This post was originally published November 7, 2017.
Tips from a successful NaNo-er on how to keep sane, write well, and make your month count!
First of all, congrats! Your interest in doing National Novel Writing Month shows an excitement for writing and storytelling and a willingness to rise to the challenge of writing a whole book in a month!
NaNo is definitely a challenge, but whether or not you meet your personal word count goal, the experience is a great teacher and the camaraderie and excitement that come along with a month dedicated to writing are inspirational enough to make you want to continue all year long! I’ve completed NaNo four years in high school and three years in college. My senior year I came in at 46,500 and I’m still kicking myself, but that’s okay.
For those of you curious about what National Novel Writing Month is, the goal is simple. Try to write 50,000 words in the month of November. Follow through is a little more challenging, so I’ve cobbled together some of my tips and tricks from years of successfully and not-so-successfully embarking upon the challenge.
I haven’t attempted NaNo in three years, but I’ll be doing it with you this year! My NaNo project is the third book in a current series, and I look forward to trying the challenge again, especially after all that I’ve learned as a writer and NaNo-er!
PLAN YOUR STORY:
There’s still time to get this step completed before the challenge begins, but I have to add that this piece of advice is relevant to anyone looking to binge write a story, or if you want to take a step back and try an outline now. While many authors consider themselves ‘pantsers’ – as in ‘fly by the seat of your pants’, it absolutely makes the challenge more difficult.
Without a general understand of your story, it’s definitely harder to achieve word count. More importantly, you’re less likely to end up with a project you actually like and feels complete. Even a simple knowledge of where your book is supposed to end up and how you’re going to get there is helpful in ensuring a good finished first draft and a more enjoyable NaNo experience.
IT’S NOT ABOUT THE WORD COUNT:
Lies! I hear you shout, as you jump from the chair. Conspiracy, blasphemy, lies! Lies! Lies! Okay, part yes and part no. It’s up to you to decide if you’re doing NaNo as a way of completing a challenge (and totally gaining bragging rights!) or if you actually plan to send the book out after it’s done – with edits, of course! If it’s all about the WC, then that’s fine! Hit your 1667 a day and enjoy the ride, but if you’re trying to make a book – and eventually turn that into a book then it’s better to think of NaNo as a tool to reach that end, rather than the be all and end all.
There’s a lot to be said for a rapid first draft – there’s far less room to get caught up in particulars, and we all know the editing process is really where the magic is done. But you should be taking this November to write the book you want to write and be held accountable for it. I have to confess, I’ve never done a damn thing with any of my NaNo stories. But! That doesn’t mean you can’t – determine what NaNo is about for you and then go from there.
For instance, this year is about completing book three in my series, which will give me a different perspective and motivation to get my project completed, beyond bragging rights. (Bragging rights are great, though!) Find out what drives you, because that will influence your approach to the challenge.
TELL YOUR FRIENDS!
Tell your friends. Tell your family. Tell your neighbors, your pets, your mailman. Tell everyone. The more people you tell, the more people you have watching you and cheering you on. In my opinion, the greatest and most special element of NaNo is that it holds writers accountable for their writing. It says, you have a story to tell and you better damn well tell it. Post your updates on Facebook or Twitter, start a NaNo blog, literally comment under this article when you reach your word goals. Whatever it takes to spread the word of your endeavors will help to keep you on track and give you an even greater audience to celebrate with! (Plus, you can prove all the haters wrong!)
AND MAKE NEW ONES!
I am so excited about Facebook frames! When I first started doing the NaNo challenges, people looked at me like I had two heads. 50,000 words in a month? Why?
The site and the challenge has come a long way, with the social media presence and more. Even without all the merch and fun stuff, however, the site itself does a great job to help connect authors and participants locally and online. Joining other NaNo writers in their journey, either in person or in online forums and social media, is a great way to give and gain support for your challenge and to potentially make long-term writer friends. While the goal is ultimately to reach 50,000, remember that this month is all about the writer – you! And that includes joining communities that inspire and help you on your journey.
KEEP UP WITH WC:
I know I just said that it’s not all about the word count, and I stand by it! But obviously word count is a part of the bigger picture – fine, the main focus of the bigger picture. Everyone has different ways of reaching their word count, but I will say from personal experience: Do not fall behind. Anyone who falls behind, gets left behind. Have I spent the last weekend of November holed up in my room furiously pounding out 20,000 words in three days? You bet your ass I have. It got so bad that towards the end of high school my parents would stop talking to me during the last week of November. I was a rabid monster – a shell of a writer who had lost her way, and evil to boot.
