My Writers Circle

Writing => The Writers Circle => Topic started by: Gyppo on October 18, 2018, 09:05:54 AM

Title: How to Survive NANO 2018. Relatively sane and not a physical wreck.
Post by: Gyppo on October 18, 2018, 09:05:54 AM
I'm probably not playing this year, but for anyone tackling it for the first time here's a 'reprint' of my magazine article I wrote and sold several years back about the whole NANO experience.  I got three and half first draft novels out of doing it this way.

Gyppo (Who used to hang out here a lot and is pleased to see there's many new names.)

PS:  If you're one of those people who object to 'rules' then remember these are given as guidelines, not orders.  Use and adapt as relevant to yourself.


   The NaNoWriMo novel in a month challenge is both adventure and education.  Fifty thousand words (at least) in thirty days.  A nightmare to some and a doddle to others used to getting lots of words on paper in a short time.

   At the end you'll have a first draft, not a completed novel.  But you will be 50,000 words away from where you started and, importantly, you will know you can do it.  It will never seem quite as daunting again.  You will also know more about yourself as a writer.

   You can plan and research in advance.  Or just wing it if you're an adrenaline fuelled writer.

   Here's a bunch of tips to make November easier, more enjoyable, and more productive, and the link to the NaNo website where you can register.


   Many writers drop out simply because their bodies can't cope with the demands of writing every day.  Once you dread sitting at the keyboard because of aches and pains you're heading for failure.   So get 'writing fit' by using the computer more regularly in October if you're a sporadic writer.

   1)  If you don't normally knock out at least 2000 words a day get some practice in otherwise your body will react to the unusual physical demands by shutting down.  Neck, shoulders, back, wrists, and fingers become stiff and sore.  Physical pain interferes with your brain.

     If you're used to them the physical demands aren't a problem, unless you sit glued to your seat for several hours at a stretch.

   2)  Get off your bum for a while, stroll around and loosen up your joints.  Before it starts to hurt.  Maybe even take a walk outside.  I'm not  insisting you interact with 'outside' whilst in a creative fervour.  Especially if you're writing a first person story where you're a killer.  The boundaries can become blurred at times.

   3)  Get a comfortable seat.  Younger bodies are more flexible and tolerant of bad posture than mine, but a month of it will make you suffer.

   4)  Drink regularly.  I'm not suggesting an alcoholic haze, just plenty of liquids.   Physically the brain doesn't like being dehydrated and can play tricks on you.

   5)  Food.  Ideally you won't eat at the keyboard, but I know you will.  Avoid crumbly foods that litter the keys.  Sugary coffee and tea will gum up the keyboard as they dry.  If you spill food or drink stop writing and turn the board upside down to shake off or drain any surplus immediately.  Then wipe with a moist cloth.  You can do this with a laptop too, just don't bang it so hard.  Ignore this and by the end of the month, if not before, your keyboard will stop working.

   6)  Adjust the brightness - and possibly colour - of your computer screen as needed, otherwise your eyeballs will feel like fried eggs by the end of the first week, and be about as useful for seeing.  I like black type on a mild grey background.

   7)  Font:  Use any font and size you find comfortable.  It's easily changed later to suit a publisher's demands.  One of the benefits of modern processors.  If your eyes are happy with 16 point Dom Casual then use it.  If you don't know how to change the defaults, find the help menu, (usually f1), and learn.

   8)  This free utility can help enormously.  It adjusts screen brightness according to the time of day.  It doesn't suit all systems or machines, but works on most.  Allow at least a week to get used to it.  Your eyes will thank you and you'll feel less tired after a long session.

   When you write sporadically none of the above really becomes a problem.  Full time writers, (which you will be in November), need to get the little things right.  The difference in comfort with the screen set up to suit your own eyes is amazing, and can allow you to put in the occasional 6-10,000 word day when things are zipping along and you don't want to stop.

   9)  Never try to master a new programme or different processor during Nano month.  Stick with something familiar.

   10)  Go offline before you start.  The world won't come to a grinding halt if you're not connected.  Truly.

   Twice a day is enough.  Midday and evening works quite well.  Anyone desperate to contact you will phone.  Even an email saying you've been fired gets no worse for being ignored for a few hours.

   Nano is only thirty days.   A mere 720 hours.  Doesn't sound so much when you think of it in hours, does it?

   The Internet is addictive.  Just trade it for another addiction for November.  Writing.

   11)  If you're thinking of buying a new keyboard do it now, giving it time to become familiar.  Keep the old one for back-up in case of food or drink accidents.


