So, you've discovered this thing called National Novel Writing Month and you're thinking of giving it a try this year, and you don't know what's in stored for you. I'm not going to talk about the insanity you're about to fall into. That would take a whole other tutorial. Nor am I going to talk about the little tricks to boost your word count, there are plenty of those around. What this tutorial will be about, is typing speed.
The count of 50 000 words a month, 1667 words a day wasn't taken as a goal of the NaNoWriMo on a whim. It was carefully selected because it's near the lower boundary for a novel (the number varies, of course, because, as usual, people can only agree to disagree, so there are several different classifications. And it also depends on the genre - young adult novels are usually around 40 000 - 50 000, while epic fantasy can get to the size of a New York phone book (or several), but general consensus is that anything under 40 000 is considered a novella), but more importantly, it's not as high of a count to make it impossible for an averagely fast writer to reach, and it's not too low to make it too easy. You have to put an effort, otherwise it wouldn't be worthwhile, but it's not an impossible effort. Of course, some writers write faster than the others. I know a few crazies that managed to write three times as much, with time to spare. On the NaNoWriMo site you can find plenty of people with an insane word count every year. If you're lucky enough to be already writing with similar speed, you've got nothing to worry about, NaNo will probably be a breeze for you. However, if you never did NaNo before, odds are you're a slow, careful writer that weighs every sentence before it puts it down on paper, virtual or real. If you're one of those, you're in the right place, this tutorial is just for you. Cause if you write NaNo like you normally write, you'll never finish it in time.
To write fast, or maybe it's more accurate to say, to type fast, I have just one simple advice: don't think, just write. You might think, that's a contradiction in terms, because how can you write if you don't think? How? Faster. Why? Because thinking slows you down. It delays reaction time. Let me explain.
If you've ever studied martial arts, you know exactly what I mean. What they teach you at martial arts (if they're any good) is not just how to do the moves, they teach your body to react in a certain manner. Not to think, but to react. They teach you the moves so your body will accept them as natural when it's time to react. Think of the situation: you're sparring with your partner (or you've just found your self in a bar fight, you naughty boy) and there's a fist coming straight at your face. If you stop to think "I have to block now with my right, no, with my left hand and counter attack with my right" by the time you finish that thought and decide what to do, the fist will already collide with your face. Several times. Thinking slows you down. If you're trained not to think but to react, however, by the time you finish thinking "OMG, there's a fist coming at my face!" your body will already block the punch and land one in response.
But what if you've never studied martial arts? Ok. Ever played a video game? One that requires a fast reaction? No? Ever played tetris? You must have played tetris at least once in your life (and if you haven't, where did you live for the last 30 years, on Mars? Go play, now.). So imagine, you're playing tetris, and there's one of those L shaped figures falling steadily down. You see a space where you can land it that will clear one row, but wait, there's a space on the other side that will clear three lines, so you change your mind and move the figure in that direction. But the figure has already fallen too far down so you weren't able to move it fast enough, and instead of landing it in a hole that would clear you three rows, it lands smack at the top of everything. Because that one is now protruding up, you can not move the next figure freely enough and it lands right on top of that one. And the next one, and the next one. Before you can blink, game over. You don't have time to over-think things when you're playing fast games. Sure, in the beginning when it start slowly you have a little room to plan your moves, but when things speed up... You land the figure in the first suitable space you see. It might not be the best available space, but there is no time to look for the best, just the first acceptable one. You land the figure so you don't create holes in the rows if possible, and if you take a row or two down, great.
So what does this mean when writing? You're writing a scene that goes something like: "Jack walks into a saloon." No, wait. "Jack strolls into a saloon." Yes, much better. "He sits at the counter and orders a saspa... sasspa... (goes to Google "sarsaparilla") sarsaparilla. The bartender grins at him." No, wait. "The bartender bears his teeth at him." Wait, is it called bartender in a saloon? A wild west kind of saloon? You go online to check and after hours wasted on Wikipedia, because you can't read just one article, you realize you have only, what, thirty words? No, it will not work this way. You might afford to do this the first day, the second day, but soon you'll start falling behind and if you keep this up, you'll give up by day ten. Or less. You need to stop thinking, and just write. "Jack WALKS into a saloon. He sits at the counter and orders A DRINK. The BARTENDER GRINS at him." You write the first APPROPRIATE thing that falls into your mind AND YOU KEEP ON WRITING. Don't get me wrong, I believe "strolls" is a much better word, it says so much more that just "walked". But "walked" is good enough. Unlike Tetris, with writing, you get to go back and correct the things you could have done better. Only, in case of NaNo, you do it AFTER you reached 50 000 words. You edit it after NaNo is over and you've won. If you ran into something you don't quite know how to spell or how it's called, put a mark of some kind that will remind you later that it needs to be corrected, and MOVE ON.
