Charles Daly

Writer

Category: Blog the Block (page 4 of 14)

5 NaNoWriMo Tips from a Guy who Hasn’t Done it

Since 1999, Halloween has marked the eve of National Novel Writing Month,or NaNoWriMo, a web-based write-a-thon in which participants try to write a novel (of at least 50,000 words) in the month of November.

50,000 words in a month comes out to a daily word count of 1,667, or roughly seven pages. That’s challenging but not impossible.

I haven’t done it, not in November anyway. I did use NaNo’s rules to draft the (short) novel I’m currently rewriting. The deadline brought out something I didn’t know I had in me, and the pressure to finish on schedule might be the only reason I finished at all. The experience taught me some good habits that apply to everything I write.

Here are five tips that may help you this month from a guy who who hasn’t been there himself.

Shitty First Drafts

As the name suggests, the ‘shitty first draft’ method asks you to let go of perfectionism and just get down a draft no matter how rough it is. Anne Lamott coined the term in her book Bird by Bird: some instructions on writing and life.

30 days isn’t enough time to create something polished and impressive, but that’s not the point. The only thing that matters is hitting 50,000 words by 11:59 PM on November 30th. Not 50,000 good words, not 50,000 publishable words, not 50,000 proofread words, just 50,000 words. Your only criteria for success is achieving your word count before time’s up.

Forget about grammar, syntax, punctuation, and good form. Just get the words out. Make a mess.

Surprisingly, the best way to write a great final draft is to start with a shitty first draft. When the time comes to rewrite and edit, you’ll thank yourself for all the raw material you came up with. It’s much easier to subtract bad words than to add good ones.

After my 30 day draft, I found myself wishing I’d made things messier. Here are my thoughts from an early post over a year after I started working on the novel:

I set out to write a complete first draft in thirty days. I did it. The work wasn’t all-consuming or frantic, I may have even taken a day or two off. If anything, I underestimated how quickly I could get the words down. If I could do it all again I would have been more all over the place, I would have overwritten more, written out every alternative ending, to give myself more raw material to work with later.

 

Never Hit Delete

For the next thirty days, treat your laptop like a typewriter. Instead of rewriting a scene, just write an alternative version and bank both in your word count. The act of writing around a problem rather than backspacing can bring out pleasant surprises. Writing this way keeps you in a flow state and forces you to do your thinking and imagining on the page.

For hard-cases, try Write or Die which erases what you’ve already written if you don’t keep typing.  

 

Cut out Distractions

In On Writing,  Stephen King tells writers to ‘shut the door’ literally and figuratively. Do whatever you gotta do to create the time and space you need to do the work. Take it one day at a time.

Some Nano writers get off social media for the month, others install software like Freedom to block the internet during writing hours.  

An easy rule of thumb when it comes to distractions: if it doesn’t get you closer to 50,000 words, it can wait ‘til December.

 

Be Accountable

Tell everyone that you’re doing NaNoWriMo. Don’t talk about what you’re writing (Stephen King will kick your ass)  but do let people know that you’ve accepted this challenge.

Stay accountable to your followers by blogging about the experience or tweeting your word count as you go (assuming you haven’t gone off the grid.)

Connect with other writers on NaNo’s forums.

 

After Novel Writing Month Comes Novel Re-Writing Year(s)

The rewrite is where you find the truth of every clichéed marathon running and mountain climbing analogy. This really isn’t a sprint. When it comes to rewriting, discipline and habit beat inspiration and motivation every time. The folks who only write when they feel inspired can probably slog through a NaNoWriMo but they’ll never get to the real finish line of a final draft.

Use this month to become the kind of writer who writes whether or not she feels like writing.

 

 

For more NanoWrimo tips checkout Storyist and Writer’s Digest.

Good luck.

Friday Roundup — I Think You’re Fat

“If I knew where the good songs came from, I’d go there more often.”

–Leonard Cohen 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Elmore Leonard’s Most Important Rule for Writing

Elmore Leonard had one rule that summed up his famous 10 rules of writing:

“If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.”

 

 

You can find the other 10 in Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing which includes illustrations and examples of writers who break his rules brilliantly.

One Problem with Adjectives– Stating the Obvious

There are a lot of ways adjectives can mess you up, one of the worst is the tautology–that’s when the adjective has the same meaning as the word in modifies and therefore isn’t needed. Here are a few examples:

Dry desert

Closed fist

Overused cliché

Revolutionary new

Freezing cold

First priority

Evening sunset

Over exaggerate

Adequate enough

Dark-haired brunette

 

 

Friday Roundup

“Graham Greene wrote from 9:00 to 12:00 and then drank.”

–Zadie Smith 

 

 

 

  • Bloomberg gives the Boston Museum of Science $50 million to say thank you for his childhood visits to the museum.

 

  • Outside Magazine ranks the best methods for brewing coffee in the outdoors.

