It’s November 1st, 2010! For some people, that just means it’s Monday, or the day the rent comes due. For others, it’s the day the Halloween candy goes on sale (grab me a bag of Pretzel M&Ms, wouldja?).
But for certain passionate, ambitious, creative, and optimistic people, it is the first day of National Novel Writing Month, better known as NaNoWriMo, or just NaNo for short.
I’m not doing NaNo this year, mainly because I’m already well into the first draft of Book #2 and NaNo requires beginning a book afresh, going from absolutely not a single word written to 50,000 of them completed by November 30. But I’ve done it several times, and I recommend it to a lot of writers, particularly if you haven’t completed a full draft of a novel before.
Some years I’ve found it to be a wonderful way to generate a first draft without getting caught up or bogged down or distracted.
Some years I’ve found it so frustrating I’ve ended up breaking down in tears somewhere around November 21st.
And so on this first day of NaNo, I want to share a few things I’ve learned that help crank up the joy and ratchet down the pain. They also happen to spell out NANO, which should help them stick in your mind during a time when you feel like the words you can’t get out of your fingertips fast enough are running out your ears. My NANO NaNo tips:
Now. When is the best time to write? NOW. You have a big goal: 50,000 words. If you parse that out into a daily goal, you owe the machine 1,667 words a day. For a lot of people, that’s an hour or two of work, and if you’re keeping pace with that for the first few days, you’ll be feeling good. But something will come up, and you’ll miss a day, and it’s very easy to get behind. Get ahead instead. If you have five minutes to write, write. Do it now. Maybe you’ll have a 10K run — a single wondrous day where 10,000 words flow right out of you — but do NOT count on it. That way madness lies.
And. It’s an old improv trick, the guideline of doing improvisational comedy with a partner or team: you never say “No.” You don’t contradict what someone else has said. Instead you accept their statement and build on it with an “And.” As you’re writing, if something’s already on the page, leave it there. Build on it. Don’t spend any time second-guessing what you’ve already written, or you’ll put your goal in danger. You don’t have to go in order, but you have to go forward. And, and, and.
Next. It’s tempting to stop writing for the day the moment you hit the end of a scene or a chapter. You feel a sense of completion and satisfaction. But don’t stop there. Take an extra minute or two to set yourself up for the next day — where will you start when you sit down at the computer tomorrow? What character or event will you work on next? Pick your starting point and mark it. Very simple, but it works.
Others. What has often made the difference for me between a successful NaNo and a painful NaNo is the company. If you join the NaNo site to track your daily word count, and ask some friends to do the same, you can race each other to the finish. We’re all going to have bad days. Our enthusiasm, at some point, is going to flag. There will be days when we think we’re not going to get there. And while the optimistic and positive “you can do it!”-type motivation is great, there are also days when the “I’ve got to hit 40K before Russ does!”-type motivation is a whole lot more effective.
So for all NaNo’ers, GOOD LUCK! You can do it! And feel free to share your own tips and tricks for making the most of NaNoWriMo in the comment area below.