Some Advice for Those About to NaNoWriMo

Every year during the month of November, NaNoWriMo comes up out of the darkness, challenging aspiring authors to write their pants off for the entire month. The goal? To start and finish a 50,000 word novel between November 1 and November 30.

I admire and respect the brave souls who choose to sign up for this, although I personally have never done it, and I don’t think I ever will. So much of who I am (both as a person and as a writer) hinges on routine and consistency more than anything else. NaNoWriMo seems to me to be very much the equivalent of sprinting, whereas I’m all about the marathon.

That said, I do have a few pieces of advice for those who are thinking about doing NaNoWriMo–How I would approach it if I were going to do it. (Which, strangely enough, I might kind of be doing in a roundabout way. I just got a solid idea for a novel that I want to explore. It’s going to be fairly short. I’d figure 50,000 words or so. I have a month long window to try and hash most of it out . . . ) So think of this as a mix between advice for you and a decsription of my current writing plan. (Which seems to change for every book. Oh well. So much for “consistency,” right?)

  1. Break it down into manageable chunks–I know this is a no-brainer for most people, but it really is the only thing that’s kept me sane. 50,000 words in 30 days? For me, I wouldn’t be writing on Sundays (for religious and mental health reasons), so that means I’d have 25 days of writing in November–and that includes Thanksgiving. Even I can do that math. 2,000 words a day for each of those 25 days, and you’re done. On a normal day, I shoot for 1,000 words, which takes me about 45 minutes on average. But the bulk of that time is spent gaining momentum. By the end of my writing session, I’m often going at a very fast clip. I’d imagine I could be done with 2,000 words in under an hour and a half each day.
  2. Don’t fall behind–Meet that daily goal, no matter what. If you have to stay up late, stay up late. In my experience, as soon as you miss a day, it becomes so much more difficult to tackle the next. If anything, I’d try to get ahead and stay ahead. Writing because you want to is ever so much more fun and enjoyable than writing because you have to.
  3. I personally would start with a basic concept of character and plot–a spot where the character begins, a big problem he or she is facing, and an end point you want them to get to. I’d have a general idea of some cool points along the way they might encounter. For everything else, I’d just write off the cuff. I’ve done plotting, and I can’t honestly say it’s always worked out well for me. If you’d asked me two years ago, I think I would have said plot it out ahead of time. The me today is saying just write like the wind, however you see the story going. The me a year from now will probably be back to plotting. I’m fickle like that. But when I have a great idea and a direction to head, I figure, why not explore it and run down that path as fast as I can. If I only lose a month in the process, that’s no big deal. I might lose almost that much being bogged down in plotting and planning, anyway.
  4. Stop writing in the middle of a scene–the middle of a sentence, even. It’s always easier for me to start up again when I know exactly what I’m going to write. This doesn’t mean I interrupt myself in the middle of a key scene, but I don’t like tidying everything up neatly at the end of each day. Keep the writing edge wet, just like painting.
  5. Tell other people about your plans. As soon as you make it public, you’re committing yourself much more than any private determination. Any goal I really want to accomplish is a goal I try to shout from the rooftops. Sometimes it means I fail spectacularly, but I almost always do better at it than I would have if I’d just made a mental note.

In any case, my overarching piece of advice would be to have fun. Don’t worry about making everything perfect. Accept that there are going to be rough edges to what you’re writing. Go back after you’re done and revise that thing until your eyes bleed. But while you’re writing, do it because you love it. Not because you want to sell it, or because you want everyone else to love it–do it because you love it. It’s the only way I’ve found for my writing to come alive.

Good luck, all you crazies out there. Don’t forget to eat and shower once in a while!

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