I would find it hard to believe that I have a reader who hasn’t heard of NaNoWriMo, but just in case, NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month. Every November, a few hundred thousand people set out to write a 50,000 word novel. There are meet-ups and pep talks and social events, word count trackers and message boards, and rumor has it that at least 9 New York Times best-sellers got their start as a NaNo project, The Night Circus, Water for Elephants, and Fangirl among them.
Every November when I set out to join the NaNo crowd, I… freeze. I immediately lose all ability to write a coherent sentence and all inclination to sit at my keyboard. I did manage to write 50,000 words one year, but mostly it was journal-style writing about my inability to write. It was definitely not fiction. The last couple years I haven’t even bothered to try, because I had better things to do than sit around hating myself. Feeling like a failure is not my favorite life experience.
But this year, I’m going to try again. Not because I like sitting around hating myself, but because I need to break through my self-editing obsession. I’ve been working on Fen, but I haven’t even made it out of the first chapter yet. It’s not how I want to write.
I wrote A Lonely Magic in a mad gush of writing joy — I’d been thinking about it for a while, but I wrote the first draft in six weeks, constantly lunging to my keyboard for just a few more lines. I remember getting up in the middle of dinner with promises to be right back, because I just had to get the perfect sentence down before I forgot it. It was completely fun. I want that again. And I’m thinking that NaNo might be a way to find it although obviously, not the way I’ve done it in the past, because that didn’t work.
So here’s the new plan: I’m going to start with a project that has lots of scope for imaginative craziness. Right now the three options are 1) an inter-galactic adventure about a museum of mysterious artifacts, with a magic heroine; 2) a post-apocalyptic magical world with a reluctant adventurer heroine; 3) Fen without worrying about continuity, logic, world-building or characterization, just writing as fast and as fun as I can. Today, I’m leaning toward the first of those options, but I’ll make the decision on Thursday.
Meanwhile, here’s the game. Every time I get stuck, I’m going to set a timer. If I hit ten minutes on the timer without managing to make any progress, I’m going to roll a 20-sided die. (Unless an actual die comes my way in the next few days, I’ll use a online dice-roll generator.) I will then write according to the below instructions.
1) Switch the point-of-view to another character
2) Write an unexpected sound and the characters’ reactions to it. How does it change the scene?
3) How can the POV character say “yes, and…”? Write that.
4) Immediately make the challenge facing the POV character more difficult. (The challenge can either be the overall story challenge or something in the current scene.)
5) Write an Aha! moment for any character, a moment of discovery or inspiration, within the current scene.
6) Some detail of a character’s past is important in how they’re perceiving the current situation: fill in the details.
7) What does the POV character believe a non-POV character thinks/feels/believes in this moment, and how are they reading it/perceiving it? (Body language, voice, actions?). Write it.
8) Give the POV character a reason to laugh. (What might make the POV character laugh in the current moment?)
9) The POV character smells something: what is it and what does it mean to her?
10) An object in the setting matters: what is it, what does it look like, how did it get there, why is it important?
11) Reveal a clue to someone’s secret without giving the secret away. Might require giving your characters some secrets.
12) An animal enters the scene. Plot bunny!
13) Add a physical detail (or two or three) to make the setting more vivid.
14) A character has a question: what is it?
15) Delete the last three paragraphs and take the story in a different direction.
16) Write one line to end the scene, add a break, start again in a new setting/time.
17) Give the character a physical want or need — hunger, sore feet, thirst, need to pee, aches and pains, oncoming cold, allergies, tired, etc. — and help them resolve it.
18) Go to chaoticshiny.com and use a random generator to create something story-appropriate and add it to the story. (A monster, an artifact, a character, a setting… whatever would help with the stuck-ness.)
19) Ninjas hop out of the closet — probably not literal ones. But write something that forces your characters to move. Bonus point if the movement includes a fight.
20) Go eat some chocolate. If necessary, go to the store and buy the chocolate first. Then give your POV character an equivalent treat, whatever would make her as happy as that chocolate is going to make you.
Yes, I had fun inventing these yesterday. I also read a lot of blog posts about writer’s block, most of which were annoying. It’s astonishing to me how many people think you can cure writer’s block by taking a walk or reading a book or doing something other than writing. Personally, that doesn’t work for me at all. The only way I know to cure writer’s block is to write. But I’m hoping that this game gives me a way to focus the words I’m trying to write when I’m having trouble coming up with them. I’m also hoping that I roll a lot of 20s and not so many 15s. Or 3s, for that matter, which feels like a hard one. But I will, of course, keep you posted!
And if you’re participating in NaNo yourself and want to be my writing buddy — although I just discovered that I’ve had messages in my NaNo mail since 2015, oops — I’m Wyndes on the NaNo boards. Looking forward to a playful and fun writing month!