NaNoWriMo—Training Lean, Mean, Writing Machines
Yesterday Jami posted about NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), and I really hope you guys take her class because she is truly a gifted teacher. Today, I want to talk a little bit about what writers (especially new writers) can gain from NaNo.
NaNo Teaches Endurance
I remember years ago thinking, “Wow, if I could just write a thousand words a day, that would be AMAZING.” When I looked at professional authors, it was like watching a marathon runner—all the while knowing I couldn’t run a flight of stairs without requiring oxygen and possibly a defibrillator to restart my heart. I so struggled to get words on a page, and Lord help me if I saw something shiny.
Of course, after years of practiced discipline, I generally have a thousand words written by breakfast. When I fast-draft (which I do for all my books), my average is abnormally high. But that took YEARS to train to write that clean and that FAST.
NaNo is a lot like a military bootcamp. Many who sign up for military service aren’t in the fittest condition. Sure, we might meet the weight requirements (or get a waiver), but most of us don’t start out being able to knock out a hundred pushups on the spot. We likely have little experience running ten miles with a heavy pack of gear on our backs.
We have to be trained. Bootcamp is designed to push people to the breaking point and then beyond. It challenges trainees physically, emotionally and psychologically. Usually it involves some guy yelling in your face who makes run you all day long, do a bazillion cherry-pickers, lunges, push-ups, sit-ups, etc.
He screams at you as you run obstacles then wakes you at four in the morning to do it all again. You get three minutes to shovel in as much food as you can, just to go run at one in the afternoon in 115 degree heat until you puke.
Fun stuff :D.
NaNo Trains in Mental Fitness
But this “brutality” has multiple purposes. First, most of us underestimate what we are capable of doing. D.I.s (Drill Instructors) drive us into a zone we’d probably never step a toe into if left on our own. Secondly, when you are physically exhausted, you’re also psychologically exhausted. Can you keep your cool or do you lose your temper?
Don’t. You get to run an extra two miles while holding a rifle over your head (ask me how I know :D).
This “beating” trains recruits to remain calm no matter what, to be able to think and make fast decisions while under duress, to remain focused no matter what is “blowing up” all around.
Writing is an extraordinarily intense activity. Sure, the professionals make it look easy and that’s why the world thinks we spend all day drinking wine and talking to butterflies. Regular people have zero concept of the mental and psychological endurance it requires to not only finish a novel, but to write someone other people will pay money to read.
NaNo, in my opinion, is bootcamp to train up professionals. Granted, no one is shooting live rounds at us while we belly-crawl through mud, BUT we do have to put words on a page even when the toddler has to go to the potty every thirty seconds. Many of us are also working a day job and we have family drama shooting rounds at us from all directions.
As I’ve said many times before, “Life doesn’t stop because we decided to write a book.” I’ve met NYTBSAs who were taking care of dying family members all while meeting deadlines. They’d had tragedies, or illnesses or a cancer diagnosis and yet they still sat in the chair and put down words.
I know how many of you feel. I was new once, too. No one was tossing a grenade my way, but I had to field the negativity and smart@$$ comments from people who believed writing wasn’t “real” work. In their minds, I might as well have been sitting with a coloring book all day. I had to learn to ignore that nonsense if I wanted to press to the end.
NaNo Trains Out Perfectionism
NaNo trains us to keep pressing even when it isn’t pretty. Back to bootcamp for a sec. Trust me when I say a bunch of kids with a pack running in summer up a hill ain’t pretty. The D.I. doesn’t care how we look. He cares we made it to the top with all our gear.
Our face could be purple and our boots coated in dirt and puke. Doesn’t matter. You’re at the top of the hill, and you can clean your boots later. Stop to clean your boots halfway up a hill and you’ll earn some extra push-ups and another mile or two while the others (who didn’t stop) get to eat and rest.
As Voltaire said, “Perfect is the enemy of the good.” By the time you finish NaNo, I promise you will have puke on your shoes (they look a lot like redundant adverbs and silly metaphors). That’s what revisions are for. Too many writers stop to polish their
boots prose at the expense of making it to the top of the hill The End. NaNo is the D.I. there to beat that out of us.
Writers who make a good living write at least a book a year and often more. Writers who spend all their time polishing their boots are the ones who never finish, or they take five, seven or even ten years to finish a novel.
So what if they land that three-book deal? NY isn’t going to give them 15 years to finish.
I hope you guys will give NaNo a try. If not, check out Candace Haven’s Fast Draft, though she’s more like Navy SEAL training. You get TWO weeks to finish a novel, not FOUR. People who don’t think writing is physically exhausting should try writing 5,000 to 8,000 words a day fourteen days straight. I’ve completed her Fast Draft three times and it made me a faster, cleaner writer…and my masseuse a richer person :D.
So have we convinced y’all to join in the “fun”? Have you done NaNo before and finished? Have to failed to finish? Why? What are you hoping to change to improved your odds of success? Tips? Tools? Suggestions. As you know we DO have Jami’s class (check yesterday’s post for discount codes) and my antagonist class is also coming up on October 16th and can make a HUGE difference when it comes to starting any project with a solid core story.
I LOVE hearing from you!
To prove it and show my love, for the month of October, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).
Also, for all your author branding and social media needs, please check out my new best-selling book Rise of the Machines–Human Authors in a Digital World.