Less than a week to go, people! Are you ready?
I’m not. I mean, my project is almost planned, but not quite. And with everything else on my plate, it’s going to be a challenge to get those words in. But that’s how the event goes, right? Late nights, frenzied bursts of creativity, a few tears along the way.
We’re masochists, but it works for us.
I’ve been thinking about my strategy for National Novel Writing Month and thought I’d share a few of the tips/strategies that work well for me. Some of this might work for you, some of it might not, your mileage may vary, etc. Please don’t take this as a set of rules. What works for me might not work for you. It’s just some ideas to consider.
Feel free to add your best tips or questions in the comments below! We can all help each other that way.
- Know your why. Two whys, actually. First: Why are you writing and why is it important to you to finish the event? Knowing this will keep you going when you’re on day 23, behind on your word count, and tempted to throw in the towel. Figure out now whether it’s worth it to you to do this crazy thing, how much of a priority it is for you, and how you’re going to get it done. Second: Why this story? If you know what it is you want to communicate or what experience you want to deliver to readers, you’re less likely to wander badly off course and write yourself into a dead-end alley. And knowing what you want to offer to the world is another fine motivator. (Note: I’ve learned that for me, internal motivation is way more rewarding than external. But that’s a whole other post.)
- Plan. I know, some people are hardcore pantsers and like to start on November 1 without a plan. That’s great for them! For me, having a solid plan for the story allows me to write it a lot faster. I prefer not to pursue tangents that don’t add to the story (and worse, that I’ll have to cut in revisions if I want a story with strong pacing*). Even if you just know where you want the story to go, what your character wants, and a couple of key obstacles along the way, you’ll probably save yourself some rewrites.
- That said, don’t be afraid to change your plan or take chances. No one else has to see this draft. Go crazy. Make it amazing. Take some chances, learn some lessons and grow as a writer.
- Get to know your characters. For me, this is far more critical than knowing the details of my plot. Let them be fully-formed, let their decisions affect the course of the story, and make them real. Readers can tell if characters are just puppets doing what the author wants, and will notice if they’re making decisions that are out of character just to serve the plot/they’re just being jerked around by external circumstances and not actually driving the story. They need to act and react in consistent ways, and they need to have an impact on their world. Knowing who they are before you start writing will make it easier to know what actions make sense for them and what obstacles will be the most interesting.**
- Don’t sweat the details on the first draft. We’d all like to have gorgeous prose, snappy dialogue, killer descriptions, and OMG YES metaphors in the first draft, but worrying about getting it all perfect now will slow you down. Do what you can and leave the rest for revisions. (This applies to non-NaNo drafting, too. You could spend a week writing the perfect scene in draft one and then realize in draft two that you need to cut it. Proceed as you see fit, of course. This was a hard-won lesson for little ol’ perfectionist me, so I like to share it. Speaking of which…)
- Remember that revisions will be necessary no matter how careful you are now. And don’t mourn that. Celebrate it. Nothing you write this November is final. You can repair plot holes, sharpen dialogue, streamline action scenes, and make that sex scene less cheesy later. It’s a god-like superpower. Focus on how amazing the end result will be instead of mourning the fact you’ll have to make changes.***
- Make revision notes as you go rather than going back and fixing stuff right away. Recording those insights means you won’t forget them. I usually write them down and then proceed with the draft as though I’ve already made the changes. This makes for really disjointed first drafts, but means I can see the effects of those changes right away AND I don’t drain momentum by getting bogged down in early chapters. Besides, no one but me is going to see my first draft. It’s okay if the seams show. For now.
- Know when you’re going to do this. If you don’t usually plan your days, now wouldn’t be a bad time to start. You’ll need to average 1667 words per day. That’s not a lot by some standards, but it’s not a number most of us can dash off on the bus during a short commute, either. You probably need to decide ahead of time when you’re going to do it. Lunch break? After the kids/parents/dogs/housemates are in bed? Wake up two hours early every weekday? Cram it all in on your days off? In my experience, not planning means it doesn’t get done. I get to the end of the day and I’m too tired. I say I’ll do it tomorrow. And then it piles up. I’m getting up early to do my drafting this year so I’ll know it’s done even if everything goes haywire later in the day. Consider what will work best for you.
- Remember that this is supposed to be fun. NaNoWriMo is a little taste of what it’s like to be an author. 1667 words a day feels like a lot at first, but it’s not even the minimum for most professional authors I’ve seen share their daily drafting goals. You can handle this. It will get stressful, and you will be tempted to quit. Once the initial thrill burns off, it’s easy to get bogged down in the more aversive aspects of this task: it’s challenging, there’s not usually any immediate feedback, it’s often solitary, and there may never be any financial payoff, accolades, or other external rewards. But the first draft can also be wonderful if you approach it with the right mindset. This is the only first time you get with this story, the only time when it’s really new. It’s where you can experiment. And if you’re writing a story you love, it’s a wonderful adventure (even if there are dangers lurking in the shadows). Look at this month as a fun challenge and not a pass/fail scenario. Focus on what you’re learning rather than whether your work is perfect. Aim for a growth mindset, throw in as much of what you love in books as you can, and stop to pat yourself on the back whenever possible.
- Play your cards close to your chest. This is another big “YMMV” tip, but it’s important for me. Nobody sees my first drafts, and I don’t even talk a lot about the story until I’m ready to share it with trusted readers. I like to keep my options open, not feel like anyone is reading over my shoulder, and not have to worry about anyone’s opinions except my own while I’m elbow deep in creating my beautiful monster. I don’t like other people’s fingers in my pie (and I’m very possessive of my vision for the story early on). Talking too much about the details ahead of time drains the magic for me, and other people’s opinions on unformed ideas feel like poison. Basically, I don’t want to be tempted to second-guess myself. Some people like to post chapter by chapter and write by committee… that sounds like an absolute nightmare to me. There’s plenty of time for me to accept critique after I have a solid idea of what I want the story to be. Again, know what you want from this experience and move forward accordingly. Neither way is right or wrong. This is just my personal experience that might be helpful to consider, especially if you might be tempted to give up or start over if someone hates chapter one.
Those are the big ones I’ve got for tonight. How about you?
*Tangents, plot bunnies, and random ninjas are a big part of NaNoWriMo for a lot of people who are doing this for the experience, for fun, etc. You’ll see tips telling you to explore great-aunt Beatrice’s failed marriage if it gets you another 10K words on your story, even if it has nothing to do with the legal thriller you’re actually writing (or to squeeze 2,000 words out of describing your hero’s kitchen in astounding detail). And that’s amazing if that’s how you want to approach it or if you’re really stumped and need to get your daily words in while you’re considering what comes next. I’m speaking as an author who has a lot on my plate and can’t afford to lose that time. This goes back to knowing your why. Are you writing because you’d eventually like to publish and earn an income, or is this an amazing adventure for you and whatever friends want to read it?Both are great whys, and neither is right or better than the other in the context of this event. But they could lead you to different approaches to the process, and knowing what you want to get out of this could save some frustration.
**Yes, real means flawed. And being adorably clumsy or sexy-but-not-realizing-it are not generally interesting flaws. Dig deep. Scare yourself. Have fun.
***If I end up with a first draft that doesn’t need revisions, I question whether I took the easy road instead of the best one. Digging deeper is hard, but it’s always worth it for me.