We NaNoers are well into the season now, and I can honestly say that I have a love-hate relationship with this process. I have managed to crank out more text in the last several days than I normally manage in a month. But it’s “eh” writing in a lot of cases, and I can’t stand “eh” writing. In fact, I almost wrote in after day one to say I couldn’t do this and was quitting. I’m glad I didn’t, because now that I’m over the hump of resistance I’m finding the experience valuable. I now see where several scenes I had planned don’t work. I see where I’ll need new scenes. I see where the characters fall flat and where threads begin to fray. I wonder in the end how much of my NaNo creation I’ll have to scrap, but I’m going to persevere.
Others may have different opinions, but for me NaNo’s greatest value comes in forcing a writer to either fail or find the zone…fast! It demands that you trust your instincts, because when you’re given just 30 days to write 50,000 words there isn’t time for second guessing. My scenes are bare bones. Gone is the frosting I love so well. I’m focusing on dialogue and pacing, making sure the flow of scenes makes good sense, that threads aren’t lost and characters come across as I mean for them to. I’m writing the briefest descriptions of setting and leaving all other sensory details behind for now. And if I recognize that I’ve mucked something up, instead of dwelling on where I might’ve gone wrong, I make a note for myself and keep on keeping on. It’s kind of like sweeping crumbs into a pile sans dustpan; the dustpan will come later, in December.
Because this entire process goes against my grain in a big way, I’ve had to force myself to embrace tinker-free writing. Here are some of the tricks I’ve used with success:
* Use the AlphaSmart. I can’t say enough about how great it is to only be able to see four lines of your work at a time. No tinkering allowed; there just isn’t room for it. Alphie is the perfect tool for the writer who’s reluctant to press on without editing first, like me.
* Grab pencil, paper. Don’t have an Alphie? Grab a pad and pencil instead. There’s something freeing about exploring story the old-fashioned way, and unless you plan on a lot of erasing, writing with a pencil forces you to move forward almost as effectively as using an Alphie.
* Think like a playwright. Though I might understand what the finished scene will be like in my head–smell the tomato sauce, hear the viola, feel the heat of the spotlight–I can’t take the time to paint it all at this point. I’m focusing on dialogue tags–he said, she said–movement–stage left, right. When I’ve got all that down, the lights dim and it’s the end of the scene. I’ll worry about the rest later.
* Go blind, deaf. Turn off the sound on your computer so you are not aware if You’ve Got Mail. (Better yet, shut off all programs except word processing.) Then, after typing a few practice lines and being sure your fingers are in the right place, turn off your monitor. If you’re not quite that brave, try simply closing your eyes. Type. Channel whatever your characters are telling you. [Note: Not recommended for those who peck at the keyboard, like my husband.]
* File it. Resist the urge to revisit what you’ve already written; the object is to press on. If you find yourself cheating, then start a new file for every new scene. If it’s truly driving you crazy because you know you’ve made a “mistake,” use the comment function to make note of it, and then leave it.
* Have a mantra. I like Vicky’s: Don’t get it right; get it written. I also like Gimli’s from Lord of the Rings: Certainty of death. Small chance of success. What are we waiting for? (C’mon, you know we’re nerds at heart, right? Exhibit A HERE.). Print out your favorite mantra. Attach it to your monitor. Read it as often as necessary. Later, I’ll put Anton Chekhov’s advice in front of my nose again: Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass. There is no time for glint during NaNo season.
* Use the word-count guide at the NaNo site. I’ve been loving this, and I’ve never used a word-count measure before. I’ll compulsively update my count several times a day, just because it’s such a rush to see myself moving ahead. It’s become a bit of a Mouse Treat, I must admit.
Anyone have other tricks to share? How about a favorite mantra?
Write on, all!