Every November, thousands of people embark on a month of literary abandon. National Novel Writing Month is the brainchild of Chris Baty, having started as a fun challenge between friends in 1999 which eventually evolved into the worldwide phenomenon that it is today. The challenge to write a 50,000-word novel in 30 days may seem wildly impractical and foolhardy to some, as one who has won five of the past seven years, I can tell you it is more than feasible with some determination and a few tricks up your sleeve.
If there is one thing that you will be told again and again as you voyage through the uncharted waters of novel writing, it is to let your muse take the helm. Your imagination is more than capable of this challenge, but you need to get your ego and inner critic out of the way.
Your novel will suck and that is okay. First drafts are always awful, so let go of the thought you need to write a masterpiece during the month. The idea is to write; write without filters or fear. Jump head first into the unknown and see what happens.
Over the past seven years, I have learned a few things as to how to succeed at NaNoWriMo, as I’m sure other WriMos have as well. For those about to undertake their first NaNo or those seasoned pros looking for ideas to make it even smoother, I offer the following advice.
- DO NOT DELETE. Don’t like the sentence? Leave it and write it again. Decide your novel is now about cowboys in space instead of underwater explorers? Make a new paragraph and go from there. Can’t stand the sight of your mistakes? Either use strikethrough or change the font to white. If you wrote it, count it. The month is too short for editing. Leave that to December.
- Write whenever you get the chance. Waiting for the bus, pull out that receipt in your pocket and scribble a few sentences on that to type up when you get home. Dinner is simmering? Type out the next paragraph. The goal is to aim for an average of 1,667 words per day throughout November. You don’t have to write all those words at once and you would be amazed just how many words you can get done during your day without even realizing it.
- Use your friends and family. As parents, we all know the never ending source of inspiration our children can give. Take their words and actions and run with it. Whether your character reenacts your morning playing with Ninja Turtles with their own kids or your character actually encounters the Ninja Turtles themselves while out on the town, it doesn’t matter. Besides, think of what that character can learn about themselves when they have to interact with half-human, half-turtle pizza eating ninjas? The possibilities are endless.
The same can be said for a spouse, friends, and coworkers. Sure, their stories may be less outlandish than your children but that doesn’t mean your friend’s story about her outrageous relatives showing up unexpected can’t happen in your story as well. Your life and the lives of those around you are treasure troves of literary inspiration. Use it well.
- Social media can be your friend. Some people will tell you to stay off places like Facebook and Twitter during the month, since we all know how both can be an enormous time suck, but I have found some of my greatest motivation from those places. Look for NaNo sprints on Twitter, where you write for a specific time period as fast as you can. Post updates on Facebook or Tumblr, getting your friends and followers to give you support.
- Write or Die. When you absolutely, positively need focus, this website is wonderful. You can set the sort of the time period you wish to write, how much leeway you are given for pauses and breaks, and most importantly, the consequences. This is a website that will scream at you if you fail to meet the expectations you set for yourself. Nothing like a shrieking, red computer screen to keep you typing your fingers to the bone. I use the TRY option but may eventually buy it since the program is quite useful.
- Rewards. I buy a bottle of wine at the beginning of the month and it becomes mine the moment I pass 50,000 words. That is my favorite type of reward and one that works well for me. Others buy themselves a new outfit or a printed copy of the novel they just wrote. Others reward themselves more often, such as a gummy bear or peanut butter cup after every two hundred words. Find something that would motivate you without breaking the bank.
In the end, every writer needs to find what works for them. NaNoWriMo is an adventure in focus and determination, of figuring out what is the best for you. It is persevering in the bad times and celebrating in the good. And in the end, regardless of whether your novel will ever see the light of day, you can call yourself an author, which is pretty impressive no matter what way you look at it.