The November Chronicles: How Do You NaNo?

Since putting up my last blog post, I’ve gotten a handful of messages asking how to participate  in National Novel Writing Month.

Here’s the basics:

  • Write 50,000 words (or more)
  • Start any time after 12:00 a.m. on November 1st.
  • Finish any time before 11:59 p.m. on November 30th.
  • Work on entirely new material: a novel which has no previous drafts and no word count before November 1st (outlining is fine).
  • Follow all the rules above, or join the gloried ranks of the NaNoWriMo cheaters, who dare to… do whatever they feel like.

It’s not that complicated. It’s just difficult. And exciting. And sleep-depriving in a way that even caffeine can’t fix by the end of the month. At the finish, you have the rawest first draft you’ve probably ever written, with a handful of golden pages you wouldn’t trade away for love.

Most of the work is just putting in the hours, putting your rear end in a chair and your hands on a keyboard. It’s deciding not to move and laying down one word after another. Maybe it means turning off the internet. Then it’s just stacking sentences on top of each other.

This will be my ninth year participating and a few of you have asked what tricks I use to reach my goals. The honest truth is: not many. I’m the sort of person who asks first if a problem can be solved with a sledgehammer, is told ‘no,’ tries it anyway, and then attempts a work around. I like the “just sit your butt down and write” approach. As much as I can, I muscle my way through this month.

Still, there are a few things I’ve learned which can save me from breaking my head against a brick wall:

  • I write every day. 50,000 words breaks down to 1,667 words a day. I can usually lay that out in an hour and half to two hours, but some days I don’t have that much time to give. I still force myself to steal half an hour and put down 500 words or so. It gets more difficult for me to resume my place in the story if I’ve let twenty-four hours slide by without touching it. I’ll lose half an hour of sleep now and save time later trying to recover the plot.
  • For the first week, I try to write 2,000 words a day. It’s easier to write at the beginning of the month, than at the end. If I push too hard, I’ll exhaust myself early, but giving myself that extra push at the beginning can help keep me relaxed when the writing begins to feel difficult.
  • I am not above bribing myself. I keep candy on hand and when, I need a boost, tell myself I can have a handful of M&M’s after I write my next hundred words. I save up television episodes I’m looking forward to and watch one – just one – after I’ve reached my daily goal. If I write double my daily goal, maybe I get another episode, maybe I go out to dinner, maybe I call up a friend to watch a late movie.
  • When I get stuck, I take a shower or a walk. Taking a break always seems counterintuitive to me, but it also always gives me room to breathe. I tell myself not to think about the story while I’m on my break, inevitably break that rule, but I wind up thinking more clearly.
  • When I get really stuck, I change locations. Sometimes it’s enough to sit in a different room in the house. Sometimes I need to run down to Starbucks. Whatever it takes to jar myself out of a bad pattern.
  • When I get really, really stuck, I skip ahead and write backwards to fill in the gap. I skip to a paragraph I know I want and then, paragraph by paragraph, or line by line, work my way backward until I’m where I started. I’ve told a few of my friends that I do this, and they say it would drive them insane. It works for me. Don’t be afraid to do something that everyone else thinks is insane, but helps you.
  • I celebrate. Every 10,000 words. At the halfway point. When I hit 50,000. Sometimes that means eating a heaping bowl of ice cream. Other times it just means making an all-caps status update on Facebook. Because I DID IT.
  • I tell all my friends that I’m competing in NaNoWriMo. Not only does it give them the ability to check up on me and halfway guilt me into writing so that I can give them a different wordcount every time they ask how far along I am, but it also gives them a good reason for why I keep hiding myself away.
  • And, yeah… I turn off the internet. Just while I’m writing. I’m not an animal.

Good luck and God’s speed, writers.

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2 thoughts on “The November Chronicles: How Do You NaNo?

  1. Wonderful advice! Don’t forget that you have to validate your novel by the 30th… I made that mistake my first year because I didn’t know you had to validate it, lol.

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