It’s November. Is your favorite writer friend suddenly missing? It’s probably because it’s NaNoWriMo!
Nanowrimo (I’ll call it Nano for short in this post) stands for National Novel Writing Month. It’s an annual challenge to write 50,000 words in thirty days. It’s spun off Camp Nanowrimo which is the same idea in April and July giving you three opportunities to binge write in a year. Celebrating it’s 20th year, it’s expected to have 400,000 people starting their novel this year.
Between the main Nano event and Camp Nano, I’ve done seven of these since 2011. I’ve won some. I’ve lost some. It’s definitely a draining and rewarding month.
I’ve learned a lot about myself, my process, and Nanowrimo in general over the years. I wanted to share some tips on how to survive this.
Because writing 50,000 words (about 3-4 pages a day give or take) can make you into a crazy person.
Customize your goal
Start off with small goals and make them your own. You can always work up to the 50,000 mark.
I absolutely, 100% prefer Camp Nanowrimo over the main November event. You can set your own word count to fit it around your life. Like I mentioned, they have it in April and July. If you know you’re going to be working a lot or have some extra free time, you can adjust that word count. Also, there’s a cabin system. The cabin allows you to make a team with your friends who are participating. You can write encouraging messages to each other, check in, and keep the cabin motivated. I would give anything for the main Nano event to have a cabin system. It’s one of the most helpful resources that’s provided.
Sadly, the November Nano romp does not have word counts to customize or people to team up with. There are forums and local meet ups, which are fine. Personally, I’ve had trouble keeping up with forums or getting out to these write ins. While I understand the reasoning for the 50,000 words in 30 days, I wish there was more variation to this method.
Which is why I suggest that if you know that you can’t do the 50,000 words to make your own goal. Write a certain amount of flash fics in this time. Update one chapter of your fanfiction. Write or edit 25 pages of your novel. Write 20 blog posts. Anything! Make your own set of goals that you can accomplish in this time period. You know yourself and your schedule. Make it for you.
This also includes setting a smaller word goal for yourself if you want. Do you know you can only do 25,000 words in thirty days? Which is roughly a little more than 800 words/a page a day? Cool! Do that! 20,000? Nice! 5,000 words? Awesome! You are 5,000 words closer to your completed project than you were when you started!
There is absolutely nothing wrong with setting a smaller goal. It allows you to have something to work towards that’s not so daunting. I’ve heard from so many friends that the reason they haven’t done Nano is because the word count so high. As I have told them, I encourage you to choose a smaller goal. Even if you plan to do the full 50,000, start with a series of smaller goals to work up to it. That way you get a sense of accomplishment which is just as rewarding.
My goal this month is simply to write once a day, every day. It can be on a blog post (like this one), my fanfics, or my novel edits from last year’s Nano. My job changed about a month ago, and it’s been a huge transition in my life. It’s completely squashed my creative ability. I want to focus on getting back into the habit of writing. I used to be a in great rhythm, but it’s gone. So that’s my goal for myself this year.
Nanowrimo does provide nice charts to track your progress. You can see what your word count is, how many days you post, and how far away you are from the big winner prize. For me, I’m more interested in the Goal Tracker tab. I set my goal, put in an arbitrary number of 15,000 words, and now I can track my daily progress a little easier. Picking a lower number, it makes it easier to see on the chart when I’m starting out. These are good ways to keep an eye on your progress.
Sure, this method won’t get you the winner’s badges or give you access to the swag for completing a full Nano. But at least you met your own personal accomplishments.
Like I said, you’re still closer than when you started.
I know this doesn’t work for everyone. My best friend doesn’t use outlines. She’s tried, and it doesn’t work for her. She has to sit down, write, and see where the story organically takes her. She discovers those beats and emotional moments as she goes.
I wish I could do this, but my brain doesn’t work this way. I have to roughly outline a beginning, middle, and end. The reason I do this, which helped me in the past for Nano, is in case I get stuck. I usually try to start at the beginning and write. If this doesn’t work, then I work on whatever scene I’m feeling inspiration towards.
Having an outline gives me the opportunity to jump around in case I run into writer’s block. If I hit a wall, I have options. It helps me to keep working while giving me the opportunity to fill in parts I skip at a later date.
This is a rough draft. Get it on the page.
Probably the best piece of writing advice I ever received was from my friend Brian Katcher (Almost Perfect). He said, “Hope, most writers fail because they don’t finish the first draft. It’s a rough draft. It’s going to suck! Just get the damn thing on the page!”
This is so true. First drafts are supposed to be rough. If I find myself struggling on a particular scene, I break it down to really simple steps. There’s nothing wrong with writing:
John is writing. He looked up. He heard a thing outside his window. He goes to the window. He sees Suzy. She’s singing. She is walking her dog. The dog is cute. It’s a small dog. John likes Suzy. Suzy’s dog does not like John. She looks up. She sees John. John pulls away from the window. John is scared he looked creepy. Suzy has been John’s neighbor for years. She knows he’s not creepy. She wishes her dog liked John too.
There you go. That’s 83 words written in about two minutes off the top of my head.
By breaking down a scene in simple steps, it gets you over that block. It allows you to keep moving forward. And most importantly, you can always go back and edit it later.
Because you can’t edit what you don’t have on the page.
You can go back and write something like, “As the sun started setting on the late September afternoon, light trickled in across John’s desk. It made the blank page of lined paper glare at him, showing how much he wasted his day.”
I made that up about this John character based off of “John is writing.” Turns out as I fleshed it out, he’s having writer’s block.
Editing is fun, because you get to add flourish like that. You get to give the work life or trim away unnecessary parts. But Nanowrimo is not for editing. That’s not the point. It’s for writing your first draft of a novel. It’s okay if it’s not perfect. It’s not supposed to be.
So get those damn words on the page.
NaNoWriMo doesn’t work for everyone
This is the most important tip of all.
You might be pumped for Nanowrimo. You’re eager in the beginning. You’re churning out those words. You’re getting pages down. And then you start to slow. You’re losing that drive. And then it’s Thanksgiving, and you’re a week behind on word counts. You don’t know with all the holiday travel and fighting Black Friday shoppers when you’ll get back to your computer to finish. It can make you feel like you failed.
Or maybe you’re the kind of person who wants to bust out 3-4 pages a day, but your normal speed is 1-2 pages. You see people posting all these word counts blowing you out of the water. That can be really disheartening.
Maybe you take one look at Nanowrimo, think it’s too hard, and return to your normal regime of writing 1-2 days a week.
Writing is a creative process. I don’t care what writing help books say. There’s no one right way to make art. You have to do what is best for you. There’s nothing wrong with trying Nanowrimo and finding out it doesn’t work for you. It has sometimes worked for me. Other times I failed. It’s part of the process.
Nanowrimo is just one possible tool. It’s a great way to meet other writers and share experiences with each other. It’s a good way to make content. But it’s not a finite set of rules that has to be done this way. It’s okay if you don’t finish. It’s okay if you realize that this process doesn’t help you.
You have to create art at a pace that works for you. The thing that I always, ALWAYS remind myself when I feel like I’m falling behind or I’m not writing enough is that Frank McCourt published Angela’s Ashes, his first novel, when he was sixty-six years old. Sixty-Six. There’s always time. Don’t give up.
Art is a marathon, not a sprint. If the fast pace of Nanowrimo works for you, that’s great! If it doesn’t, that’s awesome! Do what is best for you. Nano is supposed to be fun. If it’s not, then it’s okay to not continue Nano and find your own method.
I’ll leave you with this tidbit from Tumblr. Happy writing!
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