write four times a day, minimum of three sentences each time. It doesn’t sound like much but it’s kinda like the hare and the tortoise. If you try that several times a day you’re going to do more than three sentences, one of them is going to catch on. You’re going to say “Oh boy!” and then you just write. You fill up the page and the next page But you have a certain minimum so that at the end of the day, you can say “Hey I wrote four times today, three sentences, a dozen sentences. Each sentence is maybe twenty word long. That’s 240 words which is a page of copy, so at least I didn’t goof off completely today. I got a page for my efforts and tomorrow it might be easier because I’ve moved as far as I have.
Dave quotes this bit quite a bit – he’s got a system based around this. Me, I just quote it to remember a few things:
- Zelazny was cool.
- Writing is work.
- You have to do the work.
- You can do the work a little at a time.
- Zelazny was cool.
Listen. I am possibly the worst worker ever in the history of working. I screw around all. the. damn. time. Poke at a presentation for 20 minutes. Check GMail. Poke another ten minutes. Read the news reader. Answer two emails. Check on Twitter. Repeat. One of my bosses told me once that he’d never met anyone in his life that screwed around so much and still got more shit done than everyone else.
That last bit is key. Somehow, I still get the work done. I do that by taking small bites all day long. There’s an old saying about learning things that goes something like “you can’t eat an elephant all at once, but you can eat him one bite at a time.” That’s fine for learning, but it’s slightly different for writing.
I’m not trying to eat an elephant; I’m trying to kill that dirty bastard, and all I have are my bare hands and my teeth, so I bite the son of a bitch to death.
Takes me about a month.
Right? So make sure you find enough time to take, as per Zelazny, four bites a day. Four spots in each day when you can write for at about 30 minutes. Then, as I already said, make sure you WRITE.
Write rhymes with bite, according to my daughter. This is no coincidence.
3. Moods are for sex. Writing ain’t sex.
I don’t know how to say this any better. You need to be at your special table at your special coffee shop with your lucky cup and your specially-made NaNoWriMo iPod mix playing, so you can write?
Screw that. Screw it right in the ear. Write EVERYWHERE. Write when you’ve got five minutes, waiting at Great Clips. I don’t care if it’s three goddamn words. I don’t care if it wouldn’t fill up a post on Twitter. Get em down.
I know this doesn’t entirely jive with the four bites a day advice. That’s because I’m inconsistent and what works one day doesn’t always work the next day, so you basically have to be ready to jump at the chance to write something down at any time.
Four bites is a minimum, but it isn’t like any of us need to be told how to snack between meals, is it?
Never stop at the end of the chapter
You want to stop each writing bite in the middle of the action or in the middle of whatever is going on. Stop at a cliffhanger if you have to, but better yet take a break in the middle of a conversation or just as someone pulls a trigger. Cory Doctorow suggests stopping right in mid sentence, but that’s him — he does a lot of shit that maybe only works for him. (Until four years later, when everyone starts doing it and realizes it’s no big deal and who the hell does this Doctorow guy think he is, anyway?)
The reason to leave your story hanging is so you can noodle over what’s going to happen next while you’re away. You want to leave stuff up in the air so your brain can juggle with it while you’re getting your oil changed or back waxed or whatever. Stopping at some comfortable end of chapter means you can take a mental break too.
Which means that when you come back to the story, you’re like “So, what’s next?” and your brain is like “I unno.”, cuz your brain is stupid. Stupid brain.
Related to this: take breaks. Go for walks in strange directions. Read a comic book. Take showers — let the water drum some ideas through your skull — I do that one ALL THE TIME; I’m the cleanest writer on the planet.
Word processors can suck it
Don’t use Word. Don’t use Open Office. Hell, don’t even use Google Docs. You want the simplest damn tool you can use and still make sense.
I’m talking about things like WriteMonkey. Write Or Die Desktop edition. Effing NOTEPAD. (Or Metapad, which doesn’t suck.) The world is full of distractions, so about how about you don’t use a tool that has a bunch of distractions built in?
Set your Status to Busy. Better yet: Offline.
Speaking of distractions, get the hell out of Google Talk. And YIM. And AIM. And Twitter. And Facebook. And mute your cell.
If you MUST stay connected, set your status to busy and make sure you enforce it. I’m connected to Google Talk all the time, but my status is set to busy cuz… guess what?
The people who ignore that and IM me anyway are the people who know it’s okay that they do that for the topic at hand, and then they go away.
The people who ignore it and … don’t? They get blocked. That’s whole different post.
So… where was I? Jesus, I stopped numbering my points didn’t I? Is that more than five? It looks like more than five.
More importantly, what’s my word count?
Eh. Doesn’t matter. Lemme sum up.
You can do this.
It’s not hard. It’s just work. You do work every damn day and it probably isn’t something you love. This is work you love.
I do this, and I am a dopey, lazy, easily distracted, tangential sumbitch.
If I can, you can. I know it.