Cheating your way to 50,000 words

Now, I value integrity more than the average human being, but sometimes I think taking a few short cuts is completely fine. Don’t think hard, think smart.

Here are my top 3 cheats to boost your word count, in order of least desperate to most desperate. 

3. Get all that clunky writing out of your system

Don’t forget that NaNoWriMo serves as an outlet to get down your first draft. If you think that what comes out of NaNoWriMo is even close to publishing standards, either you are kidding yourself or you have a sad, sad idea of what is publishable these days.

First drafts are excrement. Remember that. Just get it all out of your system, and leave the clean-up for the revision stage.

What’s clunky writing? Wordiness. Adjectives and adverbs. Flowery description. Get it out now, and if you find an editor worth his or her salt (or if you know a thing about deadwood yourself), then try not to cry when 2/3rds of your manuscript seems to be crossed out in red ink after the editor gets her hands on it.

***Update: After reading my post, a friend of mine showed me this post on “The Best of NaNoWriMo”—a Tumblr page you can hope you don’t find yourself on. Please note that I recommend that yes, you get the wordiness out of your system—it comes naturally to writers. But I do NOT recommend making an effort to be overly wordy. You should never attempt to be a lousy writer. Practice makes perfect, so practice good writing, else you become a perfectly awful writer that no one wants to have lunch with.***

2. Commit the sins of dialogue tags.

“The truth is, if you have a dialogue tag,” Lara said, “It should serve two purposes.”

  1. It should be as invisible as possible, placed at the beginning or end of the sentence, or in the middle at a natural pause.
  2. It should tell the reader who is talking.

Here are the 3 sins of writing dialogue tags:

  1. Thinking your reader is stupid. If anybody with a brain can guess who is talking, leave the dialogue tag out.
  2. Thinking that zero dialogue tags = mysterious, artistic writing. It isn’t. It’s confusing and annoying. Establish who is talking as soon as the dialogue begins, and then only use dialogue tags when things get confusing or you introduce another character.
  3. Thinking that dialogues are a place to express your creativity and use vocabulary words. I have a huge amount of respect for educators. Yet I’d like to take a ruler to the knuckles of teachers who give their students worksheets like, “Other words to use instead of ‘said'” because they are instilling into those malleable minds that bad writing will give you better grades. (Hint: it often does)

Dialogue tags are punctuation. Some really wonderful writers forget that from time to time, including Ms. J.K. Rowling, who used extended dialogue tags in her earlier Harry Potter novels. You’ll notice, though, that the better her novels got, the more invisible her dialogue tags were.

“I like that hat you are wearing,” said John exuberantly.

“Thank you,” Cordelia squeaked with a blush, “for saying such nice things.”

Reading the above is pretty similar to reading something like this:

I LIKE THAT HAT YOU ARE WEARING!

THANK YOU! FOR SAYING SUCH THINGS!

Unnecessary and loud. And while such boring dialogue shouldn’t appear in your novel anyway, if it must, make it more like this:

“I like that hat you are wearing,” said John.

“Thank you for saying such nice things,” said Cordelia. She covered her cheek with her hand to hide the blush.

Still awful, but better. If you want good examples of dialogue writing, I’ll see if I can get some time this weekend to illustrate how to do it well, using examples from authors other than myself.

But if you need more words, commit those sins! Get them out! (And then murder the tags as you rewrite.)

1. Include your notes and free-writing in there, too.

NaNoWriMo is sort of like a marathon of free-writing. The point is the word count, not the quality of what you are writing. One way to boost your word count and get the “creative juices” flowing is to start off each writing session doing a free-writing exercise. It will get you over staring at the dreadful white page and make your brain and hands get ready.

Then include this all in the same document as your manuscript.

My manuscript is a complete mess. It isn’t linear, I write different scenes from different parts of my novel at different times. I don’t have a lot of my notes included in the manuscript (yet), but I have some. (Most of my notes I typed on a typewriter and keep in a 3-ring binder.) I’ll write three versions of a scene because all of them are in my head at once. Keep it all, and count it all in your word count. When you get to the revising stage, then you can rearrange all the scenes into a logical order and decide which words to toss, recycle, or keep.

I’m hoping to get more writing done this week. I have a lot of new ideas for scenes, but they currently reside on sticky notes and hotel notepads that I have around the house. I’m not really trying to hit the magic 50,000 words this month—I’d rather go slowly building  a solid plan than a 70,000 word manuscript that doesn’t work—but once I hit 20,000 I’ll take a break to write a post on good dialogue.

Unless I hit a burn out before 20,000 words and need a break. But my breaks have mostly consisted of me trying to obtain work. Which reminds me—insert shameless plug—if you are interested in getting custom business cards designed for yourself, for writing conferences or whatever, I’ll give you a discount for being a fan on my Facebook page. Become a fan on there, and I’ll give more details this weekend.

Let me know how you are progressing, and if you’ve committed any of the sins or cheats yourself!

3 thoughts on “Cheating your way to 50,000 words

  1. Hazel Jones Godwin says:

    Great post! This is my first year doing Nano and I’ve been trying to get my notes organized and my plots straightened out as I go along. I have been so worried about how its all going to come together that I have stalled myself out. So I’m just going to do as you suggest. Get it all down, get it all out and then try and put it together once the month is over. Maybe I’ll have something, maybe I wont. But I want this process to be fun, not overtaxing. Just letting loose and getting it all out. That’s the plan from this point on. Thanks for reminding me of that 🙂 Happy Writing!

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