But you were right at the beginning, you can't just not think and write. You need to pay attention at what you're doing. You need to FOCUS. If you don't think while you're writing and you don't focus either, before you realize, you'll be writing the words of the song that's playing on the radio at that moment instead of Jack's next scene. You'll forget what you wanted to write in the first place. If you're not paying attention, that fist from the above example will dance across your face just the same as if you were over-thinking it, because if you don't pay attention, you won't even see it coming to react. If you're thinking about how your neighbor has a nice ass while you're playing tetris, you won't see the right moves in time, you won't pay attention at the little picture at the corner that tells you what piece comes next. You will lose your focus, and lose the game. So the final, revised advice is: Don't think, focus, and just write.
There's something in Karate called "Mittsu No Kokoro", which in translation means "mind like [still] water". Since I'm a lazy person in heart, I'm gonna paste you the explanation of the phrase from this place
When a mind is like water, you are 'here and now'. You are still, calm and at peace with yourself. You are completely engrossed in what you are doing without thinking about the past or future or what is happening around you. You are working in your 'Zone'. When there is a disturbance from outside, you react to it with the appropriate response. You neither over-react nor under-react. After your response ends, you go back to your calm state of mind. Since you have not over-reacted, you haven't wasted your time and effort. Since you have not under-reacted, your response is complete; meaning the same disturbance won't affect you again.
This is more/less what I'm talking about, except we react not to the disturbance from outside (a fist flying straight at your mug), but from our own mind. The disturbance is the lack of the right word or the correct spelling. 'Over-reacting' in our case would be stopping typing to think of that right word or the correct spelling. Instead, you choose the closest possible word, closest spelling, or just leave a note to yourself to edit it later and go back into the "calm state of mind", back to being "like still water". Back to writing.
Trust yourself and your instincts. You know already what you need to write, so just do it, don't over-think it. With practice, you'll start choosing better words right from the start, just as you'd choose the best possible move in Tetris right from the bat after you master the game. Or the best combination of counter-attack in a bar fight. Your mind will automatically start giving you the best words if you empty it from extra labor of thinking.
But what if you don't know what to write next? You don't know what's the next scene? In that case, you need to stop typing. Close your eyes, or take a walk to the balcony, do a few sit-ups, or whatever feels right for you. Cause now it's time to think. So, you have Jack who just walked into a saloon and sat at the counter. What happens now? What if from one of the tables, a mean looking gunslinger gets up and says to Jack "Yo mama is so fat that when she walks in front of a TV I miss three episodes!" Jack, being a mean gunslinger himself, turns to face the insult-slinger. The saloon grows quiet, with people moving out of the possible bullet trajectory. The gunslingers draws, Jack draws, and... You have your next scene. Are you sure this will be your next scene? Absolutely sure? Good. Now stop thinking, focus, and write. You have the scene in your head, you just need to put it down on paper. No need to think about it anymore.
If you really, really can't think about the next scene, maybe it's time for a longer break. Go do the dishes that have certainly piled up the last several days. Go eat, I bet you forgot to do that somewhere along the way. Maybe it's finally time to go to bed. Or you can search some other text about how to handle writer's block, it's really not a subject of this tutorial.
If, however, you do have an idea what happens in the scene after that one, make a mark *will write this scene later* and jump onto the next one. Maybe it will come to you during NaNo and you'll come back to it to add some more words to the word count, maybe you'll finish it later, but what ever you do, DON'T STOP WRITING as long as you have even one scene in your mind.
This is why a lot of people suggest that you make a plan, a summary, an outline BEFORE NaNo. It's a good idea, since it minimizes the thinking part, and leaves you to focus on writing. Of course, you don't have to blindly stick to the outline, you can let your story breathe and grow, but it's much easier if you're not fumbling about in the dark and stopping every five minutes to think whether or not it's appropriate to throw in Ninja pirate robot alien monkeys because you're falling behind, panicking and can't think where to take your story next.
So, that's my two cents. If this entire text was too long for you to read (after all, if NaNo already started, you have no time to waste reading this crap, you need to go and WRITE), let me sum it up for you:
- think about the scene you're going to write, imagine it with as much details you need
- now STOP THINKING and start writing, thinking slows you down
- FOCUS on what you're writing, without THINKING about what you're writing
- don't think about the right word, spelling, research or other distractions, just WRITE
- When finished a scene, think about the next one
- then STOP THINKING, focus and just write it
- rinse and repeat until 50 000 words reached.
Won't be as simple as these steps, but will certainly be faster than over-thinking each word. So STOP THINKING, FOCUS, AND JUST WRITE. Happy NaNoWriMoing!!!