Week Three of Nanowrimo is to me at least, a little bit like crossing the Himalayas with a big purple handbag and a paper umbrella. Not that I’ve ever attempted any such thing of course, not even with the right equipment, but I can imagine the cold, the fear, the exhilaration of simply surviving without a safety net. And survival is the key word for our third week.
By now some of you may be either loving or hating your stories. I’m somewhere in the middle. One good thing is that I had a breakthrough last week when I finally got my random characters to meet up with each other. A whole new plot development much more in keeping with my original intention of working with the theme of “doorways” appeared and I’ve been much happier with the way things are moving.
In case you’re currently stuck in the “hating the manuscript” stage, here are some tricks that under normal circumstances would make an editor want to strangle you but can also save your sanity until you reach the 50,000 mark:
* Go off on tangents. If you can think it, then write it. It doesn’t matter if your sudden fascination with the history of gloves or crystal healing therapies has nothing to do with what you had hoped the story would cover. Seize every wild idea and get it down on paper. There’s a reason why you want this new direction; respect it.
* Transitions. If you’re having trouble figuring out how to get your characters off the mountain or out of New York, don’t stop to worry about the “how.” The “drop down” (four spaces between paragraphs) is your best friend here. In the writing classes I teach, I often warn people away from the overuse of the drop down because it can look lazy or choppy on the page, but during Nanowrimo the only rule is whatever it takes to keep those pens or keyboards moving.
* Alternatively, you can go very, very sloooow. Record each pebble and Sherpa coming down the mountainside. Describe the ponies; give them names, genealogies; take five whole pages to comment on the snowflakes and get to the next outcropping of rock. Words, people! It’s all about words! You can cut and revise next month. And you might be very, very glad you know the names of those ponies.
* “It was all a dream!” Yes, this is one time you can do this guilt-free. If your story is truly driving you nuts have someone wake up, shake his head, and then start the real story.
* Hallucinations. Like dreams, your characters may have been just imagining they were in your Nanowrimo effort. Give them a quick antidote to whatever poison was in their veins, and send them off to a fresh plot. (And think of all those words you don’t have to write. They’re done, behind you.)
* If your MC is boring you to tears, turn him or her into the villain. Likewise, try turning your villain into the sympathetic lead.
* It’s suddenly the end of the world! Run for the hills! How will your characters cope? Go for it.
* Declare war—on something. If your characters are becoming weak and lifeless, give them a cause. It can be politics, the environment, sick animals, or anything that suddenly gives your characters some passion about something worth fighting for.
* Kill your MC’s best friend. Cruel but sometimes necessary to plumb emotional depths (or lack of them).
* Burn the house down. Give your characters entirely new surroundings and belongings. Use magazine cut-outs to refurnish and describe their new homes.
* Amnesia. Take a cue from the soaps. If your MC can’t remember what’s happened in the first half of your manuscript, great. You can forget all about it too. Now what was it you really wanted to write?
Tip of the day: Whether you’re writing for Nanowrimo or simply working on a new journal entry, your only commitment to a first draft is to write what makes you happy and keeps you inspired. If you don’t like what you’re writing, stop! Take a deep breath and start over. You can still keep your word count and best of all, you’re now free to find what it is that truly interests you.