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A NaNo-Tech Cure for Writer’s Block

Are you participating in NaNoWriMo again this year?

BODEEN: This year I have just had the outline of my fourth novel approved and I plan on doing NaNo for that. Of course I already have the outline, etc., so I will be a little ahead of the game.

HAYNES: I’m participating in Nanowrimo again this year.

KAUFMAN: Yes, although I’m a little nervous about my time management.  My extra hour that I usually use for writing has been allotted to other endeavors, so it looks like I will be looking for yet another extra hour.

STRICKLAND: I don’t know yet if I’ll be doing NaNo in 2010. It depends on a lot of factors. The novel I’ve got in planning right now could certainly use a 50,000 word hell-bent-for-leather push, but I’d really like to get started on it sooner.

WILSON: Yes, I intend to do it every year as long as I’m able.

What can you tell us about your planned 2010 NaNoWriMo novel? Would you be willing to share your NaNoWriMo name with Redstone’s readers so they can follow your progress?

BODEEN: I need to look up my name! I think I changed it last year.

HAYNES: I signed up with no intention of writing anything, since I’m STILL editing Hal Spacejock book 5. However, I have plans for a couple of junior Hal Spacejock novels where the character is 10 or 11 years old. That’s been bubbling away in my mind for a few months, and I reckon I can spare a few weeks from Hal 5 to see whether the junior books are going to fly. (Unlike the main character …) My forum name is HalSpacejock, and many Nano-ers know me as the designer and programmer behind the free yWriter5 software.

KAUFMAN: My novel for November is not particularly well fleshed out yet; I don’t like to plan too much before I start writing.  I’ve never been one to make outlines and character charts and the like, I think your characters will lead you where they want to go.  My basic story idea is something along the lines of the summoning of the four horseman in a modern context – not by any means an entirely original idea but I’ve been watching a lot of Myazaki lately and have been inspired by his ability to create entirely fictional worlds intertwined with reality.  I have the opening scene in my head, that’s enough for a good start.  My NaNoWriMo name is just Kathleen Kaufman – I would be thrilled to befriend any readers who are also writing this month.   I’m also on Facebook under Kathleen Kaufman as well; I post a lot of my writing progress there too.

STRICKLAND: I’ve learned the hard way not to talk about work in progress in more than the vaguest of terms, because invariably when I give people a sneak preview of a novel in progress, that’s the one that suddenly tightens up and I can’t seem to make it go anywhere anymore. So in broad, vague terms, if I do NaNo this year, it will probably be something steampunkish, as that’s in line with what I’ve been writing lately. The truth is, I don’t know if I’ll do NaNo this year. NaNo novels usually need a /lot/ of work to whip them into publishable shape, and I’ve found that taking a little more time up front sometimes saves me work later. On the other hand, as usual, if I edit and plan too much, the novel dies on the vine, so NaNo is good for “stop overthinking and write the story. Then fix it.” Sometimes I need that.

WILSON: My username is Shadeaux – long story I won’t go into.  The novel this year is actually a previous Nanowrimo project that hit its 50k but stalled.  I had problems with the timelines of one of the main family trees, and I just never got back to it.  A segment from it is available for Kindle – The Preacher’s Marsh – and was published in my collection “Ennui & Other States of Madness,” but the entire book has languished.  This year I will rewrite the first 50k and attempt to finish a second.  There will be a read-along blog, as usual, for those who register.  http://gideonscurse.crossroadpress.com – The novel is about a young man who worked on a cotton plantation in the 50s/60s – the owners of the plantation have a history that stretches back to the Civil War, and a lot to answer for.  There is swamp magic, history, and more – as well as a bad case, by the end, of rising dead folk.

What advice would you give to a writer who is participating in NaNoWriMo for the first time this year?

BODEEN: My advice for first-time NaNo’ers is to think of the best idea, the one you are most excited about living with for 30 days, and just dive in on November 1. Don’t think it over too much beforehand or prepare very much. Do it on the fly.

HAYNES: My advice for all participants is to aim for a minimum of 2000 words per day, not the 1667 or so you think you need. My website has a ‘how to write 7500 words in a single day’ article which I recommend all participants read, because the same technique can be used for the daily 2000 words.

KAUFMAN: Don’t be afraid to write garbage.  Seriously, don’t edit yourself, just write.  You’ll write great stuff, good stuff and terrible stuff.  You can’t stop and fix the terrible, just keep plowing through and it’ll flush out and turn into good eventually.  You can go back and fix things and rewrite later; November is just for writing.  Also, don’t research as you go.  If you are missing the name of the widget that makes the submarine go – don’t waste your time looking it up and calling your submarine friends.  Just make something up and move on.  You can do your research later, for purposes of NaNoWriMo – just write.

