I’ve done NaNoWriMo several times, but this’ll be the first year in a while that I have a full-length novel project that’s ready to get rolling on Day 1 (I’ve done novellas the last couple of years, but I’m ready to break ground on a new book in my Emperor’s Edge world), so I’m excited to participate. I’m planning to do some giveaways (Amazon gift certificates and maybe some copies of Scrivener) for folks who keep up with their word count, so make sure and stop by here for details next week.
If you’ve tried NaNoWriMo before and haven’t finished those pesky 50,000 words in the month allotted, perhaps you’d like some tips on how to get more written in less time. I always feel like a bit of hypocrite when it comes to productivity tips, since I a) don’t write 10,000 words a day like some authors and b) am the master at dinking around on Twitter, Facebook, and, ahem, “researching” on the internet during writing time. But, hey, I have published ten novels and however many short stories and novellas in the last three years, so that ought to count for something.
So, without further waffling, here are my tips for finishing those 50,000 words in one month:
1. Plan out the scene before you sit down to type
Some people outline and some people pants (that being short for writing by the seat of one’s pants). There’s no right way (though I got a lot more efficient when I started doing at least a rough outline before getting started — at the least, things get easier if you have the ending scene in your mind before you start… know the end, and you can find a way there), but what I do know is that you’ll be a lot more efficient if you know how the scene you’re going to write today goes before you sit down to type.
Showers, dog walks, mindless commutes, treadmill time at the gym… these are all good places for planning that next scene. You’re going to be doing at least one of those things every day anyway (I hope that shower thing is a gimmee, anyway), so make use of the time. When you know what happens next for your characters, you’ll find yourself zipping through the words.
2. Turn off your internal editor
With NaNoWriMo and the first draft, it’s about getting the story down, not about making it pretty or wondering what your critique group will think. Don’t worry about changing every instance of “was” to a more engaging verb. Don’t worry about describing settings and characters in clever and evocative ways. Don’t worry about being clear and concise. Get the story, dialogue, and action down. You can edit and fill in the details later. If you believe Dean Wesley Smith, writing fast and not doing much editing might be the best thing for your story.
3. Research later (or before you start)
If you’re writing historical fiction or something that requires a lot of research, I recommend getting the bulk of it done before NaNoWriMo starts. For the little questions that inevitably come up as you write, you can throw a **LOOKUP LATER** note into the text and leave it for later. Most of those minor details can be researched and double-checked once the first draft is done. I’ll even put something like PLACEHOLDER1 in for a name I can’t remember, rather than taking time away from writing hour to look up a minor character from two books back.
4. Use timers for spurts of focused writing
Parkinson’s Law says, “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”
I don’t know about you, but that’s true, true, true for me. On those rare days with nothing scheduled where I have from dawn to dusk midnight to get in my 3,000 words (or whatever the daily goal is), it’s not uncommon for me to be in bed with my laptop at 10pm, trying to get the last 500 in.
I’m often most efficient (and sometimes most prolific) on busy days where it’s tough to find time at the computer. If I know I only have a half hour here and twenty minutes there, I’m less likely to waste what time I do have.
Whether you’re busy or not, you can use a timer to create a sense of urgency and force yourself to focus for X amount of time. If I set a timer for 30 minutes and order myself not to screw around online, just to write, I can be impressively efficient (at least by my standards). Sometimes it’ll almost be a race. How many words can I knock out before the timer goes off?
You don’t need a special app for this. Just Google, “set timer 30 min” or whatever your chosen time is, and your web browser will start counting down. If you’ve planned your scene ahead of time and know what needs to be written, you’ll be amazed at how much you can get during that little spurt.
5. Get ahead at the beginning
Early in the month, you’re enthused about the new project, and the words fly from your fingertips. If you hit your 1,667 words on Day 1 and still have time to write, do it. Try for 2,000 or 2,500. Try for another 2,000 on the next day and maybe 3,000 on each day of that first weekend day.
As the month wears on, there will inevitably be busy days when you can’t find time to write, and in the U.S., you’ll have the craziness of Thanksgiving weekend. It’s hard to sneak away and write when there are relatives flooding the house.
You may also struggle to keep the words flowing as you get deeper into the story as well. If you’re like many people, you’ll find those first few chapters easiest, because you’ve been thinking about them for a while. The middle can be a slog for all of us, that time when the end isn’t yet in site and we’re starting to hate the novel and have this-totally-sucks thoughts (Yes, it happens to all of us!). If you got ahead early on, you’ll have some leeway during the more challenging second half of the month.
All right, those are my not-so-concise tips. If you have any to add, feel free to post them in the comments.