As the leaves change and the weather cools—at least in theory, somewhere, because it’s sunny and upper 70s here in my paradisiacal home!—there are a lot of big events coming up. Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, the Winter Solstice, Hanukah, Kwanzaa, Veteran’s Day, etc. etc. But one that looms large in the writing world is not just a special day or religious event (well, maybe the latter!), it’s an entire month dedicated to consistent and/or feverish writing. Yes, my friends, I am speaking of the dreaded/anticipated NaNoWriMo. If you don’t know, NaNoWriMo (or National Novel Writing Month) is a time when writers pledge to produce 50,000 new words during the month of November.
There are a lot of diverse opinions out there about the benefit, utility, and enjoyability of NaNoWriMo, and I won’t go into those here. If you’re not interested in NaNoWriMo, just know you are not alone and have a nice day. =) If you are interested, keep reading! (For the record, I myself am not doing NaNoWriMo this year. For one, it has never helped me produce usable work, and for two, I need to be editing not drafting right now.)
NaNoWriMo can be intimidating, especially for a first timer. A first draft in just a month?? Please. Don’t I have like, a life? (Answer: Not during NaNo!) So let me offer a little advice, heavily grained with salt since I am a multiple-time participant and zero-time winner.
1. Don’t switch it up TOO much. NaNo is great for shaking you out of a rut or bringing new ideas to fruition. It can be a great time to play around with new formats, new plots, new genres even! But if you take on too much—remember, you are writing 50k words, which is a challenge on its own!—you can face disappointment, burnout, and failure. If you’re going to try a new genre, maybe use your favorite and most comfortable POV/tense. If you’re going to experiment with a new format (e.g. an epistolary), maybe stick to your normal genre. And this is a big one—I really really don’t recommend switching up the base of your routine. I, for example, am an outliner. And probably much farther to the outline side than most people. Last year I decided to pants NaNo! Because NaNo is fun and I wanted to try something new! Yeah. It didn’t work. My plot went nowhere, I fizzled out after 12k words or so, and it soured me on an idea I’d been wanting to write for years. So. Change up some things, but don’t change up everything!
2. Don’t get lost in the community. Writing is often a solitary, lonely pursuit. One of the great things about NaNo is the amazing sense of community. You can see it on Twitter, on the NaNo forums, and anywhere else writers like to congregate. You can find write-ins where you actually write in person with other real live writers! (I’ve never done one but always wanted to.) Gaining access to a new network, making new writing friends, and expanding your circle can all be great benefits of NaNo. But they aren’t the heart of it. So enjoy the forums, offer condolences and support and ideas and receive them in return, tweet your heart out, but do that after writing, not instead of it!
3. Do celebrate your milestones. I know I just said that the heart of NaNo is to write 50k words, which is true. But 50k is a hell of a lot for most people to write in a month. Maybe you only get 25k. “Only,” I should say, because 25k is awesome. Is it more than you would have written otherwise? If so, pat yourself on the back, admire all those new words, and don’t get down on yourself.
4. Don’t rush. Okay this one is not quite NaNo, but more post-NaNo. NaNo can be a time of great productivity. You can get so excited about your shiny new manuscript that you forget an important fact—publishing is a long, slow process. Writing a first draft in a month is a great way to shorten that timeline (it would take me about 4-5 months to write 50k on average when working on a first draft), but it’s still only a first draft! For one thing, 50k is generally too short to be pitched as a novel. For another, you just wrote that in a caffeine-fueled haze of inspiration and determination—you aren’t going to see it clearly. Set it aside, work on something new, and make sure you do your due diligence in revising before you even start thinking about agents (or small presses or self-pubbing)!
5. Do remember the other 11 months. As stated, publishing is a long, slow process. If you write a 50k rough draft during NaNoWriMo, then pat yourself on the back, put up a winner’s badge, and sit back to enjoy some time off until the next NaNoWriMo…well, you’re not going to get anything but a pile of rough drafts. If that’s what you want, then great! Seriously, writing for yourself is awesome and I commend it. But I think most of us have goals of publishing and an audience, and that is going to take more than 30 days of feverish writing a year. So if you’re getting so burned out by NaNo that it’s going to wipe out the next several months of writing for you, don’t be afraid to take a deep breath, set it aside, and do what is right for you!
- Special Scrivener offer: Get a free trial version of Scrivener until Dec 7 (longer than the normal 30 day trial). If you win NaNo, you can purchase for 50% off—even if you don't win, you can still get it 20% off. Lots of writers swear by Scrivener!
- It's not too late to plan your novel! I love Randy Ingermanson's Snowflake Method. It's a great place to start, and it can help you have a rough outline ready in only a couple hours.
- There are a lot of word count apps out there, but I happen to love good old Excel. There are lots of great spreadsheets out there (just Google "NaNoWriMo spreadsheet"—easy to update to 2014 as well), but one of my favorites is this one made by NaNoWriMo user jodotha. Or you can make your own!
- If you're more of an analog type, try this printable calendar. There is something deeply satisfying about taking a marker and crossing out boxes as you go!
- One Page Per Day is exactly what its title promises. You can sign in with your Google or Twitter account and receive reminders to do your daily page. If you get intimidated by blank Word docs, this could be a great tool for you to break it down into manageable chunks.
- When/if you get stuck, Plinky offers prompts to get those creative juices flowing.
These are just a few of the many tools out there that can help you get through NaNoWriMo. But the writing itself is still on you! Luckily, I know you can do it—or at least enjoy trying.