   12)  A writer's brain is a tricky beast.  It has to be to come up with wonderful ideas.  Sometimes we can trick it into working our way.

   13)  Getting ahead of the average word count in the first week allows valuable 'wriggle room' later if Real Life intrudes.  If you get a third done in the first week it feels positively liberating.

   Think in terms of 2000 words a day.  This gives you twenty five days.  Which allows you five spare days in case of domestic disasters.  If a really good day puts you even more ahead this buffer zone becomes very reassuring.

To semi-quote Rudyard Kipling's If...

"If you can fill the unforgiving minute,
 with sixty second's worth of distance run.
 Yours is the world and everything that's in it,
 and Nano will be a piece of cake, Old Son."

(2,592,000 seconds to play with.)

   14)  In the typewriter days a spur to success was the diminishing pile of blank sheets on one side of the typewriter and the growing pile of filled pages on the other.  A growing word count on the screen lacks this physical presence.

   Write the day's word count and cumulative total on a Post It note.  Stick it to the wall where you can see it.  Mine hangs alongside the year planner.

   Stick each day's note to the bottom of the previous one so you have a growing 'tail' as a physical reminder and prompt.  You may need Sellotape to stop it pulling free under its own weight around day twenty.

   Every day, when you first sit down to write, you'll see the growing tail and feel inspired.  You could just use a long paper strip and write the numbers, but the little ritual of adding a new bit each night also helps you switch off until the next time ;-)  It won't work for everyone, but if it does, you'll like it.

   15)  Writing rubbish?  Does it matter if you write any old rubbish to make the word count?

   Just filling pages with utter nonsense will meet the total, but you won't have done more than exercise your fingers.  You could cut and paste 'I'm doing Nano this year' ten thousand times.  Or write a short programme to automate this.  The verification process won't detect your self-cheating.  But where's the benefit in that?

   However. . .  If you write nonsense for the first hundred words each day, rather than looking at a blank screen and brainwashing yourself into believing you can't write, you will find something rather wonderful happening.

   Your subconscious rebels against the mindless nonsense and you'll find useful stuff pouring from your fingertips.  It may take a few sessions before you learn to trust your subconscious, but it will deliver.  Experienced writers know a few minutes of finger exercise at the keyboard summons the brain.

   As long as the rubbish leads to better stuff don't be afraid to write it.  See it as clearing/preparing the workspace before starting a job.  Just as manure fertilises gardens so a little helping of written crap may fertilise your imagination.

   I sometimes feel there is a pressure switch in my bum which triggers the full works as soon as I settle in front of my machine.  It also tends to turn off outside worries, but that may be the fruit of many years at the keyboard.

   When writing by hand I definitely think more clearly with a pen or pencil in my hand.  A quick twiddle or a doodle on the pad seems to unlock extra circuits in my brain.


   16)  Fire up your word processing programme first thing and leave it on all day, with your Nano document minimised.  Plus a spare document open for research notes and reminders.  Laptop users will have to compromise here. Whenever the spirit moves you just click and get writing again.   Even a slow computer will handle this easily with all the 'webby stuff' turned off.

   17)  All good processors now have an auto-save function.  Find it and set for five minutes or less.  You won't notice it working in small chunks like that, even on a slow machine.  If there's a power cut you'll be able to remember the last few minute's words.

   18)  Backup at the end of every day onto a thumb drive or another hard drive.  Buy yourself a new thumb drive for Nano.  They're cheap enough.  Wear it on a cord around your neck.  (There's a bit of psychology in this too.)

   19)  When you truly need online research set your timer for fifteen minutes.  If you can't find what you need in quarter of an hour either your search parameters are too wide, or you're being sidetracked too easily.  Probably the latter.  Web wandering is fun, but it's not writing, is it?

   If  a lot of reading needs doing cut and paste a copy into that spare document you have open - you have remembered that trick, haven't you? - so you can read it later off-line and not be tempted into following spurious links.

   20)  After a few days you'll know if you're a slogger or sprinter.  If the latter set your timer for short blocks of time and challenge yourself to write as much as possible in each block.  Then repeat.  For some people this reaps enormous benefits.  Give it a try, then use or discard.

   21)  Feel free to write scenes out of sequence if you're not a meticulous planner.  If you get stuck switch to another scene.

   Avoid going back and tinkering with what you've already written.  This doesn't mean you can't go back to add a scene you skipped earlier.  Just don't get hung up on perfection.

