Some of you have already started writing, but for those of us in the United States – where NaNoWriMo got its “Na” – we’re still a good 45 minutes to launch. Getting excited? For me, it’s tradition to stay up till midnight an write, at the very least, “In the beginning…” More can wait until I’ve had a good night’s sleep, especially when November 1 falls on a Wednesday, a work day.
Here are a few last minute tips and a blast from the past.
Write Healthy. NaDruWriNi (National Drunk Writing Night) is a fun parody of NaNoWriMo, and I can get into the spirit of it, but alcohol just makes me sleepy. I don’t write wild and crazy stuff after having a drink or three, I crash. Same goes for too much sugar, too much sodium nitrate, or too much food – period. Do not pig out on the Halloween candy!
I’ve never bought into the idea that drugs enhance creativity, either. I’ve known people who smoked pot or got drunk, and they were mostly legends in their own minds, until the high wore off. Most of them didn’t even have the good grace to be embarrassed, later; apparently, there’s a reason why people forget what they did the night before.
So while I’m not going to pass judgement on those who choose that path, I know it doesn’t work for me. And if I’m going to get through 50,000 words in thirty days – while working full time – I’m going to do it healthy. (Why, oh why, does NaNoWriMo coincide with the end of hurricane season and the beginning of flu season? At least I got my flu and tetanus shots, this year!)
Hydrate your brain. I drink too much coffee and too little water. I’m going to make an extra effort to keep a big sports bottle of water handy – filled up and chilled – throughout November.
Never skip breakfast. I learned this one from Weight Watchers. Paradoxically, if you want to lose weight, don’t skip meals. Skipping breakfast is a great way to train your body to store fat and a good way to screw up your sugar levels in the morning.
Take a good vitamin/mineral supplement. Sure, we should be getting all we need from the food we eat, but that’s assuming we’re all getting plenty of fresh fruits and veggies, and not loading up on fast food and pre-packaged convenience meals we can throw in the microwave after a long day at work. If you spend hours each day staring at a computer or mobile phone screen, you might consider adding an Omega-3 supplement, like TheraTears Nutrition, to the mix.
Exercise. It’s great for revving up the metabolism, getting trim, and staying in shape, but it’s also terrific for releasing all those lovely endorphins that make us feel relaxed, de-stressed, and happy.
Sleep. Sleep-deprivation is a nasty, evil thing. (Oh, I know, some writers swear by it. Claim it gives them visions. Claim their characters only talk to them when they’ve had two hours’ sleep in the last forty-eight. I’ll bet.) Sleep deprivation slows our reaction time and makes most of us miserable and cranky. I don’t write well when I’m miserable and cranky. I write miserable and cranky prose; I might even churn out a morbid sonnet. But it’s not good and I’m not happy or fun to be with when I’m doing that. Eight hours is an unreasonable goal during NaNoWriMo, but I’m going to aim for at least six or seven, every night.
Any more suggestions? Keep ’em simple (it’s hard enough turning over a new leaf – I don’t have time for complicated regimens right now) and share them in your comments.
Proof that I was blogging before some of you were born – if you want to read my first impressions of my first National Novel Writing Month, check out NaNoNuts. It dates back to 2005. But the following entry was copied from a blog I kept in 2001:
I found my first-ever NaNoWriMo blog, from 2001. Not to scare the newbies, but I thought some of you might get a kick out of it. (Ed. note: I did actually go on to publish the @#$% thing, despite what I swore at the end of this.)
October 21, 2001
I’m ready, I’m ready! I have 50,000 other things to do before I can even THINK about starting this novel (but that will always be an excuse if I let it be, won’t it?) – and I know that October is the month to wrap up loose ends in anticipation of NaNoWriMo – but it’s all I can do not to start!! Aaarrrgggghhhh!
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to write a novel in just one month? 50,000 words in 30 days? 1666.66666666667 words a day? Scary, yet irresistible idea if you’ve ever toyed with the idea of writing a novel… well, one of these days. One of these days is NOW.
October 22, 2001
They say “write what you know.” But who the heck wants to read about a happily married tech writer with two kids? Ah. “Embellish,” you say? There’s a thought.
“Tina sighed as she waded through stacks of paper covered in blood. Red ink, of course – but to Tina it was the blood of her hard-birthed manual, the love child of Engineering, painstakingly researched and written, now cut to shreds by Marketing. As Tina reached into the drawer, rummaging for a bottle of white out, her fingers found the Exacto knife. She smiled in satisfaction. Nice and rusty and dull.”
Naah. Definitely needs a sprinkling of space aliens and a dash of ninjas. And more caffeine!
Chris Baty, fearless founder of NaNoWriMo, asked the rhetorical question, “Are we really within a dairy product’s expiry of starting?” Well, not if you’re lookin’ at a nice hard Black Diamond cheddar, we’re not…
Eeeeek! Yep, he’s right – according to the milk and yogurt in my fridge, he’s right! I don’t know whether to panic now or start doin’ the happy dance!
October 23, 2001
Did Lisa (another NaNoWriMo Nut) say “a story to a dead person”? That’s a novel idea. Here I was, playing with cliche ideas like stories about dead people. What are space ninjas without a few ghosts to play pranks on them, anyway? A little eerie howling in the night? But stories to dead people? Like, what, little graveside bedtime stories? (Ooooh, sometimes I even creep myself out!)
October 24, 2001
You can run, but you can’t hide. Anyone else starting to feel as if the real challenge to this NaNoWriMo thing is avoiding all the “attractive nuisance” obstacles so cheerfully flung our way? Like journals, boards, partners, more boards (lest we get bored), more boards (for those who like to get carried away), other people’s journals, email, IM, chat… and a little light escapist reading, RPGs, and real life for those times when we just need a break?
October 25, 2001
That was depressing.
“Tina sat, glassy-eyed, in front of her monitor, waiting for the chime that would signal arrival of the ‘ratings’ from a horde of equally glassy-eyed reviewers. She bit the ragged edge of a hopelessly frayed nail, thankful that she hadn’t invested in a pricey French manicure. Fingernails on a keyboard were only slightly less irritating than fingernails on a chalkboard, anyway. Tina dreamed of the trashy-but-entertaining fiction she could be writing, as opposed to the dry-but-equally-fictional technical documents she’d be editing to the truthful nuggets at their core in the wee hours of the morning. Ding! The first of the reviews announced its presence in her inbox.”
“Tina tested the blade with her index finger. A ragged cut, only a few epithelial layers deep, appeared. She was able to squeeze a drop of blood from it, but barely enough to fall, splat!, on the page. Next, she stood in front of the heating vent and did jumping jacks. Once she’d worked up a good sweat, Tina leaned over her tattered draft – now covered in red ink, toner smears, and a pathetically anemic drop of real blood – and dripped. Just then, her boss walked by and noticed her office door was ajar. No look of horror, no raised eyebrow at the sight of a wild-eyed, sweat-soaked technical writer wringing blood from her own finger – she noticed the rusty Exacto knife in Tina’s hand and said, with a small smile of self-satisfaction, ‘Good! I see you’re going to cut it as I suggested a week ago!'”
October 26, 2001
I’m humming to myself. Little voices in my head sing, “The waiting is the hardest part… oooh, the wa-a-iting is the harrrrrrdest part…” (Or am I just being Petty, here?)
See, the problem with best-laid plans and too much time on your hands is that you start second-guessing everything, overplanning, spinning mental wheels (like hamsters in an exercise ball)…so what seemed like a GREAT idea Sunday is starting to bore me to tears. I don’t like my characters. I don’t like the whole idea. Maybe it’s because I’m THINKING about it, not WRITING it. Wouldn’t want to CHEAT, now, would I?
October 27, 2001
“I should not talk so much about myself if there were anybody else whom I knew as well. Unfortunately, I am confined to this theme by the narrowness of my experience.”
– Henry David Thoreau
That’s a nice explanation for an online journal, don’t you think? (Or are you thinking, “She needs to get out more!”?)
