Writing a book takes guts. And thousands of people test their guts every November for National Novel Writing Month, where both newbie and experienced writers alike attempt the difficult task of writing a 50,000 word novel (or at least a first draft, anyway) in the short space of a month. Is this crazy? Yes. Impossible? No. Yet I didn’t manage to hit 50,000 myself, only clocking in at just under 37,000. I’m still pretty proud of myself, as that’s the most I’ve ever written in thirty days’ time. But, could I do better? Hells, yeah.
Here’s an honest, squishy, deep-in-the-guts postmortem of my first NaNoWriMo experience:
1. Have a plan. And give yourself enough time to make said plan.
The last time I attempted to write a novel without an outline, I produced a crazy, meandering stinker of a turd, most of which got flushed and rewritten. Since that fiasco, I’ve become a plotter, and after stumbling around like a drunken zombie trying various plotting methods, the Snowflake Method was a lifesaver. (Note, I don’t use the software, I simply outline according to the instructions on the aforementioned link). That having been said, where’d I flunk? Well, I didn’t do this far enough in advance, and had some gaping holes in my outline, causing me to hit the proverbial wall several times, and I wasn’t as productive as I could have been. Boo, hiss.
2. Stop being a perfectionist. Just. Stop.
Yes, you have your outline, but don’t overthink every last detail as you write. And don’t edit as your write. Just write. Let the words flow. You can edit later, that’s what revision is for. And try to nix dreadful perfectionism from every aspect of your life, at least during NaNoWriMo. Let your house be dirty. Let the dishes pile up in the sink. Order takeout. This is your time, baby. I am absolutely guilty of perfectionism, and my house was a little too clean during NaNoWriMo. I could have fired out more words, boom-boom-boom, had I not been, um, obsessing about microscopic pieces of lint, or something. This leads me to…
3. Write as much as you can, every day.
Writing every day helps you build speed and muscle memory. It gets faster and easier the more you do it, and during NaNoWriMo it’s absolutely critical. I made the mistake of skipping a day or two after particularly crazy days at work, which caused me to slide backward, not able to catch up. My daily average tends to be about 1670 words, and had I written every day, I would have easily hit 50,000. Repeat after me: during NaNoWriMo, skipping a day is a slippery slope. Now say it ten times. Now drop down and give me fifty.
4. Do it with friends.
I’m happy to say I was really good at this. Working alongside like-minded people gave me the motivation to push myself harder than ever. Plus, writing is inherently lonely, why not write with other writers? Smash your social time and work time together, like peanut butter and jelly. Delicious. You’re probably wondering if we got lost in talking. We didn’t, really. The only downside was that driving to and from write-ins ate into my writing time on occasion. Next time, I’ll plan better to avoid traffic. Where to find friends to write with? Search your local area on the NaNoWriMo message boards for write-ins, and your local library may host events all month. Or create your own write-in by finding and inviting local, like-minded Twitter folk. The possibilities are endless.
Despite the above nit-picking, I consider myself a NaNoWriMo winner, because I came further than I ever thought I would. It once took me a whole year to write 30,000 words, so doing that in 30 days, well, that took guts. Yay, me! Plus, I can use the skills I learned during NaNoWriMo all year long. Every month can be NaNoWriMo, if I want.