It’s finally November! Halloween candy is slowly working its way out of everyone’s systems to make room for all the Thanksgiving goodies — all the turkey and mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie a person could want. The Christmas spirit is beginning to take over much to some people’s dismay, and all the lights and music get me excited even this early in the season. But, above it all is the most important event happening this month: NaNoWriMo.
Okay, maybe not the most important event, but definitely a significant one for all experienced and novice writers alike. NaNoWriMo is short for National Novel Writing Month, which challenges participants to write 50,000 words in one month in any format: a novel, a collection of short stories, poems, essays or even a fan-fiction — and yes, you’re encouraged to use a word count checker. Traditionally, people use November to start or continue a novel, but as a writer, being untraditional is definitely a benefit, so, really, you can write whatever you please. The bottom line is to reach that fifty thousand word goal.
Fifty thousand words is, simply put, a lot of words. If you’ve ever found yourself struggling to get that tenth page for an essay for class, imagine what it looks like to see yourself on the one hundred and fiftieth page. It can seem quite overwhelming. For many young writers, it is overwhelming, and time consuming, and exhausting, but ultimately, it can be great fun and a wonderful way to enhance your creativity and writing.
Still, it does require some preparation. I’ve done NaNoWriMo four times now, two of which I’ve “won,” which means that I made it to the fifty thousand word mark, and every year I’m filled with a mixture of excitement and dread. I’m trying to do it again this year, with a new idea that’s half-baked at best, and even with those two wins under my belt, it’s still an extremely daunting task. It is definitely not impossible, as many people win every year, but whether it’s your tenth year and fifty thousand words has become the normal for you or just thinking about the number fifty thousand makes you sweat, I have some tips and tricks that will help you get through November and make the best of this novel (or whatever form you choose) writing experience.
1. Have A Plan
Or at the very least, have a vaguely interesting daydream. Planning is hard, especially for writing. Whether it’s a research paper or an essay or a creative piece, coming up with a plan seems to waste more time and zap out all the fun. With a task as big as NaNo, it’s important to have some sort of idea.
NaNoWriMo encourages both the freewheeling spirit and the detail-oriented strategist, respectively named the “Panster” and the “Planner.” If you’re a Panster, you want nothing more the blank page or screen and your imagination, but if you’re a planner, you’re likely to have outline after outline and a character sketch for every main and minor character. Or, like me, you find yourself somewhere in the middle. If you’re not daring enough to go balls to wall with spontaneous creating, but also don’t like to be bogged down by strict guidelines for every scene and character, you would be called, as NaNoWriMo aptly named it, a “Plantser.”
Any of these methods of creativity are valid ways of going about it. It all comes down to what suits your style of writing the best, but, in order to make the best of NaNoWriMo, it’s almost necessary to have even the smallest semblance of an idea. It’ll make it all the more enjoyable if you know what story you want to tell.
2. Develop A Routine
Now, I’m rather terrible at sticking to self-imposed schedules, but when I managed to find one that worked, it definitely had a big impact on my successes with NaNoWriMo. I was fifteen and sixteen when I managed to reach fifty thousand words, so every day after school got out, I’d go home, eat a snack, and then walk a few blocks to the public library and churn out my daily 1,667, or as close as I could get, for three hours.
For some people, writing in the morning, or super late at night, or in the middle of the day, might be the most productive. What matters is that you try your best to create a routine that allows you to write at the same time every day. Of course, that may only be possible in a perfect world, so if it changes some days there’s nothing wrong with that, just try your best to optimize productivity by choosing the best time of the day for you personally.
3. Ignore Your Inner Critic
Your inner critic. The nagging voice inside your head that manages to point out every flaw you have. Any writer will know this voice is an unwanted close friend. It will tell you that everything you work on is absolute garbage. In moderation, an inner critic can encourage improvement, because nothing is ever perfect on the first try, but too much can be stifling and keep you from actually doing what you set out to do in the first place: write.
Fifty thousand is no small feat and if you’re spending more time listening to your critic and staring at the screen with your hands frozen on the keyboard, you’re very unlikely to reach your goal. When taking on NaNoWriMo, it requires not only brushing off the negative words of the inner critic but vehemently ignore whatever it is saying. Your word count and sanity are relying on it.
4. Don’t Worry If You Get Behind
In order to reach fifty thousand words by the end of the month, you have to do at least 1,667 words a day. That’s a big commitment to make, especially if you’re a slow writer, since it can take hours of your day. It’s inevitable that you will miss a day or not reach the daily word count a day or two, but it’s important that you don’t give up.
In the routine you’ve managed to establish, try to work in a few days that allow time to catch up. Weekends are good for catching up when you don’t have work or school or other annoying responsibilities to worry about. If there are nights when you’re feeling especially energized or focused, use that opportunity to catch up on your word count or use that to get ahead of that day’s word count if you anticipate missing writing time later on.
5. Treat Yo’ Self
Of course, writing is an endless stream of creative fun that is absolutely always fulfilling and rewarding as you create things that you are constantly pleased with, but sometimes it helps to reward yourself for reaching a word count goal. Whether it’s a snack, a nap or a YouTube break, a treat is definitely necessary to motivate yourself. Especially in the last few days of the month when you’ve been writing for twenty-five, twenty-six days and motivation starts to run thin, taking time to treat yo’ self will help you push through to the end and reaching your end goal.
6. Make the Most of It!
While the goal of NaNoWriMo is to reach that coveted fifty thousand words, it’s important to remember that no matter what your word count is at the end of the month, all that matters is that you put your ideas down on paper (or word document). Like all writing, getting started is the hardest part. Everyday life doesn’t account for writing time because there are too many other things biding for our attention, but that’s where the beauty of NaNoWriMo comes from. If you’re unable to force yourself to make time for writing during any old day, then NaNoWriMo comes around once a year to provide some outside inspiration for doing so.
NaNoWriMo also has many tools and helpful tidbits all over its websites. There are pep talks from famous authors, most recently was one from one of my favorite authors, Roxane Gay, and the team behind NaNoWriMo does virtual write-ins that will help motivate you even more. Write-ins happen in real life too. Fellow Wrimos, people who do NaNoWriMo, may set up write-ins in areas near you and you can go there and meet fellow writers and get inspiration. It’s a wonderful program that spends a whole month motivating writers from all over to bring their ideas to life and start writing, because, as the NaNoWriMo homepage states, the world needs your novel.