Monday, 24 October 2016

10 Tips to Survive NaNoWriMo!

It's the most wonderful time of the year. It's more exciting than Christmas, more magical than a month at Hogwarts, and more stressful than, er, Christmas. Haven't heard of NaNoWriMo? It's National Novel Writing Month, and it's an online competition to write a 50,000 word novel in a month.

Yes, that's fifty thousand.

Yes, it can be done. Thousands of busy, stressed and over-caffeinated people manage it every year, and so can you. I've succeeded every other year since 2009, and guess what? Every one of those drafts was awful. That's not the point. The point is not to create quality. It's to create something. Something you can work with in the future. And it's a perfectly attainable goal, if you can keep calm and put in the hours. But whether you're a nano-newbie or a keyboard-calloused veteran, you can never have too much help. Here I've compiled ten tips guaranteed to make your November as stress-free as possible.

  1. Stock up on supplies. Whether it's tea, coffee, chocolate, gum, a music playlist or some scented candles, your aim is to make your writing time as comfortable as it can be. The last thing you need is to sit down, braced to knock out that twist in the second act, only to find you're out of your lucky Ethiopian blend and you've nothing else to chew on but your fingernails. Unless you want to take up foraging like you're competing in the Hunger Games, make sure your cupboards are stocked before October is out, and your future self will thank you.
  2. Remove all distractions. Alternatively, remove yourself from all distractions. Put the laptop on flight mode. Put your phone on silent. Unplug the router. Unplug the phone. Hide the video games (or get someone else to hide them from you!) Lend your Kindle to a friend. If you're like me, you might instinctively pull up Twitter every hundred words to tweet about your progress. This is not only a waste of time, but disruptive to your momentum! There's nothing better than getting into the zonewhich is kind of like flying the TARDIS, only instead of flicking levers and running around in circles, your characters are doing it all for you. 
  3. Know your characters! As a historic pantser (i.e. a writer flying by the seat of their pants), I've made the industrious decision to plan ahead this year. I may be working with characters I already know, but they're in a different place to where they began 130,000 words ago. You need to know what drives your characters and informs their choices. I like to fill out a tiny worksheet for each character.
    • What is their Greatest Strength? The strength is an asset that they can put to use at some point in the novel. It could crop up frequently or rarely, but it's a tool you can use!
    • What is their Fatal Flaw? This is a weakness that might hinder the character at a crucial moment, or hold them back on a day-to-day basis. This will have an influence on their decisions, their opinions and even how they speak.
    • What is their Basic Need? This is the story goal that your character aims to accompish by the end of the story. Your character should always be working towards this.
  4. Know where your story is headed! It sounds weird, but I like to settle on the ending first and work backwards. I pick a scene that encapsulates the end-goal for that particular character, and ask myself how she got there, tracing her steps in reverse-order. This will help you keep your story on track - and if you decide you don't like that ending after all, feel free to break away from it and pick something you prefer!
  5. Don't edit as you go along. It'll slow you down, and distract you from the real goal of NaNoWriMo which is to FINISH something. Don't look back - look ahead.
  6. Get involved in the community. Chat to other writers in the forums. Chat to other writers on Twitter. Join a NaNoWriMo community group on Facebook. Attend the NaNoWriMo social events - they crop up all over the world! Your local writer community is likely as enthusiastic and friendly as mine - in fact, if it weren't for my local group, I probably wouldn't bother coming back year after year.
  7. Treat Yo Self! Prepare a reward for after writing. This could be a small daily reward or a big thank-goodness-it's-over reward. A daily reward could be something like dessert, your favourite TV show (can you guess mine from the quote?), a relaxing bubblebath or anything else you could need but don't always make time for. A big December reward could be something like a celebratory meal, a new pair of shoes, or just a lazy day off. I am not recommending you bankrupt yourself, but any treat whatsoever will do. For me, it will be a big video-game binge. 
  8. Try not to fall behind. The general rule for NaNoWriMo is to write 1,667 words per day. Miss a day, and you've got to write 3,334 words the next day. That's a double workload. Let it build up for any longer, and it can feel like an incredible burden. Keep on top of your daily word count, and spare yourself the anguish of a word backlog. Do one better and get ahead. Build up a reserve of extra words in the first week, when you're still feeling fresh, because the week two slump might just hit you!
  9. Take a day off. This really ties into my previous tip about getting ahead. If you can knock out 3,334 words on a Sunday, give yourself Monday to recover writing-wise. You deserve a little respite, you hard worker, you. 
  10. Take care of yourself. Your health comes first. NaNoWriMo is supposed to be fun, and if you're struggling - really struggling - it's no longer fun. Sometimes external events get in your way. Life happens. If you have to abandon your novel or feel you can't continue, don't be disheartened. You've already written more fiction than most people will the rest of their lives, and there's nothing to stop you returning to it at a later date. 
That's it. In short NaNoWriMo is a difficult undertaking, but it can be rewarding, sociable and a great deal of fun. Thinking of getting involved? Sign up today! And if you're ready to go, good luck.

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