   You fix the sequence and continuity errors later.  I suggest numbering the scenes and allowing each one its own file, or allow one file per day.  You'll probably have around 120 - 200 'scenes' in your novel  These are not chapter breaks at this point, just handy divisions.

   22)  Never write it all as one long continuous document.  One tired moment could delete the whole thing.

   23)  If a section needs more research add a note to this effect, in a contrasting colour, and press on.  Momentum is important.

   24)  Doubts.  Having doubts half or three quarters of the way through is normal.  It's a long way from failure, so just crack on.

   25)   Get your family on-side before you start.  It helps enormously.  If you're the one who does the cleaning and other chores do an extra thorough job late in October and let yourself relax a bit for the next month.  Most visitors won't even notice.  See the dusty shelves as a badge of office.

   26)  Expect to go slightly mad and lose touch a little with reality.  Some nights the characters won't let you sleep.  But they'll usually back off for a few hours if you make notes.

   27)  Expect friends to look at you in bewilderment when you talk about these new people in your life as if they're real, because to you they are.   You'll have lodgers in your head for thirty days.  And probably long after too.

   28)  After the deadline leave them alone until at least January before you trouble them again.   Distance provides clarity when rewriting the rough first draft.

   29)  Write at least two thousand words more than you need, before scrambling and verifying your work - explanation on the Nano website -  because the NaNo word counter may differ slightly from yours.

   30)  Verify early if you can, in the last week if you've hit the 25 day target, before the site gets overloaded.


   Amongst all the above remember to enjoy yourself.  See NaNo as an adventure, a journey of discovery for both yourself and your characters.  Live through their triumphs and disasters with them.

   At the end you get a certificate.  Print it out and hang it on your wall.

   Best wishes.
Title: Re: How to Survive NANO 2018. Relatively sane and not a physical wreck.
Post by: Mark T on October 19, 2018, 05:12:01 AM

Thank you for posting this, Gyppo. Sounds tough but some wise advice for those brave enough of heart to take part.
Title: Re: How to Survive NANO 2018. Relatively sane and not a physical wreck.
Post by: JanTetstone on October 19, 2018, 08:21:32 AM
Thank you Gyppo. There's a lot  of helpful information in your post.      jt
Title: Re: How to Survive NANO 2018. Relatively sane and not a physical wreck.
Post by: DGSquared on October 19, 2018, 08:33:54 AM
Hi Gyppo,

Thank you for the advice.

I'm considering taking the plunge this year. I hope the family can forgive me. ;)

It's a pleasure to see familiar faces in my favorite places.
Actually, it's more of a pleasure to see my favorite people in familiar places. :-*

Title: Re: How to Survive NANO 2018. Relatively sane and not a physical wreck.
Post by: Mark T on October 19, 2018, 08:45:14 AM

It's nice to see you here too, Deb.  :)
Title: Re: How to Survive NANO 2018. Relatively sane and not a physical wreck.
Post by: JanTetstone on October 19, 2018, 09:17:02 AM
It's nice to see you here too, Deb.  :)

I second that....
Title: Re: How to Survive NANO 2018. Relatively sane and not a physical wreck.
Post by: Ollie The Legend on November 01, 2018, 12:26:06 PM
Well now, I'm pretty sure I've posted advice alongside this every single time you've posted this ever growing list of good advice, so here's my Nano 2018 day one advice (reposted from a thread I start there every year that has helped many people, including MWC members, get over the finish line. I'm not sure if I'm allowed to post a link the thread itself, so I'm just going to wait until a moderator tells me that I'm allowed to post links before doing so.

Now that I'm into four digits over here. I thought I'd break up the writing day with some very practical advice. This is pretty much the opposite of a pep talk. I'm not going to tell you that you can do it because we all already know that you can do it. This is how to do it.

Presenting thatollie's almost daily (no promises, I only have like two other ones planned and the second of those is like week three advice) practical advice that may help (no promises, you may already know this or feel like it cheapens the experience to do something so practical).

How to start

People make a big deal over starting. It's like they aren't even doing anything until they're already doing it. Now, starting a novel is a big sounding thing so it makes sense that people feel big sounding pressure to get it going.

But the start of the first scene of your novel is also the start of a scene, and there's a fairly easy way to start a scene.

My quick definition of what a scene is goes something like this; a scene is a series of events that happen in one place in a relatively short period of time. If you change the time and place, you're going into a different scene.

The easiest way to start a scene is to just point blank state where the scene takes place.

The first scene of my book takes place on the observation deck of a spaceship called The Vanguard. The phrase "the observation deck of The Vanguard" is almost half of the opening sentence.

