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Oct 052012

It’s October already. For those of you aware of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) [nanowrimo.org], you know that means that it’s time to start getting ready for November. Some of the truly insane have been getting excited since August, but most of us (I’m not sure that I really can include myself, but who’s going to know?) wait until October to start getting excited.

For those of you who don’t know… NaNoWriMo is a wild and wacky marathon of writing in the month of November. Novelists, and others, all around the world sit down together with the goal of producing a 50,000 word rough draft in 30 days. They break the mold of solitary writers and gather in libraries, coffee shops and community centers with their laptops and notebooks. They race to write the most words in 5 minutes or 10 or whatever suits their fancy. They will spend long periods of time not speaking at all followed by crazy conversations about the weird things their characters are doing. From the outside we look totally nuts. Actually from the inside it’s not much different. It’s the fun of doing something so wild together with millions of writers all over the world that makes us come back to this year after year.

I’ve been thinking about what I’m going to write this year since early June. It’s a perpetual question, and one that needed to be decided so that I knew which story I would write over the summer (I picked well – the distopian horror story wasn’t appropriate to such a condensed schedule). Now that it’s October I’m feeling the need to get everything in place. I can get excited about the characters that I’ll be writing in an adventure that is sure to drive them all crazy (in the “oh you drive me crazy” sense rather than the strait jacket way). For now though I’ll be getting to know their back stories and their goals for the coming story.

I use the “30 day character interview” to get to know my characters. It’s 30 in depth questions designed to bring out all the quirks that make characters unique and real. I’ve used it for the last 4 novels I’ve written and it has really helped to make the characters full of quirks that read as traits rather than plot driven idiosyncrasies. Granted last year, that made it that much harder to kill one of them when I’d written myself into a corner – but I did it because everything that lead up to that moment was what that character would have done. It has helped me see how and why my characters do what they do and take a lot of the pressure off. Once I know the characters that well, it’s easy to just throw the obstacles in their way and let them figure it out (OK, I know it’s my brain that they are using to do all their figuring, but it feels a lot easier).

Last year I forgot to create my naming document – a separate file where I can put names of side characters and places that I will need to call on again – so I ended up rushing through the writing process with a lot of “fill in the blank”s. No really that’s what I wrote whenever I got to a character or place that I couldn’t remember the name of, or if I’d even named it (I did mention this was a wild marathon, right?). So I just typed “fill in the blank” and moved on. Well, one of the people I forgot to name was the bad guy. I ended up with Lord Fill in the Blank doing all kinds of bad stuff through the whole novel. I started thinking of him as Lord Fill in the Blank so much that when I got back to the editing process he became “Lord Phillip LeBlanc”. I really don’t want to do that again this year.

As you can probably tell I’m a planner. I’m not to the extreme on that side of the scale, but I need a fair amount of structure to get the creative juices flowing. There are some out there who go so far as to outline each and every chapter right down to the details. Then there are those on the other side of the scale – the “pantsers”. Pantsers are people who start on November 1st with nothing more than a name – sometimes not even that much. They just fly by the seat of their pants and see what comes. I tried that once. I ended up with 75,000 words of exposition. My characters never made it past the research the problem stage – literally in the library for 75K.

Whether you are a Planner or a Pantser, you still need to prepare for November if you want to come out the other side with your life in tact. For starters you need to tell your friends and family what you are doing so they won’t get mad when you turn them down day after day. You should probably get all the laundry done before the start of November – that way you won’t end up naked before the end of the month. Lay in convenience foods too, you aren’t going to have the kind of time you normally do for cooking and eating out all the time gets expensive. Plan your time too, how many days are you going to go out to write ins? When are you going to take time for yourself? What happens if you get behind? There will be a calendar for your region with all the local events on it. Look it over and figure out which ones you want to goto. Make sure that works for your family. Family is important, make sure you don’t ignore them.

Most important, remember to take care of yourself. This is meant to be a fun event, not an ulcer or heart attack inducing stress fest. Not everyone will make it to the 50,000 word goal. Some will seem to get there without effort. Don’t judge yourself based on either of them. Just remember that whatever happens, as long as you keep trying you will end the month with more words than you started, and that’s a good thing. The draft will be full of errors, places where you know what needs to change and places where all you know is that it doesn’t work. Never fear – that’s what editing if for.

It’s October now. Time to start getting ready for November and the National (international really, but who’s counting) Novel (or whatever you are writing) Writing Month.

Happy writing to all and to all a good draft.

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