NaNoWriMo: Back At It, Plus 7 Tips to See You Over the Finish Line

Andrea Collier, our NaNoWriMo correspondent, sets her eyes on the big finish and asks you: "what's next?" DAY 18:

Okay this is scary. I am at 38,000 words. And I can see the end in sight. I am Dorothy with my ruby slippers headed toward home. And guess what? Taking the weekend off for some mental health did not do me in. I came back to work happy and ready to be reunited with the chaos that is my novel. I am just clipping along without a care in the world. This is something that I never did with a novel. Characters are rude. Some are hypersexual. Some are asexual. Everybody has an edge.

My draft is just terrible. It took me to Day 18 to get it.

This is also the day that I read a tip on Mediabistro that says we just have to get a certain amount of bad writing out of us. Well, ain’t that the truth? If bad is what it takes, then bad is what I have.

NaNoWriMo is a veritable Exorcist and I am spitting up a bucket of green peas and pearls of bad plotting. Oh, it is just so much fun. When you know that you have a big old batch of crazy, then you can give yourself permission to dance around and have fun.

Then in another Mediabistro post on NaNoWriMo tips and resources I saw a suggestion that in a draft something that turns the manuscript on its ear should happen ever four or five pages. This is something I would never do under ordinary circumstances.

I just am not the "throwing mama from the train” kind of writer. But I am this week. I am tormenting these poor people in this story. Emotional torment. Slapstick torment. Reversals of fortune. Exposing their deepest secrets on video tape. Every five pages. Oh boy, am I going to have a job to do on December 1.

I haven’t held a single character responsible for their actions in three whole writing days. They’re all nuts.

So here are some things I now suggest you use to get you through…

1. Watch terrible television.

There is enough to go around. Watch terrific television with characters you love to hate. Man I just hate Nancy on Weeds. There is a lot to be said about a character you hate, but you keep coming back to yell at.

2. Rip it from the headlines in Law and Order. I riffed a side story where a chunky young woman with no rhythm, no grace and lots of great competition wins a dance contest. This has no real place in my story, but it is hilarious. And is the end of my Dancing With the Stars obsession.

3. Stop and write something else.

I have been doing this anyway, but I took a little time to work through an essay that has been troubling me. I didn’t know how to fix it. But somehow in the middle of working on my 50,000 words I got an answer. A whisper between two paragraphs of my novel gave me the missing piece. Essay finished. Essay sold.

4. Switch locations.

If you’ve been hanging out at your favorite coffee shop or book store, go somewhere else. Or stay home. Been staying home, get out of the house. Don’t forget your headphones and enough money to not look like a mooch but like a paying customer.

5. Make a pot of soup.

In my case, one of my characters is a chef and her recipe will be in the book. But in your case, you may find that putting the writing down for a bit, so that you can cut up vegetables, simmer the broth, play with seasonings, and then enjoy. It is a twofer. When you come back to the page, you are full, sustained and ready to go again.

6. Spend more time finding out what your Facebook friends, & Twitter followers are saying about their NaNoWriMo experience.

Misery loves company or genius loves to measure up—you choose. I am enjoying a designated time where I search my hashtags looking for that gem that will make this work fall into place. And by the way I am also accepting that I am a soloist. I tried to go to another write-in. Another city. Another group of folks. All at computers with the reflection of their words on the screen and all the heads bobbing with headphones on. I ran—ran out of the door quickly.

7. Pull your index cards back out.

Remind yourself about your scenes and plot twists. I got a little arrogant. I was doing so good without them. But now I want to reign things in after all that five page then boom nonsense. On that note, here is another little installment in my HOT MESS.

“Hello.” I hear a small voice chirp at me. But there are no small voices here. I’m just tired. I’m hearing things. That is the next step in a nervous breakdown, isn’t it. If I had a therapist, which I know now that I need I would have to tell her about the voice. Voices. Little voices. And what do the voices say Goody? Buy shoes. Lots and lots of shoes. Really expensive shoes. “I said hello,” the little voice says again. “It’s rude not to say hello when someone is talking to you.” Okay, what the hell. There is a voice. A real little voice. “Who said that?” I turn to see parked on the couch a little girl, with the most startling blue eyes, waving at me. “I’m right here.” “What are you doing here? Who are you?” “I am waiting for my mother. She is the lady of the house.” “Honey, I don’t know how you got in here, but I can assure you that your mother is not the lady of this house.” I came in the back door. And my mother and my new father live here. See.” She points to a note pinned on her shirt.” My daddy thinks I am a baby and that I’ll get confused. So he pinned this stupid note to me. “When was the last time you saw Bebe?” She doesn’t like this question. She starts biting at her fingernails. She looks up at the skylight, then down at her feet. There is no answer forthcoming. “I have never actually seen her in person. She left home right after I was born. Just pictures. She is beautiful. They say I look like her? She looks so much like her that it makes me ache. It hurts to look at her. But it hurts not to look at her. She is a little girl who has never seen her mother. She is a little girl who has traveled cross country by herself to find the woman who ran off and left her. “Can I go to the bathroom, please?” I point her to the bathroom that’s right off the hallway, then I flop down on the couch. If this kid’s name is Louisamayalcott, then it is possible to be named any damn thing in the world. Right about now I am thinking about changing my name to Dearsantapleasejustshootmenow McPherson. Maybe it’s time to drop the McPherson. I could go back to my maiden name. Dearsantapleasejustshootmenow Kearns. I am starting to like it. It seems to fit perfectly with the turns my life has taken. I’m enjoying finding the right doom and gloom names for myself, and have forgotten little Ellie May Clampett in the bathroom, until I hear her come out. She’s wiping her eyes. Her face is red. She’s trying hard not to cry. “Is my mother coming home now now?”

So the question for the day, this time, is this: what is the first thing you are going to do to start perfecting your novel on December 1?

Andrea King Collier is a Lansing, Michigan based freelance writer and author of Still With Me...A Daughter's Journey of Love and Loss (Simon and Schuster) and Black Woman's Guide to Black Men's Health.

Photo: jayneandd/Flickr

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  • Kristi Holmes Espineira

    I have to say, your "hot mess' is actually pretty darn good! I love it!

    December 1 -- I'm starting "Plot Month." Since I jumped into this on a whim with no prep whatsoever, I need to go back and figure out how to structure the plot. January: Character Month. February: Full rewrite, I think. Sigh.

  • Andrea King Collier

    I think December will be devoted to rereading and plugging in the answers to the questions I raised on my post its. I am a little anxious about December, because I know that is when it all begins in earnest.

  • Jenny Cromie

    Great post Andrea. To answer your December 1 question? I'm going to reread what I've written for the first time. I told myself I would not edit, delete, or reread anything until I hit 50,000 words. After that, I'm going to set it aside for a few days and write something else. What I have is raw content—the foundational themes, thoughts that probably can be used for more than one project.