October 30, 2001
I’ve knuckled down to the serious business of meeting deadlines and clearing the calendar for November, yet for every item I scratch of my to-do list, another worms its way on! If it weren’t for two kids, a husband, a father-in-law, and a gaggle of coworkers, I think I’d run off to the hills for a taste of the hermit life…
On the other hand, it’s very hard to write convincing characters and dialogue when you cut yourself off from the society of others. So far my daughter is the only person I know who’s begging me to turn her into a character in the “sucky novel” as I’ve been calling it (trying to lower my own expectations to such a degree that I can turn off the inner editor and critic long enough to crank out 50,000 words NOBODY will want to edit come December). I’ve warned her about things like me taking literary license – she still wants me to do it. She also wants me to make her character a goth punk rock star wannabe. (And that’s as close as she’ll come to BEING one in THIS lifetime, so long as I have any say in the matter!)
I had an amazingly productive day at work. I think that tonight, instead of worrying about November and my lack of a plot, or working myself to death in order to stay three steps ahead of upcoming projects at work, I’ll sleep. Might be the last chance I get for 30 days!
Ooops, no – the goth punk rock star wannabe has just asked if I can stay up long enough to stick her volleyball jersey in the drier when the wash cycle ends…
November 2, 2001
Day 2, 10:45 PM
Sleep, or keep typing? I’m only 2358 words short of my goal for the past two days. I can knock that off in the morning, while the laundry’s spinning, right?
Why is youth wasted on the young? I’m not old yet, but I’m too old to pull an all-nighter. Shoot, it’s not even eleven, and my eyelids are drooping.
November 3, 2001
2726 words behind. But that’s good. I’m up to 2275 words, and I’m not done for the night. I refuse to eat or sleep until I’ve logged at least 4500 words. Thank goodness I haven’t sworn off coffee!
The story is starting to take on a life of its own. But WHY is my narrator a 12 year old BOY??
November 4, 2001
Oh, yes – one more note before I give up for the night and go to bed. Today’s soundtrack is “Offenbach: Gaite Parisienne; The Tales of Hoffmann: Intermezzo” performed by the Boston Pops, conducted by Arthur Fiedler. This CD also includes the Overtures from Orpheus in Hades and La belle Helene, and a medley from La Perichole.
Very inspirational! The writing pace definitely picked up after I switched to this CD from Jurassic Park. I think it has a more upbeat tempo – and the melodies make my fingers want to dance across the keys!
* * *
Andy’s sister, Kylie, says it’s only fair to give her equal time. I don’t know about that – but here’s a glimpse:
Kylie couldn’t get a button back on without sewing her own fingers together, but she could create an entire prom ensemble with a few scraps of fabric, thermal bonding, a soldering iron, a handful of nail heads, and a hot glue gun. Instead of the mousy brown macramé belt, she’d cinched in her already tiny waist with a wide band of steel-studded black leather.
Her eyes were a dusty, bruised combination of midnight blue, lavender, and charcoal. Her lips were ice blue, rimmed with something darker, raisiny. On her left ear, she wore a silver cuff that looked like a little dragon perching there, claws out, ready to pounce on the unwary fool who might try to kiss her.
* * *
6138 words as of midnight Sunday, November 4, 2001.
Now that’s progress. Not GREAT progress, but fairly steady progress. I spent a fair amount of time today editing, changing POV from a limited first-person POV to a more omniscient third. I hope that 12-year-old Andy, my first narrator, won’t feel hurt and desert me – but there are things happening in the story that he simply cannot know or tell me. Others are demanding a voice, now, too.
But if you’re wondering about Andy, here’s a bit of a character sketch from the godawful novel that has nothing to do with the plot, such as it is:
Andy sketched the female reproductive system with colored pencils, but as Mr. Schaeffer droned on, it became a map of Utera, a town of myth and legend, populated by strange races and exotic beasts. Ovaries became the town reservoirs; a uterus morphed into the town square. The worried townsfolk had gathered to hunt the saber-toothed weretiger that had been preying upon their children…
“Andrew, would you care to share with us what must be the most incredibly detailed rendition of a woman’s reproductive parts ever drawn in this class?” Andy hated it when Mr. Schaeffer sneaked up behind him like that. Reluctantly, Andy handed over the drawing. There were a few stifled snickers from his classmates, who were mostly glad Mr. Schaeffer had chosen someone else to pick on this time.
Mr. Schaeffer studied Andy’s detailed and colorful map for a full minute before saying anything. The corner of his mouth twitched oddly as his eyes took in the tiny schooners under full sail that navigated the twin rivers of Fallopia, protecting the town of Utera from rogues and pirate mermen who threatened from the southernmost inlet of Cervericus. “Hmm. Fascinating.”
