Finish Line Fever

Nanowrimo is over. You’ve won, or maybe you’ve almost won. There are no losers here. Everyone gets a trophy. Or you know, the idea of a trophy. You have a novel, that’s trophy enough.

But wait, there’s more.

After the writing comes two or three rounds of editing, spaced around more writing. You have to make sure all of your scenes work, make sure all of your characters are consistent. You have to cross all of your t’s and dot your lower case j’s.

After the editing comes the proofing, checking your story for style and grammar. Reading into, around, between, and through the lines to make sure you’re actually saying what you think you meant to write.

After the proofing …. you do another round of editing and writing.

At some point in time the manuscript is finished and suitable for the public.

Now you’ve got to market the book.

There’s still a lot of work yet to be done, but for now you’ve got a 50,000 word manuscript on your hands. Not everyone can say that.

Good job!

The journey’s not over. There’s work yet to be done, but it won’t be going anywhere. Take the weekend off and refresh your memories of those other people who live in the house with you. Your story will be there when you come back. We go back to work on Monday, take the weekend off.

Tell ‘em I said you could.

Nanowrimo Checkpoint 2

The end is in sight; don’t quit now! Writing a novel inside of a month is a challenging task. Maybe you’ve had some false starts. Maybe you’ve missed a few days worth of word count. (I’ve missed a few on the blog, and I’m not trying for novel-length word count.) The holidays make things more complicated. Work schedules increase without regard to what I’d actually rather be doing. Chances are, if it’s happened to me then you’ve had some of the same challenges.

The good news? The end of your novel is fast approaching. Those words are mounting up faster than you thought possible. You may be cruising to a climactic resolution like a warm summer breeze. The words might be leaking with increased difficulty. Nanowrimo is a marathon, and you’re an endurance athelete.

This is no time to second-guess your choices. This is not the time to start over and redo questionable section. Now is the time to press forward and realize that anything you need to fix can be done in post-production. This is what the editing bay is for. It lets you digitally paint whole characters out of your manuscript if need be.

Suck wind and press for the finish line. You’re going to be a novelist!

Pep Talk

Nanowrimo is more than half-way gone! Your novel has more than half of its total word count on the page. By now, the burst of energy that carried you through the sprint from the starting line has faded into a long, grueling marathon. Fear not, the second wind is coming. Soldier on! Write as if you mean it! Before you realize what’s happening, you’ll be in love with your story again and your characters will be springing from your fingertips onto the printed page. Pep talk’s over. It’s been a long weekend here, and it’s not over yet!nano

Cashing the Reality Check

By now some sharp-eyed reader has checked in on the blog and noticed a day is missing. “Hey,” this reader is saying, “Where’s my daily dose of writing insights? Where’s my daily encouragement during Nanowrimo? Where’s my cheese sandwich?” Through the magic of blogging I could engage in time manipulation, go back to yesterday and insert the post into the matrix as if nothing happened. But that’s not reality. Reality is that things don’t always go as planned, and no battle plan survives contact with the enemy.

Time is my enemy. If you’re a Nanowrimo author, or any kind of author at all, time is your enemy as well. How we deal with our time determines what kind of writing we produce. As with anything, writing improves with practice, and practice takes time.

The best-case scenario includes deliberately making time in your day to do some writing. This kind of budgeting is easier for some than others, but you can find it in even the most crowded schedule if you look for it. In a perfect world, you would be able to spend the same amount of time at the same time of day writing your story. You would do it at your moment of peak energy and creativity. No matter when you can make time to write, you should make sure that you can do so without interruption or distraction.

Planning your day around your writing has a number of advantages, the first of which is simply ensuring that the writing gets done. You can build anticipation of the opportunity to write, thinking about your story during the day and planning your prose before it hits paper. When the deed is done, you get a sense of accomplishment. Most importantly, planning to write shows discipline, which leads to consistency and technical improvement.

