If you’re a novel writer, you’ve probably heard of a little thing called National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo. It is, depending on who you talk to, the most grueling writing marathon known to human kind or the most useful of drafting exercises.
2018 is my second year as a WriMo, and while I found last year definitely grueling, I realized, after about a month of sleep in December, that it had also been exhilarating. I wrote 64,000 words! That’s a complete, if crappy, first draft of a novel that I would continue to work on for the next eleven months. Cue jazz hands!
However, one week into my Sophomore year of NaNoWriMo, I’m struggling to find the time to put fingertips to keyboard (and yet, here I am… writing a blog post…), so I tried to remember what made last year so successful.
Whether you’re an experienced WriMo or a newbie, these five steps for success will help you write all the words and win this November!
Read all the NaNo Advice
There’s so much great information out there on scheduling, prioritizing, pushing through walls, building communities, that you can find a solution for any NaNo problem you might encounter.
You can start by checking out Pinterest. FromNothingToNovel has an entire board dedicated to collecting the best NaNo articles you writers could ever need to succeed in the long, hard, novel-writing month of November.
I know, I know, how could 50,000 words in 30 days possibly be fun? But it is! I had a blast last year. I was super busy juggling family, friends, and (it seemed like) 1000 professional obligations, but I enjoyed NaNoWriMo so much that I’m back for seconds in 2018.
Here’s the deal. When else do we say to ourselves: here, take an entire month to focus on your writing. NEVER. At least, if you’re like me, writing tends to sink lower and lower on the priorities list. Compared to, say, making sure your kid has healthy food to eat or that you don’t get fired from your day job, writing tends to lose out. Understandable. Don’t beat yourself up about it! But use November to treat yourself. And let it be just that: not serious business, but a treat, a break from the other eleven grinding months when writing is not prioritized.
Try Not to Edit
I am a HUGE believer in Anne Lamott’s “shitty first draft,” and I love that NaNoWriMo helps writers produce these subpar but oh-so-important drafts.
“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft. I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won’t have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren’t even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they’re doing it.” –Anne Lamott, Bird By Bird
In November, ditch perfectionism. Just write. Allow yourself to be awful. Chuckle at how awful those sentences are. But then know you WIN anyway; every awful word that piles up leads you one step closer to the less awful ones.
And, remember, you can’t begin shaping your masterpiece until you have the raw materials out of your head and onto the page. So, use November to excavate and pull up all those awful words, that raw material, so that you can spend the other eleven months of the year making them shine.
Try not to edit, but if you can’t help yourself, DEVELOP
I’ll admit, I don’t always follow my own rule of NO EDITING during NaNo. And I do try not to edit on a sentence level in November. Instead, I develop the writing I’ve done in previous days.
Here’s what I mean. When I’m writing during Nano, I often end up focusing on actions and dialogue. It’s easier and quicker for me to get those down on paper. But later, when I read what I’ve written, I realize that there’s no internal character development on the page. And sometimes, to move forward in the story, I need the development to be there, on the page.
So, I spend my 1000-2000 words for the day developing. When I’m developing, I often answer these questions:
- Why did the character say that?
- Why did the character do that?
- Would this be better from character 1’s POV or from character 2’s POV?
- Does this action / dialogue help move along the central conflict of the story? How can I show that?
- What is the character feeling right now?
Answering these questions helps me 1) develop dialogue and action through character, and 2) increase my NaNo word count. It’s a win/win!
Find a Buddy
Accountability is huge when tackling a goal like NaNoWriMo. That’s why, last year and this year, I buddied up with my favorite writing partner and friend, Julie Tyler. We write different genres and have different writing processes, but we both know the importance of feedback and collaborative brainstorming. We work well together.
NaNoWriMo encourages buddies. In fact, you can buddy up with others doing NaNoWriMo right on their website, connecting with others writing in the same genre as you! Additionally, Facebook has an abundance of groups for writers in general or for WriMos specifically. This year, I joined the NaNoJaneOs, a WriMo group for lovers of Jane Austen! These groups are beautifully supportive communities. They share tips and advice, offer spaces for you to share work you’re proud of or provide ears for when you need to rant about the 2000 words you didn’t have time to write that day.
Are you a WriMo?
If you’re a new or experienced WriMo, I’d love to hear from you! What tips or tricks work to get you through November?
If you’re not sure whether or not you want to commit to a grueling month of drafting an entire novel… that’s understandable! I’d love to hear about your reservations or answer any questions you have about how to manage it while still, you know, living life.
Looking for some professional guidance as you write your novel? Check out my creative writing services. I’m excited to help you tell a powerful story!