November is Coming: How to Survive NaNoWriMo

National Novel Writing Month is nearly upon us. Forget Halloween, this is what autumn is really all about: finding an excuse to sit indoors under layers and layers of blankets.

giphy blanket
I cannot create unless I am cosy. (image: giphy.com)

But let’s be real. NaNoWriMo can be a pretty daunting task. The goal is to write a fifty-thousand word novel in thirty days. Fifty thousand. That totals out at roughly one thousand six hundred words per day, and the worst part is that you’ve got to make sure that they’re actually good rather than just stringing lists of adjectives together. It’s pretty intimidating, especially if you know one of those people who insists on comparing word counts.

Fortunately for you guys, I’ve done NaNoWriMo a few times before and have picked up a few tips that might make things easier:

 

  1. Plan beforehand, and only beforehand

Trying to write roughly 1,600 words a day is going to be difficult. It’s a lot of words to get down in one go, particularly if you’ve only got one time window to do it in. But if you don’t know what you’re going to write it’s going to be twice as hard to actually get it on paper because you’ll be working out what you want to say as well as how you want to say it.

This is where your plan comes in. I’d recommend starting this a week or so before NaNoWriMo, assuming you’ve already had the vague idea of what you want your story to be about. Start plotting things out in more detail, including character and setting. If you do it every day, this can also help you get into the rhythm of regular writing. But when you start writing, stop planning. It’s easy to wind up with a chapter-by-chapter breakdown of the plot of your novel and no actual text, so don’t rely on this too much.

 

  1. Start your research in October

November is for writing. If you’re writing something which is going to require any kind of research, start it a couple of weeks before you’re going to write. Read as much as you can and get comfortable with the details before you launch into your novel. I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve been plodding along with a paragraph when suddenly, I’ll go “Wait, when were pyjamas invented?” and it’s off down the rabbit hole I go. If you’re writing anything historical, I’d recommend starting even earlier, but this blog post is going up with less than two weeks until November so NEVER MIND YOU’LL BE FINE.

 

  1. Writing nine to five

WHAT A WAY TO MAKE A LIVIN’

No, seriously. It’d be great. But unfortunately it’s highly unlikely that you’ll have all that time just for writing. Just because you’re writing a book doesn’t mean the world will stop and wait for you to finish it. Realistically, you’re going to have to look at your schedule and try and work out when you’re actually going to have time to write. I’d recommend trying to find an hour each day, either in one go or in short chunks. Be a little flexible – if weekends are always really busy for you, try and find some time on weekday evenings. If you commute on public transport, consider taking a notebook with you and working there. See what works for you!

 

  1. Just do it

When it comes to November the first, just start. There’s nothing more intimidating for a writer than a blank page. It can take hours to come up with a first line (mainly due to all those writing advice blogs which tell you to make sure you have a good first line). But you don’t have time to dither – you’ve got a fifty-thousand-word mountain to climb. Just start, and worry about whether it’s any good later. That’s what the second draft is for.

 

  1. Get on with it

Sometimes, inspiration does strike. Sometimes your synapses are flashing, your neurons are firing and an idea comes into your head like a beautiful sunrise. You seize your pen, your notebook, your laptop and don’t look up for hours – for you, dear author, are inspired.

Ninety percent of the time, that won’t happen.

There are going to be days when you just don’t wanna. You’ll be tired. You’ll get home late. You’ll have a bad day and want to spend your writing time curled around a hot water bottle in front of the telly. But when you’re writing to targets and deadlines, sometimes you’re just going to have to make yourself do it. You have to –

– yes, exactly.

 

  1. Just keep swimming

Resist the temptation to go back and rewrite what you’ve already done. Focus instead on progressing through the narrative and get your key plot points down. This is where your plan can really come in handy (although hopefully having a plan will have helped you thrash out any potential plot holes). If you’re having some doubts about something you’ve already written, make a notes section in your plan and add them to that. That way you’ve kept a record of your ideas and you can keep going without needing to slow down. You can always go back and redraft when NaNoWriMo is over.

 

  1. Keep an eye on your daily totals, but don’t stick to them

There are special NaNoWriMo calendars you can find where the ideal word count for each day is written on them. They measure out the month in chunks of 1,667 words and some people find them really helpful.

nanowrimo_calendar_by_reapthebeauty-d31npzj
Such as this one. (image: deviantart.com)

Personally, I don’t. Some days are going to be better than others, and some days I’m going to come home too tired to do a sentence, let alone like, 160 of them. On those days I write what I can and try and make up the total another day, and I find that works much better than keeping to very strict limits.

 

  1. Details, details

Don’t be afraid to fudge some of the finer points to avoid getting bogged down. Obviously the really important details (i.e., the plot) should be in your plan, but it’s perfectly fine to put in placeholder names for minor characters and places. Just remember to replace these with real names when you’re done and you’ll be fine.

