Tips for NaNoWriMo

Maren Bradley Anderson

“What does it all mean?”

Each November, hundreds of thousands of crazy people (325,000 in 2014) get together online to participate in NaNoWriMo to try to write 50,000 words of the first draft of a novel in 30 days. That’s 1,667 words a day for those who are wondering. I have completed the 50K in 30 days challenge both during NaNoWriMo and during other months of the year four times, so I’d like to offer this pep talk to the readers of this blog who have undertaken this madness this November.

You are sooo close. You can finish, I know it.

Let me tell you a story about my first NaNoWriMo:

The last week of November 2009, I hosted a birthday party for my 1-year-old, cooked and hosted Thanksgiving dinner, and had the stomach flu for the last two days. And I finished NaNoWriMo, anyway. All 50,000 words.

That’s meant as an inspiring story, by the way. I don’t usually brag about having the stomach flu.

As you finish up, on thing you can do is look at your story and ask yourself, “what does it all mean?” Thematically, that is. When I start writing, I have no idea what themes are going to be in my book. Even if I have a plan for what themes I want to stress, until the book is written, I really don’t know what is actually going to pop up.

Hence, I use a Theme Exercise. I use the Theme Exercise as a way to identify more scenes I need to write to fill in the theme (which is really helpful in Week 4 of Nano), and as a tool to help revise the draft.

To find the themes in your book already, ask yourself these theme-related questions:

  1. Why did you write this story? Maybe something sparked the idea for you. Maybe that idea was triggered an emotion in you.
  2. Is there a “reason” you wrote this book?  Write it down.
  3. What do you want readers to “get”? What do you want your readers to understand when they set the book down after finishing it?

Then, to refine and control the themes, ask yourself these questions:

  1. Think about the scenes that already have theme expressed. How are they working? Are they working? Are you too subtle? Too overt? Have you stuck a good balance?
  2. How well are your hero and the theme connected? Does your cynic of a rom-com hero eventually see that love conquers all? Does your heroine’s shortcomings make her learn something?
  3. Props can express theme. Use them. Think of the ship in “Heart of Darkness” shooting cannonballs into the jungle. Think of the catacombs in “The Cask of Amontillado.” Sorry. I’m a literature professor. I have to look up pop-culture references. Forgive me.

Message and Moral are different. Try to be subtle. You probably aren’t re-writing Aesop’s fables or a children’s book, so you won’t really want a “moral” to the story. If you are writing for grown-ups (and, frankly, any kid worth her salt), the reader isn’t going to want to be lectured at. Themes and messages in literature are meant to be suggested and then discussed over a bottle of wine (or chocolate milk). If you want to write a sermon, be direct. If you want to write stories, be subtle.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving, and write, dammit, write. You’re almost done.

Feel like re-posting? Here’s a quote you can use:

“As you finish up, on thing you can do is look at your story and ask ‘what does it mean?’”

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By Maren Bradley Anderson, a published author and writing instructor at WOU

Fuzzy LogicHer newest book, Fuzzy Logic, comes out on December 5. She’s having a release party at Yeasty Beasty in Monmouth on December 5 from 4 to 6 p.m. The book can be pre-ordered for Kindle or other ebook formats.

About the book
She thinks moving to a ranch will lead to the simple life she craves, but the countryside has other ideas…After divorcing her unfaithful husband, Meg Taylor buys an alpaca ranch to finally do something on her own. Almost as soon as she arrives, she meets not one, but two, handsome—and baffling—men. She thinks choosing between the shy veterinarian and her charming securities co-worker is her biggest problem, until life and death on the ranch make her re-evaluate more than her love life. At least her new life is nothing like her old one.

About Maren
Maren Anderson is a writer, teacher, and alpaca rancher who lives in rural Oregon. She writes while her children are at school and spends the rest of her time caring for alpacas, knitting, playing with her family, reading funny books. She teaches literature and composition at a local college and novel writing to eager, budding writers. If you want to know more about Anderson’s writing, novel classes, or alpacas, contact her via Facebook, on Twitter, or at her website.