Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Quick Tips for NaNoWriMo Success -- 50,000 words in 30 days

Put on a pot of strong coffee, National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is back. Last year, over 350,000 people participated officially, with the goal of writing 50,000 words on one novel in the month of November.

I've provided guidance in the past, and you're welcome to look back at the details. Last year, I joined a group and hit a peak in November productivity, completing a 65,000-word novel for which I was recently offered a contract. Along the way, I provided advice to my team members, five of whom also completed their stories. With that experience behind me, let me offer some essential lessons:
  • If you don't have an outline, set aside time to make one. Have no less than 30 scenes specified with full sentences (preferably something close to prep sentences). Each one of these will give you something to review before going to sleep (so your subconscious mind gets to work on the ideas). They will ensure you have something to write about each day. It's okay to change some of these and add to the list. I added 10 scenes and reworked half of them. But this is your insurance policy.
  • Front-load your writing, if you can. Take advantage of your initial enthusiasm (and maybe that cache of frozen dinners) to overachieve. In the course of a month, things almost always come up: work deadlines, sick children, surprise visits from old friends, and tickets to ballgames. For Americans, Thanksgiving can gobble up days. You'll stress less if you have words in reserve. If you can notch 2,000 words per day for the first 15 days, you'll have the equivalent of 8 "vacation" days to draw from. Similarly, try to get some work done early in the day. For me, that usually means all of the work is done right after I wake up, but some people are night-time writers. If that's you, scribble down a few sentences before your session officially begins. That will reduce your workload and get you going.
  • Share your progress. It helps to be in contact with other writers. For some, it provides encouragement. For others, it's a goad. (I enjoyed doing sprints, where team members and I wrote during the same hour and reported back on our word counts.) You can share with other people in your household, too. That can help them know their extra chores are paying off. Just don't supply them with your draft pages.
  • Write messy and don't edit. For most people, the main point of NaNoWriMo is to get into the habit of turning off the internal critic and getting words onto the page. No one is reading this work. You can (and should) edit it later. If this is tough for you, you might try dictating -- which makes rewriting along the way almost impossible.
  • Use a timer. It's a great way to focus your work and make distractions less alluring.
  • Don't do research during your drafting time. It can eat hours and it encourages procrastination. Get close enough on the ideas. Perfection isn't necessary. If you have a specific word you can't recall, type in "bagel," and clean up the bagels in your rewriting sessions.
  • Write what you want to write. Don't worry about writing your outline in order. If a scene appeals to you, go for it. One thing I found was that, as I did this, more "in between" scenes came to mind, expanding my choices for the next day. Also, feel free to write the parts of scenes that appeal to you. Indulge in over-describing the setting. Race through a conversation writing nothing but dialogue. Write a section in poetry, if that appeals to you. Have some fun.
Okay. That should get you started. Get to work! And, if you get stuck, post a comment. I'll offer a suggestion. Have a good NaNoWriMo!

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