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Sean Hoade: Make NaNoWriMo Your Bitch This Year

A writer of nearly 20 books and former creative writing professor shares his wacky wisdom on how to get your novel written during National Novel Writing Month!

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Sean Hoade: Make NaNoWriMo your bitch

The New York Times / Via

While we were perambulating in our local Target, the Spousal Unit pointed out how, as the holidays approach like a cloud of passive-aggressive killer bees, stores start promoting liquor at first more, then more, then OH MY GOD THOSE PEOPLE ARE COMING MAKE ME NUMB IMMEDIATELY. “It makes a great gift!” they say. Yes, but for WHOM?

I mention this because the high holidays truly are the rectal exam of any year: necessary, perhaps, but it's hard to know how to present oneself. Should I tidy up a bit, or would it be better just to leave things as-is so the guest gets a better idea of what's really going on? This is probably why booze is so popular for either occasion—it introduces a certain “FUCK IT” attitude. (Use with caution during rectal exams, obviously.)

Anyway, the holiday season—November, to be exact—is also the time for National Novel Writing Monthaka NaNoWriMoaka 50,000 words or bust, aka Wanna write? Then write! 

But calm yourself, Ducky: Obeying the requirements of NaNoWriMo will force you to produce a draft of that novel that's been festering cooking inside you for so long (alternately, it will allow you to write from the seat of your pants and create a draft of something entirely new). There should be some kind of software that doesn’t allow NaNoWriMo winners to access CreateSpace or Lulu for at least 30 days, because dat shit’s gon’ need rewritin’, yo.

Let’s leave that aside for now, the same way you would a mole on your back that keeps changing shape. It's actually not that hard to meet the requirements of NaNoWriMo; all you need to do is write 1,366 (or so) words each of the 30 days of November. At the end of the month, you'll have 50,000 words and boom, you’re a NaNo winner! (I say this without irony: how many wanna-be “writers” have you met in your time? Maybe you, as I, were (or maybe are) such a person, one of those who talk endlessly about being a novelist, like to read a lot about writing novels, daydream of writing novels ... but never actually finish a damned thing. 

Don't lose heart, however. Every novelist in the world, like, EVAR, was once someone who had not written even the first draft of a novel, as you will during NaNoWriMo. In fact, there was a time when the novelists Lauren Conrad, William Shatner, and George Lucas hadn't even paid for their first books to be written!

So what do you need to do to get ready for National Novel Writing Month, which starts in just a couple of days? Less than you may think. You need characters, an inciting incident, an ending that satisfies all the—actually, for that stuff, watch my videos (there's a bunch under “Fiction Coaching,” just dive in here:

There's more to NaNo success than just being an incredible master of technique such as myself. Indeed, the hardest part for any would-be writer is getting that butt right behind you into that chair over there by the computer, typewriter, fountain pen, semaphore flags, campfire plus Native American blanket, what have you.  (The last two would involve figurative chairs as they involve standing and sitting cross-legged, respectively.)

Okay, fine, I had you at “butt,” so now what? Well, now you break your story down into scenes and set pieces (also called “Whammos!” and used as delineated in this fiction-coaching video), then get writing! You must know who [take a drink] your characters are, what their story goals and opposition and destinies are, and where exactly you want to start the story. You'll be able to jump into your NaNoWriMo novel and get going just by getting these couple of ideas down on a legal pad, iPad or, um, other kind of pad unsuitable for mention in a family blog like this here motherfucker.

As sayeth the great advice-giver Anne Lamott says in her indispensible book on writing, Bird by Bird:

Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d had three months to write. It was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother's shoulder, and said, ‘Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.’

In other words, write a sceneAny scene—it doesn’t have to be the opening scene. It could be the climax of your story; it could be a love scene; it could be something particularly suspenseful or quirky or whatever you like. Ready, set—now go, man, go!

I know that this blog post has been longer than a Catholic wedding, but you have shown your great taste by being a reader of this blog and frankly, you deserve the best. So watch my videos if you'd like, but I definitely suggest you visit the National Novel Writing Month site and sign up. There is a great deal of support out there, including write-ins in your very city or town or hamlet or village or subur—

Ahem. Excuse me. Anyway, there are groups in every metropolitan area, even if it's a podunk county seat. And on the Internet, forget it, there’s an amazing amount of support. I always use a word-counting Excel sheet, but even better is the no-frills WriteMonkey (excellent review and description here) which gets rid of the distractions caused by fancy-pants programs like Microsoft Word or even Pages. What it does have, however, is great, such as an excellent word-count widget at the bottom that also tells you the percentage of your pre-set goal (say, 50,000 words) that you've completed and have left to go. Also, it’s infinitely customizable. I like my screen to be old-school green-on-black.

Also highly recommended (and used by my own self, who [take a drink], incidentally, has written five novels and three novellettes in the past 15 months, just sayin’) is a Chrome extension called StayFocusd (other browsers may have their own extensions), which allows you to block yourself from any distracting websites while you're writing. This includes a setting called “The Nuclear Option,” which allows no sites that you haven't specifically marked as sacred. (I exempt Wikipedia; the Merriam-Webster dictionaryAccuradio [need my ’50s tunes]; OneDrive, which is where I save to automatically, but alternately Google Drive or Dropbox if you use those.) StayFocusd is highly recommended to anyone who, like me, suffers from good ol’ ADD.

For those of us using Apple iOS, there's an app called Freedom, which does largely the same thing, but extraordinarily entertainingly. You set it for a max of two hours, at which time a seed is planted in the little green patch shown by the app. As the two hours pass, it grows into a lovely tree, which becomes part of your “creativity forest.” Unlike with StayFocusd (available on the iTunes Store), you can bypass the block in Freedom, but you kill your tree, you heartless bastard. I was very amused at how I sweated out the two hours because I didn't want to kill my little tree. (It costs money, but I think it was only $1.99 and is way worth it for a weak-willing weenie such as myself. For Mac computers, they have a monthly subscription, I believe. 'Cause Apple.)

So go watch some videos, get your tools gathered, and get ready to write that novel! Tomorrow I shall share my upcoming seminars for NaNoWriMo, scheduled at key times during November. Peeps who live in the Las Vegas Valley can come for free, but for the rest of you, videos of the talks will immediately be posted here on my blog for everyone’s enjoyment and edification.

Your novel needs to get written, people! If not now, then when? If not you, then who?

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