A long time ago, I struggled even when I only wrote a few lines a day. Eventually, I did end up with some stories but it wasn’t until I joined a mystery writers group that I got better at “producing” pages. I met the others in the group when I took a mystery writing class in Johns Hopkins non-credit program. If you’ve read my first posts in this blog, you know that I plotted out the book ahead of time.
I didn’t just sit down and type an outline; I wrote a bunch of scene ideas on index cards, one to a card. Then I spent a long time tacking them up in the order that I thought they should go in the book. I can’t remember which one of my writing books gave me the idea but it did work pretty well. Since I had an idea like “Randy is murdered” for each chapter, the method gave me a goal for each one. These days I don’t really write outlines until after a book is done but it’s not a bad idea, especially if you occassionally have one of those days when you stare at a blank screen for any length of time.
The real trick is to be flexible enough to include changes when you’re writing and still be disciplined enough to keep going in the right direction. Righting off on a tangent doesn’t hurt you reaching your 50,000 word goal, but it does make it a lot more difficult to revise your novel later on.
Okay, so you have your outline and you imagine yourself on November 1 at 5:00 am or if you’re a real go-getter, 12:00 pm. You pull out your cards or you look at them tacked on your wall. The first card says that a girl meets a guy, let’s say Sammy meets Joe. The white screen is staring back at you and you remember that at one of the Nanowrimo kick-off luncheons someone told you to write the first thing that comes into your head. You write, “There was this guy who sat a couple chairs down from me at lunch who said I should write whatever comes into my head. I wonder why he said that?” You can’t think of anything else to say, not one lousey word.
Lots of folks do prep before the whole thing starts to help them get past the beginning days of the marathon. If you’re not into plotting, try character sketches. You can do this ahead of time just like the plotting since it’s considered kosher by the Nano folks. If you can write a page about each of your main characters, single-spaced, you can put them in a situation and you’ll be able to imagine what happened. Say Sammy is eighteen, a freshman in college. She lost her parents last year so she’s pretty much on her own, more so than other freshman girls. Joe is a senior and belongs to a fraternity. His parents are very much alive but he doesn’t see them very much because he went to boarding school before he went to college. He’s used to being on his own. He likes it and even though he dates plenty, he hasn’t dated anyone for longer than a few months. What kind of conversation are they going to have when he bumps into the fragile Sammy outside the bookstore a few days before classes start?
If I hadn’t imagined at least a few characteristics for Sammy and Joe, it would take me a long time to decide how they would react to each other. With the character sketches, I have a running start after I figure out what the “inciting incident” is going to be. Running into each other is one way to start. Don’t start with waking up in the morning! I’ve heard editors and agents talk about how they can’t stand those openings!
It is a good idea to start with an action sequence and have something happen to your main character(s) that is unusal for them. Sammy is walking around a large campus away from the protection of Aunt and Uncle. So that would be unusual enough. And we all know how much we like those stories that start with a bang. Just off the top of my head, “If I’d known that Joe was crazy, I would never have talked to him when he bumped into me outside the Campus bookstore.” Or “I fainted dead away when I thought I saw my dead father outside the campus bookstore.” You get the idea.
You can start off with an outline, with character sketches, or just an inciting incident, or maybe all three if you have the time and inclination. Or if you really want to live dangerously, start with a title and see where it takes you.
You’ll want to write every day if you’re doing Nanowrimo because tackling 1667 words is a lot less daunting than skipping three days and trying to write 6668 words on the fourth day.
What about writing everyday? There’s only one way you’ll get comfortable writing everyday and that’s to do it. If you get a headache even thinking about writing 1667 words (say around day 10 or so), try writing 580 before breakfast, 580 at lunch, and 507 after dinner. That’s helped me get back on track a few times. If you try writing in a journal every day before November, that can help too.
The idea is to have fun although some of us do cash in on the opportunity to get a chunk of writing done. (Nanowrimo is an easier sale on Thanksgiving Day than saying you really have to write a few pages so your novel will be done in three years.) Thanks so much to Chris out in San Fran and all of his friends and buddies who made this baby fly!