 

  1. More like guidelines

Some people are real sticklers for the rules of NaNoWriMo. I’m not. I once extended my NaNoWriMo project until the New Year because November isn’t over UNTIL I SAY IT’S OVER. I always found I got a lot less stressed about NaNoWriMo when I didn’t take it quite as seriously and that way, it was easier to balance writing with everything else going on in my life.

 

  1. It’s not for everyone

I’ve tried NaNoWriMo a couple of times now and on balance, I’ve decided it’s not for me. I could do it fairly easily when I was a student, but that was because I was on a course where I only had ten hours of class time per week.

giphy nap
It was blissful. (Image: giphy.com)

Now I have a full-time job, I find it way too stressful. NaNoWriMo has taught me a lot about the discipline required to finish a novel, and writing every day has helped me get into some really good habits, but I find the obsession with word counts kind of counter-productive. The structure was really helpful, but now that I’ve taken that framework and made it work for me I don’t find the old model quite so useful any more. I learned a lot, but it stopped being something I did every year a long time ago.

 

 

And that’s it! My advice for surviving NaNoWriMo. Hopefully some of you will find this helpful. It’s very easy to get swept up in NaNo Fever – it can be really fun, and it taught me some good writing habits which I still use. But I don’t think anyone should take it too seriously. It’s a good way to get into writing longer projects, but it doesn’t have to be the only way you write.

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Book Recipes: How to Write Folk Horror

Time for another book recipe! Because it is October, the spookiest month, we’re going to be looking at folk horror. Grab your most flickery torches, we’re heading to the country. But, y’know, the creepy bits.

 

Ingredients:

  • One creepy village
  • A hapless, city-bred idiot
  • Spooky trees
  • A grab-bag full of miscellaneous Celtic imagery
  • Sinister villagers, possibly with catchphrases
  • A beautiful woman who is totally not going to betray the hapless idiot, honest
  • A contrived reason to stop your characters going home or calling the police
  • A bunch of straw, just, like, everywhere

 

Method:

  1. Prepare your creepy setting. Your village should be isolated, surrounded by spooky trees and have a bunch of, like, straw bales and that lying around. Because it’s the country.
  2. Enter your hapless city-boy. It doesn’t matter why he’s here – all that matters is that he is 100% definitely going to die.
  3. Oh boy, sure is spooky in this spooky village! We’re not leaving though. There’s still seventeen steps to go.
  4. Let’s meet some spooky villagers! They like to stand around and say meaningless but creepy things. It’s a quaint countryside pastime.
giphy swan
That and chasing swans. (image: giphy.com)
  1. Introduce your beautiful woman to the hapless idiot. She’s not like the other villagers – she’s hot.
  2. A mysterious thing has happened! Better investigate. Ooh, look at how Celtically spooky things are.
  3. Have another encounter with some spooky villagers. They’ll say cryptic things at you, but it’s probably fine. This is just what passes for fun when you can’t get reliable internet.
  4. Have a brief moment of contact with the outside world. Your hapless idiot could go home, but he won’t, because I said so and this is my blog.
  5. But oh look, here comes the only babe in the village! We can leave later – once we’ve got her number, amirite??
  6. The village’s resident hottie agrees to help the hapless idiot investigate the spooky things. It’s not a trap.
  7. Uh-oh, things are definitely getting spookier! Uncover some sort of vaguely mystic Celtic nonsense that’ll set things up for the final act.
  8. Have an encounter with a spooky villager, but, like, a really scary one. If you end up running through the woods, you’re doing it right.
giphy snow forest
See, Snow gets it. (image: giphy.com)
  1. Oh no, someone has attacked the village hottie and NOW WE MUST SAVE HER. Celebrate by making out a bunch.
  2. One last encounter with the outside world! The hapless idiot is offered the chance to leave, but he doesn’t take it because the clue’s in his name.
  3. Spooky things are happening more often! Almost like there’s only five steps to go…
  4. Uncover the village’s spooky, spooky secret. It’s, like, totally scary.
  5. Oh no, a thing has happened which means you can’t leave the village!
  6. The village hottie reveals that she was working with the rest of the creepy villagers all along! You feel so betrayed – but mainly you feel scared, because they all want to kill you.
  7. Run away! Time for a last-minute dash to safety. Here’s where you find out if all your cardio paid off…
  8. Hooray, you made it! Back in civilisation, you’re totally safe from creepy straw bales and corn dollies – until HAHA SURPRISE THE SPOOKY GOT YOU

The End. OR IS IT??

