You’ll be eating my soul yet another November.
I feel, after thirteen years of fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants novel writing, most of us in the world of the written word know about National Novel Writing Month, but just in case you don’t: it’s writing a 50,000 word novel in 30 days.
Writing so quickly and so recklessly is fun (the bookworm’s version of a marathon run), but it’s also slightly terrifying, time-consuming and prone to land you in a pit of your own hapless despair.
Marathon runners prepare by arming themselves with the right equipment, rigorous training and making sure any weaknesses (a trick knee or a weak ankle) is properly secured beforehand.
My opinion of writing is that it’s maybe 5% artistic and like 95% pulling your words up a muddy hill like a slave mule, but still: that 5% makes the “right equipment” and “proper training” subjective, and I say what works for me while acknowledging it probably doesn’t for anyone else.
The right equipment:
When I settle in for a good writing session, I will generally bring three things with me: Diet Mt. Dew, White Chocolate Reese’s, and Salt and Vinegar potato chips (Mrs. Vickie’s are the best). I’m not trying to be weird, here, either–or quirky. It’s really what I like and the combination is superb. Diet Mt. Dew: writers and caffeine. There’s a story there, about this unlikely codependent partnership, or at least an overindulgent poem, but I won’t be the one to write it. I imagine many great books owe their livelihood to caffeine. I don’t drink coffee, I don’t like tea, or those super nasty energy drinks, and my health-freak mother never let us have soda so anything non-diet is too sweet for me. So Diet Mt. Dew it is. Salt and Vinegar potato chips and White Chocolate Reeses: The vinegar = the best part, and no: regular chocolate on my peanut butter will not suffice.
I outline longhand, but I write on Microsoft Word 2007. The fancy-schmancy programs like Scrivener or Storyboard drive me nuts. I like a blank, open document and I always zoom in to make the font extra huge. Not sure why I do this. I also have to write at a desk. Writing on the couch or in bed reduces my stamina in half . . . also not sure why. Maybe because it’s more comfortable to watch YouTube videos in that position.
I keep a can of WD-40 on my desk next to my laptop because George Singleton once said, “Keep a small can of WD-40 on your desk—away from any open flames—to remind yourself that if you don’t write daily, you will get rusty.” and I feel oddly weird writing when it’s not in my line of sight.
A candle, usually lavender. This is less about needing the scent than it is living in a small apartment room that gives little air circulation if I keep the door closed (which I do), so it’s to mask the fact that I haven’t done laundry in like three weeks.
Also, sweatpants. Five dollars in the boy section at Walmart. Excellent.
Only two options here. No music, or soundtrack. Instead of inspiring my writing, normal music turns out to be distracting. But I like soundtrack music as a type of background to whatever scene I’m writing. For example, the novel I’m ghostwriting is a middle-grade fantasy about a boy in water-based land similar to Atlantis, and I always listen to Disney’s Atlantis and Dreamwork’s How To Train Your Dragon for that one. Also Treasure Planet.
Here, I quote one of the best things I heard as a blossoming, young writer: “You can approach the act of writing with nervousness, excitement, hopefulness, or even despair–the sense that you can never completely put on the page what’s in your mind and heart. You can come to the act with your fists clenched and your eyes narrowed, ready to kick ass and take down names. You can come to it because you want a girl to marry you or because you want to change the world. Come to it any way but lightly. Let me say it again: you must not come lightly to the blank page.” – Stephen King
Do not come lightly to the blank page! It sounds like a Dylan Thomas poem.
Training is not only about how many hours you have logged hacking away at your would-be novel (though that’s important, too), it’s about each thing you’ve done outside your comfort zone to strengthen yourself as a writer.
Bring your courage to NaNoWriMo, ladies and gents. For me, this means having the guts to do something badly. To self-publish, or blog, or engage in noxious social media activities that you’re really, really awful at–because it’s hard and you’re probably going to get it wrong before you get it right. Finish a book. Send out that query letter. Writers are, as a general breed, very critical. Our self-doubt can be crippling. If you carry much of that with you in the month of November, NaNoWriMo will finish you off and leave you nothing but a “nice-ideas” skeleton.
Also beside my computer is an arranged line of wooden chips that I hot-glued onto my poster of New York City. Twenty seconds of insane courage.
Secure those weaknesses:
Aside from fear and writer’s block and other issues I’ve addressed, there are still more Achilles heels in my writing. I zip through scenes of dialogue and witty repertoire like you wouldn’t believe. But transitioning takes forever, as does any scene where actual fighting occurs. During NaNoWrimo I solve that problem by writing Transition happens here, or nail-biting action sequence soon to come and then I move ahead to those areas I really shine and my 1667 word count of the day flies by.
It’s also not a bad idea to shut off my internet for an hour. Or, at the very least, set up some kind reward system. 1000 words for one episode of Firefly, or fifteen minutes of perusing The Oatmeal’s website for reaching the end of this scene. It’s better than cutting out distraction cold turkey–for me, anyway.
Whatever your NaNoWriMo survival kit includes, make sure to stock up before the epic battle begins because one trip, one uncertain stumble, and you’re done for. Battle on, writers.