Otherwise Known As: 1667 or Die!
OK, first, I’m qualified to write on this topic because not only have I participated in National Novel Writing Month since I first found out about this incredible creative even in 2005, I have ‘won’ every year. For those who haven’t been bored to tears by my tales of typing woe and writer’s block, you win National Novel Writing Month by writing 50,000 words in the 30 days of November. The purists in the crowd may say 50K is short of a ‘real’ novel, but The Great Gatsby and Catcher in the Rye and many other novels (novellas, really) are log in at right around 50K.
And I’m not just a past NaNo winner, I served as the Municipal Liaison (ML) for San Bernardino and Riverside counties in Southern California for many years. That’s a huge territory – the largest geographic region in the continental US. As ML, I organized parties, write-ins, online chats, answered emails, encouraged writers, talked to schools, set up a writing program at our local library and generally served as chief cheerleader for all the rest of the writers in my territory. I was responsible to not only finish my novel, but do everything I could to encourage everyone else in the region. It was amazing and fun and I learned a lot about how to succeed in crossing the 50K finish line. Let me share some of those hints with you.
1. Don’t Edit – It’s Not a Finished Manuscript – and it’s not meant to be one. Don’t forget that and don’t get hung up trying to create a perfect manuscript. This is a rough first draft. You need to put words on paper/computer screen. Don’t allow yourself to go back and tweak what you’ve written or you could get hopelessly bogged down. Just move forward. Keep typing. You’ll have plenty of opportunities in December or afterward to finish, to edit and fine tune your novel.
2. Hit A Roadblock? – Do something unexpected. Put a main character in danger, introduce a radically different new character, pull a “Dallas” and have the already-written portion turn out to be a dream sequence. You can always delete it all later. Or you may surprise yourself and find some brilliant nuggets of writing in the craziness.
3. Word Count is King – Do your very best not to fall behind in your daily word count. For those who haven’t participated in NaNo, that word count is 1667 per day to reach the finish line by Nov. 30th. That’s not a lot of words unless you’re a slow writer or get stuck somewhere along the way and then it can add up quickly, making catching up look damned near impossible. I’m visual so I use a handy excel spreadsheet designed especially for National Novel Writing Month word count tracking so I know exactly where I am, if I’m on track, and how many more words I need to complete each days’ word count. If you don’t have this great tool and would like a copy, send me an email or leave a comment here – I’m happy to share!
4. Banish Procrastination – Seriously, let the dishes pile up, forget the laundry and vacuuming, stock the fridge with frozen pizzas and juice, sodas, and easy-to-eat foods. I’m not a caffeine freak but plenty of NaNoers are. If you know you need a certain kind of fuel to spark your creative muse, stock up. This is your excuse to ignore the mundane chores and do something just for you. I do recommend talking to family and loved ones so they understand you haven’t gone off the deep end. After all, we don’t want them staging an intervention. Your job this month is to write. That’s all. Just write. So do it.
5. Try a Write-In – it may sound like a procrastination temptation (and it can be) but it’s also terribly encouraging to meet and write with other NaNo enthusiasts. Our group had word wars with prizes for most words written in a set time frame, most words written during the write-in and more contests like that. I had NaNo ninjas to chop through any barriers the writers encountered – and also for fun! It’s also great to get feedback on characterizations, scenes, plot points and more from your fellow writers. If you haven’t done so yet, go to http://www.nanowrimo.org and sign up for your local region. That’s where you’ll find out about write-ins and so much more. Most regions also have a TGIO (thank God it’s over) party where winners and almost-winners can share their tales of November and perhaps even read some of your opus.
6. Plan – OK, this should probably be higher up on the list, but I recognize that it’s not something everyone does. Or does well. If you’re already a confirmed planner, you probably won’t need this bit of advice, but if you’ve tried NaNo and failed or this is your first effort, take heed. I entered my first NaNo adventure with a great (I thought) well-planned idea and not much else. Two days in, I quickly realized I needed a map of this land I’d invented. I had to stop and create one. I also had to name countries, land masses, mountain ranges and lots of characters. If you don’t already have them bookmarked, find some good baby name websites or fantasy name generators and bookmark them NOW! Get a notebook or some file cards and jot plot points on them so you have at hand when you wonder where to go next. Even if it’s just a rough outline, it will be helpful. Or, if you have a more meticulous nature, outline your whole novel down to the elipses. Just don’t be surprised when your characters want to zag when when you’d planned to zig. That’s OK. It’s supposed to happen. Trust your characters and go with the flow. It’s so much easier that way. Remember, you can always go back and edit it later.
So those are just a few tips from me to get you started an on track. There will be plenty more on the NaNo website and in the pep talks they email out to participants.
National Novel Writing Month is an amazing, creative, exhausting event and you may discover new depths in yourself you never suspected. If you’ve ever wanted to write a novel, I encourage you to give it a try. It’s free and all you need is an idea and a little bit of insanity. Good luck and have fun!