Monday, October 14, 2019

9 Tips for NaNoWriMo

At a recent writing workshop I led, everyone was talking about NaNoWriMo with varying degrees of panic and excitement. NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month or, as non-writers call it, November.
            NaNoWriMo has become a global phenomenon with thousands of writers participating, joining in online communities, charting word counts and progress, sharing stories of success and failure, and providing pep talks for each other.
So what’s the deal? You try to write a novel in one month. Can it be done? Sure. At least a first draft for fast writers. Writers who move to a different beat may not get a complete draft down, but they can get an overview of the novel and quite a bit written, often more than they thought they could. At the very least, it’s a catalyst that gets your ass in chair and your mind moving. It also forces you to focus on narrative momentum and getting the story in gear.
To that end, I’ve put together a few tips that writing colleagues and I have found useful, and that I hope will help put this journey in perspective. And in case you’re wondering, yes, I’ve participated in NaNoWriMo before, and I’m going to do it again! I’m at the tail end of one novel and hoping to plant the seeds for a new one.

Here goes!

1. Prewrite!!! Start prewriting now, if you can. Write a tentative outline, draw a map, brainstorm circles and connections, list key scenes and beats, motifs and symbols… whatever it takes to help you envision the big picture.

2. Clear the decks of other obligations as much as you can. But hey, life goes on. Families, jobs, responsibilities—we’re not islands. Do what you can with what you have. Make that enough, and it will be enough.

3. Dive right in and write what excites you, what you’re dying to write, the reason that drives you to write this novel. You can work your way out from there, and back and up and forward. Start at the throbbing heart of your story.

4. Maintain a regular writing schedule. Whatever your lifestyle/work habits, wherever you are-- train/bus/coffeeshop/library/your own study—create a time that is yours, preferably the same time everyday, devoted to writing. But make it realistic, the kind of schedule you can keep up for a month.

5. Try to get the big research issues dealt with before you start writing, but inevitably questions will arise. You can sink into the quicksand of google and spend days looking up details. Keep it to a minimum. Wherever I need to research, I type: XXX. When I’m looking back over the manuscript, that’s easy to find. I tell myself: “I’ll XXX it now and look it up later.”

6. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Don’t get too precious with your words. There’s a time for that. It’s called December.

7. Be gentle with yourself. Don’t expect perfection in a first draft. Don’t beat yourself up if you’re not a speedy writer who races to the finish line. Focus on getting as much done as you can.

8. Don’t stop writing on November 30th. Be thankful you’ve started a great practice. Try to maintain it, with modifications of course. The reason diets don’t work is because they’re intense and exaggerated for a brief period, and impossible to maintain over a long time. What does work is changing your attitude and lifestyle. If you make writing a part of your daily life, NaNoWriMo will simply intensify what you’re already doing.

9. Have fun with it! Don’t get so tense and obsessed with daily word counts that you can’t be playful. Think of this month as an adventure, a voyage you’re embarking on. Look at the blank page as a place where anything is possible, your Queendom or Kingdom. This is the beginning—every road beckons, every door is unlocked, and your imagination is the only limit.

Here’s my writing mantra:

            Say it hot.
            Say it short.
            Say it you.
            Say it now.

Writing is such a solitary practice that whenever we can connect with other writers and form a community it helps on many levels. If you’re in a writing group, you may decide to work on NaNoWriMo together, sharing encouragement and experiences as you go through the month. If not, you may find it helpful to get a writing buddy, online or in person, with whom to compare notes. The most valuable part of this experience may be the heightened awareness that although we write alone, we are not alone.   

Good luck and happy writing, you wizards and witches! And if you have any tips to add, please share them in the comments!

Happy Halloween!

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