To all those about to embark on the adventure known as National Novel Writing Month (Fun fact: For some reason my wife can’t stand the phrase NaNoWriMo, so I always have to refer to it by its full name), here are some tips to help you get through the next 30 days.
While I have not yet tried this monthly challenge myself, these are the same tips I give anyone writing their first draft of a novel. Honestly, I’ve never needed to take on the challenge before, but scheduling and life’s demands may encourage me to participate this year, or at least make a more concerted effort to finish my novel-in-progress. Middle grade books are short, so I could finish a draft by the end of the month, and that’s very appealing. So anyway, some advice for your consideration…
- Don’t look back. Some authors like to reread and revise their work as they go, but forward momentum is key to getting to “The End” in a manuscript. You can always go back and fix it later. If you do think you need to change something in an earlier chapter before you go on, my trick is to make a note of it for revision, and then pretend you’ve already made the change as you proceed. It makes for plot inconsistencies in the first draft, but you aren’t going to show that to anyone before you revise anyway, right?
- Do you Scrivener? Scrivener is a terrific writing tool that isn’t for everyone, and National Novel Writing Month is a great time to get it because there’s a free trial version, and you can purchase the software for 50% off. But it isn’t necessarily the best time to try it. Unless you get it early and familiarize yourself with it ahead of time, try to keep things basic, or you may end up spending more time figuring out how it works and what it can do than actually writing. Just use whatever has worked for you in the past—you want to think about writing, not what you’re writing it in. (Ditto on getting a new laptop or writing toy. Try to get it a little early so you’re comfortable with it before starting your shiny new project.)
- Use the buddy system. You don’t have to become a hermit for a month to succeed in reaching your goals. Meetups with other writers and friends can help motivate you and scratch the socializing itch while you’re still being productive. Just don’t spend the whole time talking about writing or comparing word counts when you should be writing. Sometimes it helps to hold yourself accountable to someone else, even if you’re only disclosing your goals and progress to the Twitterverse.
- Set realistic goals. The whole point of the challenge is to write 50,000 words in 30 days. Lots of people set daily or weekly wordcount goals, but I suggest setting time goals: Promising yourself to write for 30 minutes or an hour every day, no matter what. That can get you in the chair at your keyboard more effectively, and you may find that you write much longer, and you don’t have any trouble churning out enough words to satisfy the challenge.
- A winner is you! At the end of those 30 days, even if you don’t make 50K words, don’t consider yourself a failure. You still wrote more than most people do, and you should just keep going until you have the full manuscript.
- 50K is not the end. When you win National Novel Writing Month, don’t just start submitting your manuscript to agents and editors in December. First of all, they won’t read it because publishing kind of shuts down over the holidays. So you may as well use the time to revise your book and get it in the best shape possible, share it with beta readers and writing buddies, and work on your query letters so you can submit it in the spring—when you and your book will stand out over all the others who sent their books in just before Christmas.
- Take care of yourself. Depending on your home situation, the place may get messier while you’re focusing on your writing this month. Perhaps you’ll eat more takeout, or watch less TV. (Thank goodness you already binged on Stranger Things 2, right?) Hopefully your family is supportive of your creative pursuits and dedication, but try not to ignore them completely, and please remember to eat, exercise, stretch, drink water, pee, eat, and all the things you might forget to do because you’re in the zone.
- Have fun! Try to remember why you write: It probably isn’t to get rich, or get famous, or just to win a monthly challenge. You want to tell a story and share it with people, and having the opportunity to do that is one of the most precious things and the greatest joys in life. Enjoy it, and make good art.
What do you think? Did I miss anything? Share your tips below and let us know if you’re participating in NNWM next month and what you’ll be working on. We can check in here to update on our progress!