Paul wearing his NaNoWriMo writing hat.
As Macbeth says, “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow, creeps in this petty pace from day to day.”
Unless, of course, you’re doing NaNoWriMo. Then the days fly by faster than Malcolm’s army moving from Birnam Wood to Dunsinane Hill.
As some of you know, I’m rehearsing Shakespeare’s Macbeth as well as prepping for and participating in NaNoWriMo. I’ve never done both at the same time and it’s making me nervous. The anxiety has been steadily building up over the past week as I realize that I’m going to have to reach that cold, hard deadline of 50,000 words in 30 days and open a play in the middle of the month.
It is possible to get 50,000 words in a month. I’ve done it in the past, but never while preparing for a play. As I’ve said in my previous post, 6 Things You Need to Thrive During NaNoWriMo, to win NaNoWriMo it helps to have a plan.
The plan I’m going to talk about in this post is answering the 6 Questions otherwise known as the 5 Ws and an H (Who, What, Where, When, Why and How). If you can answer these questions in some detail, you are well on your way to getting your story done. The great thing about this kind of planning is that it applies to your story and your writing life.
Let’s look at the WHO question first.
For your story, you need some WHOs doing things to other WHOs. Your MC (main character) wants something more than anything else and your story is about what your MC is willing or not willing to do to get that thing. The other WHOs are there to either help the MC or hinder them. Figuring out who these WHOs are is a big step to figuring out your story. If you take a look at my post Aristotle’s 4 Levels to Creating Characters that Live, you’ll get some great insight into creating characters with dimension. I’ve already cast my novel with photos from the internet and put them into my Scrivener file for my novel. By having a photograph and some information about them readily available, I don’t have to keep inventing information about each person, it’s like I know them already.
For your writing life the WHO question is, “Who are you going to be in the matter of finishing your 50,000 words?” What I mean by that is, will you give yourself excuses as to why you can’t finish your words for the day or will make the time to get the words done? It’s the difference between being a victim of what is happening in your life (the path I often take), or taking the initiative to find a way to do the things you say you are going to do – NO MATTER WHAT.
It’s not that you’re a bad person if you don’t do the things you say you’re going to do, it’s more a question of who do you need to become to be able to do the things you say you’re going to do? It’s a deep question and one you can live your whole life exploring.
Another WHO question you can ask is, “Who will you turn to for support?” One of the reasons people like participating in WriMo is the amount of support they receive. Writing is hard. It’s lonely. We often don’t have someone looking out for us or cheering us on, but for the month of November we join together to say, “Hey, we can do this!”
It also really helps to have someone to be an accountable to. Look for me on NaNoWriMo’s site and sign up to be my writing buddy. If you are desperate in November, reach out to me on Twitter and I’ll send you an encouraging word. I want us to get to the end of NaNoWriMo together and celebrate big time.
Next is the question of WHAT.
I like to think of the what of the story as several questions.
“What do the characters want?”
“What do they do to get what they want?”
“What gets in the their way?”
In acting terms, the first question is known as the character’s OBJECTIVE. The character wants something badly and will do almost anything to get it. The TACTICS the characters use or the ACTIONS the characters take to get what they want is often what gets them into trouble in our stories. The OBSTACLES are anything that gets in their way. When you answer these three things over and over you have a story that moves along in an exciting way to a dramatic conclusion.
For your writing life the WHAT question is, “What do you need to do to get your words done each day?”
Do you need to tell your spouse you are taking an extra hour or two at night on in the morning to work on your book? Do you need to let a parent know you aren’t brooding in your room, you’re trying to accomplish something really important to you? Do you need to exercise more, sleep less, drink more water, make sure your laptop is charged, stretch every 25 minutes, give yourself rewards for reaching certain goals, etc.? Think about this question as you move through the month. What happens if you miss a few days? Can you make it up on the weekend? Most people can. Don’t panic. Don’t give up. Ask yourself WHAT you can do to make it to your goal of 50,000 words.
