Wednesday, 23 November 2011

No no Nano

Stop the presses – it’s November and I’m not doing Nano. I’ve done NaNoWriMo for the last four Novembers in a row, so not to be pounding out 1700+ words a day in a panicked scramble feels weird. Like December without Christmas.

I have all this time on my hands. Ha! I wish. Those pesky renovations. There’s always another wall to scrub or a ceiling to paint. That was one reason I decided not to participate this year. Another was that those last four manuscripts haven’t got any further. As with quilting projects, I’m great at starting new novels. Not so hot on the revising and finishing thing. Character flaw, I’m looking at you.

NaNoWriMo, in case you don’t know, is a group madness that overcomes tens of thousands of people all over the world every November. They agree to write a 50,000 word novel in a mere 30 days. There are no prizes; nobody sees your novel, or checks your wordcount. It’s purely a motivational thing. There are forums where you can chat with other like-minded novelists, finding answers or inspiration. How far can a horse travel in a day? Someone will know. What’s a good name for an alien artefact? There’ll be lots of suggestions.

There are also local groups which hold writing get-togethers if you’d like to meet writers in your area. Parties too, when it’s all over! You can become online “buddies” with others and send encouraging mail, or just chat. Your wordcount and your buddies’ will be displayed in your own little corner of the Nano website, which is a feature I really like. Watching those wordcounts creep up is very motivating. I hate getting left behind! (Who, me? Competitive??) Updating your wordcount at the end of every day and seeing the little bar edge along is very satisfying.

The girls are both doing the young writers’ version. It’s basically the same thing, but on a separate minors-only website where they get to choose their own wordcount goal. Obviously most kids go for something a leeetle smaller than 50,000. Drama Duck’s goal this year is 8,500 words, and she’s already reached it. Demon Duck is shooting for 3,500.

So at least there is some nanoing going on here, just not by me. I miss the excitement and the buzz of doing it alongside so many others, but reason had to prevail. As a kind of non-Nano consolation, I’m trying to outline a novel this month instead. I’ll still have to write it later, but outlining doesn’t take as much time as writing, and can be done while painting or cleaning, so it’s a more viable option this month. It doesn’t come as naturally to me as just making stuff up on the fly, but I figure it’s worth trying at least once. Doesn’t mean I’m permanently converting to the dark side!

It’s hard, though. Not as hard as writing coherent scenes while desperately improvising the plot, but answering the “what happens next?” question for a whole book-sized plot even in outline is brain-straining stuff. The “big idea” that makes you want to write the thing in the first place has to be broken down into hundreds of smaller ideas that all link together in a meaningful and apparently inevitable progression.

People are always asking authors the dreaded “where do you get your ideas from?” question. I think they assume the whole book falls into your head fully formed, so when they ask “where do you get your ideas from?” what they really mean is “how do I get the complete plot of a bestseller to fall into my head so I can simply transcribe it on to paper and wait for the money to roll in?”

Get the idea and the book writes itself. If only it were that simple! That bit about 10% inspiration, 90% perspiration should be in giant flashing letters. Only the people who sit down and actually try to turn their idea into a book realise that getting the initial idea is the easy part.

Everything else requires effort. And, pants it or plan it, it’s still work!


  1. “how do I get the complete plot of a bestseller to fall into my head so I can simply transcribe it on to paper and wait for the money to roll in?”

    Yeah, I'd like to know that, too!

  2. You and me both, Jenn! it would sure beat the old butt-in-chair routine.