He handed the drawing back to Andy without showing it to the class. “Quite nicely done, Andrew,” he said softly, moving on to extol the virtues of birth-control to a restless class full of Seventh graders.
November 6, 2001
7244 words. Not too shabby; still behind schedule, but catching up. Time for bed…
November 7, 2001
Another NaNoWriMo Novelist, Steev, writes, “I’m already a bit obsessed with the word count feature in Microsoft Word. I seem to be checking the count every paragraph or so.” Glad to know I’m not the only one.
Isn’t this akin to checking the contents of the refrigerator every 10 minutes or so, just to see if there’s anything new in there since you last looked? You know you haven’t gone to the store, and you’re reasonably sure the elves haven’t restocked while your back was turned, but… yeah, just one more time. Maybe your tastebuds have changed.
If I’m developing an obsessive-compulsive Word word-count disorder, I have at least discovered that I’m capable of editing and adding to the word count. It’s slow going, but for every passage I’ve deleted, I’ve added more detail or explanation. It’s a painful method that’s partially satisfying my need to keep things moving and my need to satisfy and silence the dastardly internal editor/critic. (I’m thinking of making my internal editor/critic a character in my novel, then torturing her for several days before finishing her off with a grisly death scene inappropriate for readers under 17.))
* * *
7244 words and holding…
William was sick yesterday. Novel-writing is inconsequential when you’re a Mom, worrying about a sick child. Katie had violin and drum lessons last night; she and I stopped at Starbucks on the way home, and by the time we got done I had no energy or inclination to write. I don’t even feel bad about that. The good news is, William is fine today and the doctor gave us the green light to send him back to school! (He’s at that age where staying HOME from school is a drag, instead of the other way around, so he’s thrilled to be back with his friends!)
So, today’s question: Can a frazzled, disorganized, very relieved tech-writer, wife, and mother write 4425 words before collapsing tonight of utter exhaustion? AND clean the house before her uncle comes to visit on Monday?
Did I mention that my husband has offered me a challenge? He says he can get in 5000 games of Freecell on his computer before I can write 50,000 words of my novel. He’s up to 200 and something (he didn’t tell me how quickly he can play a game of Freecell), but yesterday he bought a new joystick for his computer and it’s slowed him down considerably. He and William have been playing Flight Simulator and neglecting the Freecell, so I can reasonably expect to stay ahead of the game for now. Have you ever watched a 5-year-old perform a successful take-off? That was wild…
J.J. has also offered to pay me a penny a word by way of encouragement and monetary incentive, which comes out equivalent to the cost of a cheap paperback at the grocery store – not a bad deal for a 30-day novel that, by definition, is likely to be embarassingly awful and unpublishable. I like to look at it as him buying the first copy of my book. Right now, he owes me 74 cents – about equal to a can of Coke. I think it’s a good idea that after almost 18 years of marriage we don’t nickle and dime each other to death, don’t you?
November 8, 2001
Another NaNoWriMo novelist wannabe (who shall remain nameless only because in the depths of my little black heart, I really do sympathize, wrote, “i’ve only written about 425 words… has anyone written less??? i thought i’d have more time to write, but i dont.. ahhhhh… what can i do to make time to write?? any ideas???”
No. None at all. Not one single idea. Except maybe, “Apply butt to chair. Start typing.” Or, as Tom Clancy said to me years ago, “Just write the damned book.”
Geez, we writers have more excuses than the beach has grains of sand, don’t we? (Hey, some of mine – at least lately – have even been pretty good.) But let’s face it, books don’t get written by excuses. Editors get bored with excuses. Publishers cancel contracts if you can’t make deadlines. So my motto this week is “no whining.”
That’s as bad as making New Year’s Resolutions. Can I amend that to be next week’s motto?
If anyone sees my internal critic/editor wandering around, mumbling to herself, carrying a very deadly razor-nibbed fountain pen loaded with blood-red ink… there’s a contract out on her. (And a padded cell for anyone who actually SEES her, of course. You can see your own, but you can’t see MINE.)
