Ah, here you are, ready to embark on the beauty and wonder that is NaNoWriMo aka National Novel Writing Month. If you’re the writerly sort who is familiar with stringing words together, then you can skip the primer. But if you are brand spankin’ new to the world of storytelling, welcome. Here are ten tips to surviving this mass insanity.
First, a primer.
What is NaNoWriMo?
From NaNoWriMo’s website: “National Novel Writing Month is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to novel writing. Participants begin writing on November 1. The goal is to write a 50,000-word (approximately 175-page) novel by 11:59:59 PM on November 30.”
Simple enough, right? The concept is to create a habit. To write every single day. Some of us old hats don’t work like that, but it’s really helpful to learn to commit to something every day. For you newbies, it’s time to learn something new!
And if you’re going to survive this insanity, here’s some handy dandy tips!
2) Decide now if you are a pantser or a planner.
Part of the joy of NaNoWriMo is making it up as you go. This is called pantsing, as in writing by the seat of your pants. I’ve tried that one year. It was a year that with two hours before the start gun, I decided to do NaNo. I actually didn’t finish. I have since learned I am a hardcore planner. The reason I use NaNo is for distraction-free time for doing rough drafts of my stories. I call them “discovery” drafts because they’re usually a steaming pile of awful and by the time I hit about 45k I finally realize what they book is really about. Also discovery draft just makes it sound more hoity-toity and pleasant than “IDEK WHAT I’M DOING. BEARS MAYBE?”
2) Start early
Seems like cheating, right? Honestly, no one’s going to hold it against you. In previous years, I had major life commitments like college (for the tenth year running. But hey!) and a barrage of appointments. I start two weeks ahead of time and write 1k a day. That way, by November 1st, I have 14k going in. But here’s the catch. You thought you were pulling a fast one, didn’t you? Even with a head start, I usually end up writing the requisite 50k from November 1st to the 30th anyway.
Honestly, start early. They may be some purists out there that might protest that it’s against the spirit of NaNo, but really. Let people enjoy things, and don’t be a dick.
3) It’s all about quantity and not quality
NaNo isn’t about how well you write, but how much you write. So, hogtie that inner editor and lock them in the basement. Make sure you feed them now and then, you’re not an animal, are you? Otherwise, for the month of November, they stay in that basement.
Where we’re going in this manuscript, we don’t need roads. So, there’s no backtracking and no deleting. If it bothers you so much, just rewrite the scene in the same file without deleting the old one. It’s all about wordcount. Not what’s written. You could write non-connected scenes with the same characters.
You could write the beginning of your novel over and over with a different genre each time. (Take that, pirates!) You can write that useless self-indulgent zombie romantic comedy you always wanted to do. Doesn’t matter.
Protip: If the words just won’t come, have your characters go grocery shopping. Bonus if they’re supernatural characters or characters that eat alien foods and they’re walking through an ordinary human supermarket. What do they buy? What do they comment on? Does the place get robbed? Does a fight scene break out? If your novel is erotica? Two words: Food Play.
4) No one, I repeat, no one cares if you’re writing something besides a novel
We’re all friends here. No one cares if you’re writing a script or drawing a graphic novel or even editing your last year’s NaNo. I do the latter quite often. The rebellion among NaNo used to be something carried out in darkened corners with passwords, secret handshakes and arcane rituals. Now, it’s common practice. I’d like to point out, are you drawing a comic for NaNo? Join NaNoMangO on Tumblr!
5) Embrace Social Media
When it’s not a raging dumpster fire, Twitter is your friend. I’ve met several writers through doing various NaNo events and it’s part commiseration, part encouragement, and all about ganging up for word sprints. This is where you set a timer among your Twitter buddies and write as fast as you can. When the time is up, you compare wordcounts and pat one another on the back. Update Facebook on your progress. Show your friends and family you’re dedicated.
And if you find social media really is too much of a dumpster fire, there’s also the handy dandy word sprint timer on the NaNoWriMo site itself! Sprint against yourself, or with a group! Or if all else fails, set a timer on your phone and have at.
6) Organize Write-Ins
Write-ins are where your local NaNoers can get together and commiserate or write to their heart’s content. Write-ins can be a mixed bag but always fun. Either you get the chatty people and get nothing done. Or you get the people who want to get stuff done. Or you get people who all they want to do is drink coffee, eat cookies, and go on about what Black Mirror can tell us about storytelling, or recount the finer points of Gamergate or the Sad Puppies drama. Whatever floats your boat and sinks your rubber duckie. No matter what, if you get words down, all the better!
7) Go Analog
As I hear the tiniest gasp in the audience. Who has the time to lug a laptop around? Or what do you do when all the outlets are taken at Starbucks? I’m a hardcore supporter of going analog. Have pen and paper? Will travel! I don’t just love fountain pens, I’m in a relationship with them. Writing with a good pen and even better paper will change your life.
Why go analog? It’s scientifically proven that when typing, your brain is engaged in the locomotion to make your fingers move across your keyboard, and not actually engaging your creative brain. Going analog, your creative brain comes forward, and your words flow freely. It’s why therapists suggest journaling for their patients. And you know how I am about therapeutic journaling. A+ 10/10 would do again.
Besides, gives you an excuse to use all those blank notebooks you have laying around or people keep giving you for Christmas
8) If Flying Solo, Fly Smart
Writing by nature is a solitary practice. We do not live solitary lives. Work out a plan with your loved ones that unless something is bleeding or on fire, not to bother you. My thing was I wore a Boston Red Sox hat, as long as I had it on, my family knew not to interrupt me.
Definitely don’t neglect things like eating, sleeping, and bathing. Because ew. And make sure to check in with your family. Let them know you’re still alive. Set aside time every day at least an hour to do nothing but spend with them.
Watch Hannibal for the 20th time. Cry every time at Love Crime.
9) Watch your Waistline
When doing NaNo, it’s easy to chow down on junk food, soda, and sugary coffees. It’s also easy to pack on pounds when you’re not looking. If you’re someone who struggles with the scale, this is especially for you.
Stock up on healthy snacks and drinks. Fruits, veggies, and whole grains. I have braces, and smoothies are my jam. Especially when blended with fruit puree. Some people swear by Larabars. Measure out portions of Goldfish crackers in grab and go baggies. Instead of sugary juices, Crystal Light or Mio is a great low-calorie and calorie free option. Both Crystal Light and Mio likewise come in caffeinated flavors so look! No need for coffee!
If you simply must have coffee, and I honestly love the flavor of coffee, go skinny. Buy tall coffees in skinny variations. Skinny Caramel Macchiatos are a gem. Sugar-free Peppermint Mocha? Aaaaaw yiiiiis!
Protip: If getting food at a write-in, be sensible. Skip the sweets, but soups and chilis are always a great option. Or bring your own snacks!
10) Lex’s Personal Tried And True Method For Getting Words On The Page And Getting Crap Done
Blocking distracting sites and apps. I even do this when it’s not time for NaNo. I use apps like StayFocusd for Chrome and BlockApps which you can get for Android devices. You pick the sites and apps you want to use, and you can even pick the times you want the blocker to run. And you set the damn thing and forget it.
If you need some important detail for your story but you blocked Wikipedia? Write [INSERT DETAIL ABOUT PINK BUBBLEGUM UNIWOLVES HERE] and look it up after the time is up. But why are you looking it up? The point is to get words down, and get them down now, now, nooooow!
So, time’s a’wasting! Get going!
See you on the other side.