NaNoWriMo: Coping with Defeat

Five more days. NaNoWriMo is about done, and yep, you’re still more than 10,000 words short? Tried writing during the turkey cooking, and both ended up in flames?

Great news! You’re done for, and it’s about time you celebrate!

That’s why we’re Writing All Wrong.

Writing A. Wrong:

Pretend its the beginning of the month. What do I tell myself since I didnt make 50,000 this year for NaNo.
—Caryn Lefevers, Dothan, Ala. 

(Note: NaNoWriMo is short for Narcissistic Nonsense Writing Motivation or something like that. Simple premise: write a “novel” of fifty-thousand words within the month of November. The prize? Fifty-thousand dollars. In the competition’s 197-year history, only five writers have claimed the prize.)

Since it’s the beginning of the month, here’s how you should plan when you come short of the goal. Planning the coping ahead of time — it helps.

—Use the material for writing your Christmas cards.

—Solicit some readership and see what kick they get from the “truncated ending.”

—Your unfinished NaNoWriMo opus: free wrapping paper.

—Shred and re-arrange: three month’s worth of beat poetry reading.

—Long-form status updates.

—Many, many, many Tweets.

—Condense into a short story.

—Condense again into a haiku.

Those cute little fridge magnets that you can shape into Dadaist interpretations of failed NaNoWriMo novels.

—Black hat SEO for your blog.

—Platonic sexting.

—Messages in bottles.

—Make an ePub and read it on your “Incomplete Works of Me” eReader.

—Print “NaNoWriMo Winner 2012” shirts, send to Africa.

—Start some cheesy “one line at a time” contest to see your story to completion.

—Send the last paragraph to WritingAllWrong@me.com to see what’s recommended for continuation, should you choose to continue.

—Print your work and use the pages to light yourself on fire.

Writing All Wrong can be reached via email (WritingAllWrong@me.com) and followed on Twitter (@WritingAllWrong).

NaNoWriMo – Know Failure? No Failure (next year).

November 28th. NaNoWriMo is just about done.

And if you’re done before the novel’s done?

That’s why we’re Writing All Wrong.

I might as well stick a fork in it. I’m done! No, I didn’t finish the novel, so I’m writing to find out how I can improve for next year. (and I read all of your advice so far, it DID help). Thanks! But how do I turn my mistakes in not finishing into success of finishing for next year?

—Barry Whitehall, Surrey, N.D. 

(Note: NaNoWriMo is short for Narcissistic Nonsense Writing Motivation or something like that. Simple premise: write a “novel” of fifty-thousand words within the month of November. The prize? Fifty-thousand dollars. In the competition’s 196-year history, only three have claimed the prize.)

Gotta keep this one tight. Christmas is coming.

While I’d normally suggest a look at what a failing performance you turned in over November, well, I don’t see why I wouldn’t suggest that right about now. But here’s how you give yourself that “exit interview,” that honest assessment, free of poisonous positive thinking.

The memories of the temporal element fade fast. Rarely do we remember how long things seem to take—only in the present does the concept of time seem clear. Every day passing is clouding your perception of how much time you had in the month. Look back at the calendar, your bank account, your medical bills: find evidence of where the wheels came off. Mismanaging time is a fair assessment, but it’s hard to spot, even with hindsight.

What you wrote shouldn’t fade as fast. Read back through it next year. Don’t look back anytime soon. You now have the luxury of reading this fairly. If you know how to read, you can see where you were cruising along, (the vigorous romantic tension between your stilted fantasy characters, describing backstories, more romantic cliché) and where you hit the potholes and mudpits (storytelling, dialogue, anything of substance).

In short, first mull over the memory of managing time. Find those traps that had nothing to do with the writing. And next year, if you can bear the stench of your novelcreature, find what’s right, and find what’s rotten. Makes less rotten, make more right.

And see you at the finish line of NaNoWriMo next year.

We’ll resume the steady stream of evergreen writing tips, tricks, and cheats next week.

Writing All Wrong can be reached via email (WritingAllWrong@me.com), followed on Twitter (@WritingAllWrong), and probed for more NaNoWriMo nectar during the month.

