Pep Talk from Naomi Novik

Dear NaNoWriMo Writer,

The single most important technique for making progress is to write ten words. Doesn’t matter if you’re badly stuck, or your day is completely jam-packed, or you’re away from your computer—carry a small paper notebook and write a sentence of description while you’re waiting on line at a coffee shop. I think of this as baiting a hook. Even if you have a few days in a row where nothing comes except those ten words, I find that as long as you have to think about the novel enough to write ten words, the chances are that more will come.

The rest of this advice comes out of my own bag of tricks for getting those ten words and then turning them into many. It may well be that only some of these or none at all will work for you; they may not fit into your life or your own mindset. But if these don’t, try and come up with others that do work for you.

Remove distractions. The internet is a phenomenal research and community tool without which you might never have started the novel you’re working on right now. It is an equally phenomenal tool for procrastination and wasting time. Unplug your connection. While you’re at it, put down that book, turn off the TV, shut down the Wii. Make scrambled eggs and salad for dinner. The dishes can wait to be washed. Ideally, get out of your house filled with your stuff that you like and go somewhere where you have nothing better to do than write.

I like writing longhand a lot for clearing jams and rapidly generating new scenes. I don’t generally try and write complete scenes when I am writing longhand, I do more of a pencil-sketch version of a scene, all rough and scribbled, drifting in and out of outline form, full of shorthand and initials and incomplete sentences. This is also a easy way to get some polish in without losing speed—when you transfer the longhand to your computer, you’ll almost without thinking improve the sentences. And it’s fun having a physical artifact to commemorate the work—get one of those nice journals from your local bookstore, and if you are the kind of person who hates to waste money, spend enough on the journal that you will then feel bad if you don’t finish the novel.

If characters aren’t coming clear, play casting director. Instead of trying to invent a character from scratch, mentally cast someone in the role and try to imagine how they would do it—their physical mannerisms, their vocal tics, the way they hold themselves. The nice thing is, as the casting director of a novel, you are free to cast actors who are booked elsewhere, too young or too old for the role, not actually actors (your next-door neighbor will never know), dead, or fictional (a writer of my acquaintance once cast Madame Bovary as a character in his modern-day novel).

If you’re finding a scene boring to write, cut it and skip to the good part. Set something on fire. Have zombies attack. Note that boring is not the same as hard. Really great scenes can be very hard to write and take a long time, but if you’re sitting there going “god, when will this be over,” make it be over. You indeed have that power. It’s your novel.

Have fun with it.

Naomi Novik

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