October 30, 2013

Ten Tips for Surviving Nanowrimo

Do you have a book in your head that you’re going to write someday? Are you sure that the next best-seller could be yours if you could just get it all out of your head and down on paper? Then join thousands of other aspiring authors as they embark on Nanowrimo-a month long trek to start, and finish, a novel of at least 50,000 words.

Nanowrimo stands for National Novel Writing Month. Since its inception in 1999, its popularity has been steadily growing as people from around the world decide to take the challenge. The rules are simple: Begin writing your novel on November 1st and finish writing it by November 30th (or are at least get your 50,000 words done).

Want to give it a try? Here are ten tips that may help you survive the madness that is Nanowrimo.

1.       Register at https://nanowrimo.org. This is the official Nanowrimo site. There you will meet other Nanos and receive community support, feedback, and resources to help keep you on track. Though it’s perfectly acceptable to tackle Nanowrimo alone, it’s also nice to have some friends along for the ride. As the saying goes, ‘misery loves company’.

2.       Be frugal with what you share. Sure it’s fun to post your awesome opening sentence, a paragraph you are particularly proud of, or how you came up with protagonist’s background, but there will always be someone around(particularly in the online world) hell bent on tearing you down or offering you  unsolicited ‘constructive criticism’ This also goes for sharing your work with your family and friends. Even the most supportive loved ones can throw you for a loop when they attempt to ‘help’. So, until you are really comfortable with your story, think about keeping it to yourself.

3.       Budget your word count.  You have 30 days to write 50,000 words. That’s about 1666 words per day. Can you manage that? If not, how else can you budget your word count in order to hit your target?  I personally like to make a spreadsheet and tape it to the refrigerator. Every day I color in a cell corresponding to how many words I wrote (with my stepdaughter’s crayon). It’s a fun way to track my progress and it makes me feel like I’ve actually accomplished something.

4.       Take it scene by scene. Writing a novel is exhausting, both mentally and physically. It can take its toll on your health, your work, and your social life. One way to keep things in perspective is to focus on just one scene at a time. It can be 300 words or 3000 and you can make it as fun, interesting, and colorful as you want it to be. Eventually, you will put all these scenes together and like magic, you have your book.

5.       Stop comparing yourself to others. Some people are better writers than me. Some people can produce more words per day than I can. Some people will have a much easier time with the whole ‘writing thing’ than I do.  So what? I’m still me and I’m doing what I can do. That’s all anyone can ask of me, right? That goes for you too. And while we’re talking about this, please stop trying to copy the style of one of your favorite authors. If someone wants to read Tolkien, they will read Tolkien. If you’re not being true to yourself you’re depriving the world of getting to know you. Do you want that on your writer’s conscience?

6.       Don’t look back! There will be times when you doubt what you’ve written or the direction your book has taken. But don’t go back to fix things. Now is the time to write, as fast and furiously as you can. When I need to make changes to my book during the first draft I jot down notes on a pad of paper I keep close to my computer, then when I’m rewriting (second draft) I refer to them. You can come up with your own system, but don’t stop moving forward or you will never make your 50,000 word goal.

7.       Stay the course. There may be times (especially in the middle of your novel) when that brilliant idea you had in the beginning now seems lackluster, trite, and dull. Then suddenly, you will get an idea that’s even more brilliant than the last. Don’t even think about it (write it on your notepad for later. When you are done with this novel you can start on your next).

Keep working on your original book. Your brain might be telling you to abandon ship but that’s because it’s mulled your story over too many times. Your brain, like an adolescent boy, is always looking for excitement. Be the grownup in the writing relationship and stay with it. If your novel is truly horrible when you’re done (and your brain was right), you can fix it. That’s what second, and third, and fourth drafts are for.

8.       Don’t edit when writing. That means leave spelling and grammatical errors alone, even when they are painful to look at. Don’t polish up sentences. Ignore goofs. You can fix it all later. In fact, if you wanted to, you could spend your whole life fixing it. As the saying goes, a project is never done, merely abandoned. I promise the errors will still be there when you return to them, and most likely you will find even more. By waiting you can see them with fresh eyes, and fix everything at once. (If you absolutely must for sanity’s sake, you can run a spell and grammar check each day, but that’s all).

9.       Make writing a priority. Life is going to happen. Kids get sick. The dog needs walking. And sadly, dinner doesn’t cook itself. But don’t use life as an excuse. Carve out the time to write and stick to it (see Tip #3). Tell others that you are serious about this. Your family and friends may joke about it or even tease you. They may be jealous that you are working on your own goals or not spending as much time with them as you used to.  They might not understand how important writing your novel is to you. Make them. When I first started writing I endured these sorts of distractions and ribbings. Now, those nearest and dearest to me, understand how important this is and they give me space, time, AND compliments for following my dreams. Whoa! What a turn around. But you must stand up for yourself. If you don’t take it seriously, no one else will.

10.   Be kind to yourself. Don’t hate your book. Remember, this is a first draft, and the first step towards a new dream. Shower yourself with support: take breaks, get exercise, eat well, chat with your pals, and give yourself a hug. Writing 50,000 words in one month is a big deal. Celebrate your accomplishment.  You’re in an elite group. And, like you, your novel is a work in progress.
April Aasheim is the author of The Witches of Dark Root (3.49) and The Universe is a Very Big Place (2.99). Both available on Amazon.

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