Yesterday was the start of one of my favorite-and-least-favorite months of the year. It’s now November, which means National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo, as you may have heard it called) has officially begun. For anyone not familiar with this challenge, writers around the world will be spending the next 30 days attempting to write 50,000 words, roughly the length of a novel. As someone who has won NaNoWriMo a few times before, I wanted to share a few of my tips and tricks.
1. Make your NaNo experience yours.
It can be hard to motivate yourself to write if you aren’t going into it with a clear goal about what you want to get out of the challenge. NaNoWriMo is a set challenge – 50,000 words in 30 days – but it’s also an entirely flexible framework. You can take advantage of all the excitement of the month and the tremendous support NaNo writers get, even if you aren’t attacking the challenge directly. Maybe it would be more meaningful to you to try something different. Let me give you some examples – my own experience.
The first time I did NaNoWriMo, it was just because it seemed like a really exciting challenge to me. I wrote a book in 30 days and managed it quite well; at the end, I did have a complete book. However, when I decided to attack this process for the second time, four years later, I realized that I didn’t need to write a first draft of a novel in a month. What I did instead was devote myself to a more challenging month – 65,000 words split up over working on and wrapping up three or four projects I’d been working on for years. I got a lot out of both of these experiences, even though I didn’t technically achieve what the goal of the program was.
Last year, my third NaNo win, I decided that my writing pace had gotten to the point where 50,000 words wasn’t going to be enough to constitute a real challenge. I’m a pretty disciplined person, so I stuck myself with 75,000 words towards a new project. This was a welcome break from my primary novel project, which I’ve been slaving over for years, but looking back, I only have about half a book out of that project. Even though I hit my word limit – 75,000 words – I don’t have a complete project yet, and the story has sat untouched in my Dropbox for a year now.
This year, therefore, I’m prepping myself for a writing challenge that will really address my goals at this precise moment. Instead of NaNoWriMo, I’m tackling “NaNoEdMo,” aka the month I edit 10-11 pages of my novel per day. I don’t need to generate new material; I need to work more diligently with the material I already have.
The point is this: NaNoWriMo is supposed to be a fun and challenging exercise that helps you grow as a writer. Whatever that may mean to you is an entirely personal process; don’t feel like you have to do the same thing as everybody else.
2. Get some support.
The NaNoWriMo website (http://nanowrimo.org/) has lots of opportunities built into it that can help you find some people in your area also attempting NaNo this year, or you can just designate a friend who will help motivate you throughout. Having some sort of group message that you can just rant your NaNo problems to can be extremely relieving, and you get to celebrate together when you’re done.
It’s also really important to make it clear to your family and friends the challenge you’ve set yourself up for. I’ve been preparing for NaNoWriMo for about two weeks now by working through some writing exercises every day and by telling everybody around me that I’m doing NaNoWriMo. Your family will thank you when they have an explanation for your stress over Thanksgiving, too!
3. Forget "inspiration" - just write.
Every writer can cite a time when writing has seemed like the hardest thing in the world. Dispel the myth right now that a writing burst or mood will just “come to you,” because maybe inspiration can work like that sometimes, but you don’t have to wait on a magical sparkle of divine energy in NaNoWriMo. My advice in this situation (and in general) is just to sit down, take a deep breath, set yourself up with music or snacks or whatever you need, and write. Write until your fingers bleed and you can’t look at the words on the page anymore (or you hit your wordcount, whatever comes first).
And have a backup if you really get stuck. Last year, my 75,000 word story for NaNoWriMo was about pirates. I cannot tell you how many times I got slightly stuck and sent my main character walking across the deck talking to various other characters until I found a place to go with the story. Have one of these types of “when-in-doubt” cards you can play. If even that doesn’t work, you can always just break the fourth wall and start writing about how awful this whole writing thing is; you’ll probably hit your word count eventually.
4. But what if I really need inspiration?
Check out these resources, which may help to get your brain up and going in that writing mood again or can guide your interests and stories!
http://fantasy-faction.com/ (for fantasy)
http://www.springhole.net/index.html (articles about writing, also a whole bunch of random generators for names, objects, settings, everything you can think of)
http://www.charlottedillon.com/characters.html (character development documents)
http://alyssahollingsworth.com/2015/08/06/100-questions-for-character-couples/ (if you’re trying to develop a realistic romance)
http://100-prompts.livejournal.com/692.html (a whole bunch of prompts)
And, if you want your writing inspiration in small doses:
Good luck, NaNoWriMo community! Happy writing!
Written by Erika S.
A poet is a professional maker of verbal objects.
-W. H. Auden
R2: The Rice Review
Rice University's undergraduate literary magazine. Here you can find event updates, monthly writing contest winners, and opinions by the R2 staff on what's new, interesting, or subject to discussion in the literary and arts world.