Thursday 11 November 2010

Slowmo Wrimo? Just keep going

Well it's the second week of Nanowrimo. How's it going?

Are you feeling like this:

Or like this:

(With thanks to Meg Rosoff for this brilliant animation.)

Nicola Morgan had some fine advice for Wrimo people; though there were some driven to grumpiness by theWrimo hysteria that seemed to overwhelm the web in the run-up to November.

Me, I think it's a good idea - IF it's the kick in the backside that you need. It's almost the end of the second week now. Tina Matanguihan of the Refine Me blog invited me to write a pep talk for Filipino Wrimos. I was very happy to oblige.

I did a talk for the second week - the week when Wrimos usually hit The Wall.

Thinking about what advice to give, all I could think was that whatever happens the end result of this exercise should be USEFUL. That the quantity of words should be in a shape that can be remodelled into the quality that was eschewed by this project in the name of getting the book down.

So here's my pep talk, for what it's worth. And thank you, Tina for making me stop and think about it. Nick Cross, look away now:

Greetings Wrimo Writers!

It’s Week Two, how are you coping? Are you still gliding swiftly on beautiful turns of phrase, skilfully churning out the chapters, on target to hit the half-way mark by the end of the week – which, by the way (she adds helpfully), is 25,000 words?

Or have the words gone gluey in your brain, those perfectly formed sentences dangling just beyond your reach as you sit frozen over a screen, taunted by that stupid screensaver of holiday snaps from happier days, never to return?

Before I turned to fiction, I worked for  a news features agency in London. Every day I dropped the baby off at the child minder at 8.30am, got to the office by 9am, left work at 5pm sharp to collect the baby, having written two 600 word articles. EVERYDAY. I did phone interviews before 12pm, had a quick sandwich and was writing by 1pm.

This was when I discovered the truth about Writer’s Block:

There is no such thing.

There is no such thing as losing your ability to write. There is no such thing as losing your talent. But there is such a thing as having nothing to write about.

What most writers declare to be Writer’s Block is nothing more than a lack of ideas.

A lack of ideas is nothing more than a lack of information.

And why would there be a lack of information? Because there is work to be done.

On that agency job, all the times that I couldn’t get words out it was because I didn’t have enough info to make my story. So I picked up the phone and asked some more questions. I picked up the newspaper to do some more research. And inevitably, the story would take shape. At 5pm I could press the send button on that telex machine (yes, those were the days) and go home to give my baby some dinner.

If NaNoWriMo were about quality and not quantity, I would be prescribing all sorts of inspirational activities – read a poem, watch a good movie, gaze out a window. But this is about churning out a novel, folks, not crafting: CHURNING. To get those words out, you can’t stop moving.

Here are a some tips to help you get over that first Wall, however fat and solid and tall it may be.

Make sure you’ve got something to write. Words don’t just come when summoned. They need a story with living breathing characters, problems, settings and plot to hang on. If you seem to have hit a brick wall – can it be that you need to do some work on your story?

Stay in your seat, keep those fingers on the keyboard. Do you need a rest? DON’T. That’s right. Don’t take a break. Don’t get yourself another coffee. Don’t check your email. Write the next sentence, however hard that is. And when you’ve finished writing it, write another one. And another. No novel was ever written without keeping one’s buttocks on the seat.

Just keep swimming!

Break it down. Wrimo writers should write with their eye on the prize: 50,000 words. WRONG. 50,000 words divided by 30 days in November is about 1,700 words a day. Plan a day here and there where your target is 2,000. Plan a day here and there where your target is 500. Smaller targets are achievable, making days with bigger targets less threatening.

Sketching. When the pretty words aren’t coming, try sketching. Use phrases, no details, no dialogue unless it comes to you easily. Use big brush srokes. See your scenes in their bare bones. It is so much easier to write pretty words when you have a structure to hang them on.

Turn reported description into active scenes. You’re doing okay, getting the story out, but your word count is dismal. How can you boost word count without resorting to useless padding? Here’s what you do: read through and find a “reported” scene. A reported scene is something like “Carlos despises Maria”. In Show and Tell, it’s the Tell. It’s not on the stage. Put it on the stage. Turn that into a scene. How Carlos asks Maria on a date but forgets to turn up. And when Maria rings him, he makes her feel small and stupid, as if she deserved to be left in the lurch. Literally, turn it into a Show – not only is it better writing, it will fatten up your word count!

• Use back story to build even more scenes. Exposition is the bane of novel writers, right? Those long explanatory paragraphs that get in the way of the action – so boring but so necessary. Necessary, sure but you can avoid the boring part by sneakily slipping it somewhere else in the text – maybe not even in the same chapter. This is called a Set up, a fine way to build word count!

Check your chapters for long bits of exposition. Cut them out! Now find a sneaky place in an earlier chapter where you can plant a scene that serves that purpose. A scene – meaning a mini-event (see the previous point about turning description into scenes). Now when you get to the part of the story where the back story used to be the reader already knows about it. Your story skips apace, and so does your word count.

So there you are. The wall is scaled. The two weeks are almost done. Two more weeks to go.

Keep those fingers flying, and keep your bottom on that seat. After all is said and done, just getting on with it is what you have to do. And then believe you me, 50,000 words are coming soon to a manuscript near you.


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