I hope you find yourself having a little more fun than I am on this little holiday. I have a class tonight that I will need to attend, but before that I actually plan to have an early “Pre-NaNoWriMo Kick-Off Party” with my writing buddy between 4:30 p.m. when she gets home from work and 6:50 p.m. which is literally the latest I can wait before I need to dash off to class. We plan to do writing sprints over Skype and basically just get a headstart on NaNoWriMo because we’re old-timers now and can’t stay up till midnight to start writing. (Well, I could. But I won’t want to!)
I’m so excited she’s decided to participate this year, even though she’s more on the revising side of writing right now. We’re going to try to Skype every Tuesday, Thursday, and one weekend day each week and be accountable to ourselves to reach our respective goals.
As I’ve been horrible about blogging this past month, I did want to make sure to do a little post that hopefully you will find helpful if you’ve decided to participate in NaNoWriMo this year. If you haven’t heard of it, basically the goal is to write 50,000 words by the end of the month (here’s a LINK to the official website where you can learn more and make an account, and/or ADD ME as a buddy). It’s not to late to decide to participate if you haven’t already! It’s low risk (no one will publicly shame you if you don’t win) and offers high rewards (in the form of a novel draft).
I’ve managed to condense my most important tips for surviving and winning NaNoWriMo into three points listed below. (I also provide a bonus tip for finding inspiration down below).
1. Plan Ahead and Be Flexible
Writing 50,000 words in one month may be a massive undertaking if you are not in the regular habit of writing. I’ve found the more you practice, the faster you will become. But there’s still a learning curve as you figure out how to get yourself in the writing mindset, by which I mean the mindset you need to be in see your world and characters and know where you want to take them. For me this usually involves reacquainting myself with what I’ve written previously or my story notes. I don’t have the luxury of thinking about my story all day, so I personally need to account for time spent warming up to write when I sit down to write.
Most of us don’t have all day to think about and write our stories. You, like me, may be a student or have full-time job you can’t afford to lose or even be a parent. Life becomes a juggling act during NaNoWriMo, so I recommend that you make lists or do whatever equivalent to that to make sure you don’t let any of your other commitments fall slack or by the wayside. I have personally have a calendar with major deadlines and trips so that I can visualize the month. And every week, actually more like everyday, I make time to write a to-do list of all the homework and chores I want to get done. I don’t always get everything on my to-do list done, but I often plan ahead so that there’s time later for tasks that can flow onto the next day. So remember to plan ahead and be flexible.
2. Know Where You Want to Go (Plot-Wise)
Whether you are a plotter or a pantser, I think anyone who’s serious about writing can only benefit by knowing where a scene or the whole story more broadly speaking needs to end up. I used to be a big-time panster, so I would plot a little as I went but never feel the need to stick strictly to my plans. The only real guide in my head, if you can call it a guide, was a basic idea of when a plot turn needed to happen. I don’t really recommend this method if you want to write something good, something that might one day be publishable.
Instead I would recommend having at least 5–7 major scenes planned for your story (or whatever makes sense for the size of story you’re shooting for). Because if you have these scenes in mind then you’re major task is then just to figure out how to best connect them, and that might be a good guide which still allows you to discover the story along the way (à la pantser). Along the same lines, having at least the vaguest idea of where a scene needs to go before you start writing each day could also help keep your story from spiraling out of control.
3. Set Aside “You” Time
Writing is supposed to be fun, so you don’t want to end up hating it or life in general by the end of the month because you’ve burned out. Balance your time for writing with time for other things, like homework, chores, and exercise. You may find yourself actually wanting to do homework and chores when you’re supposed to be writing, and vice versa so as long as you’re being productive and remember to balance everything out by the end of the day or week, you shouldn’t need to feel guilty while working on anything.
Exercise can be really good for stimulating your mind as well as your body, so I strongly recommend it, even if it’s not something you regularly do. It’s not that hard to add some leisurely walks to your daily routine, and you may even find walking around might give you some new story ideas. If you’re like me and don’t like to feel like you’re working out, I recommend something like Pokémon Go to distract you. Audiobooks are also a great idea if you find you’re reading suffering during NaNoWriMo. In addition to being good for you, exercise may also make you feel better about yourself so I can’t recommend it highly enough.
Other than reading or immersing myself in other forms of storytelling (i.e. TV or film), I often feel most inspired when I find writing advice and tips from other writers. Don’t let yourself spend too much time searching for stuff by your favorite author, especially if you’ve never done this before, but I would say if you’re feeling low and wondering if you have what it takes, spend some time looking to the words of wisdom on writing process from other writers who are doing what you want to do.
If you’ve read (and liked) the Lunar Chronicles, Marissa Meyer’s 9 Steps from Idea to Finished series might be of interest to you. V.E. Schwab also often blogs about writing and I enjoy reading her honest posts as she works on her novels.