NaNoWriMo 501 — Salvage the Story

November 21st. NaNoWriMo ends in 9 days. And since you’re either unemployed, or your job gives you two weeks off for Thanksgiving (like everyone else), you’re well poised to race downhill to an easy finish. That’s if you’re competent, able to finish things you start (unlike anyone else).

On that note, for your edification: here are the top five reasons people don’t hit the 50,000 mark:

  1. Children
  2. Employment
  3. Smallpox
  4. Accidental death or dismemberment
  5. Running out of writing gas / Creative engine failure.

That last reason is an absolute sham.

That’s why we’re Writing All Wrong.

I’m stuck. I have thousands of words to go, but I’m literally, definitively, assuredly stuck. I feel like I ran the novel in a ditch and I can’t get it towed. Is it too late for me to salvage it?

—Breeann Foxton, Beaverton, Ore. 

(Note: NaNoWriMo is short for Narcissistic Nonsense Writing Motivation or something like that. Simple premise: write a “novel” of fifty-thousand words within the month of November. The prize? Fifty-thousand dollars. In the competition’s 196-year history, only three have claimed the prize.)

It’s never too late. Only too soon. I could spin up a whole blog post on the bad practices and habits that fashion failures such as you. I mean, yours. I’m not going to assume that you’re not writing because your kids got in the way or your month-long sabbatical was cut short. No, I’ll try to suggest the things that get the gas back in the tank, get the motor started once again.

1. Write the ending.

Unless you’re recovering from a lobotomy (and somehow writing a novel?), you probably had the ending in mind when you started this thing. Go ahead and write it. You won’t like it. You’ll work backward to fix it. (Editor’s note: This is, in a sense, how I finished my first novel. I went back afterward and put in a peach of a chapter to tie things together.)

2. Rewrite the beginning. 

Daring or draining? Both. You only get so much out of a marathon when you rocket to a start with a sprint. Nice work, hotshot, beating the pack for the first thirty minutes, then careening off to the sidelines, yakking your guts on a hapless water holder. You’re a more mature writer: go back, start the way you meant to. Build different. Let that seep into the vacant crevasses of the work.

3. Materialize that idea you’ve been holding back.

I don’t always bet the farm and the barnyard pals, but when I do, I’d bet that you brewed a semi-decent idea within the stew that became your novel. There’s always some gem of a notion held back, something you want to weave into the fabric. Break out the loom and do it. Save the story.

4. Compare what you think you wrote with what you wrote.

A step of risk, to be sure, as you won’t be towing or pushing the ditched car. You’ll be inspecting it, thigh-deep in mud, wrapping your head around the problem, then the solution. And your novel? Memory taints everything for better or for worse. Go back and read. Don’t skim. That’s when you let memory do more work than it should. Read. There are always lumps in the dough that you don’t see at eye’s first glance. Get the hands in there, press it out. What slosh you penned in fervent madness may stand to use some finer fleshing out in lucid focus.

5. Loan a camel.

There’s a Bedouin parable of a man who bequeathed 23 camels to his three sons, willing that the eldest receive half of the camels, then to the second son, a third, and to the youngest, an eighth. Being mathematically inclined, they worked out the proper solution, but the youngest objected to having the camels vivisected.

Along comes a merchant who hears of their dilemma. He loans them a camel, saying it’ll help sort out the matter. With 24 camels, they divvy it up without needing to divvy up a camel. One half (12), one third (8), and one eighth (3). One camel left over to pay back the merchant. Easy. Those crafty Bedouins, I tell you. You know they founded Bed, Bath, and Beyond, right?

Stories stall when you don’t have enough camels in the caravan to tote a complete narrative. Loan that twenty-fourth camel. Whether it’s a dark side to a character, a burgeoning romance, or some furtive plot point in the subcurrents of the narrative — find something missing that wasn’t missing in the first place. It may be a keeper, you never know. If it isn’t, send that camel back and loan another one.

What do you use to get the narrative out of the ditch and save your story?

Writing All Wrong can be reached via email (WritingAllWrong@me.com), followed on Twitter (@WritingAllWrong), and probed for more NaNoWriMo nectar during the month.