NaNoWriMo Success Achieved in 5 Easy Steps
NaNoWrimo. As E.C. Jarvis shared with us in her post “What is NaNoWriMo” this is one of the most popular events in the writing world. It is huge, with over 312,000 participants in 2016, but only 34,678 completed their 50K word count goal and earned the badge, according to the NaNoWriMo 2016 annual report. That’s just around 11% of participants.
Now, don’t get me wrong, everyone who participated and got more words on the page is a winner in my mind. But wouldn’t it be cool to get that nifty little badge, and be part of that 11% who actually finished their word count goals?
Image Courtesy of NaNoWriMo.org
Uh, YASS! So, here are 5 fast and hard tips to get you well on your way to winning that shiny badge with, or without, the support of a community.
Set Word Count Goals
And stick to them. Now, most NaNo support groups will tell you “Plan on 1,666 words a day. That’s all you need to meet NaNo.” And it’s true. It really is. But what is life happens? You KNOW life will happen, so if you set your word count goal for that, and you miss a day, or you fall short one day, or 4, or 6 then you get off track, and when you get off track, you get discouraged, and suddenly by day 15 you’re 15K words behind goal, and who can make that up? I know. I’ve been there.
But you don’t have to be. Sit down and look at your calendar and plan accordingly. The first year I did NaNo I was in my senior year of college with final papers due and exams in the first week of December, had two kids not even in school yet, and I was working a full time job. I managed to finish 50K words no problem. No, I am not super woman. But I am a super planner. I knew that I wouldn’t have time for three days around each paper due date. I knew that I wouldn’t get a lot of writing done over Thanksgiving break. I knew that I couldn’t commit to 1,666 words a day. But I did know that I could carve out specific blocks of writing time each week. And I did. And I figured out the number of words I needed for each of those days, and that’s what I shot for.
Things aren’t any easier this year, as I have joined the executive team at OWS and we are in the thick of planning 2018, have several huge marketing events we are planning in November/ December, I have a blog, and 9 books that I need to promote on my own time, am planning on a long road trip the week of Thanksgiving, and the list goes on.. (See, I am a neurotic planner. Some would say it’s my most redeeming feature. My kids would disagree!)
I know that I have 22 days that I can carve out writing time. For a couple of those, I will spend 6 hours stuck in a car, tap, tap, tapping away. I have carved out 180 hours of writing time in that busy schedule. (Hint, I cheated and suckered my boys into doing NaNo with me this year, so I was able to schedule some of that “writing time” as “family time” and do some write ins. The hubs is even chipping in to do the music and food. Win/win/win!) With 180 hours, that means that I need to average 278 words an hour. I set up my NaNo time in my calendar, and based on how much time I have allotted to each of those days, I set my word count goal for that day.
2. Plan Ahead
I didn’t get to do this as much as I wanted this year. But I am also working on a sequel story, so I should be ok. However, when it comes to NaNo, the achievers plan out their story line, character traits, etc all way before. I know, I am in several writing groups and all of October there were posts about NaNo. See, the rule of NaNo is that you have to write 50K words during that month. But there is no rule against pre-planning. So do as much pre-planning as you can. Even if you are a “pantser” and don’t like doing all of that, but letting the story just “come to you” at least give yourself the beginning and end to work with, and maybe 2 or 3 pit stops along the way. Pantsing is fun, but it won’t get your story where it needs to be in 1 month. Stephanie Ayers offers great advice for pantsers here.
And don’t just plan ahead with your story-line. Plan ahead with your writing. You set those times, stick to them, even if you hit your word count goal for the day. Keep writing. Because let’s be real, it is a heck of a lot easier at the beginning of NaNo than it is at the end. You can and will be able to write a lot more the first week than you will the last week. For NaNo 2015, my word count goal was 2K words a day. The first several writing sessions I actually wrote 4-5K words a day. I let that flow and energy run. I was way ahead by week 3. But life, as it does, threw some unexpected curveballs my way. Extended family decided to come for Thanksgiving, seriously cutting into my scheduled writing time. I lost 4 of my planned writing days to that. But it didn’t matter, because I wrote ahead I still managed to finish NaNo with my 50K word count.
3. Put It Off
No, not the writing. Lol. nice try! But anything that slows down your word count. Need a new character that you didn’t think of in your pre-planning? Worried about details that you need for a scene to make it come alive? Need to know exactly how parkour works for a chase scene you are writing? Any other time, I would go and do the research on the fly as I am writing the scene. I am a linear writer and researcher. But not during NaNo. Don’t do that to yourself, or you will lose precious writing time.
