It’s November! And November is National Novel Writing Month! Also known as the month where writers see just how far they can push their sanity right before the holiday season robs us of whatever is left! Inspiring, no?
The goal is to write 50,000 words of a roughly novel shaped project in a month, and collectively we of the Moose have written about 750,000 words for NaNo over the years. That’s a lot. It’s an intense writing endeavor and it’s not for everyone, but at this point we all have a few thoughts on how to survive it.
2016 will mark my fourth NaNoWriMo. I did not come even close to finishing in my first year as I was only just dipping my toe back into the writing world and the idea of writing 2,000 words was extraordinary so the necessary pace required to achieve 50,000 within a month was something beyond my abilities to comprehend. The next two years, I smashed it, completing my word count well before the end of the month. My second NaNo even produced what would eventually become my first finished book!
And really, that’s what NaNo is about for me. I tend to write in massive onslaughts of words. I also get easily distracted – I love to build worlds and cultures and so new ideas easily become shiny and distracting. So NaNo gives me the challenge and the focus to sit down and drive through 50,000 words, giving me the first third to a half or, alternately, the skeleton of a book. It plays to my strength of binge writing while giving me the structure to avoid my greatest weakness.
My best advice going into NaNoWriMo? Don’t be afraid to be flexible and allow change. Have some form of structure, notes or outline going in (it will be helpful, especially when getting started) but let it be bare bones enough that you can alter it as the story fleshes out over the course of the month. And resist the desire to go back and change the beginning as the middle unfolds. Make a note. Go back later. NaNo is about word count, about getting the words onto the page. Worry about editing later. The first draft is NEVER perfect.
Obviously, there are exceptions but this is, in my experience, the key to a successful NaNoWriMo! Even if you end up ditching this draft, editing it heavily and changing all sorts of things, it still advances your craft, gives you practice in putting words onto the page and helps build your process! So go forth and write all the words!
I’ve done NaNoWriMO three times now. I’ve had one failure, one disaster and one success. That being said I can offer a few things that made the third one work. First and foremost, know what you’re doing going in, things will go so much better if you at least have an idea you can work around. If you decide to do NaNo on November 1st, at least sacrifice that day to do your planning. Count your outline toward your word count if you have to, but if you want to have anything useful at the end of the month diving in blind isn’t going to help you.
Second, pick something simple. Do not say…set your novel in a time period you have to constantly research or build a magic system around actual chemistry. You do not need anything tiring you out. Trust me, this is the surest way to only getting 2,000 words done the whole month.
Third, don’t stop. Don’t ever stop. Stop and you’re dead. Just keep putting those fingers on those keys until it’s December and don’t worry if it’s the worst crap you’ve ever read in your life. You can fix it later.
This November will be my fourth NaNoWriMo. Yikes. I have indeed managed to finish every year so far — but that is not without living on the goddamn edge every single day each time.
I utilize NaNo to focus projects. I concentrate on stories I have a dabbling start in (whether that be a bunch of world and character notes, or a handful of chapters). I have never started a project dead cold, and that very concept fills me with abject horror. NaNo, for me, represents a month of extra external motivation to put in decent word count every day (even though I largely do that already.) It is a booster, if you will, to get a chunk of project done.
The kink in the machine here being that my particular drafting process is not quite conducive to sheer word pounding. You see, I am neither an “outliner” nor a total pantser. Like most writers, I am some deformed goblin hybrid betwixt the two. What I end up doing is essentially writing the most basic skeletal versions of scenes/chapters (similar to an outline) and then continuously jump back. I begin the scene again, add on more prose and detail, and then jump back again… and begin again. Over and over and over until my brain melts. This means in many ways I edit chapters on the fly during my first drafts, and by the end my “first drafts” tend to read more like second or third drafts. The problem with NaNo and this approach, however, is that often by the time I’m mostly done with sections, an entire day’s work might only amount to a couple hundred words (and sometimes I have even diminished in word count by the end of the day). Thus: why November is such a good booster for me, and yet such a living on the edge struggle.
Like most writer processes, this is not a system I would recommend for anyone else, and this may or may not sound totally horrifying to you! (I know the various processes of my fellow Moose totally break my brain — especially looking at you, Cole!) But that’s the fun (and aggravating) thing about process. Learn about what works for you, and do it! Encouragement for everyone!
I’ve been doing NaNoWriMo since 2008 and it’s frankly formed a significant part of my process. I’m a binge writer. I have trouble remaining focused if I’m only writing a couple hundred words a day. I do better if I’m trying to do a couple thousand words a day. This doesn’t always make for the healthiest of writing habits, and frankly I can’t recommend it unless you’ve got a broad streak of masochism in you.
But if you’re having trouble finishing The Book or if you’re not sure you can write a book, then there’s nothing like NaNoWriMo for learning or relearning that the word count isn’t actually the hard part of writing. Or at least, that it’s only one of the hard parts. And it’s one you have more control over than most aspects. Put words on the page. In the end, you can’t be a writer if you don’t do that.
For me, at this point, the word count isn’t my problem. I need to work on editing, setting descriptions, editing and editing — to name a few. But I still do NaNoWriMo – for the shared experience, the community and the external goal. For the feeling of having finished something.
I have a bad habit of meeting writers and talking them into doing NaNoWriMo. Ahem.
So let me extol you to join the Moose for NaNoWriMo! It’s a special sort of hell, full of the right kind of people, empty coffee mugs, late nights and freezing up because you can’t remember if you named this character already and who the hell is this new one? Admittedly, that probably doesn’t sound like fun to the majority of people. But there’s a couple hundred thousand who sit down and do it anyway every November.
Happy noveling everyone! Good luck and good words!