These are the ten things NaNoWriMo has taught me, and hopefully they can serve as helpful tips for future NaNoWriMo participants. I didn’t think I’d actually get the chance to write this list because it seemed like I was going to abandon NaNoWriMo halfway through the month, but here I am! (NaNoWriMo, if you are unaware, is National Novel Writing Month and takes place in November, where the goal is to write at least 50,000 words for a story. All participants are encouraged to have fun, keep writing, and get support from other fellow writers in the community.)
- Do edit or don’t edit as you go along – it’s up to you. But never lose sight of your goal – which is simply put: WRITE 50,000 WORDS! If you start getting so caught up in planning and editing and revising that you’re starting to wonder if you’ll be able to reach the 50k goal, STOP IT and just write.
- Skimping out on just one day doesn’t seem so bad – until the following days when you realize it’s already a struggle to meet the bare minimum of each day…PLUS the extra words you have to write in order to catch up! So, beware!
- On the other hand, for some people, skipping days, a week, or even weeks is something that really works for them. For some of us, that feeling of intense pressure to meet a deadline is exactly what we need to pull out the creativity or just pump out those words fast.
- If writer’s block hits you, or you spend more time just sitting there thinking than you do writing, it’s time to write up an outline of your entire story. Work on it until you have enough to get you through a lot of writing without having to stop and think hard about where you’re going next. Once you’re ahead, keep adding to the outline everyday.
- DAYDREAM as much as you can when you’re not writing! NaNo got me thinking…why don’t I daydream like I used to when I was a kid? I used to daydream all the time when I was bored, or doing chores. Now I find myself with an empty mind while I do mundane tasks, or I am worrying about other things. Instead, daydream! It really helps when you finally sit down to write and all these ideas have already been playing out in your mind.
- See your work in progress as a FRAMEWORK, not a masterpiece. You are building up the skeleton, so you can flesh it out later. You’re building the framework of your house first, so that later you can add walls, and eventually, add all the furniture & decorations in the exact places you want them to be! Writing a novel is really complex. You want it to be believable, relatable, meaningful, and compelling. Sometimes thinking too hard about what you want your story to be kills your creativity before you can even get started. That’s where I think NaNoWriMo really comes in handy! It’s reminding you that the first step, which is full of flaws, is crucial!
- You might need a buffer zone! November is a great month to write a novel…but then there’s Thanksgiving, and Black Friday, and other things that will happen (like exams or just plain life happening!). So although 1700 words a day is ideal, it’s necessary to really take it beyond that if you want to make your goal, or be prepared to write thousands of words at a time to catch up. NaNoWriMo is theoretically 30 days – but with real life, it is totally NOT. Every day that you shave off gives you even less time to write.
What if you’re sick for one day, have a big exam one day, celebrate Thanksgiving one day, go to Black Friday the next, and go on a well-anticipated mini-trip with your friends on one special day. That’s FIVE days you’d end up taking off completely or skimping on words big time. Holy mackerel, that leaves you with a NaNoWriMo that is actually 25 days! If you want that much of a safety buffer, you’re going to need at least 2000 words a day instead of 1700! (Note: For Nov. 2012, I technically wrote for only 22 days because I ended up skipping on writing for 8 whole days!)
- Make use of the forums and community at the NaNoWriMo website. There is so much help and encouragement offered there; you’ll be amazed at what you were missing out on once you decide to join in. Need help with a plot hole? Need to know how guns work? Need to find someone else with your word count? Need someone to stay up with late at night while writing? Need someone to listen to your complaints? Need some encouragement? It’s all there! Doing it alone can be a little discouraging and lonely…but it doesn’t have to be done alone! I almost gave up halfway through the month, but the positive energy kept me going.
- If you need to keep a flow of constant words going, then it’s time to skip around in your novel. A LOT. Especially if you are in the last stretch and need to hit those 50,000 words, this is going to be crucial for you. Thanks to the NaNoWriMo community, I discovered Write Or Die, which will help you stay focused and write non-stop for your chosen amount of time. Once your words start slowing down and you are thinking, “Hmm, what should happen next?” Just STOP THERE completely and move on to a different scene. If you keep doing this, you will keep a constant flow of words and the fresh ideas will keep you writing at a good speed. This was the only way I could get my last five thousand words in (my own personal) record time because I would have taken FIVE hours for five thousand words if I had continued writing at my normal pace.
- 50,000 is just a number that was chosen to help us push through and write a lot of words in a short period of time. Some stories will be much shorter, and some will take much longer. The point of NaNoWriMo is to let out the creativity and writer inside of you, especially if you’ve lost it or never tried bringing it out in the first place.