Surviving the NaNoWriMo Jungle
Writing a novel in a month is like trekking through a jungle. You never know what you’re going to face during the slog, there’s adventure around every corner, and you need to be prepared for anything. So what do you pack in your bag? What are the writer’s equivalent of the machete, the water purification tablets, the parachute cord or the butterfly sutures? Every writer’s pack will be different, but here’s what I’ll be taking in mine…
1. A psychological map
You might not know exactly where your story’s going, but you can know something of the emotional journey you’re about to embark on. It’ll be a battle between your better self and your desire to bail. Austin Kleon puts in best in his diagram, ‘The Life of a Project’, which is at the top of this post. That’s your November in one picture. Remember though, that's everybody’s November in one picture. No-one’s going to breeze through this. Check out Kleon’s wonderful book ‘Steal like an Artist’ if you want more inspiration.
2. A selection of Writerly Podcasts
I’ve spent a few years now using my commute to and from work to feed my brain and challenge my writing process. Nuggets of wisdom and moments of insight can give you that boost you need in the middle stages of a project that feels like it’s floundering. Two podcasts that are forensic in their analysis of the writing process are:
Writing Excuses (Each season runs January to December. Download a healthy chunk of the back-catalogue. Season ten was sequenced in the order you would follow when writing a whole novel, and is designed to support you through the entire process.)
Brian Koppleman’s The Moment (Brilliant discussions with creatives. Choose episodes featuring screenwriters/novelists)
3. A Wellspring
Every writer should have one: a text or texts that only needs to be glanced through to deliver a spirit-boosting injection of energy, enthusiasm, awe and wonder. It might be a novel, a handbook, a poem. Yours will be different from everyone else’s, and that’s fine. For what it’s worth, mine's Pressfield’s The War of Art. Whenever I’m struggling, I turn to this beaut and soon enough I’m ready to re-enter the fray.
4. A Pair of Headphones
For me, music can take me back into the world of fiction quickly, immerse me in a world and empty the mind of clutter. If music helps, find the music that does the job for you. Doesn’t matter whether it’s cinema soundtracks, instrumental hip-hop, electronica or introspective Americana; build yourself a playlist. And, here’s the thing… make it a long one.
(I wrote a post on playlists over at Author Allsorts, here.)
5. A Bunch of Goodies
Rewards beat penalties anyday. So when you’re hacking your way through jungle, you need moments where you rest, recuperate, and enjoy the fruits of your labours. It might be chocolate. It might be fancy savoury snacks, long walks or box-set episodes. Whatever your rewards are, ration them carefully and savour every moment of them when they arrive. There should be waaay more hacking than snacking.
And that’s it, apart from: good luck, explorers!
And don’t forget your injections before you go…