Wednesday, November 19, 2014

News from the NaNo Front

Hello wrimos, I see you made it out of week two alive. Congratulations. Sorry to say this, though, but it’s not over yet.

In fact, we’ve only just begun. Because week three…

Oh yeah, I lied about week two…

Week three—there’s the kicker.

All the way through week one, you probably soared on the winds of an exciting beginning and a fresh mind ready for adventure. Then, of course, week two came along—right out of nowhere—and boxed you around the ears a bit. I imagine your head is still ringing. Dreadful sorry.

Unfortunately, I’ve been hearing some rather disturbing news from the writing front. From the snippets of tattered notes brought to me by my fearless carrier pigeons, I have caught wind of a desperate situation. So I stand before you today, observing how nice you all look in your NaNo uniforms, designed specifically to help you blend in with your room and disappear from normal society. Bravo for your ingenuity! And I especially love the Viking helmets—nice touch, those. But I also see something else that reminds me of my own reflection in the mirror, all gaunt from lack of sleep, with those over-caffeinated eyes that seem to stare into my soul. *shudder* Most of you look a little battered, a little down for the count, if you ask me. Sure, some of you have a charming freshness about you and a ruddiness to your cheeks. You’ve been running full tilt, having the time of your life, and the exercise suits you. It really does. So I would like to award you an honorary medal for your bravery.

But war is never as glorious as they make it out to be, and many of you understand that, now more than ever. Come, sit. I’ll grab bandages and cocoa—we can talk about it if you like. I hear the forces of writer’s block have been converging on our location—I suspect foul play on the part of a few inner editors. Also, I realize the plague has been sweeping through this camp and taking down our numbers. Last week, I myself became a statistic. After all, there’s nothing like a good old head cold to wreak havoc on your word count.

So today, troops, I would like to address two issues. Afterwards, you will be free to line up for the chocolate buffet. (I hear there will also be coffee, but don’t quote me on that.)

The first problem smacks of OCD. You see, if I write a certain number of words on one day, then for goodness sake, I will—I must!—write exactly that many words (or more) the next day or else THE WORLD WILL END! I admire those of you who can skip a day without suffering an aneurysm. Unfortunately, I am not like you. On Thursday, I looked ahead at THE ARMY OF COMMITMENTS that was blackening the horizon, and—fueled by the sound of distant, clanking armor and the feral snarls of word-count-eaters—I wrote almost double what I normally write. As I did this, I told myself that I was building up padding so that I could relax on Friday.

But is that how it worked out? No. Of course not. You are talking to Liz, after all, not Superman. Because the next day, I looked at my graph, saw how much ahead I was, and decided to up my goal (for like the fifth time this month). The surplus was nice, but my brain wasn’t going to let those extra words go to waste. And this whole new dynamic started to throw a wrench into my enjoyment of NaNoWriMo.

So you know what I did? I slacked off—I made myself. I went to bed early, having written just about half my normal daily count. Did it bother me? Yes, of course—but not as much as I would have expected. Far less, in fact. I almost felt good about it—lighter and freer. And the next day, rested and invigorated, I popped out of bed, wrote extra words that more than made up my deficit, and enjoyed my time immensely. On Sunday, I slacked off again. Then—wonder of wonders!—I did better on Monday.

You can probably see where I’m going with this. If you’re feeling tired or trapped—take a break, read something, rest. Treat yourself like a human being rather than a workhorse. Eat ice cream and check your social media platforms and dance while washing the dishes. Make cookies. Procrastinate with intentionality. Writing takes discipline—yes, of course. But working yourself to death isn’t going to do you any favors. And if you don’t make your goal of one million or whatever…? Let me let you in on a little secret. You are not going to die. Not from that.




The second, and more disturbing issue that I have been hearing about is the sad malady of novel malnutrition. Like scurvy, this seems to be a common occurrence during war. Chances are, you may have started out with a robust, beefy storyline that really tickled your fancy and made your fingers fly. But at around 25K, some of you came to the realization that your wonderful book was actually going to be a novella. You suddenly felt as though you were choking and drowning and spontaneously combusting at the same time. I feel your pain. And sometimes, the sad truth is that your fantasy trilogy really is only a short story.

But in many cases, all you need is a simple vitamin injection. You’ve been writing fast and furious. Now it’s time to slow down and look at what’s gone wrong with your novel. Your story of a frog trying to find his way home after escaping a little boy’s room may have had so much potential in your mind. But Ferdie found his family in chapter eight, and now your only recourse seems to be writing a 25K epilogue in which you meticulously describe the party thrown for him upon his return.

I’m here with the daring suggestion that maybe your novel doesn’t have enough conflict. Yes, Ferdie got home—yay, Ferdie!—but did you really make him work for it enough? Sure, there was that part you especially liked about the housing development and the belligerent construction workers, and that other bit you didn’t like so much about the swimming pool incident and the rabid pelican. (Seriously, do birds even get rabies?) But, he pretty much just hopped along and weathered these issues. And then he got home, 25K words too early. Stupid Ferdie.

But what if he gets to his little rotten log, and he finds that no one’s there? What if his whole family has been captured—by the same boy!—during his absence, and now Ferdie must save them as well? Or, what if Ferdie returns to watch his family celebrating at his funeral, to see his fiancé marrying another frog, to find his possessions stolen? Or what if they are happy to see him, but, mid-celebration, those construction workers from the housing development come along and start surveying his nice little woodsy habitat? Or! What if Ferdie has come back angry, plotting his revenge on the frogs who made it possible for the boy to capture him in the first place?

I realize you’re tired, and at this point, it’s easy to rush to the end, write the climax, and call it a wrap. But I’m challenging you, today, to call your story’s bluff. What you have might be a false climax. There might yet be plenty of good stuff to come. You just have to dig for it.

So that’s your assignment for today, troops. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to dredge up all that ammo from the slushy ground of the battlefield where you dropped it when you beat a hasty retreat, because you’re going to need it in a few minutes. Writer’s block is swarming the camp, and it’s up to you now to save us all. Good luck.

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