Nancy: NaNo Week Three: What the Hell Am I Writing, Again?

This frustrated writer is trying the 'osmosis approach' to NaNoWriMo.

This frustrated writer is trying the ‘osmosis approach’ to NaNoWriMo.

For all those NaNoers out there who only eked out a few thousand (or even a few dozen) words in week 2 of NaNo, take heart. You are far ahead of my week 2 efforts. As Michaeline pointed out on Saturday, there are reasons for our poor showing last week. But never one to do something half-assed, I have taken not only my week 2 suckitude, but also my reasons for week 2 suckitude, to all new heights. My biggest obstacle last week? I had no idea WTF I was writing.

Week 1 started off pretty well for me, and last weekend saw me running across word-count finish lines and surging through NaNo goal ribbons like a champ. And then it happened – I finished NaNo project number 1, my novella, lovingly titled Victorian Series Book .5! (Yeah, yeah, I know. Better title to come later.) I gave myself two days – just two days! – to rest on those laurels while I read through my NaNo notes for project 2, the next novel in that series. Only it turns out there aren’t NaNo notes for project 2. There are a few jumbled phrases, a few scene prompts typed in bright red, some yellow highlights reminding me of stuff that must be researched. But for an uber-planner like I am? That’s diddly-squat.

So what’s a dedicated NaNo-er to do in this situation? It’s a process, people. And while there are many roads to Oz, YMMV, etc., there are some general guidelines, some steps, if you will, to get oneself out of this mess. The process I recommend is thus:

Step 1. PANIC!

Step 2. Eat chocolate. This step could easily go off-course. You might be tempted to eat just one or two of those tiny bars left over from Halloween. No, no, no. NaNo course correction requires much higher doses of cacao. Does your local supermarket sell those 5-lb bags of M&Ms? Yeah, start there.

Step 3. Send out an SOS. Tweet at your writer friends. Or Facebook message them. Or if you’re feeling really old school, just text them. An example of a NaNo-approved distress signal: Plot down, repeat, plot down! Bring emergency wine and story ideas!

Step 4. Sort through writer friends’ helpful story ideas. Make a note to self to brainstorm story ideas with writer friends BEFORE giving said friends wine next time. Move onto to step 5.

Step 5. Turn to science. Did you ever take a biology class? Do you remember osmosis, whereby molecules move through membranes? Here’s how NaNo osmosis works. Print out anything you do have on your story. This includes notes, already written scenes, character sketches, random stream-of-consciousness word jumbles. Lay out the papers on your desk (or writing surface of choice). Next, lay head on papers. Wait for brilliant story idea molecules to flow back and forth between the pages and your brain.

Step 6. Stop procrastinating with steps 1-5, and get back to work! So simple, yet so difficult. This is,  after all, the core of NaNoWriMo. ‘Just get your butt in the chair and do the work.’ If I could do that…But of course I can, and so can you.

Step 7. Write a scene, any scene, just one scene. Need some help getting started? Here are three different ways to approach it. Sub-steps, if you will.

7a. Free write. Pick a scene you know needs to occur, or – if you’re pantsing this whole thing – pick two characters you know need to get on the page together. Ready? Okay. On your mark. Get set. GO WRITE THE SCENE.

7b. Plan a scene. For the non-pantsers, or the pantsers who have gotten lost in the woods, consider dropping a trail of bread crumbs for yourself. Pick your characters, a scene protagonist and antagonist at the least, give them each a goal, pick three or four ways they can block each others’ goals, and determine who’s going to win by the end of the scene. You can turn each of those goal blocks into a beat, weave in a beginning and ending, and voilà! – a scene, or some semblance thereof.

(Rebels might choose to count those planning words toward NaNo word count. I, personally, don’t do this because I can write planning words all the live-long day. One of my personal goals for the month is to get from planning words to story words, so I’m sticking to the straight and narrow definition of word count for myself. But you do you!)

7c. Revise an existing scene. I’m not talking about editing. I’m talking writing a replacement for a scene you just know isn’t working. The replacement scene will probably cover the same ground and include the same character goals, as long as those weren’t the problems in the first place. It might  incorporate some of the beats of the original scene. But if you want it to count toward NaNo, try to figure out what went wrong with the original scene, then write a whole a new scene that corrects those problems. Approaching a scene revision this way can also be helpful if you’ve been unable to fix it using your standard approach to editing.

(Even with my suggestion to revise the scene with ‘new words’, NaNo purists might vehemently protest this one, but I think you know by now we here at 8LW are far from pure. Ahem.)

Step 8. Celebrate. The truth is, even in the best of circumstances, most of us are usually too hard on ourselves. NaNoWriMo can intensify our feeling of self-doubt and disappointment. Sometimes that negativity can be motivational. But so can positivity, and you know what? Positive tends to feel a whole lot better than negative. So why not give it a try?

Whether you’ve finished a chapter, a scene, or just a page; whether you’ve revised an old scene or come up with a brand-spanking new one; whether you’ve written planning words or story words, take some time at the end of each writing session to celebrate. This might mean circling back to Step 2 (chocolate is good for so many things!), or it might involve a glass of wine, or a bubble bath, or reading a few chapters of a really good book. Even a few words of self-praise might work for you. But when you leave your writing each day, try to focus on what you did rather than what you didn’t do.

