Well, we are now officially one week into NaNoWriMo! How’s it going so far? Are you still alive and breathing? Have you set your computer on fire yet? Have you showered in the last seven days? I wanted so much to take part in NaNoWriMo this year and I was all prepared to do so until life threw me a bit of a curve ball that has forced me to curtail my writing a bit. That being said, I want to cheer all my fellow crazy writers on as you partake in the insanity.
For those of you not in the loop. Every November, right after Halloween, a bizarre change comes over homes and cafés the world over. Hundreds of thousands of writers — some of them established pros, others first-timers — hunch, crab-like, over their keyboards, typing away like maniacs. Some wear fedoras or Viking helmets. Many ingest dangerous quantities of caffeine. Friends and loved ones are ignored, and DVRs fill to capacity as favorite TV series are neglected. And for thirty days the words pour forth. By the thousands. By the millions.
This is National Novel Writing Month, better known as NaNoWriMo. The goal: write a 50,000-word novel in just 30 days. The challenge is simple, tantalizing, and devilishly difficult. But it can be done, and getting there can be one of the most creatively thrilling and rewarding experiences of your life. Just ask any of the thousands of people who come back year after year.
I have attempted NaNoWriMo a couple of times and have produced very rough drafts for a couple of novels. They are currently gathering dust in my desk drawer but, when I’m ready, I hope to publish them one day! But, let’s be real, NaNoWriMo is kind of terrifying. I get it. If you’re thinking of getting on the bandwagon, or you’ve already signed up and don’t know how you’re ever going to get through it, here are eight tips that will carry you through.
Take it one day at a time
Don’t worry about the big picture. Don’t worry about the direction of your story or how long it’s taking to get to the next plot point. Don’t worry about 50,000 words, or even the 1,667 words per day it takes to get there. Just relax and write.
You may hit some days when you produce very little, and others when you find a groove and crank out 4,000 words before you know it. This ebb and flow is normal. Stay loose, enjoying the good days and shrugging off the bad ones. You’ll get there.
Give your inner editor a vacation
You will be tempted over the 30 days of NaNoWriMo, especially around the middle of the month. A little voice inside your head will tell you the chapters you’ve written are crap. “But I can fix it,” the voice will say. “Let’s go back and change them right now, then we can get back to writing. It won’t take long.”
Do not listen. This is just your insecurity trying to derail you. Don’t get me wrong: your draft probably is pretty bad at this point. But it’s allowed to be bad! First drafts are almost always bad. That’s why they’re called first drafts, after all. So, ignore that voice. There is a time and a place to edit, and this is not it. You can edit in December. You can use this as an excuse to get out of all those horrible holiday parties you don’t want to attend! For now, give yourself permission to write crap.
"Oh look, a tweet!" How often do you find yourself clicking through apps when you've promised yourself you'd write? We spend so much time wasting time that writing takes twice the time. Wow, that was a tongue twister.
Let's break this down, shall we? For NaNoWriMo, you need to write 1,666 words a day. On a good day, I can write 1,000 words in thirty minutes. That's around 45 minutes of unlocked writing time a day! But add in Twitter? And I'm done. Seriously Twitter peeps, you guys never cease to entertain me.
How do we fix this? Here are some helpful hints:
Find your ideal writing space. Do you need absolute silence? Do you write at a desk? Find what makes you most productive!
Download a distraction-free software.
Turn off your WiFi. (I know you're scared. Trust me.)
Schedule your social media ahead of time.
Leave your phone in the other room.
Need to do research for your novel? Do it in advance. Need to read through a previous book to refresh your memory? Do it in advance. Need to outline? Do it in advance. You get my drift.
Grant yourself time and space to write
This is huge. If you’re going to write, you have to find the time to do it, create a comfortable space, and remove distractions so you can focus on the task. Once you’ve found your perfect writing space, you need to claim it and defend it. This is your writing space, so keep it sacred. Make the mental transition to writing mode easier by adding a physical element: get yourself a writing hat or a totem (a special object) that only comes out when you are writing. Okay, I know I’m weird but, since I write on my laptop in bed, I have special “writing” fuzzy socks that I wear only when I’m writing…they’re really cute…they have books on them (don’t judge me).
Stay out of your characters’ way
Here’s a funny truth about your story: it actually has two authors — your conscious and subconscious mind. And the thing about the subconscious is that it throws ideas at you when you least expect them. Maybe your plot outline says the characters should turn right (marching on the castle, let’s say), but they keep trying to turn left (into a weird, dark swamp that doesn’t show up anywhere in your outline). What do you do in this case?
Let them go into the swamp. NaNoWriMo is no time to stop your own momentum. When you say, “Hey, my characters won’t do what I want them to do,” what you’re really saying is “I’ve thought of a new story direction but I’m afraid of the unknown.” Don’t be afraid — this is a good thing! Your characters are taking on a life of their own, so embrace that and enjoy the ride. It’s their story, after all. Let them tell it their way. And if they want to go drown themselves in a dirty smelly swamp that's totally their prerogative.
Carry a notebook (app) EVERYWHERE
Some of you may already do this and if you don’t, I highly recommend it! Whether your preference is paper and pen, or typing on your phone, always have somewhere to record snippets of your story, inspiration, anything that may come up when you’re not at your computer.
I’m a pen and paper sort of girl so when I’m not at my computer, I keep a small composition book with me for quick ideas. If I have the space, I’ll bring a larger notepad, usually one of those cheap legal pads you can get from the dollar store. It doesn’t need to be fancy, just a place for musings. Although, for special things I must say I enjoy a nice journal...you can never have enough of those!
But sometimes pen and paper don’t cut it, and you’d then have to type everything up. For these moments I’ve found both Google Docs and the Sticky Notes app to be really helpful.
One of my favorite things to do before starting a project is creating a mood board for it. I’ll spend hours (not writing. . . ) collecting photos that feed my creative muse for both current projects as well as just general inspiration to check out at a later time. I used to do this the old-fashioned way but now I use apps to create aesthetics and then save them into a special inspirational file on my computer.
Writing isn’t just about the words. You have to keep those creative juices flowing too. So whether you’re inspired by photos or music or writing prompts, whatever the case may be, start a file for it all.
Bonus: Have fun
This is the most important advice of all: Remember why you’re doing it. It’s not to write the Great American Novel (or even a good novel). Although, that would be really nice. It’s not to achieve fame and glory. Again, also really nice. And it certainly isn’t about publishing or magically becoming a professional author in 30 days. Okay, maybe I’m not making a good point here. It’s about challenging yourself, letting your creative side go wild for a month, and having a blast. It’s about stretching your mind, meeting new writers, and enjoying the thrill of creating something that wouldn’t otherwise exist.
So, let go of your inhibitions. Let go of your fears. Let go of your self-criticism and doubt. Did you write today? Congratulations, you’re a winner. Keep it up, and get that novel done. I’m rooting for you!
Like what you read? Be sure to subscribe to my blog and follow me on social media @d_vanalst on Twitter and @dvanasltwriter on Instagram. You can also find me on Facebook and check out updates about upcoming releases on my webpage www.daniellevanalst.com Phew, enough of the shameless promoting junk….get writing!! Happy NaNoWriMo y’all.