Instead, use a couple of neat tricks to get around this. When you don’t know a character’s name, just call them something generic. I go with JD (John/Jane Doe.) Lol. Something quick, short, and easy to find and replace after Nano when you sit down to do the fleshing out and editing of your amazing work. But what if you have more than one character? JD2, JD3. It’s really pretty easy.
Hit a spot that needs research? Make a note. I like doing NaNo in Google docs because I can just real quick highlight the section and add a comment “Research Parkour.” boom, keep writing.
Have an area that you know you will need to flesh out? Do the same. Andy recommends this in his article Don’t get Mired Down in the Details.
But, what if it is an IMPORTANT part of the plot. Surely, then you need to stop and do the research, right? Well… this is one of those where you need to weigh where you are in your word count goals, and how much time you have to do the research. Don’t let it get you lost down the rabbit hole that is the internet and put you behind. If it is integral, but you are behind schedule, move on to a different scene. (Or, you can choose to work through the tangle and risk missing your word count goals, because at the end of the day even if you don’t win the badge, you are on your way to an awesome story, and whether you hit the 50K word goal or not, you still have more words down than when you started.)
4. Never End at “The End”
This is actually a tip that I use even when I’m not doing the mad dash that is NaNo. Writing sprints are a common recommendation for authors who struggle with the whole “butt in chair” problem. They are great with a group, as Jo Michaels recommends in her article “Writing Sprints: What and How”, or you can do them on your own using your phone timer. The one thing that no one talks about with a writing sprint is that you should aim not to end a scene at the end of the sprint. Same with your writing sessions that you schedule. I never quit writing at the end of a scene or at the end of a chapter.
I know, this is counter-intuitive, but as I am one of very few writers I know who never struggles with staring blankly at the screen for what feels like forever trying to decide what to write next, perhaps it’s worth heeding this advice.
Here’s why. As satisfying as it is to finish that scene and put your pen down (or close your laptop, in my case) and walk away, when you sit down next to write, where do you start? You have to reboot your brain along with your laptop. You have to look over your notes (if you’re a plotter) and figure out what scene needs to happen next. That all takes sooo much time. But if you are in the heat of the moment, writing the scene, the story is flowing. The juices are there. You’re already warmed up. You finish the scene and you have a pretty good idea where it’s going next. Get that next scene started, push it out there. Give yourself at least enough that when you read it the next time you sit down to write, it will fast-boot your creative juices and as you finish reading it you just know what needs to come next.
Seriously, never have I ever sat down to write on a work in progress and not been sure what to write next. This works.
5.Don’t Give Up
Nothing worth doing is ever easy. This is my mantra for life.
Developing the Never Give Up mentality will carry you well in every facet of life. NaNo, like a lot of things, always sounds like it will be fun, exciting, glamorous. But when we get into the thick of it. (I’m looking at you, week three of NaNo) it is far from glamorous. It is a hot zombifying mess of self-doubt, lack of sleep, story detours, and fear of failure. If you let yourself, it is so easy to quit.
But don’t give up. So you still have 30K words to go, and there’s no way you can make it. Well, if you quit now you will end with only 20K words and a sense of failure. If you push through the desire to quit, even if you only manage 20K more words and you miss NaNo by 10K, you are still 40K words towards your finished novel.
Yes, you think that this story is crap, it is unsalvageable, why even keep trying. That’s just the lack of sleep talking. You might be looking at a lot of editing and re-writes at the end of NaNo, but don’t start that now. Keep pushing through to that word count. It will be worth it. I promise. Worry about the re-writes in January after a well-deserved break.
Sure, you are so sick of your characters fighting with your inspiration at every turn. We all get that. It’s like living in a very small box with a whole bunch of people for a month. Even the ones you loved at the beginning, might make you want to kill them. Hey, if that makes you feel better, go ahead, kill a few. I swear, I bet George RR Martin kills a lot of characters during NaNo. Again, after that well-deserved break, during re-writes, you might decide that they deserve to live. Worry about that later.
Keep fighting through the muck and the yuck. It will definitely be worth it.
And if you need a little extra support (Because, let’s be honest, who doesn’t?) come join OWS Word Mafia. We will be doing a lot of great NaNo support groups throughout the month, including word sprints, write-ins, and complaining about how exhausted we are. Misery always loves company. But we will also be building incredible bonds going through the trenches of NaNo together. It is totally worth it.
Heidi Angell is a bibliophile, lexicomaniac, and wordsmith. When she isn’t writing or reading, she enjoys helping fellow authors on their writing adventures. Learn more about how Heidi at www.heidiangell.com
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