8021 words. I may manage another 20 before I bore myself to sleep. I am not amused…
November 9, 2001
If I pound away hard enough and long enough at my keyboard, I will eventually turn out the collected works of an infinite number of monkeys…
November 22, 2001
Notice the huge gap here between entries? Oooh, someone must’ve suddenly been hit with the “failure-is-not-an-option!” bug…
Ack! Halfway through the month, the founders of NaNoWriMo have changed the rules – looks like there will be no “official wordcount verification” (understandable, given the response to this year’s novel-writing marathon event, but disappointing to those who’d like the NaNoSeal of Approval, no doubt). We’re all on our honor to report our word count and declare ourselves “winners”!
Personally, I couldn’t give a rat’s patoot – but that’s because I’m stubborn and because I know that even with “official” verification, I could be bested by someone who wrote 25,000 words, selected the whole blasted thing, hit CTRL+C and CTRL+V and presto! 50,000 words. So it’s always been a matter of personal satisfaction and honor.
On the other hand, it irks me to see the rules changed halfway through the game – kind of like the time I did the March of Dimes Walk-a-Thon, and it snowed. The morning we started the walk, it was chilly – maybe 60 degrees – and I was dressed in jeans, thick socks, tennis shoes, a t-shirt, and a sweatshirt. I carried a lightweight backpack with a different pair of shoes, and hoped to be carrying the sweatshirt if the day got warmer.
Instead, less than 5 miles into the walk, it started to rain. By 7 miles, it was snowing. By 10 or 12 miles, it was snowing HARD, and another walker – a teenaged boy – and I huddled together in doorways of downtown Akron businesses for warmth. We couldn’t see anyone walking ahead of us or behind us, and assumed that most had given up. We were tempted to give up, but neither of us were quitters and I guess we were full of adrenaline. One thing was certain, though – we had to get warm and dry, and I had to get a change of clothes, or we were going to die.
We looked down the side street; the only business that appeared to be open was the Chat Noir Lounge. We shuddered at the neon sign and decided that was no place for us – especially as it was about a block off the main route and no one was likely to find us there if we ran into trouble. Our only other choice was the no-tell motel nearby. The clerk was gay and openly so; he was also quite gracious about letting two sopping wet, half-frozen kids use the phone and sit in the lobby, dripping onto the vinyl chairs and linoleum floor.
We waited while my parents brought me a change of clothes; I dressed in the back seat of their car. My legs were blue from the dye on my jeans; the jeans had frozen stiff and stuck to my legs, cracking at the knees each time I bent them. My parents explained that the March of Dimes was giving the full 20 miles’ credit to anyone who managed to make it to the 15 mile mark, in view of the horrible weather and hardship involved in making it that far.
The young man with me – I don’t know that we ever exchanged names – and I decided that wouldn’t be quite fair. My parents agreed, though they’d have preferred to take me home right then and there, and to heck with claiming 15 miles, let alone 20. So we trudged onward, though knee deep snow. We checked in at the 15 mile mark, and kept trudging. At 18 miles, the sun came out. I stopped at Wendy’s for a burger; the young man went on, knowing that if he stopped again, his legs would quit working. I hurried to catch up, after wolfing down a double with cheese.
We both made it, and claimed our 20 miles. I saw him briefly, at the mall; we grinned at each other and hugged, as if we’d survived a war. I never saw him again. I was especially proud to collect on my pledges that year, knowing I’d really EARNED every penny. I was 12 years old at the time.
Guess I still have that stubborn streak. I just broke 23K. 23,874 words, to be exact, and still plugging away, determined to hit the halfway point before I sleep!
Ah, yes… for those of you who thought turning the true story of the walkathon into fictional word count for the novel was a good idea, I’ll give you one more excerpt:
* * *
It’s true. Dream sequence’s are a desperate writer’s best friend (or worst nightmare). Great for long, rambling passages of meaningless drivel that may or may not reveal strange things about the inner workings of the tortured artist’s mind… (let’s not go there, shall we?)
