Yes friends, it’s that time of year again. The time for throwing caution to the wind, ignoring household chores, isolating yourself from friends and family, and logging way too many hours behind a computer screen. No, I’m not talking about a marathon World of Warcraft session, I’m talking about NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month. The time of year when all of us crazy writer types attempt to bash out 50,000 glorious, or not so glorious words, in a month of literary abandon. This is my second year to participate, and since I actually won last year, I thought I’d post a little advice and a few tips. Not that I’m qualified to do so mind you; I’m just going to do it anyway.
First and most important in my opinion, is don’t doubt yourself. You can do this. You have it in you if you just stop listening to those negative voices in your head. I had to drown mine out with music last year. Eventually the voices of my characters overpowered the other voices and I let them guide me to the finish line. Don’t get me wrong, I still doubt myself all the time, but I just have to remind myself that it is possible and that I’m not shooting for pulitzer prize winning prose here, just a very rough draft of my novel. Just take it a day at a time. Realistically, if you plan to write every single day of the competition, you need to log 1,667 words per day. I would suggest you shoot for 2,000 words a day so that you give yourself a little cushion. If that seems daunting then break it into manageable chunks. Get up a little early and write in the morning. Write some more at lunch and then power it home in the evening. Just find something that works for you and keep plugging away at it. Don’t beat yourself up if you miss your daily quota, just try to make it up on the weekend.
Second, have some idea as to where your story is going and what your characters are going to face. That doesn’t mean that you have to have a complete and detailed outline. Of course you can if you want, but it isn’t necessary. I would suggest that you visualize the ending of your novel so that you have a light to steer towards. I think writer’s block only occurs when we don’t have a good idea where our story is going. Along that same line of thought, write a few tent-poles for your story. In other words, figure out some of the main conflicts in your story that you can write towards. For me, the writing flows much better if I have at least a general idea of where and when the next major conflict is going to occur. Give your characters a desire and keep finding ways to deprive them of that desire until the very end. I would suggest three or four major conflicts before allowing your protagonist to resolve the story. Of course, nearly every scene should also have conflict even if it’s only minor. Conflict moves your story forward. If you need a more structured idea of plot, you might benefit from Nigel Watts’ eight point story arc or the classic hero’s journey. I won’t detail them here because you can find plenty of great books and websites that cover them in depth. Just Google it :)
Third, do whatever it takes to silence that inner editor. We all want to write perfect prose, but NaNoWriMo is not the time or place for it. If it flows from you naturally then kudos to you, but if you’re like the rest of us, resist the urge to edit at all costs. The point of NaNo is to get into the habit of writing daily and to learn how to bash out a very rough draft quickly. The benefit of this is that you allow yourself the freedom to write like crap in order to get all of those wonderful ideas out of your head and onto the page. That will never happen if you keep editing your last sentence until it is perfect. Yes, a large portion of what you write may be garbage, but the ideas and characters just might be some real gems. After NaNo is over and you’ve taken a little time away from your work you can go back and polish those gems until they shine brightly. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised at just how much useable material is nested in amongst the garbage. Just keep writing and don’t look back. If something seems odd right after you write it, don’t fix it. Just hit the enter key a few times, type in a row of asterisks and leave a note to come back to it after you reach 50,000 words. And on the plus side, those notes to yourself actually count towards your word count. They are words after all :)
My final bit of advice is just to have fun with it. NaNoWriMo is meant to be fun. It’s work, but it should be fun. If it’s not fun, then you probably shouldn’t be doing it. Don’t put a lot of pressure on yourself. Even if you don’t complete NaNoWriMo you’ve probably written a lot more than you have in a while, and you might have learned something about yourself along the way. Besides, there’s always next NaNoWriMo and you have an entire year to come up with a new game plan. Have fun and happy writing!