NaNoWriMo: How to start writing.

This November I’m writing a novel in my spare time. Rather, I should say, I am trying to.

The National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) offers a space for aspiring writers to announce their intention to write a novel, meet writing buddies, attend local write-ins and it provides an additional boost of motivation as you track your word count and see how it stacks up against others in your region or in the wider world.

According to their press release:

“Last year, NaNoWriMo welcomed 431,626 participants in 633 different regions on six
continents. Of these, more than 40,000 met the goal of writing 50,000 words in a month.”
In my region alone, Yorkshire, there are over 800 novelists signed up. Last year, I’m happy to say, I was one of the 40,000 who did meet their goal and wrote the 50,000+ words necessary to be presented with a Winner certificate.
This year, I’ve had a bit more trouble with getting started. With work and life being a bit hectic over the past few days, I’m already a week into the challenge and the page is blank. I’m happy with my characters and my story arc, everything is plotted on a draft outline but still, I’ve not committed the first sentence to paper (well, word processor) yet.
I wanted to address the issue of getting started. I don’t think that I am alone in worrying about making that first mark. Here’s a quote from an author I admire:
the-fact-is-that-blank-pages-inspire-me-with-terror-what-will-i-put-on-them-will-it-be-good-enough-quote-1

If Margaret Atwood can worry that her writing is not good enough then so can we all. Especially when writing something based purely on your own imagination. You are taking a chance and opening up parts of yourself to public scrutiny. But, as Hemingway said: “The first draft of anything is shit.”¬† Perhaps, writers do need to take the pressure off themselves by repeating this as a mantra and understanding that writing is hard. That it is never perfect. That way, the idea of writing something terrible on your first attempt is inevitable and therefore less daunting.

Writing is what I do. Today, I’ve written three blog posts for others, scheduled some social media posts and sent numerous emails and one proposal to a prospective client. I’ll estimate that amounts to a word count of around 2,500 words in total. Far in excess of my initial 1,667 words a day goal for NaNo, a target that is now rapidly increasing the longer I leave it to get started.

Writing prompts have started appearing everywhere, I’ve spotted them on Buzzfeed and have seen a few shared by various writing groups I follow on social media. I quite liked the simplicity of this one shared by Writers Write. I’m sure that these prompts will come in handy on the days when my well runs dry and I need a nudge to send my story in an unanticipated direction. What they will not do, however, is get me started.

medium_november_prompts

One fantastic tool I have found was a cheat sheet created by @peter_halasz at No White Space which you can find here. This two-sided, single sheet of A4 paper covers absolutely everything you need to consider to get your story off the ground. One side will help you explore the hero’s journey, decide upon structures, advise on adding conflict, or on making dialogue realistic. The other covers characters,¬† what motivates them, how they would react in a given situation, their values, virtues, personality type and physical appearance.

Yesterday, I procrastinated by spending a day working through the prompts contained  within this cheat sheet and I now have a far better handle on the story I want to tell and the way the main protagonist will move within these parameters.

I am a planner. I like to have an overview and an outline structure before I start writing a novel. I use post-it notes to draft the hooks I’ll use within the story, key scenes and characters, events and places, I move these around as I find it easier to think visually. They are not fixed, I can re-arrange them at will to change the pace or introduce conflict. This is what works for me.

For me, once I know where I am headed I can flesh out the rest of the detail. Right now, the only place I’m headed toward is disappointment for not reaching my goal of 50,000 words this month. So on that note, I’m going to sign off the blog, brew up a big batch of coffee and start writing in earnest. If I don’t like what I write, well, that is what editing is for isn’t it?

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