NaNoWriMo: 7 Days Down, 7 Sins and Their Fixes Revealed
Andrea Collier, our NaNoWriMo correspondent, takes time to marinate on the lessons of the last seven days of writing at 90 miles an hour, lances a character, and asks for your first line. Day 8: Those of us SheWriters and SheWriMos who have jumped pumps first into the NaNoWriMo pool and stayed there for these past seven days have probably learned a lot. I know I have. And that’s why I did it. People come to these writer mash-ups for many reasons—a dare, writing loves misery, a jump start, or to kick a spell of writer’s block. I came to learn. So aside from the things I shared with you already, 1. Excuses won’t get you pages. Excuses get you more excuses. I got lazy Friday. I had a million reasons why I should take the day off. I worked really hard on NaNoWriMo. I blogged. I did my other work. I deserved it. And I could make it up the rest of the weekend by adding a few hundred words a day. But I committed to this thing. And after all the reason I started it in the first place was to move past my fiction excuses. So I put butt in chair and words on page. 2. No matter how long you have to shape a book, it helps to start out with some idea who each person is and what that person wants. I got to a point where I wasn’t sure why this particular character was in this scene, except she just appeared. What did she want? She wanted to be in the scene, but she didn’t know why. And neither did I. Oh she was nice enough. But she was a pimple on the forehead of the chapter and I was going to keep picking at her and eventually leave a scar. So I lanced her. Gone. Gone Gone. If I had asked myself the key questions in the planning stages she would have never made it on the page. 3. The first draft is to help you figure out what the book is about. Whether you are doing NaNoWriMo or sitting in the coffee shop with your notebook on Tuesdays and Thursdays for a year, trying to nail it, remember that it’s just a first draft. We sometimes expect that first draft to work too hard. It’s not going to be perfect. It doesn’t have to make sense from a to z. Look at yourself like an architect, figuring out the structure of the damn thing. Or the director of a theatrical production, figuring out the staging and marks. Whether you get that first draft nailed in 30 days or in three years, you have to march through first draft hell. 4. NoWriMo is no more a political movement than chocolate is. Don’t fight over its merits. It only has merits if it works for you. If it doesn’t then do what you always do when you write. I have been surprised at the reaction from writers like Salon's Laura Miller to the whole NaNoWriMo thing. Lines have been drawn. Why? If I write this thing and clean it up and sell it for a tugboat full of money, (don’t be cynical and hateful—it could happen), then does it make all of us look bad? Does it make me a hack? It does mean that I am going to have to revise more. And it doesn’t reflect badly on the thousands of writers who decided that this was madness and mayhem (it is). Not only that, a large percentage of the people who started this, will fall off the wagon like drunks at a Dr. Drew reunion show. Find a way to get it done and do it. Don’t fight over it. 5. At the end of the day, writing is a solitary sport. I went to a write-in on Thursday night. I had never been to one of these and thought it was going to be a meeting with pep talks and introductions and community. Maybe that came later, as I stayed 10 minutes. There were about 15 people there, sitting at tables with their laptops, writing away. They looked up and went back to work. Some had breakfast plates, as the place where it was held, serves breakfast 24-7. Oh yeah, there was no heat. So all the little writers had on hats, coats and gloves. The ones with glasses needed defoggers. And if I left then, I could get home, put my pjs on and get in the bed to watch Grey’s Anatomy and write. My house has heat and my own little creature comforts. But they seemed very nice, and this group thing seemed to work for them. 6. Keep a notebook to jot down things you want to change, but don’t change them now. Just keep pushing through. As I mentioned, I have gotten rid of some characters this week. Sad when you get a hit put on you in week one. But here is where I made the mistake. I went back into the manuscript to change it. That slowed me down. I have a notebook now that accepts these thoughts on changes. I can make some decisions without actually stopping the flow of the writing. This will be the bible when I start my revisions. 7. Give yourself permission to say, “THIS SUCKS,” once a day. You can be referring to the process, or the words on the page. Then laugh. Then move on. I know it’s supposed to suck. And I know the stuff that I think is pretty good today, will suck in the light of day under the heavy editing of the red pen starting next month. So SheWriMos, the question for today is: What is your first line? How did you get the ball rolling? Mine? It’s not every day that you walk into your house and find a pair of panties on the steps that are not your own. Not panties exactly. Dental floss with lace. Definitely not mine. RELATED: Follow the progress of fellow SheWriMos NaNoWriMo (the group) NaNoWriMo: It's Not for Everyone by Tayari Jones Photo: Sanbeiji/Flicker

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  • Trelawney Goodell Fulton

    Thank you for the noting of edits for later tip! I have a general document that gathers random thoughts, but it never occurred to me that it was OK to note things to edit later. (Strange, since I'm an editor as well as a writer.) I'm going to share the first line of my second document, because the first document is on a virus-infected computer at the moment :(. A note before I share... I usually reshuffle during rewrites, and I feel that people have wonderful first lines because of the complex rethinking and rewriting that happens later. You know, when you decide the really important stuff in your novel and then figure out how to stitch it into the whole. So.... here goes:
    The sun peeked through the blinds and kissed Kat on the cheek.

