I wrote last week about my own journey to Nanowrimo. I wanted to do a second post, though, about some recommendations that I have for sticking it through. I’m feeling like a veteran at this since it’s my 5th year and all (and I’ve done Camp a couple of times too). This is my guide to thirty days of writing insanity, specially geared towards first-timers.
- Let your family and friends know, and recruit a cheering section. You’re going to be spending a LOT of time alone with your computer. Make sure everyone knows it’s because you’re an intrepid novelist and not because you hate them or are suddenly feeling anti-social. Other bonuses include motivating guilt when people ask you how it’s going and you’re inevitably behind, possible dinners and/or candy brought to you by sympathetic pals, and encouragement when you’re feeling deep in the dumps because it’s not working out. If you don’t have that kind of support system at home, the message boards can be a great stand-in. So can writer meet-ups.
- DO NOT GO IN WITHOUT A PLAN. No, really. I know there’s this awesome debate about planners vs pantsers and that it’s equally legitimate to be either. If this is your first rodeo, DO NOT go in without a plan of some kind. You don’t have to have a detailed outline like a “planner” would, but you should at least know in your head the beginning, some of the middle, and where it will end. If it’s your first novel-writing experience, I recommend that you steal a plot. I know that sounds bad at first glance, but it’s totally legit. All you have to do is pick your favorite tale, set it in a different time period, and write away. A Macbeth/Mean Girls mashup where they murder the alpha-girl, A steampunk Odyssey in a dirigible balloon (one-eyed aliens, anyone?), a Sleeping Beauty on a far-away planet, where she’s incased not in briars but in ice… the options are endless. Pick a story you know well, and mess with the wheres and whens. You will thank me in week 2 when the Hatred hits.
- Be prepared for the week 2 Hatred. I always think I’m prepared for week 2. And then I’m always surprised by how authentically and genuinely I loathe the story I’m writing. You don’t have to like it, you just have to write it. I recommend the pep talks on the Nanowrimo website at this point, especially Neil Gaiman’s. Bribery and punishment also work for some. Although I’ve never used them, I have heard great things about Write Or Die and Written Kitten. Keep going. Do not ditch this in favor of another idea. You will hate it less in a few days, and if you have stolen a plot you probably know how to get to the next thing that happens. If you have not stolen a plot, you may be feeling at this point like you’ve exhausted all your creativity and/or like your story has gone off the rails. For this problem, try adding something completely unexpected, something from the prompt message boards on the Nano site, OR just skip to that part that happens super far in the future but that you’re looking forward to writing. No one said you had to write the book in the right order.
- For the love of God, do not re-read your work! It will only end in tears. And in less writing. There’s plenty of time after Nano to fix whatever isn’t working. Whatever you do, just keep going and ignore the rest.
- Make the most of your weekends. Work will get crazy. Relatives will fly in for Thanksgiving. You will have that thing that night that you can’t get out of. It will happen, and the word count mounts up so fast that it will seem impossible for you to ever catch up. Use your weekends to pad your word count. Even if you can’t get those extra words in on both days, you will usually have one day to really crank it out. Make the most of these times and you will keep yourself sane (okay, sane-ish).
- It’s possible to write more than you think it is. I did 9,000 words one day. My shoulders ached and my brain felt pretty fried at the end, but I caught myself up with some word count to spare. If you had asked me before I did it, I would have said that 3,000 a day was my absolute upward limit. You are capable of more than you think if you push yourself hard. Who ever said that winning was easy?
- Don’t be too hard on yourself. Give it your all, certainly, but it’s useful to remember a few things along the way. #1 is that no one will ever see this draft. It will be bad. It will be the worst thing you have ever written sometimes. You are still lapping the people on the couch who have never written a novel, and anyway, all you want is something you can edit. It’s SUPPOSED to be bad. If it isn’t bad, you aren’t doing it right. #2 is that Nano isn’t for everyone. Not everyone is capable of working like that, and that’s okay. You are a winner if you wrote more words than you would have otherwise this month, and that’s all that matters. This is also the reason you should keep going once you start, even if you definitely aren’t going to make it to 50,000. More words are better words. Quantity over quality forever! (or at least until draft 2). #3 is to ignore everyone else’s word count on the message boards. I’ll tell you right now that those people who have 20,000 words of a novel on day 2 are either professionals with dozens of books in print, super humans, or lying. Run your own race against yourself, and just know that the rest of us are mad at those overachievers for blowing the bell-curve too.
So that’s all I’ll say today. Any other advice I have is probably specific for my writing style anyway. I leave you to enjoy the Viking hats, the traveling shovel of death, to get acquainted with Mr. Ian Woon, and otherwise revel in the explosion of words that happens every November. Best of luck!