Fifty thousand words in thirty days seems like an impossible task. Before July, the idea of competing in NaNoWriMo or one of the camp events sent a chill though me. What had put me off all those times before was the commitment. I’m good at starting a challenge, but tend to lose interest quickly; in fact, it’s a wonder I ever finish writing anything.
Taking part in NaNo and April’s A to Z challenge was as much about forcing myself to finish a project as it was about the challenge. If you’re like me, or even just to give your novel a push, I’d urge you to take part. For those not yet ready for the full might of November’s NaNoWriMo, the camps run twice a year (April and July) and are a good way to ease yourself into the challenge.
Okay, now that I’ve recruited convinced you with my extensive powers of persuasion, you’ll be needing a few tips to reach that terrifying target. Here goes…
1. Have a plan
I don’t care what anyone says, the only way to win at NaNo is to have a plan. It doesn’t have to be a blow-by-blow synopsis with each scene plotted down to the last details (I can’t work from these kinds of plans either), but it should include a basic road map. The plan is not there to stifle creativity but to help you in deciding what scene you will be writing in a given session. Trust me, you don’t have time to debate where you’re heading next.
2. Get rid of the plan
The plan is great, the plan will help to keep you on track. But remember, the plan is only a guide and not set in stone. Writing is organic and often has a mind of its own. If things go ‘off course’, go with the flow, get rid of the plan and keep writing. The goal is king, everything else is just edit-fodder.
3. Don’t stop writing
Time is of the essence during NaNo and, unless you’re lucky enough to be a full time writer, your writing time will be like mine and snatched at every available opportunity. Any delay can result in missing that daily word count and falling behind. Don’t spend an hour agonising over that one scene. Don’t waste time typing, deleting, retyping that sentence in chapter four. Make a note of what you’re trying to say, or the rough direction you want to scene to go, and move onto the next.
4. Remember this is a first draft
This was the obstacle I think I had the hardest time overcoming. I’ve always had a problem with editing on the fly and it wasn’t until NaNo that I finally worked this out. NaNo doesn’t give you the time to edit, you barely get the time to read through the words written the previous day. Whatever you write during NaNo, keep this in the back of your mind: you can write crap, you can write the worst sentences and paragraphs your mind can dredge up, because when you’re finished, you can edit all that out. Write now, polish later.
5. Get some support
Nothing keeps you on track more than a supportive group of friends. They could be family members, people in your writing group, or other writers suffering the same crisis of faith you are. NaNo has some great forums for finding other competing writers and most are encouraging of others. The best thing about having a support group is that it makes you accountable to more than yourself. It’s amazing how much of a kick in the arse you get from knowing that someone is going to ask you what your word count is now.
6. Be prepared to improvise
No amount of planning frees you from the possibility that you’ll hit 45,000 words and run out of scenes. I know a few writers this has happened to and most of them are pretty good at planning. What do you do if this happens to you? You keep going. Pants if you have to. Try out scenes you were unsure of during planning; those ones you cut out because you didn’t think they’d work. Add new scenes you KNOW will not work. You could rewrite scenes from the perspective of a different character or even write a short story with the same characters as your novel. Whatever you do, don’t stop writing.
Over to you: has anyone else out there competed in NaNo recently? Anybody planning on joining me in November? For the veterans amongst us, are they any other tips you’d like to share?