NaNoWriMo is a marathon for writers. With a super-stretch goal of 50,000 words, what can you do to get in shape now? These are the things that helped me win last year.
- Prewriting: If you do any prewriting (e.g. Character sketches, exploratory scene writing, outlining), get it done before November 1st.
- Even if you’re a total pantser, determining GMC and external conflicts now will go a long way toward ensuring you have a story idea that will sustain a novel-length work.
- If you can outline, do it. I had a very sketchy outline last year, but it saved me when I got stuck and wasn’t sure what to start writing next.
- Keep moving forward: Don’t go back to edit. Not only will this destroy your forward momentum, you end up wasting time fiddling with scenes that may just end up on the cutting room floor later. This more than anything is how I finished last year.
- Create a change log: Should the first scene happen at the morgue instead of a bar? Jot down a note in the change log and keep writing as if you made the changes. (I keep such a file right in my Scrivener project for easy access).
- Get comfortable: Are you planning to try Scrivener—or another writing program—during NaNo? Go for it! But download your free trial now and get used to it. You only need the basics to get started. You can play with all the cool features later.
- The Scrivener trial is for 30 uses, not 30 days, so don’t close the program every day and it’ll get you through NaNo.
- NaNo winners get a Scrivener discount coupon, so wait until you win to buy!
- Time yourself: Use a timer to motivate you to sit in your chair (or stand at your desk) for manageable chunks of time. When it goes off you can decide if you want to keep writing or take a break. Writing is good, but breaks are important too.
- Track your progress: I keep a log of my daily word count in Scrivener, and use the project targets to make sure I’m on track.
- Alert friends and family: Get your family on board now. If you still have to make dinner, pick easy, quick meals for this month. Figure out what you need and ask for it now (designated quiet time, someone else to wash dishes, whatever). Make sure non-writing friends and family understand that you won't be answering the phone or checking email constantly.
- Be antisocial: Being part of the NaNoWriMo, Twitter, Facebook, Google+ community is great, and can provide support during the long haul, but if it gets in the way of writing, turn it off. Need willpower help? Try MacFreedom or a similar program, unplug your wifi, or go somewhere that doesn’t have Internet access.
- Reward yourself: Give yourself little rewards when you meet your goals. A bubble bath, a few pieces of chocolate, a chapter of a good book, a movie, time with your family. Pick something that works for you.
Most important of all, just try your best. Why do we torture ourselves? Because even if you don’t win, you’ll learn something about yourself. You’ll likely be amazed at what you accomplished, both in terms of total output and some of your daily totals.
I learned that my writing is better when I don't stop to censor or analyze it. I kept little sticky notes on my laptop with reminders like “write messy”, “write fast”, and “just write”.
It’s not about winning, it’s about going for it. No matter how many words you have at the end, it’ll be more than you have now.
That’s a win.
Are you a NaNoWriMo veteran? I'd love to see your tips for getting through it.
Nicky Penttila (@sunshinyday)
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