Dispatches from NaNoWriMo: Diving into NaNoWorld

[Cross-blogged for Leland Quarterly]

Here I am, one week into NaNoWriMo. So far, I’ve written 8,660 words that make up two chapters, coming out to 15 pages in this rapidly ballooning Microsoft Word document. And I’m behind—sometime today I’m supposed to hit 11,666 words. (So far this month I’ve also written 1,309 words for medical schools.)

Writing beginnings is hard. I’m pretty sure that’s in every writing craft book and essay ever. It’s that workshop cliché—“I feel like your story begins on page 3”—that makes you doubt the first words you commit to the page. I’m always stuck thinking, “Is this actually interesting? Does this hint at the exciting things that are coming? What if this isn’t consistent with things I come up with later?” For me, that last question always holds up everything else. I tend to get really obsessive about these details—I want to get every last bit of my world right.

I’m lucky in that I’ve tried to start this novel several times. There’s a lot of planning I’d already done for this story (notes on the world, an outline of the plot, character profiles, a compilation of reference photos, etc.), and I’d already written multiple openings that I liked or didn’t like for certain reasons. Borrowing from these helped me on days 1 and 2 to just charge forward and not worry about whether or not I was just going to ditch this writing later.

Reference photos open while writing a scene in chapter 2. (Having two monitors is really handy.)

Here’s why NaNoWriMo is different from any other time that I (and probably most other people) have attempted to write a novel. First, there’s a gigantic contingent of fellow writers suffering through the same experience. Second, all these writers are flailing wildly towards the same goal (50,000 words), and while it isn’t really a competition, it certainly sparks my competitive nature. The community is subdivided by region, so you can find people in your area, meet up and take over a corner of a coffee shop or library, or generally commiserate with each other on local forums. (Aside: it’s really disconcerting to see so much correct punctuation, capitalization, and grammar on these forums.) My home region is the “USA :: California :: SF Peninsula” region. We’ve had a couple write-ins (though I haven’t attended one yet), and we have our own hashtag on Twitter (#PenNaNo). We brag, we groan, we bang our heads on keyboards.

One thing that spurs the competitive spirit is comparing word counts. Every participant has a word count progress bar, and you can see all your writing buddies’ progress as well:

As you can see, I’m not winning. (But I’m not losing either?)

You also get your own personal stats page, so you can compete with yourself.

This induces a lot of panic.

All of NaNoWriMo has been designed to get people to the finish line. Whether you need people to complain to, buddies to rub elbows with while writing, competitors whose word counts are soaring over yours, pep talks from professional writers that pop up in your inbox, or helpful friends who can help you sort our that plot snag, NaNoWriMo lines it up for you. And that’s pretty sweet.

While I go attempt make up some of that lost ground, here are some resources from week 1:

  • GoogleGoogle Maps, and Google Image Search: Can we all just agree that Google is amazing? I’m working with fantastical circumstances in a real-world setting, which means Paris needs to look like Paris. How many pipe organs are in the Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris? What does the underside of the Pont Alexandre III look like? Is my memory failing me, or are there actually bushes along the Champs-Elysées? Google makes writing infinitely easier without having to travel to Paris (again).
  • Fight Scenes 101: A fellow NaNoer posted this excellent blurb on how to write fight scenes well, including some helpful tips and points to consider.
  • Spotify: I have a love-hate relationship with Spotify. I’m not about to pay for premium, so while I have music of all types at my fingertips, it’s periodically interrupted by CMA advertisements, excerpts from Kelly Clarkson’s new album, Spotify job postings, and my personal favorite, an ad for Chino y Nacho’s new album SUPREMO. The reggaeton interlude in the middle of the Batman Begins soundtrack was really something special. Maybe it’s time to spring for premium.
  • Dropbox: My novel is in a single word document right now, so I keep it in the Dropbox folder on my computer, which automatically backs it up! And just in time, because today is Back Up Your Novel Day.

If you want to keep tabs on my progress, check my NaNoWriMo profile or read what I’m writing.

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