Someone asked at Conflux whether NaNoWriMo was a good thing for one’s writing, and I said I don’t know – it could be the worst imaginable thing for it. But as the world’s most extreme parlour game? For that, I would recommend it to anyone!

So I am doing NaNoWriMo again and have just reached 27% of the wordcount (the 50,000 words, that is – I’m not trying a repeat of the 90,000 I did last year). And so far it is… much as it always is. Agonising and crazy-making and fun and horrific and startling, and full of lessons that I knew in theory but had to learn in practice.

These are my personal November writing principles.

  1. Writing can be like an inkblot: if I fling enough words at the page eventually I start seeing things.
  2. I may never get around to editing what I do have, but I can’t edit what I don’t have.
  3. Keep moving forward.
  4. Never go back.
  5. When a character sticks, add a new one, or dredge up an old one. Some of my favourite characters started as space-fillers who got grafted back in when I suddenly needed an extra speaking part.
  6. When a scene sticks, change scenes. Even in the middle. Especially in the middle – this has the double benefit of giving tension to the plot on one hand, and time to work out what happened on the other.
  7. When the plot sticks, use high explosives. I’m quite serious about this – in a pre-industrial setting, particularly, it can give pages of people running around and trying to work out what happened, and why.
  8. If I can’t lose characters in a forest, I can occasionally lose them up a tree.
  9. Trade contractions in for adjectives.
  10. Describe liberally – if I describe in circles around a scene for a while at high speed, I will usually write a detail that could come in handy.
  11. Graft old established plots in. I started my NaNoWriMo project with a well known legend, but throwing in an element or two of a fairytale can liven things up a bit. It gives a line for my fingers to follow while my mind is thinking of ways to remix it.

Number 11 is a lot of fun. It’s the one I usually rember to use when it isn’t November, and is a way of tapping into patterns and echoes of stories and then just messing with them. There are usually a few examples in most of my stories – an irish fairytale blended with some A. A. Milne and a bit of John Birmingham, or Cinderella meets The Crucible with a dash of the Paper Bag Princess.

The thought process tends to go: I don’t know what is happening at the end of this sentence so – oh, here is a tree. I will send my character up a tree. Now what? It would be boring to just come down. Okay, she will get lost in the tree and come down in another part of the forest. Now she is lost in the woods. Okay, she should meet… meet a wolf. Who turns out to be a motherly, Tiggy-Winklish wolfish sort of person, who keeps mysteriously losing chickens. This has tied into a whole subplot of lost things (shoes and cups and kingdoms and hearts). It does give a lot of draggled loose ends, but that means there are more threads to weave back into the plot later on. At the moment, I am pulling together a Sleeping-Beauty-as-murder-victim strand with a Lancelot-is-really-Orpheus strand and about to add a dash of Tristan and Ysolde.

Of course, it also yields such awkward situations as a character who was entertaining, but going nowhere, so I had to duplicate him and then kill off his first manifestation with a conveniently-timed carnivorous waterhorse. But hey! It’s NaNoWriMo! No one ever has to read that part, and if I ever do need a story about a carnivorous waterhorse, I’ve got a page of description all set up there ready to go.

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