Tyler  McNamara
Writing. World Building. Game Design.

Earwig News

3 reasons how NaNoWriMo helped me write The Mother of Dark Space

2006 and 2007 were the concurrent years in which I won National November Novel Writing Month, known as NaNoWriMo, whose singular criteria for victory is reaching or exceeding 50,000 words.  For most people it seems like the main stopping block is time. And I can't help you rearrange your life, and will admit that when I won I was in a pretty care-free moment in time. I made just enough money teaching wilderness education to pay the rent, keep the lights on, and the heat high enough to keep my fingers a few degrees above numb. I can't help you rearrange your life to give you enough time, but let's assume you care enough about writing to somehow, SOMEHOW make it work.

It definitely helped that I had spare time compared to most people, but I’m a slow writer and the first draft process is my LEAST favorite of all the many steps of writing a novel. To me it feels like wandering a labyrinth and every path I explore has a high potential to become a sudden dead end. Feel familiar? The fear of that used to make me cautious and slow me down even more, pushing that 50k goal farther away. NaNoWriMo changed that by forcing me to…

1. Set micro-goals.

I’m someone who, moment to moment asks themselves, “What do I feel like doing right now?”  In this age of instant entertainment the answer is NEVER one that brings be closer to what I ACTUALLY want to achieve in my life. Right at this moment I’ve got an episode of Friday Night Lights glaring at me from my task bar. I’m dying to find out what happens to Landry (that kid who looks like an awkward-teen Matt Damon), BUT this article is my micro goals for today.

NaNoWriMo has the goal of 50,000 words in 30 days. So I took 30 and subtracted 1 day for eating turkey, another day for digesting it; and then gave myself two more “Whoops I forgot” days for a total of 26 which I divided by 50,000 and rounded up. All I needed to do was sit down every day and write 2,000 words, or about 5 pages double-spaced. I like to brag that my typing speed is 60-70 wpm, but that’s only during speed tests. When I’m creating something new I write at about a page an hour, unless I hit a soft spot where the words and ideas are flowing faster than I can keep up.  But speed isn't just about goal setting a micro-goal, and it doesn't fix the fear of writing myself into a dead end, to do that you've got to…

2. Write like a chainsaw cuts.

While I was writing my NaNoWriMo novel, I remember hearing about the process of one of the great writers, whose name escapes me at the moment, but he perfected each page before moving on to the next, and I really latched on to that idea. BAD idea. I mean he was one of the classic writers, so obviously it worked for him, but it just makes the sections I have to cut out our re-write that much more painful.

Writing a Novel is something like whittling a pelican from a block of wood. Your first step is carving up that big tree with a chainsaw. Once you’ve got that block of wood, you still need to take away 80% of the material until you have get basic shape of the piece. You wouldn’t approach that tree with a gouge, and similarly once you see that this character or place needs a name, don’t set down your writing process to pick through babynames.com searing for something that fits just right. Let it bother you, let it eat a hole in your brain until you’ve got your 2,000 words and then go back and fix it. Some writers even suggest writing past typeos*. You see it. Your writing program threw a red squiggle under it, but that’s work for a different part of your brain. Right now the tool you’re using is one of mass creation. Keep that engine hot and tearing through those blank pages like a chainsaw!

3. There’s no room for the critic in creativity.

If there were, the word would be cri·tic·tiv·it·y and you’d have seen inspirational posters of the “There’s no ‘I’ in Team” ilk.

An important part of the chainsaw process, is holding a vision of the finished piece so strongly in your mind it’s like a heads-up display showing you where to cut next. If you take the moment to step back and look at the mess you’ve made, that vision gets dispelled. The critic or the judge in you can’t see the intention of the work, and will only show you what you objectively have, which –at that moment- is none of what you what: it’s full of typos, grammatical errors, plot holes, AND it’s still too freaking short!

But the best thing about NaNoWriMo is that it’s not about quality, it’s about quantity. It’s about setting a goal for you, and harnessing the positive power of peer pressure to help you reach that 50k goal.

And once you’re done, once you’ve got your 50k THEN you can get out your real writing tools and get to work.

17 days to go! Happy writing everyone!

-Tyler McNamara


*This word intentionally misspelled.