November is almost upon us and with it comes that uneasy feeling I’ve had the last few years. That ‘why am I not writing a novel this November?’ feeling. Because November, in case you didn’t know it, is National Novel Writing Month. Or NaNoWriMo, as them what knows calls it. <taps nose>
I realised today that I bought Chris Baty’s No Plot? No Problem! book not last year but two years ago, which means that I’ve missed two Nanowrimos, not one (which probably explains why the book is half way down the tall pile of books next to my bed). So this year, I’ve decided, I am going to do it.
The key concept behind NaNoWriMo is to lose one’s inner editor. There is a time for editing, and it is not when you are trying to create. I first encountered this concept many years ago with Dorothea Brande’s brilliant book Becoming A Writer. There is a trance you enter into when you are creating a large body of work like this. It is creativity at work. And the only way to stay in that trance is to keep that inner editor at bay and just barrel through and keep writing and let it flow.
So with NaNoWriMo the target is to write 50,000 words in 30 days. That’s a manageable 1,666 words per day (give or take a .6666). Hell, why not go for 2,000 a day. Remember, they don’t have to be 2,000 words of deathless prose. The key here is quantity, not quality. You can turn that quantity into quality at a later stage (the editing stage). What’s important is to write, and keep writing and don’t stop writing to think about what you’re writing.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned about writing, through my own blood, sweat and tears rather than reading about it in a book, it’s that almost any writing problem will be solved by the very act of writing. Not by thinking or planning or researching or waiting for inspiration. No, actually sitting down and writing, writing anything at first if necessary. Just writing till something magical happens.
And it always does. As long as you lose your inner editor.
Having been a screenwriter for so long, I’ve lost that joyous rush of improvisational creation. Because one of the first things you learn about screenwriting is the importance of structure and the need to plot everything out with a treatment and an outline and a step-outline before you ever feel like you’re there with your characters living and breathing in the same scene as them. It doesn’t make you feel very creative.
What’s more, it’s a totally back asswards way to write. You have to write with wild abandon at first and let characters take you where they want to go and create the story they want to be in, because they will do just that if you get out of their way. And they will always take you to a much better place than you could have imagined all by yourself.
Your characters are your co-writers. Don’t throw cold water on their creativity.
And that’s why NaNoWriMo is such a great inititiative. Last year 70,000 people all around the world spent November writing their novel. What they had at the end of it may not have been publishable, even readable, but most of them had broken the back of their story and found themselves in a place where they were ready to let their Left Brain in on the action.
What’s more, they had the pleasure of knowing 69,999 other people were experiencing the exact same highs and lows, because Wrimo is now an international community, with branches in cities across the world (they should call it InNoWriMo, really).
Looking on their website last night, I discovered there is a group here in Birmingham and they are having not only a launch party on Sunday, but also regular ‘write ins’ at coffee shops every Sunday during November, and a closing party on 3 December.
Misery loves company, and having others around you going through the same thing can only spur you on to that 50,000 word finish line.
You screenwriters who aren’t ready to spend November writing a novel may be interested to know that NaNoWriMo has now spawned a hideous progeny in the shape of Script Frenzy, which takes place in April (or June – there seems to be some confusion at the moment).
– The website: Pay particular attention to the About, FAQs and Forums sections and see if it’s the right thing for you.
– The book. It’s by NaNoWriMo founder Chris Baty and it’s called No Plot? No Problem! – A low-stress, high-velocity guide to writing a novel in 30 days.
– The podcast, or Wrimo Radio. A nice set of episodes with lots of tips from writers. Search for it on iTunes or find it on their website.
I feel like a swimmer covered in axle grease staring at the cold, dark English Channel and the distant haze of the French coastline. There’s no going back now. It’s time to take the plunge.
See you on the other side.
A much shorter version of this first appeared in the daily Screenwriters Network Bulletin for Shooting People.