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On Persistence: Planning Ahead

Yesterday we talked about the slow process of writing a book in a hurry. About achieving something great six months from now by doing something pathetic and tedious today.

National Novel Writing Month is a crash course in precisely that process. It’s something on the order of 20+ days of pathetic and tedious, crammed into a 30-day span.

That may not sound like  much of a sales pitch, but the upshot is this: you get to have a book. You get to finish your novel.

Getting Properly Prepared

Before I get into today’s topic, there’s something I need to say loud and clear:

NaNoWriMo is all about writing your story — not thinking about your story, not figuring out your story, not working on your story, but writing your story.

That’s what yesterday’s article was all about. To return to this week’s metaphor, NaNoWriMo make you get your butt in gear and go for a jog. It’s never enough to just sit around and think about fitness.

Like everything in life, though, it’s always a matter of balance. I mentioned before that I have trouble finding time in my day to run, and that drives me crazy. Knowing how much benefit I could get from it, how can it possibly be so difficult to find 45 minutes to run around my neighborhood?

Part of the problem is perspective. Before I can just “get my butt in gear and go for a jog,” I’ve got to change into my workout clothes, put on my running shoes, track down some headphones, do my stretches, and then probably start out with a little warmup.

Then I can go for a 45-minute run, but by then I’ve probably spent 20-30 minutes getting ready. By the time I get home and clean up and change back into normal clothes, my 45-minute jog can use up anywhere from ninety minutes to two hours.

Maintaining Your Prewriting

Writing can absolutely be the same way. If you sprint into a scene, stiff and wearing your work clothes (metaphorically speaking), you’re probably not going to get too far. The good news is that if you’ve been following along, you’ve at least got your running gear. That’s the first step, and that’s what we spent October doing.

Your prewriting is your novel’s supporting material. It’s what lets you move with confidence and handle the obstacles along the way. That’s why we spent the time to make it in the first place, and it’s why it’s worth putting in some extra time now around your writing time to keep it all in working order.

It’s not enough to have it. You’ve got to remember to use it. Maybe you have been all along, but if it’s been a month since you last looked at your character descriptions, go back and give them a quick read. You’ll probably find some surprises in there.

Some of it will be wrong — your character has probably grown in some surprising ways over the last few weeks — but other pieces of it will impress you. You’ll find insights you didn’t know you’d had. You’ll discover that some seemingly random things your characters did were actually driven by choices you made (and forgot) a long time ago. And chances are good you’ll find at least one thing you left out that would add some spice (and a good number of words) to the scene you’re working on right now.

The same goes for all the documents we put together last month. If it’s been two chapters since you last checked your scene list, go back and review it. You might be surprised how devious your plot can be, as it picks and chooses it own path.

Waste Some Words (Creative Writing Exercise)

The lovely Kelley, writing at a coffee shopIf you’re any kind of a NaNoWriMo legalist, you can’t count prewriting words in your 50,000, but as I said yesterday everything you do helps. Every moment you spend working on your story (even if it’s not writing your story) helps you get more accomplished when you are writing.

If you’re having trouble on your sprints, struggling to make real progress day-to-day, you might need to update your support material. Spend a few minutes glancing over those old documents, and see what they have to tell you.

Now, if you’re way behind (I’d say more than 5,000 words or so behind your goal), last week’s writing exercise still has more to offer. Find time for some 6k days, just to get caught up.

But if you’re in striking range — if you’re actually hitting your target word count, but maybe every writing session feels like pulling teeth — it might just be because you’re writing unprepared. Sometimes all it takes to get flying again is an hour (or a day) reworking your prewriting. Give it a try.

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