You’ve seen the calendar. You’ve felt the familiar, tingly, anticipatory dread. Soon you’ll need every ounce of energy, courage and on-your-feet creativity you can muster lest you be overwhelmed and sucked into the madness of despair.
That’s right, National Novel Writing Month is coming fast, and woe unto the writer caught unawares!
National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is, as everyone knows, the annual assault on the dignity of literature wherein would-be authors strive to extrude 50,000 words in 30 days, rain or shine.
Begun in 1999 when writer Chris Baty convinced 20 hapless friends to get over the psychological fear of writing a book by whomping out something that at least looked like one, NaNoWriMo demands all-out, verbs-to-the-wall writing without time to edit or second-guess. Writers who traditionally get stuck creating The Perfect First Sentence find themselves discovering the heady joys of spewing thoughts out in an exhilarating rush, like champagne from a paint mixer, with similar results.
Me, I’m ready. Not with anything remotely resembling a plot, outline or even a concept beyond “This guy does some stuff, and there’re zombies,” of course. That’s beginner stuff. The tricky part is hitting that magic word count every day even if you have to make words up, like Shakespeare did. In previous years I’ve advised you to spell out acronyms, include texts of public domain works, and have all your characters stutter, but those were childish, amateurish methods. Here are my new surefire, never-fail tips, each one guaranteed to improve your novel by several inches.
Make sure all of your characters have at least four middle names. Good ol’ boy Southern names are good for this; so are Victorian ladies. And wouldn’t it be an interesting book that managed to have both?
If you have the nerve you could make your main character a Viking who refers to himself by his entire clan name at every opportunity. “Get out of the car Michelle, before I, Olaf, son of Olaf, son of Olafson, son of Olaf the Mighty, son of Olaf Bearsmiter, son of Olaf the Unwieldy, son of Olaf Horntoader, kick your headlights in! Honey?”
Readers are tired of people solving crimes. Why not have your characters solve crossword puzzles? Provide hints and wrong guesses, to add intrigue.
Wikipedia is your friend. “Warden, you want me to rat on my buddy? Not for all the tea in China! Which, by the way, was made from tea bricks prior to the Ming Dynasty when Emperor Hung-wu decreed that tributes of tea to the court were to be changed from brick to loose-leaf form. So fry me, cuz I ain’t talkin’!”
Anyone using a gadget in your book should be sure to read the instructions first, including the French and German translations. It’s just good sense. Also, foods are much more interesting if your descriptions include ingredients and nutritional values.
Record everything you say for an entire day and then transcribe it. That oughtta be good for a chapter of criminally boring dialogue. Or three original movies for Showtime.
Don’t delete anything. Ever. If you end up with large chunks of plot that no longer make sense, leave ’em in and make them fever dreams and traumatic acid-trip flashbacks.
Let your main character include chapters of his novel, which coincidentally looks like the one you wrote for last year’s NaNoWriMo. It worked for John Irving.
Never write about a man when you can endlessly exclaim about a young, asthmatic, intelligent, Republican, acrobatic, upwardly mobile, cross-dressing, cheese-wearing Rumanian man with scabies.
Word-spewing aside, the fun of NaNoWriMo is in the nonstop adrenaline rush and the welcoming, worldwide community of similarly anguished writers — 42,000 last year — who are always ready to offer tips on character names, foolproof ways to hide a frozen body, and the best place to get a drink in Guatemala in 1973. Local WriMos gather together for mutual support and commiseration, and it turns out that writer’s block is easier to beat when you have backup.
If you’ve ever dreamed of maybe, someday, writing a novel, that day is Nov. 1. Don’t be afraid. Over 42,000 people joined up last year and there’ll be more this time around, so you’ll have plenty of company.
And, when they’re not looking, you can steal their words.