NaNoWriMo Pep Talk

So, there was a topic on yesterday’s NaNoWriMo Procrastination Station called “Pep Talks from the Unpublished” – which was basically a solicitation for pep talks from fellow NaNoers. I read through it, and I thought: A) it was a wonderful idea; and B) that there were some really, really good pep talks there. So I was inspired to write one (while I should have been trying to finish 50K by midnight!). No idea whether you’ll find it good or not, but I hope it encourages someone, at least. It did me, while I was writing it!

Just noticed this thread on the procrastination station, and decided that I absolutely had to read it. And you know, I’m glad I did (despite the fact that I still have 2.5K words I want to get written by midnight – in two hours, which I’m highly unlikely to manage – to actually reach that green bar). There are some awesome words of wisdom here. I particularly liked the poem in the first few posts.

This is my third year doing NaNo, and about my 24th year writing. Yes, you heard right, 24 years. I’ve been writing since I was about 10 years old. (Maybe longer.) Ten years ago, I wrote a 110,000 word novel (fanfiction) in 4 months. I’ve been stalled on its shorter sequel for over 10 years at this point, despite the fact that I know how I want it to end.

I’ve won NaNo the past two years I did it, and I’m going to win this year as well. That’s a fact. But it’s also a fact that my first week was awful. I was sick – had been sick for a month – and headachy, and I was only managing a few hundred words a day. On Saturday the 6th, I ended the day with 1,154 words.

I sort of said to myself, “That’s not good. Keep that up, and there’s no way in hell that you’re going to win this year.” And to be honest, I want to do more than win. Toronto is having a neat Word War this year; we’re divided into teams, those of us who have signed up, and anyone who writes over 100,000 words will also have their word count added to the Overachiever Team – who are trying to get donations, pledges for every 500,000 words written, to go to our beloved Office of Letters and Light. I heard that, and I said to myself, “Okay, I want to do more than just hit the 50,000 word mark and win. I want to finish more than just this novel, if it’s less than 100,000 words. I want to be on the Overachievers Team.”

And you know, it’s been hard. I don’t usually have any trouble starting a story. My hard drive is full of stories that I’ve started. But I find that even if I know the ending I’m aiming for, even if I know the events I want to have happen in the middle, I have a hard time finishing them. (And I can never write to an outline. Every time I’ve tried, it’s been a disaster. It’s started, limped along for a bit, and then just sat there, building up a greater and greater block. I’ve found that I need to leave things fairly open – have an idea of what I want to have happen, or what has to happen, but never, ever set things down in stone. That’s just me; you may be different. You may need an outline. But that distinction isn’t terribly important. What’s important is that we’re all writing a story.) So, no outline for me.

And worse; this year I started with an idea of what to do, one prompted in me by my best friend – a semi-Lovecraftian horror set in the Swiss Alps with the heroes being a human woman and a male dragon who have a platonic partnership. I’m all about partnerships. And I wrote 390 words.

And then I realized that I just couldn’t write any more. It was dead. It was like flogging a dead horse. And I had no idea what to do.

I freely admit that I panicked, more than a bit. I’d found in October that I had no real direction for where to take this NaNo (unlike 2008, where I started developing my plot before I even signed up in August, and 2009, where I decided near the end of October what I was going to do), so the idea from my friend was really the only one I had. But I’ve never read Lovecraft’s stuff, and have scant liking for horror, so I was at a loss.

Finally, about 4 days in, I decided that what I was going to do was the sequel to my 2008 NaNo novel. I’d had a start for it, written in February 2009, but I didn’t like that and couldn’t write anything past the first chapter and a bit. So I’d just re-start it, and see what I came up with.

And that worked. There’s some awkward points, and some things I know I’m going to have to change, but I also know that this is my first draft. The prequel story is, in fact, partially re-written, and I intend to continue that re-write in December.

But first I’ve got to finish November.

So, enough about me. Whether you found my story of this year inspiring or boring, let’s go onto you.

As so many pep talks in this thread have said, you chose to sign up for NaNoWriMo. You chose (maybe subconsciously, maybe consciously) to be a writer. Which means that you have a story or several stories that need telling, characters that want to act, plots that want to be spun, situations that need to be resolved. You have the power of creation within you.