Of course, there will be days when you can’t write – and days when you write more than you mean to! It’s not going to be the same for thirty straight days in a row, and that’s fine. But always remember to check what your daily word count is supposed to, and do your best to keep up with it. Otherwise you’re in for a really lonely Thanksgiving. Which brings me to my next point…
DON’T FORGET THANKSGIVING:
I know that not succeeding in my final run at NaNo three years ago was my own fault. I do honestly think that the fun wore off and I was ready to be done before the project was. That being said, Thanksgiving had something to do with. That year the holiday fell right at the end of the month. I’m talking 28, 29, 30. These are the days you’re supposed to be cracking your knuckles and happily sprinting past the finish line, not sneaking peeks at the laptop from behind your plate of stuffing and feeling guilty about it. (Come on, there are way more things to feel guilty about on Thanksgiving…)
Of course, it’s just one day, but most of the time it includes travel, family, preparation and school breaks. It’s so easy to lose track of time and find yourself ten or twelve thousand words behind just at the end of the month. Prepare for it. If you’re traveling home, write on the bus ride. If you’re cooking for the whole family, essentially write ten thousand words extra the week before, because you just won’t have the time. Thanksgiving has felled many a valiant NaNo-er. Don’t let it get you too.
THIS IS SUPPOSED TO BE FUN, DAMN IT:
Oh, baby. There is a point. You won’t see it for awhile. Hell, I’ve been there time and again and I forget the harsh sting of the rougher days. Still fresh-faced and excited, to us at the starting line, NaNo still has the shine of a brand new challenge. But give it a week, maybe 10 days, and you’ll feel the strain. Your head hurts. Your inspiration has all dried up and everyone you’ve ever met has staunchly refused to speak to you about your book until the month is over. This is this 20 mile mark in your writing marathon. The finish is close, and you can hold the hell on. It will happen more than once, and time and again, you’ll just need to hold the hell on.
But in all truth, be nice to yourself. If you feel as though the walls of life are closing in around you, set a different goal. If you get sick or a big project comes in or you need to do major renovations on the house, give yourself a break. NaNo isn’t do or die. It’s a way to help you achieve better writing habits and reach for higher writing goals, but it doesn’t help at all if you burn out. You need to find the happy medium of determination and kindness to keep yourself on track but continue to enjoy the challenge. It is supposed to be fun, though it doesn’t always feel that way.
There are two things to keep in mind after you’ve completed your challenge, whether hitting your personally goals or setting yourself up for more success in the future.
EDITING IS SO HOT RIGHT NOW:
Someone once told me about the incredible amount of submissions they get as an editor during December, and how they’re all awful. Well, obviously. You just wrote a goddamned book in the amount of time it takes most people to read one. The first draft is pretty much guaranteed to be shit, in fact, it’s kind of the point. But before sending out your beloved child into the cruel waters of rejection-landia, by God, you have to edit it.
Not only will seriously digging in and making major and minor changes help your chances in actually getting accepted by an over-exhausted submissions editor, but it will make you want to keep working on the book. For the most part, once we finish NaNo, we never want to look at the damn thing again, and that’s a shame. Start the editing process right away – if your ultimate goal is a book – and keep up with it. Your story – and you – should be celebrated!
Forgive me for that title. The point I want to make here is that National Novel Writing Month doesn’t require a fancy word counter and a Facebook banner and the support of a social media nation. You can do NaNo on your own time – literally whenever and however you want. If your goal is a short story and you want it written quickly, maybe make a Personal Short Story Writing Week. If you know December is a lot quieter than November, write your 50,000 story then, instead. NaNo inspires us to create and pushes us to our limits, but it certainly doesn’t ask us to stay within the lines. Find the best way to make NaNo work for you, so you can continue to love writing and hopefully find the kind of success you’re looking for.
If this is your first year doing NaNo or your tenth, whether you’re going to hit 50,000 your first week or or you’ll modified your word count to fit your daily schedule, I am so incredibly proud of you. National Novel Writing Month is a challenge. It is so much harder than you ever think it’s going to be, no matter how many times you’ve done it in the past. Committing and opening your mind to the wonderful world of other writers and supporters that make the NaNo community what it is is reason enough to be proud of yourself.
So chin high and computer charged. You’ve got two days before it’s time to kick some story ass. I can’t wait to see where you end up.