Nanowrimo, the writing event of the year for many is around the corner. In my last post I did my very best to persuade you to give it a go. If somehow I’ve managed to convince you, and the idea of writing 50,000 words in 30 days hasn’t sent you running for the hills, then congratulations! Your sanity may be questionable, but committing to this endeavour is commendable. Welcome to the club. If you’re one of the foolhardy souls who’ve participated before, then you know what to expect. If this is your first time however, you may be wondering what you’ve let yourself in for. Don’t panic! You’re in for a treat. I’ve seen Nanowrimo through to the bitter end three years on the trot, each time hitting that magical 50,000 word mark on the last day. Here’s how I’ve survived, and here are some tips on how you can too.
As I’ve been told many times, you need to get help. As much as the image persists of an author shut away from the world, furiously writing his manuscript, the reality is that Nanowrimo is a lot easier if you don’t try and do it alone. There’s a huge community around Nanowrimo, as I discussed in my previous post. Forums are buzzing, word counts are updated, pep talks are given and word counts uploaded, all with fellow participants cheering you on. If you haven’t already, go and sign up over at Nanowrimo.org. If you’re on Twitter, be sure to follow @NaNoWriMo along with the hashtags for #nanowrimo and #nanoprep.
Another important source of help are your family and friends. It’s possible you feel a little sheepish about telling those close to you that you’ll be trying to write a novel in 30 days. What if you fail? What if they laugh? What if they think it’s a silly idea? What if, what if, what if. Actually, the chances are they’ll be interested, enthusiastic and will be nothing but supportive. But even if they don’t decide to spontaneously throw a party in your honor, it’s still worth telling them. It’s very difficult to write 1,667 words a day without your nearest and dearest noticing. Rather than having them worry and having to explain halfway through the month why you’ve taken to spending hours in your room, get them onside now.
Nanowrimo is a group effort. Get your group ready now and you’ll find November a lot easier than without them.
Plan for Success
It has been said that failing to plan is planning to fail, and that’s as true with Nanowrimo as with anything. It’s widely accepted that there are two ways to do Nanowrimo; either as a Plotter or as a Pantser. For many people, outlining their plot beforehand is the only way they can possibly write at the required speed. For this year’s project, I’m writing a 1,000 word synopsis this month of the story I have in mind, along with character profiles and chapter outlines. When November 1st comes around, I’ll know exactly where to begin. However, I don’t necessarily know where I’ll end; For me, these are guidelines, a way for me to cut down on the mental gymnastics of writing. Stories seem to have a life of their own, and characters tend to turn all your carefully laid plans upside down. But that’s the fun part. Having a framework in place gives me the basis for the story I want to tell without chaining me to it.
Maybe that still sounds all a bit too restrictive to you, and you crave a more free expreience. Then you’re a Pantser, a person who writes without any sort of outline or other preparation. That’s also great, and what I did last year. When the month started I had one sentence, one seed of an idea, and that was all. Other than that, I had no clue who the characters were or what they were going to do. It turned out to be great fun finding out. Sure, there were more than a few hairy moments where I was stuck staring at a blank page, but as long as you keep on writing, the words will come.
It’s important to remember to remember though that whether you’re a Plotter or a Pantser, you still need to plan to some degree. Even if you choose not to spend hours on world building and character arcs, the practical side of the actual writing can’t be ignored…
How are you actually going to write your novel? Most people use a computer, but maybe your heart yearns for the simple pleasure of pen on paper. If so, have you got all the pens and paper you’re likely to need? What about your writing space? Have you decided where you’ll be writing? Do you have room set aside, or are you going to have to move the cat off her seat every time you want to write? How about your survival pack (I personally recommend a large supply of Haribo and your favourite source of caffeine)? The idea here is that when November 1st comes, you’re ready to write, rather than struggling to find what you might need.
One of the most useful things you can prepare is when you’ll be writing. The time you spend writing has to come from somewhere, and now is when you should be thinking about where that will be. Maybe you’re at your best in the mornings, or maybe you’re a night owl. In the past I’ve found that getting up a little earlier allows me to get at least some of my words in for the day by the time I’m heading for work, and anything I need to catch up on can happen when I get back. And on the subject of time…
Even with the best schedule in the world, things will go wrong. Disasters will happen, mothers-in-law will visit, cats will demand your attention. It’s going to happen. So when you have an opportunity, don’t squander it. One of the best things I learnt from last years Nanowrimo is that, if you really want to, you can find time to write anywhere.
I had ended up on the last day of the month with a little over 10,000 words to write. I genuinely thought that it was too late, and that I’d never hit the 50,000 mark by the end of the day. It had taken me 29 days to write 40,000, how on earth could I finish the rest in just one day? Especially as I’d agreed to go out with visiting friends that evening. I refused to give up though. The day passed in a blur, with words flying by. In the end, I resorted to taking the laptop in my friends car and hammering out words as he drove around the twisty back roads of Wales. Every moment counted. And somehow, with a few minutes to go, I managed to hit my target. I’d made it, but please learn from my mistake. Don’t wait until the last day before you get your word count moving! Start early, and grab your time when you can.
My final and perhaps most important piece of advice is to enjoy yourself. As difficult as this might be, this isn’t meant to be an ordeal. The organisers of Nanowrimo go out of their way to make the event as fun and lighthearted as possible. Even if you don’t come out of November with a finished manuscript, if you go into the month with the right attitude you’ll come out the other side with a smile on your face. If you accept the fact that what you write will NOT be perfect, you won’t stress over every word. So what if it’s not a masterpiece? That’s what the months afterward are for now. November is about giving yourself permission to write without worrying about what grade you’ll get. So don’t take yourself too seriously. Not only will you have more fun, you’ll also be able to write faster if you’re not worried about whether your novel is worthy of the Booker prize.
There’s plenty of reasons to give Nanowrimo a shot, and if you prepare right you can make it a really enjoyable time. If you have any thoughts or tips on how to make the most of the month, please leave a comment below.
Edit: The awesome Briana Morgan has organised a blog linkup. If you’re interested in some more NaNoWriMo related blog goodies, go ahead and check them out