 

 

 

Hemingway, Refugees, and Writing with Emotion

In 1922, Hemingway was in Greece reporting for the Toronto Star on the evacuation of Thrace and the refugee crisis that followed. He used some of his memories and notes from the trip as material for In Our Time, his first collection of short stories.

 

Hemingway’s war reporting appears in italics between his stories. These vignettes put his journalistic roots  on display, they show his early attempts to paint with words (he was a big Cezanne guy),  and they remind the reader that his fiction is drawn from life.  

 

For a writer, these scenes give a great example of how to craft emotionally charged prose without heavy, emotional language. Take a look:

 

Minarets stuck up in the rain out of Adrianople across the mud flats. The carts were jammed for thirty miles along the Karagatch road. Water buffalo and cattle were hauling carts through the mud. There was no end and no beginning. Just carts loaded with everything they owned. The old men and women, soaked through, walked along keeping the cattle mov­ing. The Maritza was running yellow almost up to the bridge. Carts were jammed solid on the bridge with camels bobbing along through them. Greek cavalry herded along the procession. The women and children were in the carts, crouched with mattresses, mirrors, sewing machines, bun­dles. There was a woman having a baby with a young girl holding a blanket over her and cry­ing. Scared sick looking at it. It rained all through the evacuation.

 

There’s not an adverb to in sight, and it would be hard to find a word that doesn’t pull its weight here.  He lets the images speak for themselves rather than muting them with emotional redundancy. He doesn’t have to tell us that these  people are hopeless or miserable, he shows us “carts loaded with everything they owned” and “old men and women soaked through. He reminds us of the scale of the tragedy which has “no beginning and no end.”   Instead of saying the  scene was scary or sickening, he gives us the jotted fragment “scared sick looking at it.”

 

That last line–“It rained all through the evacuation”– comes last for a reason. Suppose he had lead with the weather “It was raining as…” or mentioned it in passing “Just carts loaded with everything they owned out in the rain,” it just wouldn’t have the same power. Besides, we kind of already know it’s raining or has been raining: the river is almost up to the bridge, it’s muddy, and the old people are soaked through. By saving this detail for last, he gives it the power to devastate. On top of all the hardship and suffering he describes, as if these people haven’t suffered enough: It’s raining.

Norman Mailer on Trolls and Critics

The Spooky Art, Norman Mailer’s book on the art and business of writing, is a lost classic of the writing advice genre. Like Mailer himself, it’s brilliant, frustrating, and full of fist-fighting analogies.


What’s cool about this title is that it was written for working writers and advanced amateurs. You won’t find much in the way of plotting advice or grammar pointers, but you will learn  how to deal with unreasonable movie execs and how to handle potential pitfalls in the writing life, even outdated ones like Seconal addiction.

 

Mailer has a lot to say about facing criticism. He hated critics and often times the feeling was mutual. However, he accepted that criticism is inevitable in the writing game. As he saw it, the only way to write another book after your last one was eviscerated by the rabble is to develop a thick skin.

“Every good author who manages to forage a long career must be able to build a character that will not be unhinged by a bad reception. That takes art.”

 

The Spooky Art was published in 2003, a few years before internet trolling came into its own. But these lines could apply as easily to a hostile comment as a bad review:

 

“(A writer) Must learn to live with the bruises left by comments on his work.”

 

And if the moral high road isn’t satisfying enough for you, Mailer goes on to offer advice–from personal experience–on how to physically intimidate a reviewer at a book party without actually throwing a punch.

Image: the Daily Mail

 

Friday Roundup

“We love to buy books because we believe we’re buying the time to read them.”
— 
Warren Zevon (paraphrasing Arthur Schopenhauer)

 

 

 

 

 

What do you Need?

One way to deal with procrastination is to bargain with it. When you get stuck, stop and ask yourself, “Self, what do you need?”

Typically, your demands aren’t too outrageous: maybe you need a walk, or a run, or you need to punch something (protip: punching bags are better than walls.) It could be that you need to get some mindless browsing out of your system, in which case you might want to set a timer. If you need a nap, take a nap. If you need coffee, brew some.

Give yourself whatever you need; then, get back to work.

I’m writing this while reclining in a chair because I was getting nowhere at my desk. That may not sound like a big deal, but it’s the difference between getting a post done and studying the walls while fighting the urge to get online.

In other words, be kind to yourself.

 

How to Practice Public Accountability

The flipside of the public over-share is public accountability. Here are a few ways a writer can do it:

  • Commit to a regular blogging practice. (emphasis on regular)
  • Uses Twitter and Instagram to show yourself showing up.  ( I recently posted a video of me starting my morning pages at 5:15AM)
  • Post a screenshot of your word-count
  • Write/ post a serialized story
  • Do a  Live event on Facebook. (Accountability in realtime)
  • Tweet that you’ve completed your journaling for the day (no need to share your journal.)
  • Do NANOWRIMO (even if you don’t follow their rules exactly.)
  • Post weird statistics about your tools and supplies (Steinbeck went through 300 pencils writing East of Eden.)
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