This week’s pep talk comes from Courtney Cantrell. Enjoy!
Greetings and Felicitations, Wordslingers!
And I mean that. Wordslingers. You’re past the gummy shallows of this splashy craze-fest known as JuNoWriMo. Here in Week Two, you’ve waded at least knee-deep into the ooze of creativity and subject-verb-agreement. Maybe you’re even hip-deep. (“Oh heck, it’s up to my neck!” as a certain Shel might say.) Either way, the Writer Is In, and it’s time to sling.
Sling those words. Plunge your arms into the raw, mushy heat of your story, clench your fists around whatever you can, and explode up out of that muck with verve and pizzazz. Fling those words around you like a monkey throwing poo! Don’t worry about what sticks and what doesn’t. You’ll clean up the splatters in July. Right now, your concern is smacking your immediate universe with all the gloppy characters and gooey plot points you possibly can.
If this slime-pit metaphor of wordy imagination is too ick for you, let’s move away from it for a moment.
I’ve participated in NaNoWriMo eight times and won seven; I’ve won JuNoWriMo once, but I’ve been loosely associated with it since its inception. And in this abundance of NaNo-ing, one of the challenges I’ve heard writers bemoan over and over again is the temptation to edit.
You know how it is, lovelies. You sit down at your computer, your typewriter, your pen-n-paper, your reed-n-clay-tablet — and you essay to re-read but a fraction of what you scribbled during your previous writing session. Just to get the juices flowing, y’know. Or maybe you don’t re-read. Maybe you just sit down and launch into the keyboard-pounding frenzy (don’t break your reed stylus, those are delicate). Either way, something catches your eye. Something you wrote prior to this session. You remember a phrase you were unsure about yesterday, and you need — you absolutely NEED — to check over it again. And the next thing you know, you’ve spent an hour nitpicking a paragraph or prodding a recalcitrant sentence into just the right shape….
And ya coulda spent dat hour writin’, kid. Ya coulda been a contendah.
(I just wholly dated myself, and I don’t care.)
(I make an awesome date.)
(I do not create fruit.)
Where was I. Oh yes. NOT TO WORRY. You’re still in the JuNoWriMo running. You’re still a contender. You are still fiercely amazing for even attempting these fabulous writing shenanigans. The point is this: during these month-long noveling capers, the Dread Pirate Editing is a temptation for all? most? many? of us. (I have no stats, just edumacated guesses.) The shadow of the Dread Pirate Editing looms over us, threatening to pillage our time and loot our first draft of progress. ’Cuz that be what ye’re pennin’, me hearties: a 50k-word first draft in the space of a month. (Note: that’s 50k more words than most humans in history ever wrote in their lifetimes.)
And if you give in to the Dread Pirate Editing, you’ll end up wanting to FIX ALL THE THINGS and your novel will taking a looooooong (not to mention wet) walk off a very short plank. (And there are sharks down there. They eat plot bunnies.)
Here I am with the metaphors again. Okay. So, in plain English: if you spend your time polishing words, sentences, and paragraphs — instead of generating new words — you will not reach your June 50k-word goal.
Thus…WHAT TO DO?
I can’t make you exercise self-control and ignore your editing urge. I can’t peer over your shoulder and remind you to get back to making new words instead of fiddling around with the old ones. I wouldn’t do any of that even if I could, because I wouldn’t be doing you or myself any favors.
What I can do is offer just a few practical tips that work for me. Your mileage might (and probably will) vary. If you wanna come find me on Twitter or at my sadly neglected blog, I’m happy to chat it out.
In the meantime, suggestions!
- Recall these tidbits from writers more well-known than I:
- “It is perfectly okay to write garbage — as long as you edit brilliantly.”
—C. J. Cherryh
- “You can fix anything but a blank page.”
- “Write your story, and don’t be afraid to write it.”
