With only one National Novel Writing Month victory under my belt, I'm hardly an expert on how to approach writing a 50,000-word novel in 30 days. But I do have some advice that, when followed, might help a NaNoWriMo-er "win" this strange, exhilarating contest:
1. Write an outline before you start. Seems obvious, but it wasn't to my two writing buddies from last year. When I told them how much my outline helped me write from one scene to the next, they were both horrified. "Outline?!?!? You're cheating!" they accused. But I wasn't, and I had to go to the NaNoWriMo site and prove it to them. From the Official FAQ section:
Outlines and plot notes are very much encouraged, and can be started months ahead of the actual novel-writing adventure. Previously written prose, though, is punishable by death.
My writing buddies didn't finish their projects, in part because they didn't allow themselves notes, any pre-planning, or an outline. And they coulda been contenders! They coulda been somebody!
2. Start writing on November 1st. The starting is the hardest part. Once you've taken this first clichéd step into the unknown, you will be almost half-way there. I take that back — you will be nowhere near half-way there. But you will have started it!
Need more incentive to start on November 1st? Picture this dire scenario:
You don't start on November 1st, then the 2nd comes around. Work is busy on the 2nd, so starting on the 3rd appeals. A long-lost cousin drops by on the 3rd, so you push your start to the 4th. On November 4th, a horrible storm causes a region-wide blackout, and since you prefer keyboarding to pen-and-paper scribbling, you can't start until the 5th. But the 5th is spent cleaning the food spoiled from the blackout out your fridge, and shopping for fresh victuals. Ah, the 6th — what a great day to start. But EEK! Almost a week has gone by and you haven't even started yet! You'll never finish it now...
That's how the paralysis begins, and many a NaNoWriMo has ended prematurely along these lines. So when it comes to commencing, in the words of a famous international sports shoe, "Just
do it start your NaNo already, will ya?"
3. Bite the 50,000 words off into manageable chunks. Do I sound like a boring, procrastination-busting robot to you? Before you tune me out, take a brief and painless math-walk with me:
Divide 50,000 (words) by 30 (days) and the result is 1,667 (words per day to be written each and every day of November). Writing 1,667 words a day is manageable. And not so scary. For those of you who like schedules, order, and minimal life-disruption, I recommend this approach.
Yes, I know there are those of you who will wait until November 29th to start your novels, will painfully pound-out a highly caffeinated, 50,000-word, incomprehensible piece within a 24-hour span, and will feel like winners. But I must defer to the rules: that would technically be considered National Novel Writing DAY, not MONTH, so be good sports and use all 30 days somehow. Stop showing off!
4. It's quantity, not quality (a.k.a., "The fun has just begun.") When I informed my family and friends that I actually surpassed the 50,000 word mark, they all assumed — wrongly — that they could immediately read and enjoy "the novel."
As I like to say, "HA!"
Your NaNo work is a first draft — a VERY first draft. If there were a number before "first," it might even be considered that. But let's stay positive and stick to "first" because you did just produce a 50,00-word expressive and creative work. Huge accomplishment!
I like to think of my first drafts of anything as "baby books." Babies need a lot of care, attention, time, and editing in order to grow up to be confident, happy, blockbuster books. Start worrying about that December 1.
5. Get yourself a lucky t-shirt (already blogged about my own lucky t-shirt habits). Wear it every time you write. It will set your stage. It will get you in your writing mood and mode. It will let yourself know that you are serious about this great quest upon which you've embarked, and will signal to others in your household that they now need to stay out of your way: for they are in the presence of a WRITER, and said WRITER has IMPORTANT WORK to do. They may, however, interrupt you if they're bringing writer-fortifying snacks, drinks, shoulder-rubs, and hand massages. Speed noveling has peculiar demands.
6. Wait — I have one more tip, and it may be the most important: Try to have some fun!
I should have put this at #1, but then no one would have taken the rest of the list seriously. Writing this many words in such a short span could be really dreadful and impossible. I guarantee, in those moments of despair, when your characters won't behave and your plot has ended 10,000 words into the competition...
Stop. Breathe. Reflect on what you're actually trying to accomplish: 50,000 words in 30 days? How wonderfully silly and sort-of possible is that? You're doing it.
So bask in whatever this is to you, encourage your buddies, read the rants in the NaNoWriMo forums (and even participate), and enjoy it somehow — no matter what. And keep writing.
Despite In part, because of the struggle, aren't you incredibly glad you're in it?
See all you "winners" on the other side of November.