  • Penelope L Mace

    Nina, all new stuff to me - thanks. I have not read any fantasy type stuff but my husb and step children are big fans of lord of rings and cs lewis.
    My nano does not get more exotic than the civil rights movement of the 1960's and qukerism.

  • Nina Weber

    oh, I just saw your reply, Penelope.
    The cards are wooden playing cards. The book is fantasy and starts in Faerie. Depending on the nature of the opponent, the elves don't play with "paper" playing cards but with ones carved from wood. To better withstand permanently wet fingers, as in this case ... when playing with the River King.
    I researched old German card playing rules and gave them these cards, it felt more fitting for a fantasy setting to me. :-)

  • Ellen Ferranti

    Today I finally sat down to write after my first webinar w/She Writes...
    my first line..."She walked into the room and the smell permeated the air. It was an unfamiliar smell; yet hauntingly reminiscent of him..."

  • Penelope L Mace

    Nina - hi - what are wooden cards?

  • Nina Weber

    You are right, I also don't understand some of the reactions. There are so many writers who will say in a PW interview "oh, I wrote the first draft of this in 6 weeks". And then they will rewrite and edit it for much longer to get it into shape. I think the quality of the finished work is what counts, not how long you labored on a first draft.

    This is my 3rd Nano and I can say from experience: rewriting takes a looooong time.
    But what surprised me the first time around and what made me come back for more: In the end, my favorite passages in the YA book were the ones that I had written during Nano, not the scenes written with much more time and care before or after it. (Yes, I am a Nano-"rebel"/cheater, too, using it to get a grip on a manuscript that I otherwise edit to death while I should be writing). In hindsight, I find what I write during Nano braver and more true to my voice.

    Of course it is not for everyone. But I think it is excellent for people thinking or editing too much during writing or who do not trust their voice yet. My biggest lesson learned, again every year %-): if you edit yourself during writing, if you cave in to your inner critic, you will not write enough that day. That pressure is missing otherwise in a writer's life, unless on a deadline from a contract.

    First line (for the moment, it will change again):
    He stole another glance at the wooden cards, then folded them together, tapping his fingernail on the stack to show he was done. It would be tight, but perhaps he could win this hand. He had to.

  • Tonya Rothe

    First line as of today:
    "Funny, I never really thought of him as human."
    Until tomorrow when I change my mind; again!

  • Lois Roelofs

    This is my first time doing the November novel also. I started only with two characters in mind. My first line: "Sophie slammed her pen down on the table. Why, she thought, does cancer have to visit us again? "

    I especially like your "notebook" point. I'm already lost in minutiae, but it feels like a wild unedited "fun" lost!

  • Janice Phelps Williams

    My first time doing NaNo. (I found out about it the day before!). Here's my first line: "Strange hands pick me up and carry me from my special spot on the front porch, 'round the side of the house, to the backyard."
    I was upset about the Salon article, as a writer and a publisher. Will post my blog article on my page here, but I really like your points. I may print them out and paste them on the fridge!

  • Allison Ellis

    Wonderful post! I am doing NaNo for the second time and this year and am having a tough time with everything you mentioned above (characters, meaningful plot points, etc.) It's good though - I find myself relishing the energy and camaraderie that comes from this collective writing extravaganza.

    In anticipation of posting my (brilliant) first line here, I went back and opened the file and was horrified(!!) by how bad my writing is, so I'm not going to post anything here. For me, NaNo is about moving forward and not doing any revisions until much later, so I'll keep plugging away in the meantime ; )

  • Kathleen S. Allen

    My first line is: They came for me at night.

    I started out with a basic idea for a plot then changed it a bit and now I am not happy with the change. I don't know where to go with it now and feel like if I go back I will forever be stuck in NaNo land struggling to finish by the end of the month. Ah well. Onward and upward.

  • Penelope L Mace

    So true about the backlash and odd reactions to this. Don't get it. Maybe some people are mad because the idea was not theirs or they can't utilize it.
    GREAT first line - mine is so not as sexy or cool: "She arrived late, it was true, but still it annoyed her, all the fuss." Is it just me or is it a bit mystifying this first line fetish? Like all fetishes it can be satisfying and fun but also a bit limiting. Not all great books have incredibly arresting first lines.
    I too am trying NOT to edit. I am over 22 thou as of now and did edit the first five pages to take to a writer's group meet last night so I'd have somehting new to read. REading aloud can be so helpful to test the flow and the voice and it SEEMS to be working. Hoo hah
    Write on ....

  • Lanita Andrews

    #6 - BRILLIANT My only question is "Why the heck didn't I already think of that?" I have been determined to not let the confines of NaNoWriMo prevent me from re-writing if/when I get a sudden flash of brilliance, but as you describe, when I go back and begin editing, I lose my flow, which completly defeats the entire purpose of participating in NaNoWriMo. So the practive of keeping notes in a journal is a great away to ballance everyhting out - I get corrections in without loosing flow. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

    Since I'm cheating a bit, and working on something I began months ago, my first lines of NaNoWriMo are actually three chapters in.