With NaNoWriMo right around the corner, I'm hearing many writers talk about how they are planning to try it this year, give it a shot, write a first draft novel in a month. Last year, I gave my top five tips on the NaNoWriMo Blog, but the more I hear from real writers, the more I'm tweaking those tips.
So here are a few of my best tips to win NaNoWriMo as I see them today...
1. Believe you can do it! You know how sometimes you'll be reading a great book, but then something happens in the plot that seems way off base? You have a choice at that point. If you're enjoying the book enough, you'll likely choose to suspend your disbelief on that one plot point. You'll give the author the benefit of the doubt, keep reading, and likely really love the book and forget about that small point that had stopped you up for a brief time along the way. Or you can get angry at the author, feel a glaring sense of disappointment, and throw the book in the garbage.
I liken these attitudes to authors as they approach NaNoWriMo. There is a suspension of disbelief that you have to CHOOSE when entering into a challenge like this. The truth is, it's a ridiculous challenge. It doesn't actually fit into most REAL LIVES. We should, by rights, feel a glaring sense of disappointment that this challenge even exists, let alone that there are hundreds of thousands of super-humans that somehow leap close-to or even past the finish line. And we have every right to say, "No, it's stupid. I'm not going to waste my time on it." Or even, "I'll try it..." followed silently by, "...but it won't work." And to be honest, those are the unspoken statements I hear when I chat with most writers about NaNo. It's sad, but I'm quite sure from the cadence in their voices and the words they don't say that they probably won't succeed with writing a first draft in a month.
The first thing I believe writers need to succeed with the NaNoWriMo challenge is a conscious decision to suspend their disbelief. Making a choice to say, "Yes, it's a dumb idea, but just for thirty days, I am going to believe it is possible. Not only that, but I am going to believe that I am the writer who is quite capable of achieving it."
You don't have to believe in yourself for ever and ever, amen...only for the next thirty days.
2. Gather lots of ideas and keep them all in one place. This is the bit of advice I give most often for people who want to fast draft. Writing a novel over a period of months or years is a little different, because you can wait for inspiration, or take the time to stumble upon the sticky note that held that great idea you jotted down six months ago. With fast drafting, you don't have time to stop. When you feel stuck, you need to be able to flip open your moleskin notebook or click onto your iPhone app and pull up a list of ideas to pick and choose from. I keep my ideas in my phone notes program, because I always have my phone with me--when I discover a supermarket clerk's name that I really love, or when I overhear an interesting line of dialogue in a coffee shop.
Figure out the storage system that works best for you, and then build your idea bank.
3. Break your goal down and put it in your own handwriting. 50,000 words seems like a lot to accomplish in a month. 1667 words per day doesn't seem quite as impossible. But at the same time, it's important to realize that if you skip a day, even just ONE day, that means you either have to write 3334 words the next day, or up your count to 1724 each day for the rest of the month...every single day. Plus, missing a day makes you lose your sense of momentum.
Writing every day, even if it's just a paragraph, helps you keep your story in the forefront of your mind. You'll think about your characters when you're driving. You'll dream about new and crazy plot points at night. Plus, I believe in writing your goal down in your own handwriting, even if you've signed up on the NaNo website and tweeted to all of your friends that you're doing it. There's a certain sense of integrity that comes with taking the time to hand write your goal. Obviously no one has pushed you into it. You wrote it, and so you will accomplish it.
4. Don't jump in without a plan. You don't necessarily have to stick to your plan, but it's great to have something to come back to if you're feeling stuck. This next part is going to sound like a pitch, like I've only brought you here to sell you something, but I don't mean it to be. You see, I wrote FAST FICTION because I believe in my methods of planning for NaNoWriMo. I believe they can help any writer, whether they are a plotter or a panster. I believe my methods will help any writer who is trying to push through and needs a nudge to make him/her-self get to the end. My Story Plan is a very loose plan that will encourage you to think ahead of time about your characters' greatest strengths, desires, and flaws, about the settings that will inspire more words and detailed descriptions from you, about the themes you're passionate about and you'd like to see emerge from your work.There are other guides out there as well, of course. I encourage you to find one that inspires you and encourages your belief in your abilities.
5. Don't do it alone! Sign up at NaNoWriMo.org (I'm denisej over there if you'd like to become my "buddy"), follow Twitter hashtags #NaNoWriMo, #NaNoWriMo2015, "NaNosprints, #FastFiction, #amwriting, #WIPMadness... to name a few. Make some friends and keep each other accountable. Track other writers down and ask them about their progress...and they'll likely do the same for you if you disappear from the Interwebs for a few days. Just that little nudge from someone else can make all of the difference!
This is not, of course, an exhaustive list about what will help you write 50,000 words this November. These are simply my best tips as I see them today, and as I've sensed from those I've been chatting with lately.
Please share your best tips in the comments. Do you write twice a day? Get 500 words down before breakfast? Gnaw on carrot sticks when you're stuck for inspiration? What helps you reach toward the finish line?