WHERE? is an important question in many ways.
If you get stuck during WriMo (if, ha!, when), you might think of a new WHERE for your characters to end up. What interesting WHERE can you write about? You might set your opening scene in a restaurant. But what kind of restaurant? What makes it unique? Why did your couple pick this particular restaurant? A greasy spoon diner is going to tell us something different about their relationship than a four-star restaurant. Think about the specifics of your WHERE and give us a few details to allow us to find ourselves in the world you’ve created.
Locations in your story are important, but also WHERE YOU WRITE can be an important factor, too. For some reason, I was able to get more writing done at Panera Bread during my last WriMo than when I was at home. Being at home I was able to clean the kitchen, vacuum the living room, play some video games, mess around on the computer, and basically procrastinate most of my writing time away. When I was out at Panera, writing with other WriMos, I was able to concentrate and focus on the task at hand, getting the words on the page.
WHEN? is another question that can affect your story and how much you write.
The WHEN grounds your reader in time and what is happening in your story. Some writers actually keep a calendar of events in their stories to be able to keep track of what should be happening when. Use a mapping program to figure out how long a drive across Pennsylvania might actually take. (A REALLY long time, Pennsylvania is wide.) Time of day affects how characters talk, what they say. Let the WHEN affect the characters and us.
I know that I’m often best at writing when I do it first thing in the morning, during or just after that first cup of coffee. I’m writing this post late at night and I started it earlier this afternoon. When I write in the afternoon, I get fatigued very easily. For me, it has to be early in the morning or late at night. Read these great articles by Jeff Goins about How to Wake Up Early and Why You Should Be Writing at Night.
One of the biggest questions of all is WHY?
From an acting stand-point the why is your character’s MOTIVATION. WHY is your MC doing what they are doing to get what they want? What is driving your MC to continue to pursue this action? What do they get out of the continued pursuit? If they get nothing, why?
This is also an important question for your writing life. Why are you writing this story? Is it fun? Do you enjoy it? Is it something you’ve always wanted to do? Are you doing it for approval? Do you want to make someone proud? Do you want to tell your story? Do you want to prove to yourself that you can set a goal and stick to it? All of these are completely valid reasons for writing and getting your writing done. Leave a comment about why you write. If you know WHY you are doing something, it can often give you the power to continue doing it, or stop doing it if you realize you are doing it for all the wrong reasons.
Finally, let’s take a look at HOW?
This is the question that I find to be the most fun. It’s one of the reasons I love writing so much. I get to decide HOW my characters act. I am in complete control. My MC is stuck in a well. How did they get down there? How do they get out? How will they drive to see their daughter when they’ve lost their driver’s license from drinking too much? How does this character sound when they talk? How do they dress? How do they eat? How? How? How?
The other reason I like this question is because when it comes to our writing lives we have to ask ourselves, “How will we get this done?”
The answer is: “Any way possible.”
Ask your spouse for support or sneak in a few hours after everyone is asleep. Write on your phone, your tablet, your notebook. Use Scrivener or use Word. Think about your story in the shower. Jot down notes while waiting at the doctor’s office. Talk to yourself into a recording app on your phone.
Above all, fight against resistance. Resistance will come, but we must defeat it to win WriMo and to accomplish anything in life.
As Steven says, “Resistance is experienced as fear; the degree of fear equates to the strength of Resistance. Therefore the more fear we feel about a specific enterprise, the more certain we can be that that enterprise is important to us and to the growth of our soul. That’s why we feel so much Resistance. If it meant nothing to us, there’d be no Resistance.”
The great thing about this is that at any moment we can defeat resistance and change our lives. HOW? By sitting down and doing the work – word after word on the page until we reach our goal – a story that we share with the world.
I you struggle with resistance and procrastination, listen to this Genius Network Interview of Steven Pressfield talking about Resistance.