First, a disclaimer: I’m not participating in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) this year. But I have a good reason. I’m editing the novel I wrote for NaNoWriMo LAST year, one that was over 50,000 words by the end of the day on November 30th. Since I was able to successfully win NaNoWriMo (twice, actually: in 2010 and 2014), I thought I’d share some of the things that led to that success.
Another disclaimer, though: I’m a plotter, not a pantser (for the most part, sometimes I’m somewhat of a hybrid). That being said, most advice applies to both types of writers. So, here we go:
- Schedule writing time each day – We’re busy people, and squeezing in the time to write 1,667+ words every day for 30 days straight takes effort. When I won NaNoWriMo in 2010, I was a sophomore in college studying engineering. I was also getting over a rough break-up. When I won again in 2014, I was simultaneously working on my Master’s thesis. It’s pretty rare I, or anyone I know, happens upon free time. And when we do, it’s readily filled with surfing the internet, watching TV, making plans with friends, staring at the wall while contemplating life’s deepest mysteries…basically, anything except writing. Unless you specifically plan your writing time. It doesn’t have to be the same time every day all month, unless that works for you. You can decide to write before work/school, or after. Write more on the weekends to make up for weekdays. Whatever works for you, just make sure you consciously work writing into your schedule.
- Plan little rewards for meeting your word count – It could be snacks or sweets. It could be watching an episode of your favorite TV show. It could be taking a bath. Whatever will motivate you to get to that 1,667th word, so long as the reward doesn’t take up too much of your time 😉
- Don’t edit during November-AT ALL – This is extremely difficult, I know. I’ve been writing since early elementary school, and until sophomore year of college, I was a constant editor. I’d edit way more than I’d write. Do you know what I got out of that? A couple chapters of a couple stories that never grew any longer. When I did NaNoWriMo in 2010, I forced myself to accept that my draft was awful. Like, really awful. Characters were inconsistent, with very flaky development. Plot points were forced. The tone and language didn’t match the setting. But you know what? I got to the end. And that novel in 2010 wound up serving as an outline for the novel I worked on in 2014. And now I’m working toward publishing it.
- Don’t stop at a “good stopping point” – This one is tough. You’re in the zone, you’re writing that scene and you finish that scene. You check your word count for the day, and you’ve met your goal! Time to close it up and reward yourself. NOT SO FAST! Do you know what will happen when you open your novel tomorrow? You’ll be staring at the blank white page of a new scene, and we all know how intimidating that is. Instead, when you finish one scene, immediately start another scene and DON’T finish it. Let it hang in your mind until you open your novel again. That way, you’ll be itching to finish that scene, and the words will pour out more easily.
- Don’t know which direction to take a scene? Write ALL THE OPTIONS – You’ve reached a fork in your plot’s road. Which direction seems best? Even though I tend to be a plotter, I do run into this pretty frequently within scenes. I know I want to get from A to B, but what happens in between? Since NaNoWriMo is all about word count, you have nothing to lose (and everything to gain) from simply writing every option you think of. For organization’s sake, I can’t recommend Scrivener enough. I have a lot of versions of scenes, and simply label them “Scene 1.0, Scene 2.0…” or “Scene Re-do”. You can decide after December 1st which version you like the best.
- If you’re stuck, focus on ONE aspect of the scene – This could be dialogue, actions taken by your character, describing the scenery, or even dryly laying out what you hope to accomplish in that scene. For me, personally, I’ll focus on dialogue. After NaNoWriMo, my manuscript is riddled with scenes that are 99-100% dialogue. Since my stories tend to be character-driven, and writing dialogue tends to be something that comes easily to me, this helps me keep my momentum on slow days.
- Still stuck? Write about why that might be – I enjoy reading over my NaNoWriMo manuscripts, and it’s not because they’re well-written (they are NOT, as I mentioned before). It’s because I interject other thoughts smack-dab in the middle of a scene when my brain gets tired. I’d complain about school, or how I don’t have any nutritious food in my house but am too lazy to go grocery shopping, etc. Hey, those words still count toward your total word count. And eventually, you might even segue back into your story!
- STILL stuck? Scold yourself, seriously – This is the other reason I love re-reading my NaNoWriMo manuscripts. I get very sassy with myself when writer’s block strikes. I have a huge rant in my manuscript from 2010 about how I should have done more research about steamships before November started, and that if I had, I’d be able to write a more detailed scene that takes place on a steamship, and instead I have to make stuff up and pretend to know what I’m talking about. And then I jumped back into the story as if nothing had happened.
- Attend local or online write-in events – Sometimes you need other people to motivate you to write. Check your Regional group on the NaNoWriMo website to see if there’s an active community getting together during the month. Groups will often meet in coffee shops (where else?) and write. If you can’t go, or don’t feel like going, to a local write-in, check out online ones! NaNoWriMo hosts them regularly on their YouTube channel, and other people organize their own. Search around to find one that suits you.
- Remember to drink, eat, and sleep! – Keep yourself nourished and healthy. If you’re tired, or hungry, or thirsty, your writing will suffer. And, you know, so will your body. Remember that NaNoWriMo is a FUN thing, and it’s not worth ruining your health over!
So those are my main tips for successfully completing NaNoWriMo. Feel free to comment or ask questions. Good luck to everyone participating!