This year I’m going to participate in National Novel Writing Month, aka NaNoWrMo.
I have had a fantasy in my head for a very long time. In this fantasy, I received a box with Clarkian-magic* stones in it that had the ability to do at least 3 really cool things: generate gravity, change any matter to energy and create any matter it has seen from energy stored in it, and view any where from a distance.
It was a cool personal fantasy, but a fantasy isn’t a novel. (Even when it is a fantasy novel ). In a novel things don’t always go the way you planned. And it isn’t about you.
This year I’ve decided to turn my fantasy into a novel. I decided to participate in NaNoWrMo, which I had heard of before, but thought was kind of crazy. I mean write a whole novel in 30 days? Stupid. Even a relatively short novel like the 50,000 word goal for the contest.
But once you break it down to what it is, you are really just writing something that is 50,000 words long. A worthy and inspiring goal.
Why Write A Novel
The decision to write a novel came from two desires in my life. Firstly I wanted to do something where I didn’t have to depend on other people at all. Secondly I wanted to have a good deep work project.
I’ve got a number of very important and big projects in my life right now, starting LaunchAPod as a business, creating a new Toastmasters club in Abilene, being Public Relations Manager for District 25, and redoing the D25 website. The success of all of these projects depends on my motivating and leading others. Something I’m interested in learning and doing, and I have good people to work with. But still, I wanted something in my own hands.
I also read Cal Newport’s book Deep Work in September. It revolutionized how I work and how I organize my time. He makes a compelling argument for the fact our increasingly distracted lives are literally messing with our brains. He also contends that even as our environment increasingly distracting, the value of being able to focus, work, and think deeply has never been higher.
Writing is a classic example of deep work. It is also one that doesn’t require collaboration. So writing is what I’m going to do.
NaNoWrMo is all about having a goal. Specifically a 50,000 word goal. That is 1666 words every day of November. To write like that you need to have time set aside every day to do the deep work of writing.
One thing I already know is if you sit down to write but don’t know what you are going to be writing that day you can waste a lot of time staring at a blank screen. So I decided to prepare for my writing by creating an outline.
I don’t like outlines. I’ve written outlines and treatments before for stories. Then once I got those written the story was out of my head and I didn’t care enough to sit down day in and day out to actually write it.
I have a couple of things going for me this time. First I’m not doing a complete outline. I’ve created scenes in Scrivener, my writing tool, but they aren’t all there. In this process I’ve learned a lot about how a plot develops and how much of the cool meat of a story is in the single scenes. I like writing scenes with emotion. Every scene needs to have a beginning and ending feeling for the main character in that scene. If there isn’t a change in feeling, the scene probably doesn’t need to be there.
In the past I’ve looked at plot as what needs to happen. Getting from point A to B. Scenes are about information. Each has something you tell the reader so they understand how to get to the next scene.
But really a great story makes the reader feel something. A great scene leaves their eyes burning, or their heart pumping. It makes you care. That is my goal. The outline is just a map.
Second I’ve got deep work habits on my side. Since I read Cal’s book I’ve started scheduling out segments of time to do deep work on each of my projects. Instead of just popping from to-do to to-do, I schedule blocks of time to do nothing but one project. Turn off the email and other distractions and just do that thing. Generally for an hour.
Then I track each day if I’ve done each of my tasks on a calendar I’ve printed. The idea is to build up streaks of work I don’t want to break. I call this ‘streak-tracking’ and it looks like the featured image of this post.
The three things I’ve streak-tracked all of October were, Morning Pages, Toastmasters and Writing. Morning pages are 20 minutes of free writing every morning. Toastmasters is the new club or the new website. Writing has been preparing to write mostly, but sometimes you just have to write the scene.
As you can see from the image, I’ve done a pretty good job keeping my streaks. Now I have momentum. I have a habit of writing an hour every day. Plus the work I’ve done during these session is the foundation of the writing for November.
Don’t expect me to blog a lot about the writing. If I can write a 1000 word blog post I can write 1000 words on the novel.
If you want to keep track of my progress you can use my NaNoWrMo stats page. I’m also working on how to add a progress bar to my side bar.
Wish me luck.
* As in Arthur C. Clark’s famous quote, “Any sufficiently advanced science is indistinguishable from magic.”