I’m what you might call a serial NaNoWriMo failure. Several years and just as many half written novels down the road from my first foray into the expressive whirlwind that is National Novel Writing Month (which is November 1st through the 30th for all you normal folk out there who just know this particular fall month for No Shave November and Thank God We Killed All Those Damn Indians Day…I mean Thanksgiving) I have yet to actually cross the finish line with 50,000 words under my literary belt by the time the end of the month rolls around.
Yet here we are again, as I write this it’s the 27th of October, and I’m preparing to go after the holy grail of literary abandon once more. So, as I’m going to be embarking on this journey I thought I’d provide a few tips for not following in my particularly inauspicious footsteps.
- HAVE A PLAN.
Now, don’t get me wrong. One of the real lessons that NaNoWriMo is trying to drill into your brain over the course of it’s thirty day writing spree is to let go of your inner editor and just keep writing. That said, I’ve started NaNo at almost every level of preparedness that there is. I’ve started with outlines and plot point index cards. I’ve started with notebooks full of springboard ideas. I’ve started with nothing, not even a sentence.
I can tell you that the years that I’ve gotten within spitting distance of the finish line were the years that I had at least a loose plan of where the story was going. I think the key is not being afraid to color outside the lines of your preconceived structure. If you become too invested in your idea you’ll end up being too concerned about it being not only completed but also exactly what you wanted, instead of the first draft borderline literary abortion that it should be. Nobody writes a good book in thirty days. Nobody. Your book is going to look like it fell out of the ugly tree and hit every branch on the way down. Then, when it hit the ground, the ugly tree pulled it’s roots up out of the ground, walked over to your first draft and beat it with the ugly stick…which it pulled off of another ugly tree…which was uglier…….let’s assume that this particular forest is pretty disgusting looking in general.
Point is, you want to have some planning done, but don’t get so wrapped up in your story that you’re afraid to improvise when the time comes.
2.HAVE A SCHEDULE
I think probably the most important aspect of getting to the 50,000 goal at the end of the month is not falling behind. Fifty Thousand words breaks down to roughly 1,667 words per day. Most of the people I’ve known over the years that have participated start strong. You’re in the very beginnings of an idea, the bits of story and character firing through the neurons in your brain faster than you’re able to type. But there is a vast and unforgiving desert in the middle of a novel. It is called Act 2, and it is a cruel and unforgiving mistress. Act 2 is a total bitch, who eats other bitches for breakfast…with a garnish of nails.
You’ve got the start of the thing down. Your characters are established, their motivations are clear, your plot is starting to roll along. The fun part is over. Now you’re into the meat of the story. If Act 2 doesn’t keep on trucking through at a decent clip, the reader WILL put the book down.
This is where a regular writing routine is absolutely essential. You have to block out a time of your day when you will be shackled to the keyboard, and be there every day. Every day you fall behind the amount of work it takes to get caught back up multiplies exponentially. Believe me, I’ve been there. It all starts going to shit with the very first day you miss your word count.
3. Take care of yourself.
If you’re anything like me, with one foot basically in the grave and the other giving out underneath you because its fallen asleep then sleep is pretty important to you. Let’s assume though that you’re not like me, because face it, most folks aren’t. You still need to take care of yourself though. Make sure during November that you don’t tax your body too hard. There’s something to be said for the late night writing session, waking up the next morning groggy as all get out and showing up for your day job anyway, but if you do it too often you’re going to get sick, and you CANNOT afford the down time.
So before you begin, take an honest inventory of yourself and how likely you are to get sick if you push yourself too hard. Don’t mistake what I’m saying. You’re going to have to push yourself, but you have to be acutely aware of where your limits really are. If you come down with the flu your month is going to get infinitely worse. This is where adhering to the aforementioned rule about scheduling can really help you out, if you adhere to it with the ferocity of the most fanatical of religious zealots.
You can’t write if you’re bent over the toilet for three days. I mean…you can….but most people won’t, and if you’re doing the math in your head right now I’ll make it easy on you. That’s 5,000 words. That is a lot of words my friends.
To sum up, I’m probably not telling you anything that you don’t already know, but when we writers come up with an idea the temptation to dive headfirst into it and just let the words fly out onto the page with little to no preparation is quite strong. It doesn’t work out as often as we would like. So don’t be that guy that starts out like a locomotive, plowing your way to 10,000 or 15,000 words just to get behind and give up the dream. Don’t be that guy. I am that guy, and I don’t like that guy.
This year. We finish.