Step 9. Repeat. Pick the steps that worked. Do them over and over again, day by day, page by page, scene by scene. By the end of November, you might not have a novel or half a novel or a novella. You might not make it to 50k words, or even 25k (and I might be right there with you). But you’ll have more than you had on October 31st. That’s progress. That’s a start. And you can’t finish the journey if you never start it.

Whether week 1 saw you sprinting out of the blocks or falling down on the first lap, whether week 2 saw you finding your stride or tripping over your own feet, all that is behind us now. It’s week 3. Time to do this thing, whatever the ‘thing’ is that you’ve identified for yourself.

Not doing NaNoWriMo? That’s okay. It’s still week 3 of November, just a little over a month until the end of the year. You can use this time to get ahead of the crowd making resolutions about word counts and writing habits in January. So NaNo or not, how is progress toward your writing goals going? Are there any processes that are working well for you, or words of wisdom that might help get the rest of us back on track?

9 thoughts on “Nancy: NaNo Week Three: What the Hell Am I Writing, Again?

  1. I still can’t understand why people pick NOVEMBER for NaNoWriMo. It’s the worst month! You’ve got Thanksgiving (which, thank goodness, comes at the far end of the month this month), but once Thanksgiving is over (or, in some cases, while you’re still packing up the turkey), you’re on the Christmas train. I think Sept is a good month, at least in the US. Labor Day happens right up front, the kids are back in school, there aren’t any school breaks or major holidays, and we’re not on the cusp of any other major holidays.

    That said, I have to say that any words I get down on the page would be considered good words. Not notes — I’m with you on that one — but even doing some discovery scenes (aka throwaway ones) to help figure out your character would work for me.

    I’m certainly not in a place to do NaNo this year, because I’m still trying to FINISH THE DAMN BOOK (it gets the ALL CAPS treatment now, not just Initial Caps), but hopefully next year I can give it a go.

    As for your goals, just do what you can. That’s all any of us can do, right? Perhaps a few discovery scenes will fire your creative juices, and if that doesn’t work, I’ll send a case of wine your way. 🙂

    • I’m not sure, either, why the organizers chose November for NaNoWriMo. Maybe they thought if you could 50k words during the kickoff to the holiday season, it would be encouragement to do even better during less crazy months. They now have NaNo camp in July, and I know a few people who have used that really successfully.

      I’m with you on the change to ALL CAPS. That’s how I’m thinking of mine right now, too. At least it sounds like you really have a solid foundation in the first part of your WIP, which I envy, as my opening scene and much of Act I needs a hard-core revision. But FINISH THE DAMN BOOK, then worry about it. Got it. I’m on board :-).

      • (-: It’s because of the New York, New York thing. “If you can (crash, bang!) make it there, you can (boom, bomb!) make it anywhere!!!!” Seriously. Making 50,000 words in November with holidays and a short month and SAD and influenza season means you can probably make 60,000 in any other month (-:. And making 40,000 means that any other month, you can make 48,000, and so on and so forth. In theory.

  2. I have entered the week 3 “I don’t want to write, I just want to take a nap” slump. I’ve taken your step number 2 and changed it to: Drink More Coffee!! with the hope that being fully caffeinated will cause my brain cells to resume firing.

    You have some good advice in your steps and step 5 is my focus now. Kind of ironically, I now consider days like today (1,144 words) to be a disappointing writing day. Last month, I would have considered getting that many words out of a writing session to be great.

    I’m going to take a few minutes and celebrate the fact that I have around 25,000 words that I didn’t have just a few weeks ago . . . . and then execute step 5 and get back to work, hoping that persistence will pay off.

    • Very impressive word count, Elizabeth! Yes, many things can be substituted for step 2: drink more coffee, drink more bourbon, drink more wine…you get the idea ;-).

  3. I am getting back on the writing train. Life interrupted and I’m not going to beat myself up. I had wanted to get back to my story and it has helped me do that even if I’m not meeting the word counts.

    As for November, I think it’s the alliteration. As an employee of a school system, September is one of the worst times of year for us and November is good because we have a couple of extra days off at the end of the month to catch up. Everyone has different up and down times.

    • That’s a good point about the school calendar aspect of November, especially since one of the components of NaNoWriMo is to get young writers involved. With a very long weekend at the end of the month, the school-age writers probably get in a good final push. I hope you are able to do the same!

      And agreed, it’s so important to get back to the story. I was never totally out of mine, but I’ve been focused on planning the series as a whole more than the individual stories. By the end of this month, I hope to have Daniel and Emmeline well entrenched in their love affair (and my story line for them :-)).

  4. By the way, regarding number two, the recipe on the back of the Hershey’s cocoa container makes some of the best chocolate brownies in the world. Particularly if you add a cup of chocolate chips in instead of nuts. Make sure you use medical grade cocoa, and you could blast into outerspace during the last 12 days of NaNo.

    As for me, well, I’m going to try nap therapy. This year I’m really in hibernation mode, and not getting myself shook out of it. Zzzzzzzzzzz. I’ll sleep my way to the top (-:.

  5. Pingback: Elizabeth: Back to Basics – Actually Writing | Eight Ladies Writing

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