Not every day can be planned. Not every plan goes to schedule. And not every writer is comfortable with a highly regimented structure to his day. In this case, simply writing when you get the opportunity still gets the job done. If that happens at different times each day or if it occurs in fits and starts as the occassion demands it still gets done. It makes tracking word count a little more difficult and tends to break up the coherency of passages, but it has the advantage of flexibility, and the supreme virtue of accomplishment. Making a habit of writing exclusively this way doesn’t promote good discipline, but does log valuable practice time.

Finally, realize that not every word from every session is going to flow perfectly from the pen. That’s okay. Many of the errors and rabbit trails that creep into writing get fixed in the editing bay. The discipline of daily exercise and the experience of logged practice time count for more than the initial quality of the writing. That will come with time.

Most importantly, realize ahead of time that you will likely miss a session. The editing process will delete whole passages that you’ve worked on over multiple sessions. Beloved characters will dwindle into insignificance. Essential plot points will fall by the wayside. All of this is okay as long as you soldier on and continue to write. Don’t get discouraged by any one thing, and don’t expect every description and every line of dialog to be literary gold.

There’s your advice: don’t get discouraged. Here’s your encouragement: mistakes are okay, and can be fixed. And as for the cheese sandwich: as the Italian chef said, “It’s a gouda thing to have.”

Nanowrimo Checkpoint One

If you’re doing the Nanowrimo thing, you ought to be about a third of the way through your novel writing journey. This is a good chance to take stock of your progress, see how far you’ve come and how far you’ve yet to go. Writing a novel is about more than just work count, even in Nanowrimo. This is the right to time to check your course and perform a correction if need be.

Word count is the first thing the Nanowrimo author should check. The goal is 50,000 words. How far along are you? Have you been keeping pace? I don’t know exactly where I fall in relation to other writers or typists in terms of speed, but I’ll share a few quick personal stats. When I’m writing articles or research papers, essentially anything for which I need to get the facts right the first time, I average about 500-750 words an hour. When I’m writing fiction and I don’t have a clear idea of where I’m going or how to get there I still make about the same speed. When I’m in the zone, when the words are flowing, and when the story is practically telling itself, I can do 1500-2000 words in an hour. Most of the time, I fall right between those extremes at 750-1000 words.

This means that most novel writing days will take me at least two hours of dedicated writing time. This isn’t multitasking time; there is no TV and no podcasts playing in the background. I might listen to music, but it’s invariably instrumental. If you’re anything like me you’ve got a million and one things clamoring for attention. The house needs to be cleaned. Homework assignments are coming due. Clients are waiting for you to call them back. Meals need to be planned. None of that gets done while I’m writing. That’s two hours or more of my day dedicated solely to writing a novel. That’s a lot of time, and I need to plan for it before it happens.

So this is Checkpoint One and your word count is on track. What next? Is your plot progressing according to plan? Do you outline your novel before you start writing? I do, and it’s a practice I recommend. I refer to my outline as my Map and Compass. Even if you don’t this is a good chance to look over your story and make sure it matches the ideas in your head. You may be farther along than you had anticipated, potentially discovering your novel to be a short story. You may be lagging behind in the pacing, accidentally devoting more word count than you had intended to setting description, character moment, or chasing rabbit trails in your plot. Whatever the case, reverse course and figure out where things have gone and how to get them back on track.

As it happens, your word count is right and your outline is dead on. But for some reason your characters aren’t behaving and your plot seems to have deviated into a far corner of the warren. The good news is that this is okay. I haven’t met a plot outline yet that has survived contact with the story. Reassess. Figure out who your characters have become, and adjust the journey of their develpment to suit your needs. Check the logical construction of your plot, deduce the new direction of the action, and chart a course into brave new waters.

You didn’t really expect your novel to flow flawlessly from the pen, right? Great artistic efforts tend to wander from the familiar into parts unknown. It’s a thing to prepare for and embrace along the way. Here there be monsters. Here there be pirates. Here there be writers.