It’s November, which means it’s National Novel Writing Month! Whether you write on a computer, typewriter, in a notebook or in the sand on a beach, it’s time to get ready to write 50,000 words in a month. Actually, if you write in the sand on a beach, you’ll have trouble validating, so you might want to write in a notebook instead! To learn more about NaNoWriMo and sign up, check out their website or look at our blog post last year for an explanation of what this is all about. The theme this year is libraries, so we’re particularly excited!
It can be tough to figure out where to start with a novel. There is so much writing advice out there these days, but an animator at Pixar decided to help out by posting 22 rules of storytelling on her Twitter feed. The full 22 can be found in this article, but we’ve quoted our favourites here:
“#4: Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.” (Lamar, 2012)
Fill in the blanks, and you’ve got a plot! Or at least, the bare bones of a plot.
“#11: Putting it on paper lets you start fixing it. If it stays in your head, a perfect idea, you’ll never share it with anyone.” (Lamar, 2012)
It’s really hard when you start writing and realise that what’s on the page will never be as cool as what’s in your head, so this is really great advice to get through that moment.
“#14: Why must you tell THIS story? What’s the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of? That’s the heart of it.” (Lamar, 2012)
It gets a bit scary to talk about big concepts like theme and message when you’re just starting a novel, so try asking yourself this to find inspiration to get through the tough bits.
“#17: No work is ever wasted. If it’s not working, let go and move on – it’ll come back around to be useful later.” (Lamar, 2012)
The NaNoWriMo target is 50,000 words in a month (or 1,667 per day) because it’s a challenge for many experienced writers to write at that speed. Having such a big goal is great because it makes you push onwards even when you don’t feel like it. However, if 50,000 words is too daunting, or you don’t manage to finish that many, this rule also tells you that it’s OK to let it go. You can come back to it another time, or just use it as practice. Writing any number of words is better than none, because they’re words that didn’t exist before!
There is so much good advice from just that list, but we also have loads of great resources on writing to inspire and encourage you during this challenge.
It can be good to read about other writers’ experiences during NaNoWriMo – you quickly learn that other writers experience the same self-doubt and frustration you do. A.L. Kennedy writes for the Guardian as well as publishing novels and short stories, and On Writing (BOOK ZONE 808.3) collects her words of wisdom on the process of writing and publishing. She brings a great sense of humour to her accounts of trying to fit her writing in, stay motivated and ignore those little voices that tell her she isn’t good enough. Kennedy has advice on technical aspects of writing as well as the emotional aspects of it, and teaches about character, plot and pace. Maybe she’ll help you face November with a smile. On Writing is a month-long companion you can count on.
Stephen King’s On Writing: A memoir of the craft (BOOK ZONE 808.042) is half writing advice and half autobiography, in which he talks realistically about being a writer. Don’t expect any easy answers, though – King doesn’t sugarcoat things. Check out our full review of On Writing here.
Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the writer within (BOOK ZONE 808.042) has helped lots of people find the joy in writing, whether it’s for fun, with the hope of being published or to better understand yourself. Goldberg’s book is all about the idea of writing as a meditative practice and centres around unlocking your own best ways of writing. Whether you agree or not, it certainly gives a different perspective on creative writing. Read more about Writing Down the Bones here.
In Norwich, also known as ‘The City of Stories’, we’re lucky enough to have loads of great creative writing support around, most of which can be traced back to UEA’s Creative Writing degrees. UEA was the first university in the UK to run a Masters degree in Creative Writing, and it’s highly competitive to get on to. However, The Creative Writing Coursebook (NORFOLK HOUSE 808.042), edited by Julia Bell, draws together essays from lots of different writers and seeks to provide some of the experience of studying Creative Writing at UEA. This is definitely a great place to start if you are new to prose writing, or if you’re interested in experimenting with different forms.
Dorothea Brande’s Becoming a Writer (NORFOLK HOUSE 808.042) was written in 1934 but is still considered a classic. Brande wanted to teach people not only about techniques for writing but also about the discipline and habits that lead to becoming a successful writer. Like Stephen King, she doesn’t talk down to her readers, so be prepared to hear what is really needed to be a writer (spoiler: it involves a lot of discipline). However, don’t be discouraged, because Brande’s point is that writing isn’t a mystical art but something that you can learn to do well, and while I’m not sure if she would have approved of NaNoWriMo, it’s a great time to put some of her suggestions into practice.
Robert McKee’s Story: Substance, structure, style and the principles of screenwriting (NORFOLK HOUSE 808.23) was originally written for screenwriters, but it’s a fantastic primer on structure. Even than more than novels, films need to have a tight structure and good pacing to keep their audience’s attention, so this book is full of valuable advice about making the most of your ideas.
For more great writing advice…
Watch this TED Talk by Andrew Stanton, a Pixar writer and director behind some of their most successful films, in which he talks about his best tips for creating a story that really makes the audience care.
The NaNoWriMo website is also packed full of advice and pep talks, from building your ideas to editing your novel once you’ve finished it. There are also write-ins at the Millenium Library and a forum for Norfolk writers to talk about their experiences. So, good luck and see you in December!
The Writing Excuses podcast is an amazing resource with hundreds of free fifteen-minute podcasts on every aspect of writing you can think of.
Lamar, C. (2012) The 22 rules of storytelling, according to Pixar. Available at: http://io9.com/5916970/the-22-rules-of-storytelling-according-to-pixar (Accessed: 05/11/2015).