Salutations nerds! It’s November, and that means National Novel Writing Month is in full swing. I’m willing to bet if you clicked on this article you already know what that is, but permit me a brief recap on the off chance you aren’t already in the know.
Basically, NaNoWriMo is a word marathon where a bunch of crazy people decide to attempt to write at least 50,000 words in the 30 days of November. The rules are simple. You aren’t allowed to actually start writing your story until November starts (but really you’re only cheating yourself if you do), and it has to be 50,000 on the same tale. Typically, you’re looking at writing about 1,667 words a day to be able to finish on time, but there are some even crazier people out there who shoot higher.
If you’re a writer and aren’t already doing this, I highly recommend it. The forums are full of friendly, helpful people, the community is great and if you know people who are doing it personally there is a real kinship to be found in sitting in the same room to the rhythmic clicking of keys together.
Don’t even worry if you’re coming in late to the party. It’s not hard to just add a few more words to your count per day and catch up, and if that doesn’t appeal there’s always next year.
Anyway, for those of you who are already on board and running on too much coffee and the vague echo of your hopes and dreams, this one goes out to ya. Here are some tips and tricks to get you through the month with most of what’s left of your sanity intact (because let’s be honest you’re definitely missing at least some of it to be trying something like this in the first place).
1 – Don’t get too hung up on the details, at least right now
Writing 50,000 words is nothing to sneeze at. It can look like a big insurmountable task you’ll never see the end of. It can make you want to tear your hair out or crawl under a blanket and never come back out again.
For this reason, it’s important to remember hammering out a draft is the goal for right now. I know it seems like the plot hole you discovered 10,000 words in is going to ruin you forever, but it isn’t the end of the world. Not yet.
You’re going to be tempted to go back and fix it right now. Don’t. This is a first draft, and as anyone who plays D&D knows, the plan doesn’t survive first contact with the enemy. No matter how careful your outline is, it’s not going to survive first contact with the story fully intact either.
Go with it. It doesn’t matter if it’s a mess. It doesn’t matter if you feel like the words you’re putting down are total garbage. That’s what editing is for and you can do it later when you don’t have a deadline looming over your head.
Keep pushing forward. See where that plot twist you didn’t see coming leads you. Always bear in mind you can change it later, it’s incredibly liberating.
2 – Name your chapters
This one seems pretty obvious but you’d be surprised how often people overlook it. Naming your chapters might seem like a dirty trick at a glance. At the very least it’s a few more words to your count, but aside from that? Readers like it. Chapter titles set the tone for what comes after and can really help establish the flow of your story.
3 – Don’t skip days
There are absolutely going to be days you just don’t feel up to putting your butt in a chair and your fingers to keys. These are the days it is most important to sit down and write anyway. You’re establishing a pattern of behavior. Even if you wrote enough yesterday you shouldn’t have to do it today, write anyway.
Even if you aren’t going to be able to hit your target word count today, write anyway. If it’s ten words or 10,000, write. NaNo is, at least on some level, about getting into the groove and making writing a part of your daily doings. When you skip days you undercut the work you’ve done establishing the behavior in the first place. Even if you’re busy, you can manage a sentence, and the more time you spend not looking at your manuscript, the harder it’s going to be to get back to it when you do get around to it. That is where good ideas go to die. No excuses, write.
4 – If you have a word count goal above 50000, Pacemaker is a really excellent tool
NaNo’s website has its own word count tracker keeping count of your daily progress, your averages and how much farther you have to go. It’s great. I love it, but it only goes up to 50,000 and you can’t change it to see how much you have to write every day to meet the goal you’ve set for yourself.
Pacemaker is free, allows you up to two projects at once (you can have more if you pay for it) and the most important part, it lets you set your own goals.
There are settings for workload, so if you want to write more on weekends or something it’s really easy to work in, and it also lets you enter your own target dates so it’s useful all year round and not just during NaNo.
5 – If you’re stalling out, just make something happen
There’s a saying on the NaNo forums, and if you’ve been doing this for a while there’s no way you haven’t already heard it but it bears repeating on the off chance you haven’t.
“When in doubt, add ninjas.”
They don’t have to be (and probably shouldn’t be) literal ninjas. But the idea is if you’re stalling out, do something exciting and see where it goes.
Ask yourself, ‘what can I do right now to make things worse or shake things up.’ Have someone walk in with a sword drawn. Let the thing Character A has been keeping from Character B slip into conversation and let them fight it out. Maybe the heavens just open up and it suddenly starts pouring down rain and the characters have to find shelter. Maybe there’s an orc attack.
It doesn’t matter what you choose to do, choose to do something. You can always change it later if it doesn’t fit, but it’ll get you through whatever you’re trying to do at the moment and it might even bring you to something you really love.
6 – Knowing where you’re going before you start writing helps you not stall out
For me, learning this one was like going to the dentist. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve put my butt in a chair and started typing characters in a room, not knowing what they were going to be doing in that room, and ended up having to delete it and write it over again. Taking five minutes to think about what you’re doing with the scene in front of you can save you a lot of pain rewriting.
In your final draft, everything is going to happen for a reason. This doesn’t need to be true in the first draft because, say it with me, that’s what editing is for. That said, in terms of just getting words down on a page, you’ll spend a lot less time staring at your word processor if you know what end goal you’re pushing for when you put your fingers to keys.
7 – Write down what made you excited about this idea
I don’t care if this is your first year doing NaNo or your tenth, it’s going to get difficult sometimes. You are going to hate yourself for trying this. You are going to stress and moan and scream into the void. But you started doing this for a reason.
Have a word document, or a scrap of paper, something, anything, to look at as a reminder you thought this was a good idea when you started and it is still a good idea now. Getting through this rough patch is going to be totally worth it because you know you’re into this and you know you’re going to get somewhere with it.
8 – Remember you are good enough
Read that one again then read it a third time for good measure. Everyone, no exceptions, feels the imposter syndrome of “I really shouldn’t be doing this, this isn’t my schtick.” But guess what? It is your schtick if you want it to be and you are stronger than your self doubt.
Don’t compare yourself to so and so. Don’t indulge your self-pity. Take a deep breath, buckle down, and get it done. You’re not failing. You’re writing. You love this – if you didn’t why would you be doing it in the first place?
It doesn’t matter if you’ve started late or fallen behind. It doesn’t matter if you end up falling short of your goal. Just keep trying. Even if you only end up with 20,000 words by the end of the month that is still 20,000 more than you had when you started and that, my friends, is progress.
You only really lose if you give up.
That said, I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty stoked for the season. The sound of clicking keys is the best one, don’t you know. If you’re doing NaNo, I hope you have an amazing time. And if you’re not but you have friends who are I really hope you enjoy their vague posts about how they want to die over the course of the month.
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Speculative fiction writer and part-time Dungeon Master Megan R. Miller lives in southern Ohio where she keeps mostly nocturnal hours and enjoys life’s quiet moments. She has a deep love for occult things, antiques, herbalism, big floppy hats and the wonders of the small world (such as insects and arachnids), and she is happy to be owned by the beloved ghost of a black cat. Her fiction, such as The Chronicles of Drasule and the Nimbus Mysteries, can be found on Amazon.