Last year, I participated in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) for the first time. The plan is simple: Write a 50,000-word novel in one month.
I had an awesome time. I felt like part of a community of writers, I wrote thousands of words every single day, and I got an entire novel out of it. But it wasn't always smooth sailing.
The truth is, I almost didn’t make it. Life happened. My enthusiasm for my project waned. My NaNoWriMo was almost a flop. You might now be experiencing a similar phenomenon.
Well cheer up, novel writer. We’re going to get through that NaNoWriMo slump this year. Here are a few ways to do it!
Remember That It’s Just a First Draft
I don’t know about you, but sometimes I get this image in my head of professional writers sitting down, banging out drafts, then shipping them off for publication. Boom. Done.
Writing doesn’t work that way. No matter how skilled a writer is, their first drafts are just as sloppy as anyone else’s. It’s like expecting the first dress rehearsal of a play to be perfect. No matter who you are or what your process is, you can’t expect to nail it on the first try.
This is an essential fact to remember for all NaNoWriMo participants. Don’t burn out on your manuscript because it’s ugly. It should be ugly! It should be a mess. It should have inconsistencies and vague words and characters whose names change to “Maurice” because you decided that was more interesting than “Bob.” Your objective should be getting your 50,000 words. Massaging the manuscript comes later.
Take a Day Off
Listen, I’m a writer, not a mathematician. But my calculator tells me that 50,000 words divided by 30 days equals... error. Hmm. Let’s try that again.
Ah. Sorry. It equals about 1,666. So that’s our daily writing target for the month of November. It might sound like a lot, but it works out to just a few pages every day. Not too bad.
With that target in mind, you can account for breaks in your schedule. If you miss a day, just make sure to write 3,332 words the following day. Or, if you go above your word count, you’ll have words in the bank to take off a day in the future. This is convenient for us Americans, since Thanksgiving happens during November. Get ahead on your word count so you can hang with your family and watch the Cowboys game.
But be careful with this method. Everyone wants you to finish that manuscript, so make sure your one-day break doesn’t turn into, “There’s always next year.” Allow yourself some time off—but not so much that you can’t finish.
Of course, you know yourself better than I do. If you know that a day off will turn into the end of your project, don’t take it! Instead, try this next tip.
Commiserate With Your Fellow Writers
People tend to gravitate toward people with similar interests, partly because they all understand the struggles of said interest. This goes double for writers.
Writing is hard enough. Giving yourself a deadline to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days? Now that’s harder still. Anyone who’s doing the same will agree with you. NaNoWriMo is hard. Sometimes, that’s all we need—a few fellow writers to share our anxieties with.
Furthermore, your fellow writers might have ideas that rekindle your interest in your manuscript. For example, let’s say you’ve hit a wall with your plot. Let’s say your main character ends up stranded in a desert and you can’t think of a way out. Tell a fellow writer. They might offer a helpful suggestion you hadn’t considered, e.g. “Does your character know about the North Star? Maybe she follows that back to civilization.”
Review Your Manuscript
You’ve been working on your story for so long you probably don’t even remember the best parts. If you’re burning out, take a moment to read through your previous work. Remind yourself why you started this story in the first place.
Yes, some of it might be ugly. As mentioned in tip No. 1, this is to be expected. Still, I’m willing to bet you’ll rediscover what made you want to write this story in the first place. You’ll see glimmers of that initial spark, such as a crackling line of dialogue or a plot twist that surprised even you. Don’t take the time to edit anything. Just read through until you rediscover your passion for your book. Then start writing again!
Focus On the Objective
Finishing NaNoWriMo was one of the best feelings I’ve ever had as a writer. It’s like winning the World Series. I had always dreamed of writing a book, and last November, I finally did it.
Since you’re participating in NaNoWriMo right now, I’m sure you’ve always wanted to write a book, too. So keep working. Keep writing. Remember why you started this challenge in the first place. And focus on the wonderful feeling you’ll have when you finally get there.
Good Luck, NaNoWriMo Participants!
I hope these tips help. Get out there and finish those manuscripts!