Well, hello there! Yes, it’s been months since my last post, despite having plenty of aspirations to write lots of articles to inspire budding writers (including myself). Alas, this is a lesson to be learned – life gets in the way sometimes! Best laid plans, and all that!
But given tomorrow is the 1st of November, it was definitely time to put fingers to keyboard and bash out some tips. I won’t be formally participating in NaNo this month, but I will be adding a new section to last year’s novel – the second act needed more character development. I’ll also be supporting friends and strangers who are NaNo-ing for the first time. Maybe that’s you!
Earlier today, one of those friends asked me for my top five tips for a successful NaNo. Here’s what I told her (in no particular order):
Write in any free opportunity
Any moment you have free during the day to write, write. Before work or school, during a break, at lunch, before dinner – any spare time you’d otherwise be squandering checking social media or otherwise faffing around, you should spend writing, even if it’s just a few sentences. This gives you a credit of words for if anything happens later in the day to bork your plans. You’ll be surprised what you can churn out in 15 minutes.
To that end, keep a pen and notepad (or electronic equivalents) nearby at all times so you can take advantage of that precious free time. This can also be useful for when inspiration hits during times you can’t write. Jot down those ideas and then revisit them when you sit down to write later on. You’ll be living and breathing your story for a full month, so expect to meet your muse at all kinds of inconvenient times!
Break up your writing into chunks
This is similar to the first tip, but not totally. It’s more about having a method for days where things go to plan. Depending on your typing/writing speed, and how fast you can keep up with your own imagination, it’s not unreasonable to need about two hours to hit your daily minimum 1667 words. That’s a hard slog hunched over a keyboard or notepad. You should take at least one or two breaks during that time for health and safety reasons!
A good approach is to work in half hour chunks – ideally spread out through the day if you can, but if not, work out your earliest starting time and go from there. Last NaNo, I usually sat down to work about 9pm and worked until close to midnight, having a couple of breaks to stretch and make a cup of tea.
Do not edit
This is the most commonly recommended tip by past NaNo winners, and I will totally get on that bandwagon. Editing slows you down, and makes you second guess your work. NaNo is not the time for editing, you have the months and maybe years afterwards for that. NaNo is for brain-dumping your story, and making a pit of words for you to work with later to build your novel.
You may need to read back a couple of paragraphs the next day to remind you of the story, but unless it’s fixing very obvious typos, just quell that temptation to tidy up and reword and fix grammar. I repeat, do not edit.
Stop mid-sentence or paragraph
At the end of your writing session for the day, consider stopping part-way through a sentence or paragraph, or leaving a note for what to start writing the next day. This is a really good strategy for overcoming writer’s block.
If you end your writing session at a clear finishing point, without any idea about where the story is going next, you may find yourself staring at a blank page for an interminable amount of time the next day. Counter that with a few scribbles about the next scene or piece of dialogue, and you’ll hit the ground running.
Track your word count
You can track your cumulative word count on the NaNoWriMo website. Do remember that the site is based in the US, so timezone differences mean the day updates are somewhat behind for Aussie writers. That also means we get to start a day earlier (but end a day earlier too).
I also used a dedicated spreadsheet which showed how many words I had left to meet my goal. I lost a few days of full writing sessions in the first week as I was away from home, so this helped me calculate how much time I needed to make up to stay on track. It’s also handy to show your buffer for if you need to slow down or take a day off.
There are heaps of these available online so check trusty Google, or have a look at the NaNo forums for suggestions.
Just because I can’t abide sticking to my own rules, here are a few more things to help you on your journey to creative awesomeness.
Prep your friends and family
If you haven’t already, tell your friends and family (and work mates even) that you are undertaking this challenge and that it requires you to dedicate uninterrupted time to the task. Get their commitment to support you in ways such as taking up the slack with household chores, or understanding you can’t be agreeing to social engagements as much as usual, or that you might be a bit frazzled from lack of sleep. You can make it up to them in December!
Go hard in the first week
The first week of NaNo is when you have the most energy, excitement and inspiration. You may already have the bones of a story, characters that are fleshed out, or even some first tentative dot points of a plot. Take this opportunity to go hard, and write above your word count in those initial days. A target of 2000 words for a few days will give you a full day’s buffer, which could come in handy later on down the track. Pro-tip: stay up tonight and chunk out some words as soon as midnight falls!
Write every day
This might seem obvious to you, but NaNo works best if you write every day. Don’t try to knock out 50,000 words in the last week!
Don’t lose momentum, and keep writing every day, even if you don’t always hit the daily target. Everything you write is more than you have done before. Write a sentence. Write a paragraph. See where it takes you. Just keep going.
How you manage your time will vary from person to person, and you might find you still have plenty of free time. But if you work full time, or study, or have a lot of other commitments and obligations, this self-imposed writing challenge can be tough. But we often have more time than we think we do, so just be conscious of that, and don’t fritter away time on things that you don’t need to.
NaNo is such an empowering experience, and I believe in you – just think how amazing you’ll feel when you his that word count target. You wrote a book – you are fricking awesome!