 

Tips:

  • Always set it in autumn. It is the spookiest season.
  • Don’t feel you have to get specific about the kind of spooky stuff that’s going on. Just make vague allusions to Celtic-sounding things and you’ll probably be fine.
  • Make sure to talk about the full moon at least three times.
  • Keep the technology to a minimum. Googling the spooky stuff is all well and good, but it’s nowhere near as effective as looking it up in a mysterious old tome.
Vampyr
AKA The Buffy Principle. (image: buffy.wikia.com)
  • Always have your creepy villagers say something like ‘you don’t belong here’, or ‘we don’t take kindly to strangers round these parts’.
  • If in doubt, chuck in some vague paganism.
  • Make good use of your agricultural props. Corn dollies – check. Rusty old farm tools – check. Spooky scarecrows – double check. Blue plastic tarps and government-subsidised windfarms – maybe not.

 

And here’s one I prepared earlier…

 

John turned up the collar of his jacket against the cold. Wind whistled through the trees as he approached the old pub in the distance. The lights in the windows were the only signs of life for miles around. But it would be worth it. In a place like Grimbrooke, he could write his masterpiece.

There was no better place for an aspiring writer. No Internet, no TVs and only one phone line in the whole village – in short, there would be no distractions. True, every time he passed an animal it turned its head and hissed at him, but that was probably just a countryside thing. He’d never been great with cows.

A shape loomed out of the darkness. John flinched and swung his torch around; it was only a scarecrow. Dressed in a ragged old smock and with a carved pumpkin for a head, it had one arm propped up to point towards the pub. Rustling came from the field behind it.

“How convenient!” he said.

He kept walking. The road was narrow and winding, and overshadowed by trees on both sides. Every now and then the path twisted, blocking out the lights in the pub windows, and he was left stranded in the dark. He wished he’d been able to get the taxi driver to take him all the way up to the pub doors. He’d asked, but the man had shuddered and said “Be nowt in Grimbrooke for the likes o’ ye,” and he’d driven off before John had worked out what accent he was supposed to have.

He passed by another scarecrow. For some reason, this one was hanging from a tree by a noose, pumpkin head grinning. He looked at it for a little while and decided that it made sense. It was definitely scarier that way.

There was some more rustling. John ignored it. It was probably just the wind – but then, a man dressed all in black stepped out of the trees. He was old, with a scraggly beard and wide, staring eyes.

He made a vaguely agricultural noise before saying “Tha’d best go home, stranger.”

“Hello,” said John. That was probably what the old guy had meant. “Can you tell me if I’m on the right path for The Grimbrooke Arms? I can hardly see where I’m going with all these trees.”

The old man wheezed at him. “T’Grimbrooke Arms? Aye, ‘tis yonder. But why ye should go tae such a dark and eldritch place, on tonight of all nights…”

John was still struggling with the accent. “Eldritch? Isn’t that just a sort of square?”

The old man waved a knobbly finger in John’s face. “Dinnae come roond here wi’ yer fancy city ways and yer Pratchett references! We Grimbrookers are a proud people, ootsider, and ye’ve no business here!”

“I’m sorry,” said John, wondering how far away they were from the Scottish border, “I didn’t mean to upset you.”

The old man nodded and fell into step beside him. “Aye, well, tha knows nowt of the old ways.”

The pub was growing closer now. John could see the little round windows and the big bales of straw stacked up outside. They passed by some more scarecrows. They all had pumpkins instead of heads – one of them with a knife stuck in it – and their ragdoll bodies had been bent to spell out the word ‘NOPE’.

“What are the old ways?”

The old man chuckled, spookily. “If tha goes t’Grimbrooke Arms, tha’ll find out.”

“Look,” said John, finally cracking, “where exactly are you from?”

The old man ignored him and pointed up at the pub. The trees had thinned back to show a small, squat building hunkered down beside a river. There were two more pumpkin-headed scarecrows outside: one holding a long, red candle and a tall pitchfork, and the other holding up the specials board.

“’Tis yer last chance, stranger,” said the old man. “Tha stands at a crossroads. Doon one path lies the familiar, doon the other leads…well, doom. Only tha can choose.”

John shifted his backpack higher onto his shoulder. “I’m just here to write a book.”

The old man looked interested. “Will ye put me in it?”

“If you like.”

“Then I’ll give tha three pieces of advice. One: dinnae trust a crow. Two: keep away fra’ the auld Grimbrooke estate, ye’ll find nae comfort there. And three – ” and now, he beckoned John closer, and whispered in his ear “ – try the special. They’ve a kale and quinoa-stuffed butternut squash yonder that’s to die for.”

 

My full book-cookbook can be found here. Let me know what you’d like me to look at next – and as always, take this recipe with a pinch of salt.

Alice-In-Wonderland-I-See-What-You-Did-There
Heh heh heh. (image: replycandy.com)