Real authors who do actual authoring use this too. The first scene of Stephen King's Dark Tower series is set in the desert. The phrase "the desert" appears quite prominently in the opening sentence.

It's like a primer so that the description of the place makes sense. It really is the easiest way to start a scene, and when you get writing you'll realise that every scene is a scene including the first one.
Title: Re: How to Survive NANO 2018. Relatively sane and not a physical wreck.
Post by: Mark T on November 01, 2018, 02:16:56 PM
Thanks for sharing that useful information, Ollie. Please feel free to post relevant links.

Your post put me in mind of an old farming expression, one I fall back on when faced with something daunting: The only way to clear the field of rocks is to clear the field of rocks.
Title: Re: How to Survive NANO 2018. Relatively sane and not a physical wreck.
Post by: Ollie The Legend on November 01, 2018, 03:10:04 PM
Cool, this thread is rather appropriately titled "Get Your Butt Kicked Here." I still have the old name there because they don't let you change username.
Title: Re: How to Survive NANO 2018. Relatively sane and not a physical wreck.
Post by: Ollie The Legend on November 02, 2018, 03:20:58 PM
After hitting 1667 for the day over there, I shared some day two advice and since I copy pasted the first one here... that again.

I have finished writing for the day, so it's time for another round of thatollie's almost daily (no promises) entirely too practical writing "advice". I know that since this advice is usually tailored to whatever day it is and I post it at the end of the day it's kinda too late, but whatever, it's advice from Ollie so what could you possibly complain about, right?

Scene Drift and How To Kick It's Butt

Okay, so, I was going to write about Scene Structure and how you can use it to plan your day when you're pantsing it real good like most people in this thread seem to do; but I need a quicker topic for reasons, so Scene Drift.

Scene Drift is when whatever is supposed to be going on starts to tail off between one point and another. For example; if your scene ends with an argument between two characters and you just can't get the argument to start. The scene would have begun to drift with these two just kind of almost beginning to argue and then chickening out.

You need a specialist to kick this thing into gear. I have just the guy, or more precisely you have just the guy and don't know that you have him yet. What you need is a character who's sole job is to come along during a Drift and boot the scene along to the next piece of actual plot. Go create this person now, the name Ollie is optional but highly recommended because people called Ollie are natural troublemakers and that's basically the point of this character.

So, how is this person supposed to kick La Drift to the curb. Remember that argument I mentioned earlier and how it just wouldn't start, well our boy Driftkicker wouldn't like that at all, he'd go in there and say something about whatever they're supposed to be arguing about that absolutely starts the argument. He doesn't care about the characters' feelings. Getting the fight started is what he wants.

He's there whenever you need him.

One more thing; I'm pretty sure that I used to post inspiring music in either this thread or somewhere else so here's that.

Get back to work.
Title: Re: How to Survive NANO 2018. Relatively sane and not a physical wreck.
Post by: bailish on November 02, 2018, 03:53:10 PM
Scene Drift -- reminds me of Rosanna Rosannadanna.

 ::) ::)
Title: Re: How to Survive NANO 2018. Relatively sane and not a physical wreck.
Post by: Gyppo on November 03, 2018, 07:15:53 AM
DriftKicker.  I like it ;-)

Remembering to start scenes late (already into the action without the warm-up songs and bloody cheerleaders) and finishing on a high note by not trailing off with unnecessary explanations helps avoid scene drift.

You mustn't show the stuntman's safety harness in a cliff-hanger ending.  If you've written the scene well enough the reader won't need it and neither will you.


Speaking of music for NANO.  Here's something to keep for the last few days when you're writing on little more than adrenaline and ragged instinct, when you're starting to wonder why you ever signed up, when the story's dragging you to places you never intended, when you hate your muse almost as much as you love her.

The Devil's Dance Floor by Flogging Molly

Title: Re: How to Survive NANO 2018. Relatively sane and not a physical wreck.
Post by: Ollie The Legend on November 03, 2018, 01:47:01 PM
The driftkicker playing for the home team is about to make his appearance, and he's kicking something a little meatier than scene drift, he's gonna be kicking plot drift right in the teeth.
Title: Re: How to Survive NANO 2018. Relatively sane and not a physical wreck.
Post by: JanTetstone on November 08, 2018, 08:53:31 AM
Best of luck to everyone ......     jt

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to creative writing.

On November 1, participants begin working towards the goal of writing a 50,000-word novel by 11:59 PM on November 30.

Valuing enthusiasm, determination, and a deadline, NaNoWriMo is for anyone who has ever thought about writing a novel.