Saturday, October 26, 2013

NaNoWriMo Writing Tips: How to Hit 50K

Friends, try to picture 50,000 of something. 50,000 pennies, 50,000 chipmunks... 50,000 elephants. It's not an easy number to really picture or fathom. Now try to picture 50,000 words. Not easy, is it? Well, here's a few points of reference for you.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is 30,644 words.
The average book of the Goosebumps series is 18,000-23,000 words.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is 257,154 words.
A Game of Thrones is around 300,000 words.
Ender's Game is 100,609 words.

At a standard 12-point font, double spaced, a printed page of text is about X pages long. So those term papers you did in high school and college (if you're finished or in the process of doing them) suddenly aren't such a big deal, right? But in my experience, it's a zillion times easier to write for NaNo than to do a term paper. Why? Because this is something you WANT to write, not something you HAVE to. You have no grade pending on your completion of this project, no teacher waiting to tear apart your hard work.

This post is going to focus on tools to help boost your word count. I'm not focusing on some of the technical or atmospheric tips I've heard over the years, like finding your best writing time (mine is early in the morning. The earlier, the better) because these are personal things that you have to find out for yourself. I'm going to give hints for getting the most bang for your buck word-wise. And these tips are broken down into two categories: Real Techniques and Cheap Tricks.

Real Techniques

Don't Delete ANYTHING
I mean this. Every word you write for NaNo counts, even if it's a piece of complete crap that takes you to a dead end and you have to go back to the beginning of a scene or chapter and start over again. Don't delete anything. You wrote those words, so own them! I use Scrivener, and it's really easy to open a new little side document and stash those failed attempts at scenes, descriptions, dialogue, or whatever in there. They're words, and they count. Another author I've listened to an interview of does the same thing. Don't think of these as failed attempts or wasted work. Think of them as deleted scenes, just like on DVD extra features. I love those things, actually.

But the point is, that if it's a good word or a bad one, it STILL COUNTS! So do NOT delete anything.

Expound at Great Length
Writers, this is your chance to be as wordy as you would like. I haven't read any Jane Austen, but I've heard that she actually will spend five pages describing a windowsill. As a reader, that's annoying. As a writer, that's a LOT of words. Don't think you have to keep them. If you really want to set your scene and describe the entire line of mountains in the horizon inch-by-inch, do it. If your skyscraper has 100 windows and something going on in each one, then tell us what's going on! Go into as much detail as you like. Flesh everything out. Make your characters give long speeches. You can pare things down later.

Remember, Your First Draft Can (And Most Likely Will) Be Crap
This is a hard lesson to learn. You WILL NOT get your words done perfectly on your first try. Even if you weren't trying to get all these words down quickly, you still would need a few drafts on a book. So don't freak out about getting every sentence pefrectly crafted. That's what rewrites and additional drafts are for. You can deal with that later. For now, just focus on getting the story told. That's what NaNo is for. Telling the story. Just move your characters around. Tell the story, however bad and sloppily you tell it. Lots of typos and puncuation problems? No worries! You can fix that in another draft if trying to spell and punctuate exactly right slows you down. Just write.

Trust me, you don't want to see some of my first drafts. Don't let yourself get hung up on things. Just write. I can't stress that enough.

Yes, that first chapter is crap. That paragraph you wrote yesterday is a mess. Yes, that character you have would be better off being a girl than a guy. Don't waste the time of going back and changing it during NaNo. Once again, this is a FIRST DRAFT! You're going to have to go back and change it later. This is a hard thing to do, but the best thing to do for those problems you've discovered is to make a note and move on. Some other Scrivener users open another document (like the Deleted Scenes one) and leave notes to themselves in them. But if you don't use Scrivener, that can be hard to do.

This is a method I've used for a while, since before I started using Scrivener, and it works with any word processor. If you need to make a note to yourself, put it in a bracket []. I usually put whatever note I need in all caps, too, just for extra emphasis. Later on, when you're editing, you can just do a text search for the left bracket [, and you'll find all your "notes-to-self". Don't know what to name that weird hobo that just walked into the scene? Pop in one of these bad boys- [HOBO NAME]. You can even do a Find and Replace later and change all [HOBO NAME] to Steve. Or whatever you name him. And if you're anal like me, in that first draft, you'll even have [HOBO NAME]'s when you need the possessive, and then it will automatically change it to Steve's when you fix it later.

