Ian Randall Wilson is an author, and professor at UCLA Extension. For those of you committed to winning this year (you can do it!), read on for his advice on how to reach the goal you’ve set:
NaNoWriMo is not far away and for the seventh year, I’ll be running a class at UCLA Extension called: Write a Novel in a Month as Part of National Novel Writing Month. People come with many different levels of experience. Some are working writers, others are graduates of MFA programs, many have never written much at all. They’ve been thinking about writing a novel for a long time but can’t get started. They’ve tried and never finished. They think they have nothing to write about. The common linkage is that this time, they’re going to succeed.
My success rate has been excellent: 84% finishing (while the international average completion rate for NaNoWriMo is around 19%). How does this happen? Why would anyone pay for a class to sit and write a novel?
We write in a pack to support each other; the sound of others writing spurs everyone on.
We write in a pack to encourage public success and prevent private failure.
We pay for the class because spending that money is a powerful motivator. (If you’re not paying for a class, then donating to NaNoWriMo is just as motivational).
We acknowledge the possibility of failure as a powerful motivator.
We know that success by finishing is a powerful motivator.
Having a “coach” (and “cheerleader”) provides support and reinforcement and motivation.
Having a set schedule is a powerful tool.
Keeping track of a daily word count is a powerful tool.
So here are a few tips to help you in your quest to complete this year’s NaNoWriMo challenge:
- Register at NaNoWriMo and put in your word count every day and watch it rise.
- Cut your TV-watching and internet-surfing. Change your Facebook status to “writing” and sign off. No Tweeting.
- Tell a group of friends you’re undertaking the challenge. Email them your word count every day.
- Better yet, enlist those friends to take the challenge with you. Exchange word counts by email every day. Cheer each other on.
- No judgments. You aren’t writing the Great American Novel, you’re writing a first draft. Don’t worry about whether or not it’s any “good.” You’re in no position to decide. Keep writing. Write with a Zen mindset, putting down whatever word comes to mind without consideration of its value in a critical sense.
- Write disruption. Disrupt the normal everyday life of a character. Write about the disruption and then write about the attempt to restore balance. These disruptions can be small: “My wife is mad at me because I was late.” Average: “I’ve lost my job, what now?” Or galactic: “The world is coming to an end in three days and only I can stop this calamity.”
- Stuck? Try Description Exercise 1: Write 2,000 words about the room your character is in.
- Stuck? Try Description Exercise 2: Write 2000 words about the house and the grounds of the house your character currently lives in (or lived in, or wishes they lived in).
- Stuck? Become a journalist: What is in your character’s possession that can be described and listed? In your character’s desk drawer. A closet. A backpack. A car trunk. A garage. Write 2000 words.
- Stuck? Become a journalist: Send your character to an event (party, family gathering, political rally, concert). Focus on what happens, who is there, what the place looks like in specific detail. Write 2000 words.
- Go forward, do not go back. Tape over the backspace key for the entire month. Do not erase anything. Do not revise anything. Do not start again. During the month of November suspend all critical judgments.
I can tell you that the look of elation on the participants faces when they tell me they’ve finished the draft was amazing and priceless. These writers are now novelists. Ahead is the hard road of revision but that’s all part of the process. It’s that look on their face that keeps me going each year. Good luck, everyone.
What’s the best advice you’ve given or received about writing?
Ian Randall Wilson is the author of the novella, Great Things Are Coming and the short story collections, Absolute Knowledge: Stories and Hunger and Other Stories (Hollyridge Press). He teaches class in writing fiction at the UCLA Extension.
Find out more about Ian and his class: