Saturday, October 5, 2013

How to Survive NaNoWriMo

For those of you who don't know me well, I'm a bit of a fanatic of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month Since November is right around the corner, things are going to be a little different here on the blog. I've decided to bust out some NaNo-centric articles to help get you through the month and the challenge. So here's the first article: How To Survive NaNoWriMo.


It's October, and NaNoWriMo is coming. For those of you who don't know what NaNoWriMo is, here's a quick breakdown. National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo- NaNo for short, because we don't have time for all these syllables) is a gateway drug for many writers. I've heard of dozens of people who got serious about writing thanks to NaNo, and it certainly was a great spur to action for me. I did my first NaNo in 2009, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

NaNo is a challenge to writers to write 50,000 words of a novel in 30 days, during the month of November. People all over the world take on this challenge, and it is a huge worldwide online community that is broken down by regions. Many people in these regions get together for write-ins (more on these in another article) to help support one another in their endeavors to complete those 50,000 words.

This article is the first a series of NaNo articles, because there is just too much to talk about in one article. So since we're so close to starting NaNo, I'm going to give you a few tips and tricks to help you survive NaNo and hit 50,000 words. 

1. Prepare
I cannot stress this one enough. I used to be a pantser, someone who writes on the fly, but if you're trying to hit 50,000 words in a month (that averages 1,667 words a day) it can be hard to reach that goal if you don't have a map. Even the most basic outline can help. You don't have to be an overthinking, overprepared plotter like I am (see my article on The Outlining Process- This roadmap, even if it's just a list of a few bullet points for the main plot arc of your story, will be crucial in helping you move forward. For me, the more detail I have in my outline, the easier NaNo tends to be, but that's me. And you can ask those who have watched me work on my novel(s). I always have the outline right next to me... and the more I work on it, the more it gets marked up with additional notes and stuff. 

Personally, I suggest being prepared as early as possible, but I have been known to finish my outline as late as October 30, a bare two days before NaNo begins. I have found that having that outline done before NaNo begins gets me raring and impatient to write that son of a gun, so I'm counting down the minutes until November 1, and when NaNo officially starts, BOOM! Out of the gate!

2. Let Your Family and Friends Know What You're Doing
This step is still a preparation thing, and it's good to do this before NaNo starts. NaNo takes a lot of time and effort, and it can be difficult to concentrate on writing if you're constantly being interrupted. Let your family and friends know what's about to happen over the next 30 days. I'm not saying you need to become a complete recluse, because  these people love you, and they can actually be a great help in reaching your goal. Support is amazing, and these people can help keep you accountable. Sometimes, I need a kick in the pants to sit my butt down and write, and being asked, "Hey, where's your word count?" by a friend is always nice. Of course, when you tell them you're behind, then they get to boss you around and push you towards your chair/desk/laptop/whatever, and who doesn't like bossing others around? They can serve as motivators, or even to bounce ideas off of if you do get stuck despite your outline. Let them know what you're doing!

Similarly, they can help keep you alive and functioning during the month. Traditionally, I take November 1 off of work just because I can, and I have a personal writing marathon that day to get ahead (more on that in a few bullet points). But when I get into that zone, I forget physical necessities, such as life. My best friend, who has been around since before my first NaNo, has learned that I still need her despite turning into a recluse in November. Yes, do as I say, not as I do. I can go recluse, at least on that first day. On day 1 in particular, I usually get a text or call every two or three hours reminding me to eat and go to the bathroom. And yes... I do forget that stuff sometimes. I know some NaNo participants (called Wrimos- isn't that cute?) have families and friends who will agree to help with dinners or other things, just to give the writer more time to write. If you're lucky, your spouse or kids might be willing to do extra dishes or something for a month so you can focus on your novel.

Now there are the unfortunate few that really do not have a good support sytem at home, and I feel for you. It hurts when people you care about look at your writing and see nothing but a waste of time. You are NOT ALONE! Believe me, it is not a waste of time. It's worth the effort, and so are you. And if you are struggling to find support, even just people to commiserate with about how hard NaNo is, you have the entire Wrimo online community! We're all there for the same reason. No one is forcing us to do this. We do it because we love it, and we're happy to help you along the way. So get involved with your regional community, and hang out in the forums! There are conversations about every genre, agre bracket, and even just random chatting NOT about writing. You have support no matter what! If you feel like you can go it alone, power to you!

3. Get Involved with Your Region's Group Anyway
I am lucky to have great support in NaNo, especially from my close friends. Even so, they are not Wrimos (although I've been trying to get my best friend to do it for years), so sometimes I just want to talk to others who are taking on this challenge with me. The Nashville, TN group has weekly write-ins, a HUGE writing party/potluck toward the end of the month, and all kinds of other ways to get involved with other writers and help push you toward that goal. I'll talk more about write-ins and other tools like that in another article. The point here is that your region and your region's Municipal Liaison (ML) are there to help you reach your goal. You're missing out if you're not hanging with your local Wrimos!

4. Bank Words Early 
This is one thing I've watched a lot of Wrimo friends trip up on. To hit 50,000 words, you would need to write 1,667 words a day for 30 days. Doesn't seem to bad, right?

DON'T JUST TRY TO GET THAT WORD COUNT EVERY DAY AND THEN STOP! This is one of the biggest mistakes I've seen people make. No matter how many friends are making dinner for you, walking your dog, and doing other things for you, life will still happen. And oh, will it happen! Life will do everything it can to get in the way of your hitting 50K words, and it is no fun trying to play catch up with your word count. Not to mention you have THANKSGIVING (if you're American) right at the end of the month, and the food-induced coma that comes along with that holiday makes for a day when it's hard to write.

My advice is, as often as you can and as early as you can, get ahead. If you hit that 1,667 words on day 1 and you're still raring to go, KEEP GOING! Just because you've hit word count for the day doesn't mean you have to stop. Get an extra 200, 500, 1,000, or- if you're a huge overachiever like me- 10,000 words on day 1. And on day 2. And 3. Any day you find yourself plugging along at a good clip and you don't want to stop, take advantage of it. Because there are going to be days when you can hardly eke out 400 words, or you only manage 186 words, and you'll be glad that you got ahead. Let those days happen and move on. Get ahead and stay ahead. For me, that's the real key to NaNo.

5. Make Time 
I've written some blog posts on this topic... but they may not have been posted yet, so I want to briefly go over how to get those words in. We have hectic lives, and sometimes it seems like every minute has something important going on in it. But believe me, little spurts of time can add up. Waiting at the doctor's office, waiting to pick up your kids from school, lunch breaks, coffee breaks, and even- dare I say it- sitting on the toilet are prime writing times. Afraid to take your laptop with you into the bathroom, or just don't have your usual writing medium with you? Open an email to yourself in your smartphone and type into your phone. Send the email to yourself and copy/paste it into your full document later. Even just a couple sentences here and there can really add up. And take advantage of the large chunks of time you manage to get-- if the kids are napping or you wake up early before everyone else, or anything like that-- and ignore the distractions fo Facebook and I Can Has Cheezburger. WRITE!

Think about it. If you go to the bathroom four times a day, and you take 2 minutes of each of those potty breaks to whip out a couple sentences, that's 8 minutes of writing already! Have an hour lunch break? Even just 15 minutes of that will be a boon! If you happen to find 5 minutes a day six times a day, that's half an hour of writing time! That's just as good as sitting down for 30 minutes, and you didn't even know you had that time, did you? It's there! You just need to find it.

6. Write Every Day 
This one can be hard, because like I said, LIFE HAPPENS. Even if it's just a little bit, a few sentences, make a point of writing every day. With NaNo, every word matters, and each one will get you closer to that goal. Don't force things and write to a breaking point, but write something every day. Plot stuck? Do something unexpected: make a steel girder hit your character in the head and make him have a dream sequence. Throw in another character from chapter 1 you didn't think would ever come back into the scene, and make your characters react. Do SOMETHING! I'll actually be doing another post on writing tips for Wrimos soon, so keep an eye out for it, but the point here is just to make some words. Make more words!

7. Most Importantly- Keep Writing AFTER NaNo! 
A lot of people miss the real point of NaNoWriMo. It pains me every time I hear someone say, "I'm a writer!" and then, when asked what they're working on, they say, "Oh, I only write in November during NaNoWriMo!" I don't mean to be harsh, but you're not a writer; you're a NaNoWriMo participant. A writer actually writes during other parts of the year. I really do hate to sound mean, but it's true. The point of NaNo, on the surface, is to write 50K words in 30 days.

The real underlying point of NaNo, though, is to develop a habit of writing every day. Some people don't realize how much they can accomplish, and NaNo is a tool to help you see your potential. Every month doesn't need to be this hectic and draining, but you need to keep going afterwards. 50K is not a full novel, really, and you don't really have a finished novel after that. You have a first draft that's novella-sized. But it's an AMAZING starting point, and YOU DID IT! Now keep going! Don't just set it aside. Look at how much time you've found out you really have every day to write! Keep taking a few little bits every day, keep writing
that project or start a new one or whip out a short story, and keep your writing going. Let me reiterate. Don't feel like you have to keep up the NaNo pace. But keep up the writing itself.

So to sum up, it is very possible to survive November if you're a NaNoWriMo participant. This seems like a lot of information, and it is. It really is. And these tips might not actually work for you. I know there are a lot of other people who post articles like this. The NaNoWriMo site does a lot of pep talks and preparation programs to help get you ready to go and get you through the challenge. And other writers post their own maps to success. These are just my tips and tricks, the things that help me hit my 50K. Give NaNo a shot! You've got plenty of time to get ready!

Other resources:
The Official NaNoWriMo blog:
A couple specific articles from the NaNo blog that can help: How To Schedule Time for Writing

There are plenty of other articles out there, but these are a few I found that offer some different tips than my own. Everyone writes differently. Some of the tips these others discuss have never been issues for me, so they don't cross my mind. Search through, try some things, and most importantly, go write! 

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