I’ve noticed from trawling through the blogosphere, the NaNoWriMo forums and just general chatting with friends that there are a lot of people who are attempting this crazy novel-writing challenge for the first time this year. With only a few days left until we all embark on a month of total madness, I thought I would lend my several years of experience and wisdom (hahaha, wisdom, yeah right!) and provide some of my personal tips on how to survive the month and hit that 50 000 word goal!
- Join up! This might seem like stating the obvious, but you’re much more inclined to give it a go once you’re officially a member of the website and have a potential novel entered on your profile (even if you’ve typed everything as TBA because you have no clue what you’re going to write about). A lot of people sit and ponder on whether or not to do it right up until the final moment – just enter now, think about it later. Remember, more than anything else NaNoWriMo is a fun thing that you want to do, so don’t panic about it before the month even starts.
- Tell everybody that you’re doing it! Well, everybody that you know and speak to on a regular basis, anyway. Tell your family. Tell your friends. Tell your fellow colleagues at your work. Definitely tell your bosses. If you’re a teacher, tell some of your students, especially those who are writers themselves (and if you think they’re up to it, and old enough, set them up to the challenge as well). The more people in your life who know you are doing this, the more people you have to encourage you, to egg you on when you feel down and out and to celebrate with you when you’re speeding through your word count at a million miles an hour.
- Drink lots of caffeine! Preferably coffee, although tea will suffice if you’re more of a tea drinker. I wouldn’t recommend coke and energy drinks, as the sugar highs and so on might be fun briefly, but you’ll crash down from them just as quickly. If you’re a one coffee a day drinker, have a go at drinking a second or a third coffee now to prepare yourself. Just don’t be silly and drink 14 coffees in one day like I did (seriously! Don’t do it! It’s really quite dangerous (interestingly though, I did have a nap after that – it’s as if my body just rejected it all)).
- Don’t overplan. Some people are what we call pantsers – they write by the seat of their pants with absolutely no planning. This has been me a couple of the times I have done NaNoWriMo and it’s quite fun in its own way. If you do feel the need to plan your story though, don’t go over the top. Why? Because when you find your story changing suddenly as you hastily scribble it down, you’ll get frustrated. I’d recommend building up strong characters and coming up with only a very loose plot, so that way when unexpected things happen in your story (and they will), you’ll know how your characters should react to it which will help you immensely.
- Expect the unexpected. As I just said, you will likely surprise yourself in your writing. Things will happen seemingly out of control. Characters will fall in love out of nowhere. Characters will die. A plot twist will turn everything on its head. Embrace this, because it’s important and essential to a good story – if you surprise yourself, you’ll no doubt surprise your reader too. There’s nothing worse than a super-predictable story.
- Delete the delete/backspace buttons. Turn off your inner editor. The key part of this is to scribble out a draft manuscript, and a rough one at that. Should you have something worth salvaging at the end of the month, then use December and beyond to edit it and shape it into the story you really want to tell. Writing this many words in a month isn’t easy, especially the first time you attempt it, so don’t delete anything no matter how rubbish you fear it may be. As part of this, don’t re-read what you have written either, for it shall tempt you to use those two forbidden buttons.
- Limit your time on the forums. The forums are great, with some lovely people to encourage you and give advice. But they can become very addictive. If you are spending too long on them already, start to cut down your time there before November starts. Only revisit the ones you’re really interested in; if there’s people you’re enjoying talking to, add them as writing buddies or on social networks like Twitter (which is always good for NaNoWriMo).
- Did I mention coffee? Because it’s really quite important.
- Do it for fun. Don’t make it a chore, or you’ll get over it and walk away. Make it a challenge, for sure, but ultimately you want to enjoy this so that you can get the most out of it. And if you don’t make the 50 000 words? So what. My advice is this: write your heart out for the full 30 days. Even if you can only get to 1000 words each day on average that’s still 30 000 words and still a lot more than you would normally write in a month. What you’ll learn from it all is invaluable.
- Don’t panic if you fall behind. I fall behind almost every year. I think once I was behind by nearly 15 000 words. For me, I normally have a massive catch up session – often on the last weekend. You’ll be amazed what you can do in a single session when you really get your head down. My record is about 11 000 words in one day and 20 000 in one weekend, but I know someone who managed 19 000 words in a single session. The point is? Keep going. Don’t stop just because you’re behind. I spend most of the month behind the word count most years, and I think if anything this motivates me. Don’t worry too much about it. You’ll get there if you’re really determined. And if you don’t get there, see point 9.
- Coffee. Yep.
I’ll stop there before this turns into a novel. There’s all sorts of advice on the NaNoWriMo website, and many authors who provide pep talks far more articulately than I, but these main points here are more or less the philosophy I have written by for the last few years which have guided me to the goal every time.
If you haven’t joined up yet but you’re considering it, join up. I promise you it is a world of fun. If this is your first year, the main thing you should keep in mind is not to panic – enjoy it. And if you’re a bit of a veteran like me…here we go again!