NaNoWriMo Tips

National Novel Writing Month kicks off on November 1st, which is this Sunday!

Okay, for those panicking (much like me), remember that nice deep breaths are your buddy. NaNoWriMo is exciting for sure, but it can be a little overwhelming even if you’ve won challenges in the past. In the last couple of days, my brain’s been running over a series of tips and tricks I’ve picked up over the years that will help make my NaNo easier. I thought I’d share a few.

  • Remember, writing is fun!

This can be a hard to remember in the middle of a draft. I get thinking about everything I’ve done, everything left to go, and I lose track of why I sat down at the keyboard in the first place: Because I like it. Because I have fun telling stories and getting words out to share with other people. Sometimes, I need a reminder that, hey, this is supposed to be an awesome experience! Going to write-ins or using the message boards helps me refuel my excitement for my project. Simply knowing that other people are also working their way through the 50k challenge makes me continue pushing for my own word count. I’m able to commiserate for a few minutes (Writing can be hard and solitary) and then find my fun groove again.

  • Planning or Pantsing, anything can work.

More than a lot of hobbies or professions, writing is a lot of trial and error to find the process that works for you. I’ve had a NaNo where I didn’t know much about the book except for the main character and a bit about her world setting. My other NaNo, I knew the cast of characters and the circumstances completely. NaNo is about discovering creativity, about getting that book out of your head and onto the page. And you’ll hear this advice over and over, the writing process has to be tailored to you. I’m sure a lot of people are like me–I’ve discovered that I do best with a mix of plotting and pantsing. My words fly onto the page when I’ve got just enough planned, but not every scene mapped. If you’re feeling anxious about reaching 50k, I recommend doing some plotting. If the thought of knowing too much of the story beforehand frightens you, don’t worry about it. NaNo is all about finding *your* groove.

  • Believe that Writer’s Block is a myth

Since I started working the mantra “there is no such thing as writer’s block” into my writing practice, I’ve had far fewer creative hurdles to jump. Frequently, in the past, when I was ‘blocked,’ it was because I didn’t feel a muse’s divine inspiration, or didn’t know what to do with the characters next. Sometimes–more often than I care to admit–I was blocked because I’d driven my characters into a plot that wasn’t in their personalities. NaNo doesn’t leave time for second-guessing. Never erase during NaNo, never go back and rewrite, but I’ve found it useful to write new scenes as if I’d already fixed the problem. If I feel like the story’s not going anywhere, it’s time to add a new character or to up the tension by having the worse possible thing happen. I think Kirkman, writer of The Walking Dead, likes to joke that if he needs something to happen, he just throws a zombie into the mix. Same can be said of Lost and Battlestar Galactica. If you’re worried about being stuck, get spontaneous. Throw in something you hadn’t considered before, or ask ‘what would make the characters’ lives worse?’ You’re the writer, you’re the god of the story. You get to be Murphy’s Law to their lives. And if that won’t work, find a friend or a forum to start explaining your story. I find myself making connections and new plots constantly when I try to tell someone how the story works. It’s just the little seed I need to keep going.

  • Guard your writing time.

This piece of advice comes up frequently, but I didn’t start taking it seriously until the last couple of months. It seems like such a natural, obvious tidbit: eliminate distractions from writing time and space. I wasn’t really following it though. I started to and my daily word count jumped incredibly. For me, it means getting out of the apartment (away from my television) and getting to a quiet spot in the library, making sure to use a quiet reading room or a study room because frequently other patrons can cause disruptions (the amount of small wailing children in libraries will surprise you. I’m never angry or upset with the parents–small children cry, this is a fact of life. I simply seek the corners where it’s harder for sound to reach). It takes a lot of discipline for me, but I tell myself that I can’t go surfing on the web until it’s break time.

For a lot of others, this means telling your loved ones that when you sit down to write, it’s your time. Don’t feel guilty for carving out time for what you’re doing. You’re finding fun, you’re creating. Guard your time (and creative space like a desk, or the kitchen table while you’re working at it) like Gollum with the One Ring. Keep those sneaky Bagginses away from your Precious. They’ll have their turn with your time later. Getting your family to understand why you’re protecting like this might take a lot of conversation (for at least a year, my mom seemed to have this uncanny ability for calling me while writing, but this doesn’t happen nearly so much lately because we’ve talked about the hours I’m usually at the keyboard), but hopefully they’ll be supportive and understanding in the end.

  • Set-up a rewards system

This is one that can be really tricky for me. I like telling myself “Oh, I won’t do X until I reach the word count!” buuuuuut I often go for “Oh, well, I reached Y. That’s good enough.” This month I plan on sticking to my goals a lot more, especially since I plan on taking so much. For me, it means no catching up on last night’s episodes until I reach word count. Or delaying that bit of desert until after the writing session. I find something to keep me moving during the writing sessions and push until finish.

  • Drink enough water/Have water on hand

Okay, this is a bit of an odd one, and something that might be just me. But when I’m really getting into the groove, I start getting thirsty. In order to eliminate this distraction, I have water near me. Some people prefer their coffees or sodas, but lately, I’ve been trying to keep down the sugars at the keyboard and make sure I have enough water. Plenty of water is supposed to be good, so it’s a win-win.

  • Remember, writing is supposed to be fun!

It’s on here twice because it’s that important. This came back to me full force during the NaNo Meet and Greet the other night. I hadn’t realized that I lost the fun there for a while, but I had. Stress of getting a project done can obscure the reason for getting to the keyboard in the first place. That makes me grumpy and winds up building over time. So, I’m thinking of making it part of my process to take a minute before each writing day to remember why I’m doing this. It’s not just that the story is burning up parts of my brain, begging to be put on the page. It’s not just that these characters want to talk. It’s not just that I feel that I have to. I write because telling stories is fun. Because I like getting something in front of a reader and getting them to laugh with me or curse me as the prose moves them. I write because creating is a joy that I don’t find anywhere else.

So, there it is, my list of small reminders to make my NaNo easier. You might discover that some work for you, you might realize that none of them do. That’s how it should be. Writing is different for everyone who approaches it. You wouldn’t expect two painters to describe the exact same process even if they paint similar pictures. In On Writing, Stephen King talks about filling up your own toolbox. It takes years, and hundreds of thousands of words to find the tools best suited for your approach. I’m still constantly shifting things, picking up new ideas and chucking them when they don’t work. Don’t be fooled, writing is a science like any other art. Trial and error are a big part of the process. Don’t be discouraged by the error parts. Remember, NaNoWriMo is about the fun and joy of creating a story. Deciding to take on the challenge is already a huge accomplishment. Be proud of whatever comes next. I know I can’t wait to see what we write in the next month!

Got any other tips or tricks you want to share? Feel free to comment below! Make sure to sign up for the 50k challenge at nanowrimo.org!

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