*** EXCERPT from the crappy novel ***
In his dream, he was running. Only it felt like swimming. His arms flailed in the mist, legs cycling and kicking against air as thick as barley stew. It was foggy, and the street lights looked like eerie yellow spaceships, suspended just slightly overhead. He had no idea where he was, but he kept moving in one direction as if he did. He wasn’t afraid, but he kept seeing faceless people in the shadows. They didn’t know him or pay any particular attention to him, but he searched their featureless heads for something vaguely familiar. He opened his hands and found that he was carrying a pair of eyes – bright, green, intelligent, and very alert. Strangely, this did not surprise him. He stared at the eyes, thinking that they somehow might speak to him. They stared back, unblinking, for they had no lids. Slowly the skin on the palm of his hand split open, the cut edges of skin curling apart and forming something like a mouth. Andy thought that it would sting; he was amazed to find that it did not hurt at all.
“Who are you?” he asked.
“I am you,” the mouth answered. “I thought surely you would know me.”
“Ahhhh,” Andy answered. Everything made sense, now, of course. Everything was crystal clear. He put the eyes in his pocket and patted it, reassuring himself that they were safely tucked away. He swam on, under the orbs of yellow light.
* * *
A novel in 30 days? Heh… dream on.
31,126 words and still ticking…
November 29, 2001
43,007. Only 7000 more words to go. Sounds easy, right?
Would be, too, if I didn’t have a job. In today’s world, I’d rather keep the job than finish the novel, so I’ll be writing those 7000 words on my lunch hour (maybe) and between 7:30 and midnight tomorrow night. I’m tired just thinking about it, but I figure the adrenaline rush will kick in around 9 PM tomorrow, and I’ll overshoot the mark by at least 500 words!
Hey, all I need is one more superfluous sex scene and a couple of bizarre and twisted dream sequences. Or is that superfluous dream sequences, and a couple of bizarre and twisted sex scenes?
Read Monty (11/26/2001), starting with Monday and on through Thursday of this week. I think we have a mole in NaNoWriMo.
December 1, 2001
I think I hurt myself!
First, to Chris and deannajjones and others: it’s a cruel thing to challenge a prideful, perfectionistic, professional, deadline-driven writer with an unreasonable goal and make it sound like a heroic feat worthy of… anything. I wonder if a hamster has ever DIED on the wheel?
Second, I now have to keep telling myself “It’s okay. Nobody EVER has to see it. No one said anything about HAVING to edit it, or even having to look at it again. It’s FINISHED. Get it? FINISHED.” Somebody tell me to write a GOOD novel in, oh, 12 months – okay?
Third, I’m actually sick of coffee. At midnight, my neck whispered, “Remember those two collapsed discs? They’ve decided they’re jealous and want a part in the novel.” They started dictating dialogue. Thank God it was almost over by then.
Fourth, don’t start on the “Stupid Word Tricks.” It never would have occurred to me to try using Word’s Autosummarize feature on the damned thing if y’all hadn’t started that. I laughed so hard I snorted hot coffee up my nose! Normally, I wouldn’t mind so much, but as I said earlier, I’m sick of coffee. Now my nose is mad at me, too. It’s joined forces with my neck, and the muscles in my arms have started spasming, trying to get my shoulders up to where they can whisper in my ears, so I suspect they’re all in on it now, too.
Fifth, I woke up this morning and looked around the house with bleary eyes. Good God!! How did it get to be such a mess in just two weeks? Was I that out of it? Chris, next year’s Grand Prize ought to be a six-month certificate for “Molly Maids” (or similar local outfit of the winner’s choice). Reward? I’m about to reap the punishment for my folly…
It’s been a blast. I have a special admiration for the following participants (who stuck with it all month whether they made goal or not): the Polar Bears Fifth Grade class, anyone under 16, anyone whose college major didn’t involve English, Literature, Creative Writing, Rhetoric, etc., anyone whose novel is in English but whose native language isn’t, anyone who
tried this while juggling school and/or full-time employment, and anyone who had to accommodate family demands during November.
I think I need a shower, a handful of Advil, and an afternoon of housecleaning (mainly to figure out where on earth I put my sanity this past month!).
Congratulations – everyone!
I quit at 50,869 and will NOT be taking this piece of @#$% into “NaNoEdMo” come December!
* * *
I don’t remember who came up with it first, but I once read that NaNoWriMo sounds like, “Nahh, no wri’ mo’…” That’s a fairly universa sentiment, come November 30. For now, let the ink and adrenaline flow!
Ready? On your marks, grab your pens, GO!