This sort of notation works for anything from names to full on I-need-to-fix-this-a-lot notes. It's tempting to go back and fix things, but don't do it. When I started writing my superhero novel, The Secret Keeper, I had one of my heroes, Galemaster, fighting a villain in the very first chapter. It wasn't until I was almost done with the chapter that I realized I was writing his powers completely wrong. IN THE FIRST CHAPTER! Did I go back and rewrite? I mean, it's just the first chapter, right? Yeah, but no, I didn't go back. I just popped in one of these bad boys: [FIX GALEMASTER'S POWERS- HE SOLIDIFIES AIR, NOT MAKES IT BLOW]. And I moved on. I'll rewrite the chapter later. But moving forward, I wrote as if I hadn't messed up in the first place. Did you change a character's gender? Move forward like he/she has always been the new gender, and you can fix the earlier stuff in editing. The words count, and you don't have the time to spend fixing errors during NaNo. Once again... JUST WRITE!

Go To Write-Ins
I wish I could go to more write-ins, honestly. But it's hard for me to justify a 20- or 30- minute trip one way when I could be writing. Still, I do try to get to at least one (and sometimes more) write-in during NaNo season. Check with your region to see when and where your local Wrimos get together to write. In Nashville, there are usually two or three a week, and we have at least one big one toward the end of the month.

The point of a write-in is to get together with your laptops and ignore each other while you write. Okay, not really. There's some socializing, lots of writing, and discussion. Also, usually food, even if it's just because we're writing in a side room at Panera. Personally, I love write-ins because it's always a pain to sign into wi-fi at these places (if they offer it) and I don't want to go through the hassle. That makes it easy to eliminate the distractions of Facebook, Twitter, Kongregate, and the internet in general. If I get stuck on a plot point, there are a bunch of other writers willing to listen for a minute while I explain the problem and help me find a solution. And then there's my favorite part about our write-ins: Word Wars!

Participate in Word Wars
I don't use Write or Die ( but I know a lot of people who do. Word Wards function similarly to WoD, only without the hassle of being a computer program. In Nashville, we usually have a few at every write-in. These are great fun and good challenges to write a bunch quickly. Here's how they work:

Someone brings a Box of Doom (or, in Nashville, a Box of Sparkly Doom) which contains a bunch of colored popsicle sticks with different numbers on them. A length of time for the word war is chosen (usually 15 or 30 minutes, but we've done a 60-minute one before). The popsicle sticks are organized by color. For example, red is an easy 15-minute goal, green is a hard 15-minute goal but an easy 30-minute goal, etc. You can choose a stick for whatever kind of challenge you want to set for yourself. Your stick might challenge you to hit 400 words in 15 minutes, for example. Everyone gets a different stick, so you have your own goal to reach. Someone starts a timer, you write, the word war ends, and you have more words!

It's a simple concept really, but doing one every two hours or so can really push you to whip out some good stuff. You don't take time to think, very few people distract themselves with conversation, and you all have fun trying to reach your goal (or passing it). And once it's over, you can all see how you did against your stick and see how much you just wrote. There's no penalty for not hitting your stick-goal, and there's a great prize at the end: WORDS!

Cheap Tricks

Don't Use Contractions
You may not realize it, but you often cheat your self out of words. It's, you're, aren't, isn't... and other contractions are just working against you. If you use one contraction every other sentence, and you have 50 sentences, that's 25 contractions you're using, which is cheating you out of 25 words right there! And in truth, you probably use a lot more than that without realizing it. Stretch them out and avoid apostrophes ro get some easy words. Chaing to "you are" "is not" and so on will give you some quick word boosts.

Oh, no! Just realized you've been using isn't a lot? My old friend Find and Replace can fix that! Pop in to change "isn't" to "is not" and there you go! Instant word jump. Do that for all the contractions you can think of, and watch your numbers jump!

This also works for possessive, but it's a little harder to fix. Instead of "Jeremy's bicycle", change it to "the bicycle that belongs to Jeremy". Much wordier, but harder to change, and this kind of thinking can make the natural writing word flow a little less... flowy. Use with caution.

Give People Long Names and Titles
In my novel Criminal from Birth (my NaNo 2010 project), I had to make a up a religion. And I built it around the concept of a parent-god that serves as both parents in the minds of the clergy and the followers. I could have easily called it the "Parent-God" or something like that. But I wanted my word count, so what did I call it? The God Who is Both Mother and Father. That's 7 words. And I used the whole name every time he/she was mentioned. Easy words, and guess what: when I edited, after NaNo was long over, I changed some of them to "parent god", "dual god" and "twofold god". But the many-word name counted for NaNo, and that's what matters.

Write fantasy with a lot of lords and ladies? List their titles at length, or whenever Duke Franky is around, make sure he's always addressed as "Duke Franky of the Western Shorts of Cumberville-Northbach". Words, words, words! Give your places outlandish names, like Cumberton-on-the-Sea or The Hallowed Halls of Harry Haverfield-Humsmore. Seriously. It's fun to get creative and just start blasting proper names out of the water.

So there are some tricks to help get you to 50K during NaNo. Use what you like and if you have any other tips or cheap tricks, please let me know in the comments! I don't think of everything, after all! By the way, just for context, this blog post is 2165 words total. How's that for context?

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