This year was the first time I had attempted to compete in NaNoWriMo. I’d heard about it before, and I’m sure most of you reading have too; write 50,000 words in 30 days.
Being my first time, I thought I would document the process and relay back how this NaNo-newbie handled things in the hope it may give some others the drive to take part next year.
Now with my usual writing style of fits and spurts, writing 50,000 words in 30 days seemed like something that was impossible, but I bit the bullet and thought ‘If other people can do, then so can I!’ Here’s a few things I’ve learnt from the experience which you might find useful if going for your first NaNoWriMo next year.
Here’s a little breakdown of the overall stats:
As you can see, my discipline did slip on occasions (which I really don’t recommend you let happen). Keep that willpower up!
I found that there’s an absolute slew of advice on the internet regarding NaNoWriMo, so I’ve distilled the advice down to a few points of what really helped me. Your mileage may vary.
- Plan your novel in advance.
Pansters and plotters are pretty familiar terms flying around writing forums. I’ve always been a pantser; I’d have a good idea of where things were going, but most of the time I let things develop organically, for better or worse.
This time, I planned in advance. I bought myself a notepad and spent October noting down what will happen in my novel, chapter by chapter. Now, this isn’t to say I stuck to it religiously – there are a number of scenes which fell out of the first draft, either because they didn’t flow well with the previous scene or they simply didn’t move any plot forward. The main thing that helped overall was having a guide of where to go next. I’d highly recommend this to avoid staring at that blank Word doc thinking ‘So what now?’
- Write more than the minimum amount where you can.
This is pretty self-explanatory. There are days where you just simply won’t have the drive or time to write. Whether it’s a shitty day at work, or a busy day with the family, I sometimes find that when it comes to the evening I’m simply to exhausted to write for the length of time I needed to reach target everyday. If you’re not used to writing every single day either, suddenly doing so can take its toll on your mental stamina too. As you can see from my progress chart above – there are a few days where I lose momentum. Don’t do this is possible! The catch-up days were a frantic blast of prose, and there were moments where I didn’t think I would be able to catch-up. It’s a downward spiral – so stay on top!
- Allow yourself to be a bit shit.
I mean, not literally. ‘Be realistic’ would probably be a better way of saying it, so don’t go writing gibberish for the sake of hitting that sacred 50,000 word count. You’ve got to get yourself into the mindset that this is a first draft. It’s the bare bones of your story, something to be lovingly tweaked to your hearts content all in good time. Once I got myself in that mindset, I found that I wasn’t hanging on certain sentences searching for that perfect word. I hammered everything out; if I couldn’t get the perfect word, then fuck it – I’d find it in the first round of edits (or the fifth…). Free yourself up, let the story flow rather than waiting for the perfect prose to strike.
- Kick your own ass.
Discipline with writing time seemed to be the most important element which I sometimes struggled with. There were several evenings where I came home from work and all I wanted to do was slouch on the sofa playing the Xbox (other consoles are available), or reading a book which was already written. Every time I got the urge, I had to slap my own wrist and tell myself ‘No – do some damn writing!’. This didn’t mean I didn’t do anything else, it just meant I had to ring-fence my writing time and ration some of my other leisure activities. As you can see on day 22 of the chart, I slipped, but I got myself back on track by kicking my own ass.
What NaNoWriMo broke down to for me was keeping a dedicated writing time each evening and making myself sit down to write no matter what. There is undoubtedly people who do this day after day anyway, and I applaud them for it – but for someone who sometimes loses themselves in other things, this was a learning process.
Sit your arse on a seat, and get those words pumped out. I’ll see you at the finish line next year.