It’s the first day of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo, for short)! For the first time in seven years, I’m not starting out November 1st in a mad rush to get words on the screen, which is simultaneously a relief and a little sad-making. I’m kind of envious of those who are taking part in it this year, especially today. Today, it’s all about enthusiasm and possibility. Today, the words flow freely and it’s all you can do to type (or scribble in your notebook) fast enough to keep up with all of the ideas in your head. Today, you’re just starting your trek up Everest, and there is no doubt in your mind that you’ll conquer the mountain, and it’s all excitement and adrenaline and not at all a struggle or a drudgery. Enjoy this day, my little Nano-padawans.
I want to share a piece of advice for when that uphill climb becomes a bit steeper and less of a joy. Hopefully, if you’re writing the sort of book that requires research, you did that work in October; but either way, there’s going to be a point where you need to look something up–whether it’s to check your spelling or grammar, or to fact-check something, or find out the correct way to do something, or to look up baby names and meanings to help you name a new character that just popped up in your story. And you’re going to want to stop writing and go look it up. I’m here to tell you, don’t.
This might seem painfully obvious, but I’m sure there are some for whom this will be a revelation, maybe THE revelation that helps them keep going and get to 50,000 words. Don’t lose your momentum by stopping mid-stream to go look something up. Make a note in brackets about what it is you need to research, and flag it in the margin to make it easier to find later, and then KEEP GOING. If you need to name a character, give him or her a generic name and KEEP GOING (in my first draft of Dominion of the Damned, I had a set of minor characters named Guy, Other Guy and Dude. They got actual names in the second draft). Not sure how to spell something? Make your best guess, highlight it in red, and KEEP GOING.
This rule doesn’t only apply to looking things up. It also comes in handy for tough scenes, such as scenes that require choreography, like fight scenes or love scenes. I’ve had rough drafts with entire scenes summed up thusly: [INSERT EPIC BATTLE HERE]. This works especially well for NaNoWriMo, because you can come back to these bracketed placeholders toward the end of the month, when most of the story is down and you still need to build your word count, and you’ve had plenty of time in your non-actively-writing hours to contemplate what those scenes look like. Then you can go back and unleash your pent up writer fury on those scenes.
But the point, in case you missed it, is this: KEEP GOING! Don’t let anything break your stride or slow your momentum. Fact-checking, spell-checking, finding the perfect character name, etc. is what second drafts are for. It’s what the other months of the year are for. But this is November, and your only job this month is to WRITE LIKE THE WIND.