This article first appeared on Angela Hayes' blog a few days ago. She's had guest authors on to talk about Nanowrimo for several days now. Go check her out and give the writing sprint from Hades a try!
I’ve been doing National Novel Writing Month for about nine years now and “won” all but two of those times. Now I’m a published author. It’s a small press and only my first published novel, but more are on their way. I’m hoping to write the rough draft of Book Four in November, in fact.
I’m not a plotter, I’m a pantser who really needs to think about where she’s heading. I have hybrid pants? My point isn’t to extol one method above the other. Though winning Nano is about planning ahead, adapting to circumstances, and keeping going, how you figure out what to write is up to you.
Your successful speed-writing month:
1) You MUST write 50,000 words. Accept the deadline. It is a firm number and a firm deadline. Procrastinators like me need that mindset. I sign up on the Nanowrimo,org website. I warn my family to leave me alone. I get all the laundry done. I clear my schedule as much as possible. I figure out a starting point and maybe some plot, definitely a couple of characters.
2) NO-NO: 50,000 words might NOT be right for you. I used to be a purist (and smug), but have seen too many people dealing with surprise things. A few years ago, I was the one dealing with things. Nano is not the boss of you. If you know you are going to be busy for most of the month, or if your muse doesn’t work under deadline, then don’t promise yourself 50,000 words. You can still sign up and benefit from the Nano pep talks, the forums, the write-ins, the moral support from friends, and everything, even if your goal is something lower.
3) Find a place to write. In my house, there are people who want stuff from me. People who make sudden, loud noises and watch Minecraft videos. There are chores to be done. There is Wi-Fi and Facebook. I do much better with Starbucks, where though the noise level is higher, the people don’t need me, I don’t have to do chores, and my laptop doesn’t like their Wi-Fi. And people make coffee for me. Bonus!
4) Find a peer group. The NaNoWriMo website has forums. You can buddy up with friends in real life, by email, or on Facebook. Someone who knows what you are doing—and it’s a huge thing, this book in one month—should be there to feel your pain and joy. Find a group! Post your updates!
5) Count EVERY word. If you’re a plotter and you didn’t plot before November started, include it in the word count. If you do a character sketch, include it in your count. Count the long descriptions you’ll never need and the pages and pages of back story that you had better not put in Chapter One. Sometimes, I end up typing some rambling rant about how stuck I am. I keep it. We’re pretty flexible. Highlight it in red so you can cut and paste it to a separate document on December 1st. Just keep writing. Make a spreadsheet of your total words, log your count on the Nano website, or download a counter. Watch the number go UP. Make a bar graph of your results. (NO-NO: that’s procrastination.) (YES-YES: make one anyway.)
6) Write every day…or NOT. 50K words means 1667 words per day. It’s feasible in an hour or two, depending on how the ideas flow and how fast you can type. There are days when I have written 5000 words. There are many more days when I have written ZERO. Life intervenes. For example: November in the USA means Thanksgiving, which means travel, cooking, and family time. If you’re out of town for a whole week—a fourth of the month—then you have to decide if you’re going to complete your word count before you go, sneak off from the gatherings, or be ready to cram a lot of writing in when you get home.
7) Set intermediate goals. I’m a procrastinator, so I know the temptation. We’re not required to do this, we’re not getting paid, I can make up the word count another day. If you want to win at Nano, if you want fancy web badges and to wear a winner t-shirt with pride, you really can’t do it all on November 30th without turning your book into a psychotic, sleepless diatribe called All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. YES, some people come sliding in with 30,000 words over the last few days, combining stream of consciousness, typing skills, and coffee by the bucket. NO, I don’t recommend it.
8) You have to make writing a priority. Organize your life so if you haven’t made 12,000 words in a week, you WILL catch up over the weekend, on Tuesday when there’s a gap in your schedule, or by adding a couple hundred words to each day’s goal. Or by staying up late or getting up early. Or by writing at lunch. Or instead of watching TV or reading a book. Or by getting out of anything you don’t absolutely have to do. Figure it will take FIFTY HOURS. Plan around it.
9) Don’t feel guilty. It might be guilt from taking hours away from your family every day to write, or from the house getting dirty, the laundry piling up, and the pizza being ordered. Or maybe it’s guilt that you aren’t keeping up with writing because you attend to all the other things. Guilt is fine if it means you find creative, new ways to get the writing in. NO-NO: NaNo guilt is not fine if it makes you miserable. Most of us have enough stress in our lives. If NaNo is going to put you over the edge, step back and breathe. Up in #2, I mentioned the year that things happened. I wrote about 20K words and had to stop because of a family crisis. Then I had to stop beating myself up. Up until then, I had always “won” at NaNoWriMo. I was a writing machine! But that year, I wasn’t.
10) Celebrate. Whatever you write in November, if it’s 100 words or 80,000, are words you hadn’t written before. With any luck, you have a good chunk of a rough draft. It’s a lonely celebration to post to Twitter that you did it, put a winner badge as your Facebook profile, and tell your family you’re a WINNER and we’re ordering pizza tonight because Mom’s exhausted. This is where that peer group comes in. These are the people who will say YOU ROCK. Because you do.