3 Writing Tips for NaNoWriMo

It’s getting towards the middle of October, which means there are just a few short weeks to go before National Novel Writing Month kicks off. This in turn begs the question: what the hell am I going to do? How on earth will I write 50,000 words in just 30 days? It’s a daunting task, but one that I’m determined to face.

In July I participated in Camp NaNo, the miniature version where you can set your own word count goal. As a first-timer I aimed for a leisurely 10,000 words, but things didn’t go so well, and in the end I only managed about half that amount. It was deflating, but it hasn’t deterred me from participating this November. In fact, that failure has spurred me on to learn from my mistakes.

So what have I learned?

1. Set Word Count Goals For Each Writing Session

Last time I thought I’d be fine just by scheduling the times I would devote to writing; an important step when you’re trying to squeeze in enough time around a full-time job and  personal life. The problem was that I didn’t set specific goals for each session, and instead thought about how many words I’d need at the end of each week. This led me to slack off on days when I wasn’t in the mood, and it became easy to sit at my computer for a few hours and procrastinate. I’d write a few paragraphs and then change my mind, delete them and start again. All too quickly I fell behind and couldn’t catch up again.

This time I won’t make the same mistake. I read some great tips on this post on the NaNoWriMo blog. The post mentions that a slow writer can do about 800 words an hour, and that at an average pace it would take about 55 hours to hit 50,000 words. I’m planning to follow a similar schedule to the one in the article, doing 2-hour sessions three or four week nights per week, and doing three 2-hour sessions over the weekend. I’m going to aim for 2000 words per session. I think having a goal each time you write is important in holding yourself accountable.

2. Don’t Get Sidetracked, Stay the Course

Last time I didn’t have a specific story idea in mind when I started writing. This isn’t a problem in itself; some people like to plan, others like to wing it. Once I started, I began to come up with other ideas that didn’t fit with what I was writing, and because my heart wasn’t set on a specific story these other ideas began to appeal to me more. At the same time I didn’t want to just delete all that I’d written and start over, so I started trying to force the new ideas in.

Before I knew it I had a story about a guy trying to write a story and getting sidetracked by other stories. It was a mess that stretched into infinity like two mirrors facing each other. It was like Italo Calvino‘s If On A Winter’s Night A Traveller only, you know, terrible.

On the upside, some of the plot ideas and characters that I came up with have formed a basis for the story I’m planning for NaNoWriMo. I think having a solid idea in mind, as well as a little planning, will allow me to focus. If other great ideas occur to me during November, that’s great, but I’ll jot them down somewhere for future reference and get on with the current work.

3. Change Things Up When You’re Feeling Stifled

It might seem simple, but when things aren’t working you need to change something! Writing is a lonesome task and a struggle at times. After all, it’s just you in your head versus the words on the page. The important thing is to shake things up to refresh yourself.

When I lived with my parents and brothers I often got frustrated that there was nowhere in the house that was suitable for writing. I fantasized about what I’d do when I had my own place and could make the perfect writer’s office. However, now that I have that office space there are still times when it just doesn’t feel right. Every now and then I need to move all the furniture around or redecorate. Or I need to get out of there altogether and go to a library or a coffee shop. Simple changes to the environment can make a huge difference.

Another thing I might try this November is to talk things out, to discuss my work with someone when I’m feeling stuck, unmotivated or frustrated. I’ve never liked talking about a story in progress because I’ve always feared that saying it out loud might ‘break the spell.’ It might be a bust, but who knows, maybe it will really help. Shaking things up is worth a try.

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9 thoughts on “3 Writing Tips for NaNoWriMo

  1. Hey, thanks so much for the ping!

    I’ve got to say, I know the feeling of being completely deflated after a round of losing a NaNo event but you have to look at the positive. Sure, you didn’t hit 10k for Camp NaNo, but you DID write 5k words – that’s five.THOUSAND.words. that you didn’t have before…AND you have a nice framework laid out for November.

    Becoming sidetracked is a definite potential problem with NaNo. I have a new plan in place this year to try and help. I am kicking around two ideas for NaNo (the one that I have been working on for over a year, and a new and completely unrelated storyline). I am going to do warm-ups for each writing session that will be for the new idea in my head – perhaps I will just outline or write plot papers or character sketches. My goal is to write about 500 – 1000 words for each warm-up, which could equate to a lot of words. Let’s average it to 750 words for 25 days of writing. That’s over 18,000 words in just warm-ups! I am hoping that my main storyline breaks 50k words on its own, but if not, my warm-ups will help. The main reason for doing this is for variety, which we all need a little of come NaNo.

    I too struggle with the ‘perfect office’ syndrome – I have a vision in my head as to what I want it to look like, feel like, smell like, etc. and it never really holds up to that standard…so I rearrange over and over again. I have just come to the point – perhaps willingly or perhaps from being defeated in spirit – that if I am really in to my writing, everything else should just melt away from my peripheral. All I should see is the screen and my story pouring out of me.

    Great post! Keep them coming!

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