It’s the beginning of November, and, for a lot of us, that means the first day of NaNoWriMo, a self-inflicted torture worthy project where we attempt to write the first draft of a novel (50,000 words of one anyway) by the end of the month. No, it doesn’t matter that this is a hectic time for many people. We are writers; we will conquer!
I did NaNo last year and knocked out the 50,000 words, and I usually write 1500 to 2000 words a day anyway when I’m working on a first draft, so I thought I’d throw together a few tips here for those who might be new or who’ve participated before but not met the goal. (If you have tips of your own, feel free to add them at the end.)
NaNoWriMo Success Tips:
Get ahead early
You’ll probably find the writing comes easiest in the first week, because you’ve been thinking about this novel for a while. You know how the first chapter goes and maybe the first few chapters. You’re excited about the project, and you’re excited about NaNoWriMo. This is the time to get ahead i the word count. It’ll be a little extra cushion for later, when life gets in the way or you just get stuck in the story (it happens to the best of us).
Write every day
Try not to blow off any days. If you write every day, you’ll need to pump out about 1667 words before bed each night. Perhaps not a “piece of cake,” but a manageable goal. If you miss a day, you’re suddenly looking at over 3200 words that need to be written the next day. That’s a lot. If you put things off and say you’ll catch up on the weekend, it’s even worse. You’ll start to hate the whole process, and maybe give up, if you’re looking at a Saturday where you have to write 7,000 words because you haven’t gotten any writing in since Monday.
Instead, try to write every day. You’d be amazed at how much you can write in 20 minutes if you’re focused. Even if you don’t make the 1667 words that day, at least you made some words, so catching up isn’t quite so difficult.
Don’t put off starting until the end of the day
I’m a night owl, so I know all about saving writing for the end of the day, but it’s easier to reach goals when you’re able to knock out a few hundred words before you get going in the morning, a few hundred more on your lunch break, a couple hundred before dinner, etc.
You may actually find that you’re more productive this way too. If you know you only have 15 minutes to spare before you leave for work, you’ll sit down and write without screwing around. If you start writing at 8pm, and know you have the rest of the night to work, you might check email, play a few rounds of Scrabble on Facebook, tweet with your buddies, etc. The length of time needed to complete a task tends to expand to fill the length of time allotted. This is why some of your best NaNo days might be on a hectic Thursday instead of a Saturday where you have nothing else planned.
Don’t obsess over having your entire novel outlined in advance
If you didn’t get your entire novel plotted out in October, don’t stress about it. A lot of us who write full outlines end up deviating from it by Chapter 3.
If you know where to start, and you know how it’s going to end, you can probably find a road to get you there. In fact, there’s a quotation about that. E.L. Doctorow: “It’s like driving a car at night. You never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”
Use your time away from the computer productively
Most of us can’t sit at the computer and write all day. We have work, family, and various obligations that keep us busy, but you probably do have some hours during the day where your brain doesn’t need to be 100% focused on its current task. Time where you’re exercising, dog walking, commuting, etc.
Use that time to work out the next scene in your story so that when you do get a chance to sit down at the computer, you’ve got the next thousand words or so all planned out, and there’s no need to dawdle.
Only write the good scenes
Most of us don’t enjoy writing exposition, the stuff where we explain the world, the setting, the characters’ histories, etc. And don’t forget the transition pages where we feel we have to show how the characters got from Destination A to Destination B (even though absolutely nothing integral to the plot happens during those pages…). Well, guess what? If it’s a slog to write, it’s probably not going to be that interesting to read either.
Elmore Leonard’s Ten Rules of Writing tells us to, “Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.” You’d be surprised at just how much exposition you can leave out without any sort of confusion on the reader’s part. And you’ll have an easier time staying excited by just writing “the good stuff.”
Worried that you’re leaving out something important? You can always add it on the next pass. You’re writing 50,000 words and most novels are in the 70-90,000 word range (SF & F are often over 100,000!), so you’ll probably want to go back and flesh things out later anyway.
Worried that you’ll get confused if you leave gaps in the narrative? Using a program like Scrivener (there’s a free trial for NaNoWriMo participants) lets you name all your chapters and scenes and see them over in the sidebar, so it’s easy to jump around and find things. (If you decide not to buy Scrivener, don’t worry about losing access to your work; you can compile it into a Word file before the trial runs out.)
All right, that’s enough of a list from me! Are you an experienced author or NaNoWriMo veteran with tips of your own? Please share them below!