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Get What You Want from NaNoWriMo – Part 4: Jump Starts and Test Drives

October 30, 2012

Back to Part 3: Quantity over Quality

While National Novel Writing Month serves well as practice, it can also serve as more serious writing. If you are well prepared and know you can handle the word count, NaNoWriMo can boost your regular writing routine.

Revitalize an Old Project

A confession: I sometimes break the “rules” of NaNoWriMo. I never count words that I wrote before the month began in my final count, but I sometimes choose stories that I’ve already begun writing instead of something new. I have many unfinished drafts that have stalled for one reason or another; I got tired of them, or I got stuck in a plot hole, or I had more important projects take precedence, or life simply got in the way. I admit that I’m not that great at follow-through. Getting back into one of these interrupted stories isn’t always easy, especially if other stories have taken their place in my attention. NaNoWriMo can jump start these abandoned projects to give them new life.

Whether or not I have successfully revived a project has always depended entirely on why I dropped it in the first place. If I got stuck, that usually means there’s a problem I haven’t consciously identified. In that case, NaNoWriMo won’t unstick a story unless I identify the problem–and the solution–before November. If I stopped because I got distracted, then it depends, again, on why. Sometimes it means the original story was just boring and can be safely left to die. However, if life intruded or another project was more urgent, there may still be life left.

The Threads That Bind, which I’m currently revising, is such a case. I let two years lapse between the first half, my NaNo story for 2008, and the second half, which I picked up again for NaNo 2010. Other stories took my attention in between, but I knew I wanted to finish Threads and not let it languish forever. Today, it sits at the center of my writing life because I used NaNoWriMo as an opportunity to pick it up again.

If you decide to revive an old project for NaNoWriMo, the key is awareness of yourself and your story:

  • Know why you originally stopped writing the story, and be certain it still has life in it. Pick a story that you still love in spite of whatever derailed it in the past.
  • Re-read your existing draft so you know where to pick up the story. If it stalled because of a problem in the story, start writing again from a point in the storyline before that problem first appeared.
  • Unless the first part of the story was also written for NaNoWriMo, in which case both parts will need extra attention in the revision stage, expect the new writing to be messier and require more revision later. On the other hand, especially if you have let it sit for a long time, you may discover that your writing has improved in the meantime.

Cheat on Your Current Project

Speaking of shiny new story ideas tempting you away from your current work, sometimes you just need a break, but it remains difficult to return once you’ve drifted away. NaNoWriMo gives you a set, 30-day period in which you can explore other possibilities, so you can take a break but have a clearly defined end-point at which to go back to your main project. Moreover, you can use that time as a test drive of your shiny new ideas to see if they’ve got what it takes to become a serious project later on.

Note: I advise against taking this approach in your human relationships.

As far as writing is concerned, however, this is the approach I’ve found most useful overall and the one I’m taking this November. The Threads That Bind started out this way, and now that another idea is trying to tempt me away from my revisions on Threads, I’ll give myself a vacation and give the new idea one month to prove itself.

To be effective, you have to take this approach with a more deliberate and thoughtful attitude than you may need for some of the others, but it can still end up at least as messy as the freewriting approach. As you write, you’ll be looking for the story’s potential–as well as potential problems.

  • Treat everything that you come up with as the epitome of the word “tentative.” This approach may end up as more of a rough outline rather than something that could reasonably be called a draft. When it’s time to revise, you may find that a complete rewrite from scratch is in order, but you’ll be working with a better idea of what works and what doesn’t for the story.
  • Write notes to yourself as you go along. Mark places where you think you’ll want to add or change things later. Mark places where you get bored or frustrated as possible trouble spots. Mark places where you’ll need to come up with explanation, backstory, worldbuilding, or other information that you haven’t figured out yet. Mark places where you have ideas for how to tie things together further into the story as well as places where you have no idea what’s going on.
  • Don’t restrict yourself to working in order. If you get bored and want to skip to a more exciting scene, do that. Good chance it’ll turn out there’s a problem in the scene you skipped, or it’s one you don’t need anyway. If you’re not sure how to get your characters from point A to point B, skip the transitions and just teleport them. Write what excites you first, and see how it all fits together later.

What’s right for one writer isn’t necessarily what’s right for another, and what’s right for me may not be what’s right for you. But I hope that by describing the different approaches I’ve taken to National Novel Writing Month you’ll have a better idea of how to approach your own experience.

If you’re participating in NaNoWriMo this year, what approach do you intend to take? Is it one of the ones I’ve explored in this blog series, or are you going another direction altogether? If you’ve done NaNoWriMo more than once before, what has worked best for you? Let me know in the comments!

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. October 31, 2012 6:16 pm

    For the Novel that I am currently editing I wrote several outlines before starting. So for NaNoWriMo I am going with full on free writing, I have a main character, and a genre, fantasy/comedy and I plan to throw in an silly idea that comes my way.

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  1. Get What You Want from NaNoWriMo – Part 3: Quantity Over Quality « Anita M. King – Writing Window

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