So, you’ve bit the bullet, pulled the trigger, logged into the site and signed up! Congrats! You have done something only a small percentage of the population has done in a long time, you’ve made a commitment to your passion. 50,000 words in 30 days, however, from this side of November, can look daunting. I am here to tell you that it can be done. I did it myself last year and will do it again this year.
So from one Winner to another, and you are a winner, don’t let any Internet Troll tell you otherwise, I am going to share some of the things you can do to ensure that you succeed. So, without further ado, I am going to lay out for you 10 ways in which you can prepare to win National Novel Writing Month!
- Know the Journey – If you think about it, NaNoWriMo is just that: a journey. It has a starting point (November 1st and a blank page) and it has an ending point (November 30th and 50K words written). Your novel is also a journey. It is something that you should look at not with anxiety, trepidation and fear, but excitement, wonder and joy. Just like any journey you are going to need a map. There are two ways you can go about getting that map:
- Plotter – You can sit down and break out a detailed map listing everything from your start, finish and all points between, with a daily schedule of stops, breaks and rests, i.e. an outline. The Plotters in NaNoWriMo are the ones that flesh nearly everything out before they start. They know exactly which narrative road they will take, who (the characters) are coming with them and what will happen between here and there. There are a number of resources out there for you to use if you choose to go the way of the plotter. Here are some that I suggest using:
- Pantser – The flip side of the coin from the Plotter, is this one. Here we have the carefree individual who wants to experience the journey more than understand all of its intricate workings. These writers, many times, know their beginning and ending, and little else. The write from the seat of their proverbial pants and make their map as they go along. Both the Plotter and Pantser have their pros & con’s. It is up to you to decide which method works best for your journey.
- Schedule, Schedule, Schedule – Ever been told that “in life you should always pay yourself first”? The idea being that when you receive your check each week or month, that you toss a portion into savings, so that when the time comes you have a nice little nest egg to retire on. The same holds true for writing during November. You have a nest egg that you are saving for (50,000 words) and you have only 30 days to do it in, set aside time each day to make that happen. Let me whip out some mad-math-skills on you. 50,000 words in 30 days = approximately 1,667 words per day. An average person writes 31 words per minute. 1,667 words/31 WPM = 53.77 minutes. Setting aside one to two hours per day should get you that daily quota.
- Ambiance – Ever been on a date and the place the other person picked just made you want to walk out, run back home, sit down in front of the latest episode of the Walking Dead and eat spaghetti? The same thing can happen with writing. You are about to do something intimate. You are going to sit down and have a conversation with your characters. To do so you need a place, an atmosphere and a feeling that is going to promote good writing. Now, maybe you’re a budding Stevie King and the only place you have to write is the laundry room of your one bedroom trailer, with a typewriter stuffed behind the water heater (bet you didn’t know that’s where Carrie was turned out from 😉 ), but more than likely you have a place that you can designate as your “Writing Zone”. I’m not promoting Feng Shui (look for other posts on that in the future), but having a comfortable area to write in is paramount. It will give you the feeling and the encouragement to bust out those 1,667 words per day.
- Boundaries – Just like everything in life you need to have them. Like the rules in Monopoly, they gave you guidance on how to run this writing life you are dipping your toes into. The boundaries are for you and everyone else. First, you need to set them for yourself. “I will write from 1pm to 3pm every day.”, “I will get up at 5am every morning and write 1,667 words.”, or “I will write 2 hours per day.” These are the promises that you make to yourself to complete each leg of the daily journey as you move closer and closer to 50K. KEEP THEM. Don’t make these promises and then idly toss them aside. It takes 6-8 weeks to build a new habit, you only have 4. Second, the boundaries for everyone else. Perhaps you are a great multitasker and can handle four to five different things at once. If I know you though, and I’d bet even money I do, you can’t. So while you are writing away at your 1,667 words each day, set the boundaries for the people you live with. Put up a sign that says “Writing in progress – Please Do Not Disturb”. Let people know that you are working.
- Keep a notebook with you – Not just for NaNoWriMo, but as a writer in general. You never know when inspiration may hit. On your morning commute to work, during a business meeting, at lunch, walking the dog, grocery shopping, picking up the kids from daycare or any of a thousand other daily tasks we do, the muse might speak. When she does, you need to be prepared. Keep a notebook and a pen/pencil available. If you want to be more modern download some of the great note-taking apps to your tablet or smartphone such as OneNote or Evernote. You’ll thank me later.
- Reward system – Devise a reward system. While positive reinforcement has a slower learn time than negative, it has a slower decay rate than negative reinforcement. Find a way to treat yourself when you accomplish your goals. This could be something as simple as “When I finish my 1,667 words for the day, I’m going to have a cup of coffee on the porch and read a book.” Or perhaps, “When I reach 25K words, I’m going to take myself out to dinner to celebrate!” Hell I’ve known writers who have said, “When I get 1,667 words written each day I’ll have a glass of wine.” Find what works for you and treat yourself as a reward.
- Splurge a little, you deserve it – There’s a meme that’s been going around about “dressing for the job you want” and there is some truth to it. When we do things, or have things that make us feel professional, it validates our decisions. Maybe it’s a nice pen, or a leather notebook. Perhaps a set of business cards, or a rocking domain name for your blog. Whatever it is, find something that will give you that “Hey, I’m a professional writer”- feeling.
- Toot your own horn! – Experts say that 90% of getting a job is networking. The same is true for writing. Let people know what you are doing. Post it on Facebook, Tweet about it, put up excerpts of your novel, Instagram pictures of your coffee cup. Not only does it let people know what you are doing, it builds interest in the event itself. It also can do one more thing. If people know you are writing a novel in 30 days… they’ll ask you about it. So when you’re feeling lazy one Sunday morning and you tell yourself “Naaah, I’ll make up that 1,667 words tomorrow…” and Aunt Sally calls to ask how the novel is coming along… you might think twice about procrastinating.
- Talk with other writers – NaNoWriMo is a community event. Weeks before it kicks off on November 1st, the event staff has wiped the forums clean and posted fresh, shiny new ones, and people begin talking. There are forums on almost every genre available, divisions by age groups and lifestyles, writing groups starting up and discussions of plot, characters and more. Dive in to this with both feet. Start talking to other writers about what you plan to write and if you don’t know what you are going to write, or only have a partial idea, there are a great number of people who can give you assistance, advice and be a sounding board.
- Don’t dwell on failure – if you done NaNoWriMo in the past and you did not complete. That’s the past. This year is a new slate. Start from scratch, think about what might have tripped you up the previous years and think about what you can do to overcome those obstacles. When the event begins, and you miss a day of writing because little Susie decided to punch her math teacher in the kneecaps for not letting her use the red crayons to make her cupcake monster picture and you had to spend half the day begging the principal not to expel her, don’t be hard on yourself. Life happens. To quote Thomas Wayne: “What do we do when we fall…?” – “So we can learn to pick ourselves back up.”
Take these ideas to heart, use from them what works for you and share them with others. And if this little list did some good for your writing journey, let me know! I love feedback. Cheers!