This is wonderful. It’s a gift, being able to create something. Especially something as bright and enthralling as a story. (And no matter how bad, or parodic, or stupid a first draft may be, no matter how awful your grammar is – as long as you don’t parade it before the world until you have that corrected! *grins* – every single story is a brightness in this world.) It may be a story that you’re writing solely for your sake – to get it out of your head, to enjoy re-reading afterwards, to see where it takes you; or it may be one you find you want to share with the world. For whatever reason you’re writing it, it’s your story. They’re your characters, the voices dancing in the back of your head, telling you what they’re doing and how they’re reacting to the situation, and correcting you when something is out of character for them. All of it is yours.

Which means it’s also your choice as to what you do with it. You could stop, because you can’t seem to write another word. You could continue, and not make it to 50K words by the end of the month. You could win the challenge that NaNoWriMo presents. You could even finish, edit, and then publish it! It’s all up to you.

But you joined NaNoWriMo because there was something about this challenge that appealed to you. There was something in you that said, “50,000 words in 30 days? I can do that. I can write that. There’s this story idea I have, that needs to be told, and what better way to tell it?”

Do you really want to make yourself a liar?

I know all too well about that voice of Pessimism mentioned in one of the other Pep Talks. It’s a strong voice, and it can sometimes overpower the voices of your characters, interrupt the tale you’re listening to and transcribing, and tell you that of course you can’t do it. You’re a failure, after all. You never succeed at the things you try. Yes, I know that voice well.

But you know, it doesn’t matter. Despite the set goals of NaNoWriMo, the point of the challenge isn’t really to get 50,000 words. It isn’t even to finish your novel by the end of the month (which can be something completely different from getting 50K).

It’s to write. It’s to tell your story, get it out on paper/the screen. It’s to share that experience with people from all over the world, all telling their own stories, all encouraging each other and goading each other on. That’s the real goal of NaNoWriMo. 50,000 words is just a number that sounded reasonable.

So you’re behind. You know you’ll never catch up before the end of the month, or at least not without some 10,000 word days. That’s fine. Like I said, 50,000 words isn’t the real goal. It may be the finish line of the marathon – but the real point of the marathon is to compete. Every word you put on paper is one word that you would not have written without NaNoWriMo. Every paragraph is one more bit of the story you need to tell. And even if you don’t finish in November, you’ve still got at least a part of that story, the one that you need to write. And that story is easily continued.

So, pep talk done. I hope that helped. I know the experience of writing it, of going back through my previous experiences of NaNoWriMo, as well as this one, has encouraged me. I think I’m going to stay up until I get those 2.5K words done tonight, even if that means staying up after midnight, and getting it completed tomorrow.

For those who’ve decided to read all the way down, here are some additional points that might help you increase your word count.

1) Set a daily goal. It doesn’t matter if it’s the 1,667 word official goal, if it’s 5,000 words, or even if it’s 200 words. Just set a goal. And cheer yourself on when you surpass it.

2) Do go to the write-in sessions. At least one during the month, but hopefully more. That was something I really missed last year, when I was working the evening shift – I only got to two, our Subway Writing Session and our Overnight Writing Session. Seriously, even if you spend more time socializing during the session than you do writing, I think you’ll come away feeling more energized and encouraged; and sometimes talking to your fellow NaNoers can help you, especially if you have a block. We’re friendly folks – one of the points of NaNoWriMo is the community – and I don’t think we’d mind being used as sounding boards. Talking a story over can often lead to revelations, for both you and the person you’re talking to, even if you’re only speaking of one of your stories. And the atmosphere of creativity and enthusiasm can do wonders for your own.

3) Realize that most of what you write could easily be garbage. It happens. (As I mentioned above, I have to re-write my 2008 NaNo novel, because of the improbability of what was happening, and I really want to get it published one of these days.) So know that some of your writing is going to suck. Accept it, and move on. Because even if some of it will suck, there will still be gems in there. Words, turns of phrase, sentences, descriptions, paragraphs, actions… at least some of them will shine bright amidst the dross. You’re a writer, a creator – it will happen. And even if you find only 1% of your novel is made up of those gems – it’s a lot more than you would have if you hadn’t written it at all.

So, follow those three steps, and any others you find useful (Write Or Die, Word Wars – those are fun, pirate ninja zombies, etc.), and see what happens. Enjoy the process of creation, as you would enjoy a walk in a beautiful garden or a forested path, whichever sounds best to you. And as with those, make a note of the gems and beauties you see around you. They’ll encourage you more than I ever could.

😉 tag0 (TrudyG)

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