1. The first draft is for you. Subsequent drafts are for everybody else. So, write this one the way you want to. Do what thou wilt. Be selfish. Grab at the story with greedy paws.
2. ABI: Always Be Interesting. Not just to others — write what interests you.
3. If you feel yourself getting bored, change the story so that you aren’t. Motivate yourself through chaos, unpredictability, and interest. If your own interest in the story hits a wall: blow shit up. Go cuckoo bananapants. Surprise yourself.
4. It’s easier to write your word count earlier in the day than later. Early means it’s out of the way. Later means you’re racing against the clock. Racing against the clock makes for good fiction (OH MY GOD THE SQUIRREL IS GOING TO EXPLODE IF WE DON’T JIBBER THE JABBER IN TIME). It makes for unpleasant writing, however.
5. Be kind. Share. Talk. Engage in the community. Offer your own tips. Be the best version of yourself in the process and write the song that lives in the glitter-shellacked eerily-vibrating Music Box you call a ‘heart.’
6. Characters are everything. Focus on them. Characters make plot by doing things and saying things. Do not staple plot to the story. The plot grows inside the story based on the actions of interested and interesting characters. Story lives in how characters address (and fail to address) their problems. Plot is skeleton, not exoskeleton.
7. Give less of a shit. Relax. Ease off the stress stick, cowpoke. You’re not Superman saving a busload of precious orphans. You’re writing a novel. You can still give a shit — but set aside the baggage and expectations. You’re not Humanity’s Last Chance.
8. Don’t compare yourself to anybody else. You do you. Let them do them.
9. Don’t cheat on your story with another story. Don’t go porking another manuscript behind the WORDSHED. (See, it’s like woodshed — oh, hell, never mind.) Got another idea for a story? Of course you do. The test of a writer is staying on track. You’re committed. Married. Don’t cheat. Put a ring on it. Those other ideas can have their day: write down a quick logline or synopsis, then shut the notebook and get back to work.
10. Of course it’s work. Expect it to be. Let it be work.
11. Of course it feels like you’re lost. We all feel that way. You’re not alone. Nobody knows what the fuck they’re doing. We’re all pretending. We’re all our own imaginary friends lost in a realm of our own devising. It’s what makes this thing so weird and so exciting. Fuck it. Keep going.
12. Don’t worry about being original. Originality is overrated. The one thing that’s unique about your story is that you’re the one writing it. Your voice is the original thing.
13. You don’t chase your voice. You are your voice. Your voice is the way you speak, the way you think, the ideas you have. Your voice is the thing you find when you stop looking for it.
14. Need a throughline? An invisible thread on which to hang your tale? Consider theme. Theme is the argument your story is making. Theme is what your work is about. It’s what you’re trying to say. It’s what you believe. It’s what the story is telling people. Theme is a strand of spider silk. It can connect everything — the grand unification argument of storytelling.
15. Concentrate more on things happening in the story. Worry less about what happened. Stories are most engaging in the present and suggestive of the future. The past is useful, but can fast become a boat anchor or a full colostomy bag hanging too-heavy on the hip. The story is people saying things and people doing things. Explanations, expositions, backstory, internal monologuing: don’t be a narrative hoarder. Let go of as many details as you can.
16. Write down only those things that carry you — and the reader — to the next part of the story. Anything else is just gum sticking your boot (and theirs) to the sidewalk.
17. The three shits easy plot generator: characters want shit, so they do shit to get what they want, and then shit happens in the process. Motivation. Action. Consequence.
18. Every character believes herself to be the main character. Every character is the hero of her own story. That includes antagonists. That includes supporting characters. This belief held by all characters puts characters in contention with one another. And plot is created from the result.
19. Yes, it’s hard. If it were easy, it wouldn’t be awesome. Stop being afraid of difficult things.
20. Protect your writing time. Someone wants to take that away from you, you gotta do the Gandalf jam. Plant your feet. Slam your staff (note: not a euphemism for a penis) against the ground. THOU SHALT NOT PASS. Or, THOU SHALT NOT TAKE AWAY THE TIME I HAVE RESERVED FOR THIS TASK I CONSIDER IMPORTANT SO EAT A GIANT CHRISTMAS STOCKING CRAMMED WITH MIDDLE FINGERS YOU JERKY MCJERKERSON.
21. Consider the story’s stakes. What can be won or lost by the characters? The story is the characters betting on something. What happens if they bet too big? What happens if they lose the bet? How do the stakes of different characters oppose each other?
22. You are your own muse. You make your own motherfucking magic.
23. It’s okay if you fail as long as you learn something from it.
24. It’s also totally okay if NaNoWriMo isn’t for you. It wasn’t really for me. It’s not for a lot of people. Sometimes it fits. Sometimes it’s trying to headbutt a square peg into a circle hole. Sometimes it feels like you’re trying to cram an end-table up an asshole. Just because it isn’t for you doesn’t mean novel-writing isn’t for you. Draw your own map if the one you have in your hand doesn’t take you to the pirate’s treasure.
25. Fuck ’em if they don’t believe in you. Your book isn’t a precious fairy. It needs nobody’s faith to fly. It doesn’t even need your faith right now. It just needs you to do the work. So: do the work.
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30 Days in the Word Mines: a series of daily tips, tricks, and thoughts to get you writing that story that squirms inside your viscera and longs to escape.