Can you hear the distant rumbling? The pitter patter of the happiest of feet? Can you see visions of plot bunnies and character deaths everywhere?
The most wonderful time of the year is upon us: the month of November, when thousands of novelists all over the world gather for thirty days and thirty (sleepless) nights of literary abandon. National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, is, for many of us writer-by-night types, a fantastic excuse to pump out a 50,000 word novel in thirty days or less. This year will be my sixth taking part in an annual event that some may call crazy, and by now I’ve got the rhythm down. For those of you who may not, however, here are a few tips to NaNo success.
Grated, I am perhaps the worst example of this as I put off getting this article out until today. I have, however, been preparing for NaNo throughout the month of October. There are two main kinds of writers in the NaNo world; plotters and pantsers. Plotters are self-explanatory–they plot out their novel or parts of their novel before November first even dares approach.
I am more of a pantser, myself–both in that I am the champion of pantsing people, and in that I come up with a general idea for my newest project, or a character, or a format I’d like to try out, and then see where it takes me. Plotters, however, may be more in to looking up storyboard templates or character design information, or diving into the depths of the NaNo forums. No matter what kind of writer you are, however, I highly recommend stocking up on provisions well before October 31st. I’ve been stockpiling cheez-its for weeks.
That Being Said…The Best Laid Plans…
See above. I started writing this article about two weeks ago, knowing it would take some time. Life got in the way, as it always does. But I’m determined to finish before my deadline (today, obviously)…so here I am. The whole point of NaNo is to stop making excuses, sit down at your computer or notebook or whatever, and write. This is the time of year when thousands of other people like you have committed to setting and then meeting a ridiculous goal. You can do it, even when the dog is throwing up and Thanksgiving dinner has to be made and you have work in the morning.
Know that things happen. Know that all the planning in the world can’t stop a hurricane from hitting, or a job crisis from landing smack in the middle of your “crunch” week. Stay ahead of your daily goal as much as you can, and maybe that crisis won’t be so bad.
Know Your Comfort Zone
I mean this in every way possible. I know my writing groove requires hot tea, comfortable pants, warmth, and some kind of music to which I don’t have to pay attention. I also know that I type fast and get discouraged easily. Having Cheez-its handy helps.
I am easily distracted, so sometimes removing myself from my house completely is a good idea, but I need to go somewhere I can spread out and get food and/or caffeine easily. I like using a writing program called Q10, which essentially turns my screen into a DOS word processor so all I can do is type or not type. It also makes typewriter noise, the monotony of which helps me focus a little. You should know what makes you comfortable, or what puts you into writing mode–both physically and mentally. You should also know if your comfort zone is acually the same as your productive zone, and be honest with yourself about it. Your bed is almost never a good place to get things done.
Set a Reasonable Goal
If you can’t make 50,000, then aim for 25. If 50 sounds a little low, aim for 75. Aim for ten pages a day or two or one. Aim for a short story a week if that’s your thing, or work on poems one at a time. This is a month to do what you’ve always wanted, not to set an arbitrary goal and then go for broke.
Personally, I like using November for novel writing. I don’t get a lot of time for long-form writing for the rest of the year, so that’s what I focus on come NaNo. And yes, it does have NOVEL right in the title, but if you poke around in the forums even just a little you’ll see plenty of people use it as an excuse to pursue other literary goals.
Know Your Most Productive Times
I’m productive after dark. I hate leaving everything to the weekends. I like working in short spurts and proving how much I can get done on lunch breaks or commercials.
You should know if mornings aren’t your thing. You should know if your brain shuts down after nine. Knowing when you’re productive will help avoid frustration. One year I was all “imma get up early and get all my writing done before work and school and I’ll be the coolest.”
I did not win that year.
Be Willing To Ask For Help
Writing groups are awesome. You can create a writing group out of like-minded friends, whether they are participants or not. You can find a local group in the forums, if you don’t have and real-life writer buddies. One of the great parts about NaNo is that just by participating, you’ve got a writing group of thousands of people at your fingertips. I’ve made several twitter friends through writing sprints (short writing times where you try to write as much as you can within a set time limit) just because we were constantly comparing numbers. We went on to create off-time challenges against one another to keep the writing flow going, and then kept in touch long after NaNo was over.
NaNo also has “municipal liaisons” which are basically leaders in specific areas. When you sign up for NaNoWriMo, you can add a region, and whichever region you add signs you up for emails from your ML. The best MLs organize write-ins where wrimos can meet up and write together IN PERSON.
Whether you ask for it in person or online, there’s no shame in admitting you’re stuck, or spitballing ideas, or scrapping your entire story board and starting from scratch based on an idea you jotted down at three in the morning.
And Finally, Have Fun!
Remember, no one is forcing you to write. No one is going to force you over the finish line, either. It’s going to be hard–if you want it to be. Personally I enjoy a challenge, and love carving out time in my schedule to write furiously. But not everyone is the same.
If you’re not having fun, really think about whether or not it’s time to change something in your NaNo schedule. If it’s too many words, or not enough, then pick another goal. Or maybe it’s just not your year. Out of the six years I’ve participated, I’ve only won three. One year school was too much. Another I was trying to write only when I had hours at a time. And finally, one year I just didn’t have a novel’s worth of material. There are all sorts of reasons not to cross the finish line, Make sure if you don’t make it there that it’s for a reason.
See you all next month, hopefully 50k words richer! Follow my progress at NaNoWriMo.org/jenisaurusrex
Image credit: Nanowrimo.org