An Actually Helpful Pep Talk

I admit that I am generally nonplussed by pep talks. Ever since high school pep rallies, since football games doomed to be lost to teams with more money to spend, the cheerleaders have rolled out (sometimes literally) from all quarters, hoping to inspire us about something. “You Can Do This!”

Well, November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), and right about now, on Day 13, some people can use a shot in the arm to keep them going. The pep talks are wriggling up from between cracks in the sidewalk. I’ve read a few, and the general theme is much like the tagline of NaNoWriMo itself: “The World Needs Your Novel”. Only trouble is, the world’s never gonna get your story if you’re so darn tired and frustrated with writing that you walk away from it halfway. Perhaps the story has stalled. Some useful kickstarters to get the story moving again might be needed.

This morning I read a post by Tamora Pierce on the NaNoWriMo website that was one part pep talk, and two parts useful kickstarters. In addition to encouragement, she offered some very practical suggestions for ways that you, the author, can get your story moving again.

Here are her main points:

  1. Try adding something short. (A sudden injection of randomness.)
  2. Try something surprising, painful, or frightening to jolt your character into behaving violently.
  3. Try something small. (A mysterious object, a talisman, etc.)

The second point may be the most enduringly useful. In a recent post, fellow blogger, Charles French quoted Mark Twain, saying:

“Put your characters up a tree, and throw stones at them.”

Fun advice any day.

For Tamora’s article, see here. But if you’d rather skip the pep talk and go find some stones right away, then be my guest.

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Fifteen Days of Strategy: Preparing for National Novel Writing Month

Preparing for an endurance writing event like NaNoWriMo requires careful preparation.  On the event’s website you can find what they call a “Pep Talk Archive,” with different author’s perspectives on how you, the would-be Winner, can best gear up and write towards your goal.  A lot of what is said there (although I definitely haven’t read all the pep talks) has to do with staying motivated, and that’s a great topic.  Motivation—or lack of it—is immensely important when it comes to writing something as big as a novel.  But I would personally like to see more on the planning that occurs even before the writing begins.

The starting point for the novel I plan to write in November was a dream I had in 2011.  It was one of those exceptionally vivid dreams in which I was alternately a spectator and a participant.  It was so realistic and so plot-oriented that, when I finally woke up, I was devastated to realize that I would never find out what “happened next.”  It was as if I wouldn’t get to see the results of the spontaneous purging of my subconscious.  Brains are curious things.

It occurred to me almost immediately afterwards that the dream would make a good premise for fiction.  That way I could finish the story.  Initially, I thought of writing it up as a short story, but realized that it would probably spill over into that nebulous territory between short story and novella.  The market for novellas is crappy, and although that shouldn’t affect a writer’s decision-making processes, it does.  So I held off on the writing.

I’m glad I did.  Over the last fifteen months or so, I have allowed it to ferment in the kimchi pot that is my mind.  Yes, brains are curious things.  I have probably only thought about the dream and the story a half-dozen times since its inception, but something was obviously happening on a subconscious level.  As soon as I decided to participate in this year’s NaNoWriMo, I immediately recalled the dream-story, and knew the time had come for it to be put onto the page.

At work today, as I performed my normal (and in the context of this post, irrelevant) activities, the story took further shape.  It was happening in a “background program” kind of way (to borrow a concept from computer programming), and not really requiring much of my attention.  The world in which the story will take place was forming, and some of the context was clarifying.

In general, I find that my stories tend to form in an “outward-in” manner, with a larger context emerging first, followed by the plot within that context.  I also tend to develop characters before plot, so that plot forms around characters in the same manner.  (For more on this idea, see a previous post about story development, among other things.)

With context, characters, and a few pieces of the plot in hand, how do I intend to actually go about producing 50,000 words come November 1?  For starters, I plan on writing every day.  I also plan on writing as close to 1670 words each day as possible.  Finally, I don’t plan on spending a lot of time editing what I write during the 30 days of the event.

For the most part, writing every day isn’t far out of my normal habit.  To make things easier, I’m dividing up my novel into 30 chapters (more or less), one for each day.  Over the next two weeks, I will plan out those chapters, making sure that I won’t write myself into a corner.  The less I have to think about structure in November the better.

That actually addresses the last point, editing, as well.  Let it wait until NaNoWriMo is over. Perhaps we should start a new event called “National Novel Editing Month” for December.

Of course, that makes it sound like completing 50,000 words will be a cake walk.  I don’t expect that will be the case, but being prepared as I’ve described above will certainly help.