In just a few days, I’ll be joining writers across the world as we embark on the yearly 30-day novel-writing challenge known as NaNoWriMo.
This year is pretty special for me… it’s my 10th consecutive year. And while every year has brought its own unique challenges, this year is shaping up to be my toughest yet. I need to remind myself of the tricks that got me through past years, so I thought I’d share a few of them with you!
I’ve been lucky in that I’ve crossed the finish line all nine previous years, but part of what helped me get there was not putting undue pressure on myself by feeling like it was a big deal if I didn’t. Sure, you want to strive toward reaching that 50k goal by midnight on the last night of November, but the bigger point of NaNoWriMo is starting a novel and putting some work into it. If that means you have 15k words at the end of 30 days, don’t shortchange yourself because that’s still a HUGE accomplishment!
With November being a time for winter preparation and the launch pad for the busy holiday season, it’s maybe not the best time to expect the world to disappear while you hole up for a month to write a novel. No matter how carefully you’ve prepared for this month, clearing your schedule and warning family and friends, I promise things are going to come up. The sibling you never get to see is suddenly going to be in town one weekend. The dog is going to decide now is a great time to sprout a sebaceous cyst. The pipes are going to freeze. You’re going to get the flu. You’re probably going to get a summons for jury duty… ROLL WITH IT. Seriously, it’ll be fine!
You probably have some idea of how fast you write. I can generally knock out 500 to 800 words in thirty minutes with no distractions. All you have to do to stay on top of your daily NaNoWriMo word count is 1666 words. I can usually get there in under two hours. You probably can, too. No matter what happens, just try to hit that goal every day or as close as you can get to it. If you have extra time on any given day, use it to get ahead. Also, you have 15 minutes until the plumber gets here to deal with the frozen pipes. Go knock out a couple hundred words!
This, I think, is probably the most important trick to winning NaNoWriMo. We all want to write amazing novels, but that amazing-ness doesn’t happen in the rough draft. This is the prototype of your novel. It’s the one you sculpt out of clay before you chisel it into marble. It’s not going to be pretty–and that’s FINE! It doesn’t have to be! All that matters is you get the words down on the page. Don’t sweat spelling, grammar, sentence structure, pacing, character development–any of it. Just let it go and worry about that other stuff later.
If you’re pantsing or plantsing (or even if you planned, TBH) and you lose your way, that’s fine! Put your characters on a plane and send them to Paris for the weekend. Drop a torrential rainstorm of alligators down upon your protagonist’s unsuspecting hometown. See what happens if your characters wake up stranded on a desert island with no idea how they got there. No time for writer’s block Dr. Jones! Tangents can save your butt during NaNoWriMo, and even if they end up on the cutting room floor, they often produce little gems you’ll want to save for later.
I hope these tips will be as helpful to you as they have been for me. Best of luck! YOU CAN DO IT!!!