10 Rules for #NaNoWriMo Participants

...which might possibly be inspired by an article that made the rounds Thursday.

1) The reader isn’t somebody you need to worry about during National Novel Writing Month. Right now, your goal is to produce a complete manuscript, somewhere in the neighborhood of 50,000 words. Don’t spend any time this month wondering how it’s going to play when it’s released. You’ve got plenty of time to think about that in the months ahead, if you decide you’ve got a story you truly need to share with the rest of the world.

2) Okay, you know how the previous newsletter was about writing the things that make you “uncomfortable”? In that sense, it actually is helpful to think about fiction writing as “[a] personal adventure into the frightening or the unknown.” Push yourself to find out something new about the world, about yourself, or both.

3) Here’s some practical advice about the word then, from Robert Hartwell Fiske’s excellent style guide To The Point: A Dictionary of Concise Writing: Never use the phrases then and only then or then subsequently or even at that moment when a simple then will do.

4) As Chuck Wendig pointed out, “write in third person unless a really distinctive first-person voice offers itself irresistibly” is “a sentence that isn't saying anything, or offering any illumination to the actually-difficult choice of choosing POV.” I might as well just say “find the voice that’s right for your story,” for all the help it’ll give you.

5) Libraries are awesome, and you can discover all sorts of awesome things in them.

6) You know what comes out of grappling with “uncomfortable” stories? Emotional authenticity. And a story that’s emotionally authentic is a story that’s going to connect with readers more than an elegantly written story that’s emotionally dead on arrival. If you’re just going through the motions, if your characters are just going through the motions, we can tell. But if the emotional stakes are real, your characters can go just about anywhere and do anything.

7) “You see more sitting still than chasing after.” That’s great. Thanks, Master Po! (Kids, if you don’t understand that reference, ask your parents. If they don’t know, your grandparents probably will.) Seriously, you might as well tell a writer “the purpose of discipline is to live more fully, not less.” Just because it’s true doesn’t always mean it’s useful.

8) Write wherever you can, whenever you can set aside the time to do it. You can train yourself not to look at the Internet for a fixed period of time, during which you’ll be able to live more fully through the disciple of writing, not less. (See what I did there?) It’s almost certain that you’ll look at the Internet or your email from time to time; if it’s not actually on the computer you write with, you’ll find an excuse to get up and stretch your legs or whatever. The trick is, if I can run this ancient wisdom joke into the ground, after which I promise not to pick it up again (at least not in this column), that when you check your email, be checking your email; when you log off, be logged off.

9) Let’s take “interesting verbs are seldom very interesting” even further: Any words that have been put on the page with the primary goal of looking elegant, as opposed to the goal of sharing something true, are seldom the best words. Which doesn’t mean that you can’t choose words that share something true and look elegant, just that you need to keep your priorities straight. Sometimes, when you write something and you tell yourself it seems too plain, too obvious, you’re just uncomfortable with how much truth has leaked out onto the page. (And sometimes it really is too obvious; one facet of being a good writer is learning to tell the difference.)

10) Writing requires a conscious commitment, and it requires a purpose. But sometimes you have to make the commitment first, then figure out the purpose along the way. If you’re willing to work through the confusion, the process will eventually reveal its goal. (Usually, of course, you’re not starting out entirely clueless, but many’s the writer who started a book with one story in mind only to create a radically different one as she continued to write.)


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