National Novel Writing Month is upon us (starting November 1st) and in addition to our course designed specifically for NaNoWriMo participants of all experiences levels, several of our staff are current and past participants. While everyone’s method of spilling out a 50,000 word first draft of a novel in thirty days differs, we’ve put together some tips and resources that have worked for us and other NaNoers over the years.
1) Figure out what you’re writing.
There are many methods to pre-planning your novel. To avoid running out of steam in week two or three due to ‘lack of ideas,’ it’s good to have some form of outline of your story and characters before you launch into the real writing.
2) Be accountable to someone.
Tell your friends you’re participating. Your coworkers. Your parents/kids/roommate/significant other. If they’re not participating, you have just given them the heads up that you may not be as available this month because you need to focus on writing. If you can also connect with others you know who are participating it’s always good to have a cheerleader in your corner, one who understands the struggle and is working toward the same goal you are. Also, check out forums on the NaNoWriMo site and connect with other participants. There are also Pep Talks posted frequently throughout the month by NaNoWriMo staff, participants and well-known authors.
Everyone struggles with finding the time and motivation to write at times, but those who succeed are the ones who have a supportive network and find ways to push through the slumps and stop making excuses for not doing and just do.
3) Just. Write.
Just get it out and on the page. Period. – WP staffer Carla
It really is about the words in the first draft.
Yes, you want to have substance. Yes, you want to have a cohesive story. Yes, you want to have fully developed characters. Many of these things reveal themselves through the process of actually writing. So while at times describing in minute detail the way a room looks, or how the weather makes a character feel, or a dream sequence with dinosaurs with lasers for eyes seems worthless, it’s all a part of the process in crafting your world, your story, your characters. Let your ideas fly free.
This is the time to get messy. To write badly. To put it all on the page (or screen) and worry about how it all fits together later.
4) Schedule dedicated writing time and keep it sacred.
This one can be really hard. You’re purposely saying to yourself, and the world: this is what I want to do with my time, and it has value to me and so I’m going to do it. It’s a discipline, pure and simple. It’s also giving yourself the permission and freedom to pursue something you want more of in your life (at least we hope you want to write more). That can be as terrifying as it is exhilarating, and only you can train yourself to stick with it.
Additionally, get off the internet during your writing time. It is the easiest thing ever to find distractions when you’re starting off on a new project/discipline, and the internet is the ultimate distraction.
5) Find a space conducive to writing.
Writing spaces and what is considered a distraction varies for everyone, and you may not know what your balance is yet. Don’t agonize over finding the perfect circumstances, but if you know them and have access to them, enter that space.
6) Write wherever and whenever you can.
Yes, it’s kind of a contradiction to the last tip. Sometimes, though, a great idea comes on the train/bus/plane (see: how Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote ‘Wait For It’). Or that may be the only place/time you have to write. If the choice is to write in a non-ideal place, or not write at all – CHOOSE WRITING.
6a) Carry a writing implement and writing tablet with you everywhere you possibly can. You never know when you could have an extra few minutes to scribble.
6b) Backup your work. If you’re handwriting at times during the process you’ll need to type your work eventually for the NaNoWriMo official tally. But whatever you type, save it in two places. Preferably one online and one on a device. Just in case. Technology is fickle and you don’t want to lose 20,000 words worth of work because you couldn’t be bothered to copy and paste a file to a second location.
7) Take breaks.
Unless you’re able to bang out your daily word count goal in half an hour, make sure you schedule time to get up, stretch, grab a snack or drink, use the bathroom, etc. Even if you plan to write for two hours non-stop, without the need for sustenance or relieving yourself, get up every 30-45 minutes and stretch for two minutes (don’t forget to stretch your hands/wrists/arms). Your body will thank you for it, and your body deserves to be taken care of – seriously, take care of yourself; if your brain isn’t working, it may very well be because the rest of your body needs some care.
8) Push through week two (and week three).
NaNoWriMo loses the most participants in weeks two & three – because people realize how hard it is, lose motivation, and toss in the towel.
It is hard. So what?
You’re behind on your word count. So what?
You don’t have any idea where your story is going. So what?
Your characters aren’t doing what you plotted for them to do. So what?
You realize now how crazy a month November is to try and write a novel and have a life. So what?
All these issues are going to plague you anytime you sit down to write a novel. Yes, the NaNoWriMo process is compacted, but these problems will arise whether your first draft takes a month or two years to write. However, during NaNoWriMo you have support. There are thousands of people around the globe having your exact same issues and confusion and moments of panic. Reach out to those people. Support those people and they will support you in return. Take a deep breath. Keep on writing. The work is what matters – the effort, the drive, the actual putting words on a page and not giving up.
9) Silence the inner editor.
Don’t look back, you can never look back — at least not until you’re done with the first draft. – WP staffer Cindy
One way of getting yourself to concentrate on bursts of word-count-focused writing is to engage in word sprints. You can do this alone, in a group, or online (there’s a dedicated NaNoWriMo twitter account for sprints – which is one of the few times you can break the ‘get off the internet while writing’ rule). Read more about sprints and how they can work for you.
10) Don’t panic.
(Or at least learn to cope with panic and move on)
Whether you fall behind on word count, are fighting writer’s block on day two, get hand cramps from typing too much, or just think nothing you’re writing is any good – these are all things that have happened to NaNoers each year for over a decade. You are not alone in NaNo. Ever. You have the NaNoWriMo site and forums, you probably have a local group of participants (even if it’s mostly online); you have support and resources. Find your community and engage with it. Take a few deep breaths (or many), and return to writing when you’re able.
You know you best: your needs, your goals, your life, your story. Only you can decide how much time you have available to dedicate – but the time is there. You may have to give up a show you watch for a month, or stay off twitter/facebook at night (or altogether), or get up fifteen minutes earlier to scribble some sleepy notes, all until you hit your word count goal for the day. Regardless of whether you make it to 50,000 words or not, the practice of writing every day (or as often as you can) develops a strong writing discipline that can carry you forward through all projects. And whatever your word count at the end of the month, it’ll be more than you started with – so long as you sit down and write.
Ultimately, only you can figure out what works best for you, but hopefully this gives you a starting point for methods to try and the confidence to get through November!
Bree is the Assistant to the Director and Social Media Coordinator. You can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.