STRICKLAND: I always tell NaNo first-timers “pace yourself.” Set a goal to write to for the day, then stop there, and leave a little in the tank. My first time doing NaNo, in 2002, the only way I got it finished was a couple nights in a row that went very, very late, and if memory serves in excess of 7000 words at a sitting. That’s too much, at least for me, 7000 words leaves me brain dead the next day, and some of the last scenes of that first novel really, really show it. Among other reasons, this is why that first novel will probably never see the light of day. By contrast, in 2004, when I finished Looking Glass, I was pretty sure I had something viable, even though I had no idea just how much more work it was going to take. The other piece of advice I’d give new NaNo writers is, “Give yourself permission to write crap.” You can edit and re-edit the first scene for the whole month, but that won’t get you to the winner’s circle. Write what’s in your head now and move on, and fix it in the edit. The sneaky truth about giving yourself permission to write crap is that most of the time you won’t. But even if you do, so what? You could have spent that month playing Plants vs. Zombies just as easily, and at least you wrote /something/ right?

WILSON: Go in with an outline, don’t revise until you are done, and try to stay ahead.  Don’t shoot for 1,667 words a day, shoot for 3k until you get several days ahead, so if something happens, you have it to fall back on…and enjoy yourself.  If it’s not fun, it’s not…well… fun.

What advice would you give to a NaNoWriMo “winner” who is staring at a finished novel at the end of November?

BODEEN: For a ‘winner’ who has a completed Nano project, I would advise them to be prepared to do major damage to their baby. Honestly, when I was working on The Compound, at one point I took my 250 page manuscript, kept only ten pages and the premise, and started over.

HAYNES: It’s only 1/4 finished. (Sorry!)  I go through 15-20 drafts for each novel, so typing up one half of the first draft is just a step on the journey. Apart from junior fiction, most published novels are 80,000 words plus, so I’d look on NaNoWriMo as a good opportunity to get the words flowing without too much regard to plot, character, etc. It’s the repeated rewrite jobs which will bring out the finished work.

KAUFMAN: Even if you hit 50,000 words at the end of November, you won’t be finished.  You’ll want to spend December finishing the book, although you might not want to move at such a frantic pace.  A good-sized novel should hit no less than 65,000 words with a longish novel running somewhere in the 100,000 word range.  After you do finish your first draft, however, let it sit.  Let it sit for at least a month.  Don’t attempt editing, don’t attempt rewriting.  You’re too close to it to have any kind of impartial opinion.  Whatever you do, don’t let anyone read it.  One nasty word from a well-meaning friend can stop you right in your tracks.  The brutal truth critiques will be easier to take when you have a little distance from the project.  Then you can decide whether you want to listen to your friend, or whether to ignore them.  I actually suggest letting it sit for a few months.  Write something else, work on another project; let your NaNoWriMo project air out a little.  It won’t go anywhere, and you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how good it actually is when you finally do come back to it.  By the time you actually get close to publication, you will be so desensitized to critiques that they will sting a lot less, in fact, by the time your project is actually published it won’t much resemble what you wrote in November.  You’ll have reshaped characters, killed off subplots, changed the ending, and inevitably destroyed what you once thought was the heart of the story.  It’s all for the best, but if you look at your newly spawned writing too soon, you’ll halt the process with emotionality and pride.  You have to abandon all pride before publication and before the reviewers call you every name in the book.  To make yourself feel better, read negative reviews of your favorite authors.  Right after The Tree Museum was published I spent hours looking through negative reviews for Cormac McCarthy and Alice Sebold – seeing that even extremely successful and influential professional authors get knocked every once in awhile somehow made me feel better.

STRICKLAND: A big part of doing NaNo is the community, so I’d advise newly minted NaNo winners to go to the TGIO party (Thank Goodness It’s Over) if at all possible. This is your support group. Writing is a lonely business, and that support group can be really great to have. Sure, people will want to read from their novels, and inevitably /someone/ in your NaNo group has probably written furry porn, or something else not to your taste, but so what? These people were there with you in the trenches, y’know? NaNo really isn’t about the end product. It’s about the journey.

WILSON: That depends a lot on the writer.  If it’s a first time novelist, I’d say get some readers to read it, listen to what they say, then do a heavy revision before sending it anywhere…if you are, like myself, a seasoned author – you’ll already know what to do with it.  I use Nanowrimo to ensure that I have at least one new, stand-alone work each year to look forward to.

Works Cited:

National Novel Writing Month (Office of Letters & Light, 2010). http://www.nanowrimo.org

Bodeen, S.A. The Compound (Square Fish, 2009).  http://www.rockforadoll.com

Haynes, Simon.  Hal Spacejock: No Free Lunch (Fremantle Press, 2006).  http://www.spacejock.com.au

Kaufman, Kathleen.  The Tree Museum (The Way Things Are Publications, 2009).  http://www.kathleenkaufman.com

Strickland, James R.   Looking Glass (Flying Pen Press, 2007).  http://www.jamesrstrickland.com

Wilson, David Niall.  The Mote in Andrea’s Eye (Five Star Fiction & Fantasy, 2006).  http://www.davidniallwilson.com

About the Author: Henry Cribbs somehow managed to sneak his science-fiction poem about Schrödinger’s cat into the literary art journal Lake Effect, and has also published book reviews for Philosophical Psychology, Chicago Literary Review, and Black Warrior Review. He taught philosophy and creative writing at the University of South Carolina for several years, and now forces his high school English students to read Ray Bradbury. He currently serves on the editorial board for Nimrod International Journal of Prose and Poetry.

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