Today is the day writers all around the world take part in National Novel Writing Month, an annual event that challenges them to write 50,000 words all within the glorious (or grueling) 30 days of November. Whether they are glorious and/or grueling is completely up to you. I know this from experience.
I’m not going to pretend I have an on going track record with NaNoWriMo as I have only done it once last year when I rewrote my YA novel, It Starts at Home, completely from scratch a third time in a row. My advice is drawn more from the past decade of novel writing, things I’ve observed about myself, that in turn I hope you can relate to and glean some value from.
So without further adieu, here is how I learned not to beat my head against the wall during NaNoWriMo:
1. Remember Your Why
Amidst the commotion of trying to write 1667 words a day, remind yourself why you write in the first place. Perhaps there are some injustices you want to expose through your fiction, or you simply want to entertain. Whatever your reason, it has value because you want to provide value through it or at least have something burning inside you, urging you to express it. Let the call to adventure ring loud and clear. Make it more about the message than about reaching a quota.
2. Don’t Make it About Word Count
Sure, it’s important, as it is a measurable guage of how much you’ve done, but don’t sweat it if you can’t reach 1667 a day or the 50,000 at the end of November. Word count is important, but it shouldn’t take precendence over expressing yourself and possibly spreading your message. Especially if you have controversial topics to cover in your book, accept that it’s not going to be easy, and the fun is in the challenge of finding ways to convey your philosophy through fiction.
3. Don’t Find Time, Make Time For Writing
This is something I hear often from working parents with children, and anybody else with very busy working schedules. It’s important to know that no matter what obligations you’ve got going for you in life, whether you show up or not is completely up to you and it is your life to manage. No one else’s. Don’t find time to write, make time to write. Make it a priority. You don’t have to do a million things in your life. Yes, pay bills. Yes, feed your children. But if you have the free time to sit around and play Candy Crush, maybe make time to write and see that as your leisure time. Scratch that. Writing is leisure time, no matter how difficult it gets at times.
4. Keep a Progress Journal
Give yourself 10-30 minutes a day to free write about your book, detailing all your progress and intetions with it before every session. You gotta warm yourself up to writing and what could help is giving yourself the opportunity to write whatever’s on your mind will free up space in your brain to focus on the narrative. This works especially if you’re stuck at certain points. The more stuck you are, the longer the progress journaling session should be. Progress journals are also where you can remind yourself of your why in a more concrete way than just repeating the mantra in your head.
5. Let Yourself Write
This is a no brainer, but basically what I mean is to not get caught up in syntax and style. If you have trippy sci-fi or fantastical fantasy concepts in your story, that’s fine, but don’t let all your wordiness get in the way of simply telling a story. And who cares if it doesn’t make any sense or if it isn’t eloquent? This is most likely just another draft to be improved on later. So let yourself write to your heart’s content and kick perfectionism to the curb where it belongs!
6. Write in Tiny Bursts
If you can’t stomach 1667 in one 20-60 minute writing session, do little by little throughout the day. It doesn’t have to be done all in one sitting. Do 500-600 in the morning, another 500-600 in the afternoon, and the final 500-600 at night. Before you know it, you’ll reach the daily quota without burning yourself out from one intense writing session in the day.
7. Let Yourself Fall Behind
It could happen. In fact it happens to a lot of writers, even published ones. Let yourself fall behind and be okay with it. Despite what I said about making time to write, sometimes life gets in the way, or worse, our egoes prevent us from putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard). If and when that happens, accept it with grace and don’t let it deter you from getting back into the groove. You never know, you just might write 3500 words in one day to catch back up with the daily average.
Writing is a very physically limiting activity where you are confined to a chair all slouched over and giving your mind a massive work out. Don’t forget to give your body a work out, too! Exercise can help release some muscle tension as well as clear your mind when you focus on the sensations your body goes through during exercise. Go for a run, lift some weights, or do some yoga. There’s an endless amount of options for physical activity, and often times it is due to physical stagnance that our minds also refuse to work, so go and create a little communion between body and mind.
9. Write a Crappy Story on the Side
More often than not, the novel you choose to write for NaNoWriMo is “The Big One,” and that’s all well and good. However, with that comes the pressure to make sure it’s done right, even if you follow tip #5. In addition to letting yourelf write, I propose you let yourself write crap. Yeah, if you feel stuck with your main work in progress, go start a side story that you write for the express purpose of writing as poorly as possible. This is a sure fire way to pump out 3000 meaningless words before hunkering down and writing your finely honed 1667 main manuscript words for the day.
10. Reward Yourself
When it’s all said and done, be sure to reward yourself. The time it takes to write may seem like a huge price to pay with little to no tangible, immediate return on investments, so it’s best to make one for yourself. This can be treating yourself to a bath, a Netflix binging hour (or five), or if you’re a gamer like me, a gaming session could feel incredibly better after having written. In the wise words of my cousin, after all your hard work you gotta “treat yoself!”
And as a bonus tip: sleep! We live in an unhealthy culture that rewards and promotes the notion that “sleep is for the weak,” and busy bodies often proclaim that they’ll sleep when they’re dead. I sure as hell hope you don’t buy into mythology, as sleep is a very important human function. Yes, it sucks that eats away the time we could be doing more more more with our lives, but deal with it, sleep is a fact of life. You need to recharge your batteries in order to operate better than you would hopped up on caffeine and a single muffin.
What all these tips come down to is: treat yourself kindly.