Okay, first, I confess: I am not nanoing this month…but I have nanoed in the past. The first of my nano novels, which I actually wrote several Januarys ago, is dead and gone. Best forgotten.
But, I will say: there is something really wonderful and useful to the practice of writing 1500 or so words a day for an entire month. For me, it worked out to be about an hour and a half of hard writing, type-type-typing, a day. Great practice.
The second time I nanoed, this time in July, I salvaged some of the material and turned it into a short story or two.
The third time I nanoed, finally in the actual nano month, November, I finished up on November 30, and put the novel away. I think I slept the entire month of December. And then, January came, and low and behold, I dragged out that old novel. Or rather, I dragged it out of my mind, my memory, without actually opening the file on my laptop. I started the same story all over again. This draft took me two years to write; eventually, I titled the thing Goliath. It’s coming out in April.
I still haven’t opened that file.
So, I believe in nanoing. I believe writing really, really fast can be an exhilarating, somewhat harrowing, and incredibly freeing endeavor. I think there’s something wonderful, too, about committing a month to a single, crazy, throwaway-able (or not? Who knows?) project.
I always approached nano like this: let’s make writing fun again.
Over the course of my three successful nanos—successful only in that I made 50K each time—I picked up a few practices that I found very helpful. I’ll share them, in the hope that they’ll also be helpful to you.
First, I always wrote three pages before I allowed myself to check my word count. And then, after page three, I was allowed to check ONLY every time I finished a page.
I filled my freezer with lasagnas and frozen pizzas and my pantries with Froot Loops and chocolate-covered espresso beans. (I’m not saying nano is an especially healthful month…)
I made outlines, and then discarded them. I kept a stack of index cards beside my laptop and scribbled down upcoming events as the ideas came to me. Then, on slow mornings, I simply plodded through the notecards.
I always woke early to write.
I never went to bed without hitting the day’s word quota.
I changed scenery—mine and the characters’—often. Especially mine. The first time, we had just moved my daughter from a crib to a toddler bed, so I sat in the hallway, guarding the door, typing away. I wrote in coffee shops and, in the old days when such things still existed, the snack bar at Walmart. I wrote in my car (not while I was driving…) and on my front porch and at my in-laws’ house and in my kids’ tree house.
I sent my nanoing friends candy and encouraging notes. It encouraged me to encourage them.
I wrote a ton of descriptions. The characters’ living rooms, their kitchen drawers, the detritus in their pockets and purses. The color of the sky, the smell of boiling turnips, the sound of a little boy playing race cars on the floor. (The last part was inspired by the reality of the current situation in my house...)
I killed off characters, and then wrote long, sad funerals. I sent them winds of good fortune and bad--actual hurricanes. They scrubbed their kitchen floors. They went on road trips. They poisoned each other, played Frisbee. They drank coffee. They spilled coffee. The coffee spills took on the shapes that brought to mind their greatest fears, regrets, secrets...
I messed with my characters.
If I changed my mind about something, I typed in notes to myself, as if I’d ever go back and redraft. Something like: GO BACK TO THE BEGINNING AND MAKE MARY SUE SIXTY-FIVE INSTEAD OF SIXTEEN. Or, simply: MARY SUE IS SIXTY-FIVE.
I. never. deleted. a. single. word.
Happy nanoing, everybody. May your words be short and many.
(Btw, I’m leading a seminar on the nanoing adventure—and also a bit about the novel-writing process in general—in a few weeks. The seminar will be here in NC; if you think you might like to attend, please shoot me an email and I’ll get you some more info. firstname.lastname@example.org.)