—> i.e. DON’T WORRY. JUST W̸̟̜̜͈͇̱̩̍̈́̿̊͜R̸̦̳̲̄̆̐Ī̸̗̮̗̲͙̳͖̳̌̊͋̓̄̐̕͠Ì̶͙̺̻̳͎͈̘͇̩͂͌́͠I̸̪̱̰̠͆͠Î̸̢͈̫Ï̸̧̲̝̝̭̪̽̈́͆̓̓Į̴̻̳͓̠͖̠͇̦͋͋̂͐́͘̕Ĭ̸͈̱̒͑Ì̸̢̛̱͎̭̑̂̃Ỉ̶͔͎̪̲̈́͑̈́͠I̶̗̯̹̱̰̐̽ͅỈ̵͚̻̮̱͎̖͙̖̣̆͆̄̏͊̾̾̾͜͝I̷̢̺͊́́̀̕I̶̡̛̳̥̻̞͎̠̱͂̆́͊Ȋ̴̧͔͔̯̺̙͕̬͖̒̋͝Ĩ̶̩̈͂̿̅̓ͅI̴̥̖͔̘̣̱͓̗͔̽͊̈́̓͊̋͐̒I̸̝͉͓̻̖̓̈̍̓̄̓̃͗͠ͅT̴̠͖̠͕̔̿̋͐̅̈͆̂͝E̶͇͖͙̰̮̾̔ (write).
- Do word sprints.
These are set periods of time — 10 minutes, 20, 30 — during which you force yourself to keep your butt in the chair and make words. Any words. It’s almost a free-association kind of thing.
Just write, write, write. (W̸̟̜̜͈͇̱̩̍̈́̿̊͜R̸̦̳̲̄̆̐Ī̸̗̮̗̲͙̳͖̳̌̊͋̓̄̐̕͠Ì̶͙̺̻̳͎͈̘͇̩͂͌́͠I̸̪̱̰̠͆͠Î̸̢͈̫Ï̸̧̲̝̝̭̪̽̈́͆̓̓Į̴̻̳͓̠͖̠͇̦͋͋̂͐́͘̕Ĭ̸͈̱̒͑Ì̸̢̛̱͎̭̑̂̃Ỉ̶͔͎̪̲̈́͑̈́͠I̶̗̯̹̱̰̐̽ͅỈ̵͚̻̮̱͎̖͙̖̣̆͆̄̏͊̾̾̾͜͝I̷̢̺͊́́̀̕I̶̡̛̳̥̻̞͎̠̱͂̆́͊Ȋ̴̧͔͔̯̺̙͕̬͖̒̋͝Ĩ̶̩̈͂̿̅̓ͅI̴̥̖͔̘̣̱͓̗͔̽͊̈́̓͊̋͐̒I̸̝͉͓̻̖̓̈̍̓̄̓̃͗͠ͅT̴̠͖̠͕̔̿̋͐̅̈͆̂͝E̶͇͖͙̰̮̾̔). Use a timer. When it goes off, stand up, walk
around, get a drink and/or snack, use the restroom, run around the block once. Ten minutes later, get your butt back in the chair and do it again. Look for Twitter hashtags #wordprints #wordmongering #wordgrab and find other Gorgeous Wordslingers Like You(™) online who are sprinting together (or against each other — maybe a little competition will light fires under that cute, melded-to-chair butt of yours).
2. End your writing session in the middle of a sentence that excites you.
I know, this sounds counterintuitive and even downright agonizing. But trust me. If there’s anything that can cannonball you directly into the goopy mass that is your story, it’s sitting down to your next writing session and plunging right into that cramazing sentence you so desperately wanted to finish. Finish it — and then keep going. Do. Not. Stop. Let the momentum carry you like a bulbous sludge-shark hauling you along behind it through the gook. It’ll take you to whatever miry depths you need to reach.
And so, I believe, we arrive back at the muck-slinging glop metaphor. You’ve got this, O Writer! Ye’re a wordslinger, Harry. You wield your words like a mage their wand, an Annie Oakley her gun, a seven-year-old her fistful of mud, a chimp his excrement. Sometimes you make magic. Sometimes you make slop. It’s FINE. That’s exactly what it’s like for every other writer in existence ever. That’s exactly how it’s supposed to be.
Welcome to the party. This is where we dive headfirst into what makes other people wrinkle their noses in disgust, and we have a raucous good time with it. So come on, writer. Jump in. The goop is great. Keep getting your hands dirty.
Courtney Cantrell is the author of twelve book-length works, including: epic fantasy series Legends of the Light-Walkers, paranormal series Demons of Saltmarch, and short story anthology The Elven Dead. She’s also a 7-time NaNoWriMo winner. Her writing career began when she was 8 with “a Tiger that growld”; continued with a bachelor’s degree in creative writing; and most recently grew to encompass epic fantasy murder mysteries (The Priestess Murders, coming soon!). Courtney lives in Oklahoma City with a husband, a daughter, and a hobbitcat.