The start of November brings several things to Austin: cooler temperatures (finally), discounted Halloween candy, and National Novel Writing Month. While I love the first two, my personal feelings on NaNoWriMo are mixed. On one hand, I think that us writer-ly types should strive to write as much as possible every month, not just during November. Plus, revising a book takes a lot more time than writing one, at least for me. (Maybe December, January, and February should be the Quarter of National Novel Revising Months, or QuatroNaNoReMo.)
But I also know first-hand that NaNoWriMo can be fun and productive, whether you approach it as a one-time experience or the launching pad for a longer-term project. However, with that fun comes a lot of work. It’s a marathon. And you don’t want to lose steam (i.e., lose confidence in your story, your writing abilities, or even yourself) before the finish line.
Below are a few of my favorite writing tips. When I follow them, I feel like I’ve written the best material I can today, which makes me hopeful about the writing I can do tomorrow. I hope you find them useful as you’re typing furiously, whether you’re trying to get your novel done this November or working on a non-NaNoWriMo writing project:
- Conflict. My 8th grade English teacher, Mrs. Bard (seriously, that was her name), taught me the first thing I remember about writing a good story. “Tell me when this gets boring,” she said before launching into a tale about a girl who lived in a lovely house with beautiful flowers outside, and had a sister and they never fought, and everything was happy and perfect and great. Soon, us students were groaning. “Okay,” she said, “then one day, the girl went to the grocery store, where she saw a mean, nasty witch waving her magic wand.” The kids stopped complaining. Her point was made. Conflict makes things interesting. Do you have enough of it in your story?
- Ands, Buts, and Therefores. Comedy Central recently aired a great special showing the creative process behind an average episode of South Park (a show Mrs. Bard definitely would not have approved of). At one point, my hero and idol Trey Parker talks about revising the storyline as the episode gets further along in the production process. “I sort of call it the rule of replacing ‘ands’ with ‘buts’ and ‘therefores,’” he explained. Basically, he whittles and restructures the story from, as he puts it, “This happens and then this happens and then this happens” to the far more dynamic “This happens, therefore this happens, but this happens.” Think about this when you’re writing. Is something about to happen just because it’s an “and,” or because it’s a “but” or a “therefore”?
- Less Being, More Doing. Beware of being verbs. They’re almost as boring as a story without conflict. You could write, “She was in a hurry, and she noticed her shoes were noisy.” But why would you when you could write “She walked hurriedly as the cracked soles of her cowboy boots scraped against the dry, dusty pavement”? Not only is that phrase a lot more vivid–it’s also longer, getting you ever closer to having 50,000 words written without scrimping on quality!
- Cliches. Avoid them like the plague, even if you’re writing by the skin of your teeth. They’re dull as dishwater.
Good luck, NaNoWriMo participants. And hang in there. The last time I participated, I took an additional month to finish my book. It was the first novel I ever wrote, and I’m still proud of it–though I’ll be a lot prouder after I revise it.
(Editor’s Note: WBN will be hosting official NaNo write-ins Saturdays in November from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., and unofficial write-ins all month during our regularly scheduled open hours. So come on in and get your NoWri on.)
When she’s not revising her first trilogy of YA novels, hugging her rescued dogs, or playing “Rock Band” with her husband, Sarah Rodriguez Pratt writes for her blog ThatsAGirlsCar.com. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in English from Harvard University and a Master’s in Information Studies from UT-Austin. A native Texan, she grew up in McAllen but has called Austin home for over a decade.