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October 25, 2009

Seven Tips for National Novel Writing Month

In her 1934 classic, Becoming a Writer, Dorothea Brande prescribes an exercise in discipline: every day for a week, immediately upon waking up, write nonstop for fifteen minutes. After that first week, schedule two more fifteen-minute slots throughout the day; at those exact times, you must stop whatever you're doing and write. She ends her prescription with this warning: "If you fail repeatedly at this exercise, give up writing." Your resistance, she says, is greater than your desire to write; you may as well find something else to do with yourself.

nano_09_blk_support_1.pngIn her 1934 classic, Becoming a Writer, Dorothea Brande prescribes an exercise in discipline: every day for a week, immediately upon waking up, write nonstop for fifteen minutes. After that first week, schedule two more fifteen-minute slots throughout the day; at those exact times, you must stop whatever you're doing and write. She ends her prescription with this warning: "If you fail repeatedly at this exercise, give up writing." Your resistance, she says, is greater than your desire to write; you may as well find something else to do with yourself.

What a disheartening admonition to an aspiring writer! Of course, willpower is crucial when undertaking any difficult project, but Brande's declaration seems to me extreme and, frankly, unkind. Personally, I advocate the method of persuading the psyche to want something, rather than trying to strong-arm it into performing unpleasant tasks. I liken my style to cajoling a stubborn infant instead of resorting to spankings and time-outs. (No, I'm not a parent; as you might have guessed from my self-management strategy, I have my hands full just keeping myself in line.)

And you know what babies really like? Games! Easy, fun games in which everyone wins. And as luck would have it for us writers with a more hedonistic (read: lazy) disposition, National Novel Writing Month is just around the corner. Starting November 1, literary enthusiasts around the nation will flock to coffeeshops to convene with fellow NaNoWriMo participants, sharing inspiration, commiseration, and electrical outlets while striving to reach the 50,000-word minimum by the end of the month.

The NaNoWriMo website provides a full explanation of the project, which is now in its eleventh year. In short, the idea is to set up a low-stakes, high-intensity month-long writing exercise in order to push past that nasty inner critic that stops us from ever setting word one on the page. The result, in theory, is a "novel." The guidelines are refreshingly sparse: it must be at least 50,000 words, it can't be the same word repeated 50,000 times, it must be all new material, and if you call it a novel we'll believe you. And who doesn't want to be able to say they've written an entire novel--even if they would be mortified to show it to anyone?

In past years, my inertia has gotten the best of me, but this November is a different matter: my self-persuasion skills are stronger, and I'm enjoying a certain elusive optimism about life that I hope will last through the autumn. Still, I find I need to convince myself that taking on the NaNoWriMo challenge will be worthwhile and fun. I thought I'd share my personal persuasive strategy, in case anyone else out there needs some motivation to hop on this bandwagon.

1. In order to meet the 50,000-word minimum, you need to write 1,667 words every day. That means if you type 45wpm, it takes only 37 minutes to meet your daily quota. That's not even two whole sitcoms you're giving up each night. Totally doable!

2. If you can't bear to go without your primetime lineup, schedule your frantic burst of writing during the forgettable 7pm reruns or the ten o'clock news. Better yet, leave the TV playing in the background and call the stream of bad jokes and sensational stories "inspiration."

3. When you're feeling self-conscious about the fact that your prose seems to make no sense because you've been writing stream-of-consciousness with the TV blaring, take a break and treat yourself to some Donald Barthelme or Lydia Davis. You'll feel better immediately: you're being experimental.

4. If you choose to make a habit of writing in coffeeshops, reward your arrival at your 1667th word with a pastry. November's the month everyone starts putting on their "winter weight," anyway, right?

5. If you're still having trouble getting going, you can always resort to the time-honored writing aids of espresso, whiskey, cigarettes, pseudoephedrine, cough syrup, etc. etc. etc.

6. Don't feel obligated to read over what you've written. In fact, you can even promise yourself that, for the entire month, you will not review your work unless you're in such an awesome mood that you're sure to think it's brilliant.

7. If you slip on this last suggestion and discover in mid-November that every word you've put down is a horrible, melodramatic cliché, fear not. Just get out your trusty bottle of bourbon and repeat to yourself: "Things could be worse. At least I'm writing."

Are you sold yet? Sign up at NaNoWriMo.org.

October 12, 2009

dislocate/MFA Reading with David Treuer


dislocate
is pleased to welcome all our Twin City fans to our first reading of the year, taking place this Tuesday evening in Lind Hall on the University of Minnesota campus.

Headlining is David Treuer, author of the novels Little, The Hiawatha, and The Translation of Dr. Appelles. Treuer will be joined by three University Minnesota MFA candidates: Meryl DePasquale (poetry), Patrick Hueller (fiction), and Wilson Peden (nonfiction).


Refreshments will be served before and after the reading. You can also pick up a copy of our latest issue, dislocate #5.

WHEN: Tuesday, October 13, 7:00 pm
WHERE: 150 Lind Hall, University of Minnesota--East Bank