Fall is my favourite time of year. Halloween, a change in temperate (and excuse to wear knitwear), the build-up to Christmas, preparing for the CQ anthology, and of course National Novel Writing Month.
I’ve taken part in and ‘won’ NaNoWriMo twice, and the summer-time Camp NaNo once. I’d love to do it again this year, but I’m in the middle of revisions and really can’t start another project now.
What I can do though, is impart some of my NaNoWriMo knowledge based on previous experience.
- Don’t feel bad in you can’t write every day. I know the point of NaNoWriMo is the get in the habit of writing every day, so that when November is over you’re in a routine of writing on a regular basis. And I agree, that’s a great habit to foster. But it isn’t always realistic. Work, kids, school, family obligations, sickness. There are so many things that can prevent you from writing. The first year I did NaNoWriMo I didn’t realise this, and thought all my responsibilities would magically vanish for the month of November. I got frustrated with myself on days I couldn’t write. By the time I was ready to take-part in my second NaNoWriMo, I’d come to realise that it didn’t matter if I had to miss a day here or there. I could still reach the required 50k words if I got a little ahead, so that if my kids were being especially demanding at the weekend, and I didn’t get the chance to write for a day, I wouldn’t fall behind. Yes, make an effort to write every day, and don’t slack off watching Netflix, but don’t beat yourself up if something unavoidable happens to prevent you from writing for a day.
- Plan - even if it’s just a little. Whether you’re a plotter or a pantser, plotting your NaNoWriMo novel at least a little will help. If you’re going in blind, it’s easy to get off track, which may lead to you being unable to produce 50k words, or it might mean that by the end of November the 50k words you did write are useless. Try to do as much, maybe a little more, planning as you would if you were writing a novel at any other time of the year. Have a clear start and end point, with some pit stops along the way. If you’re used to creating more detailed outlines, do that prior to NaNoWriMo, so that you’ve got a clear guide to work from. If you know a scene is coming, it will be easier to produced words for it.
- Remember that first drafts are allowed to suck. I like to view NaNoWriMo as draft zero. It’s even rougher than a first draft, but the 50k words you write in November can be used to get the initial burst of story out. Afterwards, you can add more details, develop characters, tighten the plot and fill in gaps. Don’t expect to begin December with a near-perfect novel. I’m not saying writers can’t do it, but in my experience, NaNoWriMo novels need as much care, if not more, than novels written at other times of the year. It’s important to remember that, so you’re not disheartened when you read back what you wrote during NaNoWriMo and discover it isn’t perfect. You have the bones, the skeleton, now it’s time to put meat on them!
- Competing with others is fine. Comparing yourself isn’t. Some of my favourite NaNoWriMo memories come from having word-wars, or daily word count contests with my friends. I’m quiet competitive, so when a writing buddy says they’ve written 5000 words in a day, I feel the need to outdo them. When I play word-wars with my friends, I like to win. It’s great motivation, and I found word-wars help me focus, as I’m not tempted by faffing around on the Internet, because I’m on a time limit. But, on the flipside, I can remember being disheartened when I saw writing buddies had a word count of 23,000 words after just a week! I had to remind myself everyone is different. Not only do we have different paces at which we write, but some ideas/ genres might flow more quickly than others. And on top of that, everyone’s lives may be different, and it might be the friend who produced 23,000 words after just a week didn’t have a full-time job, or stayed up an hour later than you did.
- Have fun and enjoy the experience. Even if you’re taking part in NaNoWriMo with the hope of publishing or querying the novel you produce in November, remember writing is meant to be fun. Sure it’s emotional, too, and we pour our blood, sweat and tears into our novels. But if you’re not enjoying what you’re doing, maybe it’s time to stop doing it. When a writer isn’t in love with what they’ve written, the reader will know! If you find yourself bored or unhappy with your story, take that as a hint that something about the story needs to change. If writing every day feels more like a chore than enjoyable experience, perhaps taking part in NaNoWriMo isn’t right for you (at the moment.) The same year I took part in Camp NaNo, I tried to finish the novel that November by taking part in NaNoWriMo. It was too much. Not only was I trying to find another 50k words for a story that had maybe 30k words left in it, I was doing too much alongside NaNoWriMo - like daily updates, with an elaborate graphic - and eventually it got too much. I felt bad at first, and worried people would think I was a quitter. But then I realised I had to step back and do what was best for me and my story. I’m glad I did, because if I’d have pushed on, I would have ended up with something I hated, which would have been no good to anyone.
I hope these tips based on my NaNoWriMo experiences prove useful to anyone doing NaNoWriMo this year. I wish you all the best of luck. And if any other NaNoWriMo veterans have their own tips, or those new to NaNoWriMo have questions, please feel free to leave them in the comments!