Oh, yes, it’s that time of year again. That month when I completely fall off the face of the earth IRL, but inversely become more active on social media because I’m compulsively distracting myself from THE EPIC WRITING CRUSADE known as National Novel Writing Month.
(In brief, it’s a challenge to write 50,000 words of a novel in the 30 days of November. There are no tangible prizes, but you do win at life.)
I’ve participated the past 3 years, but I only reached the goal in one of those – resulting in the first draft of The Thief. (#selffive) This year I’m going to use this bad boy to bang out the alpha draft of book 2, The Dragon! Yes, I am!
Accordingly, I thought I’d share some tips for preparing your waking world for the facemelting joyous stressfest that is a noveling November. I may not have mastered these, but I am getting better. Marginally.
- Clean your house/apartment/bunk/spaceworthy Winnebago. Put up the laundry on your bed, sweep the cat hair out of your keyboard. Ain’t nobody got no time for that tomfoolery when there are triple negatives to type and fictional lives to destroy.
- Stock the pantry with quick-to-make foods. Learn to love your crock pot and your microwave, or become BFFs with the Wendy’s drive thru cashier. Forget your fancy diet of hand-rolled sweet potato gnocchi and leave the braising to the professionals. You will be feasting on instant mashed potatoes and the blood of your enemies. Or bubblegum romance. Depends on your genre.
- Warn people. Your friends, your family, your coworkers, your fish. Let them know you’re about to get extremely anti-social, and a lot neurotic over the next month. Tell them, “It’s not you, it’s me, and the people living inside my head.” They might not be terribly surprised. I mean, you’re talking to your fish. Getting the support of those you live with can be an enormous help. Kindly request the consideration of your partner/roommates/offspring, explaining how important this is to you. They might make you hot chocolate during a bad day, if you’re lucky.
- Get plotting. Your mileage may vary based on your writing style. Some people go all-out, detailing every scene, stack of script-style index cards ready for every move their characters make. If you’re this type, you really should start plotting much sooner than a week out. If you’re more like me, a “pantser,” a week is plenty of time to sneeze out a skeleton plot. At minimum, hit the high points, like “who the heck is in this book?” “where/when the heck is this set?” “what the heck is at stake?” Maybe jot down a major motivation for each major character, and drum up some backstory for each. This may change as you spew terrible ideas over the next thirty days, but it’s very helpful to have a starting point. Spend this next week thinking about where you think the story is going, but save the actual writing of scenes for November 1st.
- Build your nest. WHERE you write has an enormous impact on your success. And like Indiana Jones in the Last Crusade, you must choose wisely. The Grail was the cup of a carpenter – your nest is the nest of a writer. It should fit your purpose. Find a place that gives you focus, that best helps you empty your head of things that aren’t the kickass story you’re beating into submission. I’m saying nest, because you may very well not write at a desk. I generally don’t. I have two nests, one in the back corner of a local chain coffeehouse (take my seat at your peril), and one on the second floor of the public library. My own house has too many distractions – video games, wall of DVDs, overly-friendly cat. You may find it easier to shut yourself in an office, or hunker down in your bed with a laptop and a cuppa Earl Grey. Regardless of where you write best, this next step goes hand-in-hand:
- Remove distractions. Put the XBox in the closet. Throw a sheet over your Sandman collection. Break up with your girlfriend. (Just kidding. Maybe.) You may even consider going social-media silent for the month, if you’ve got more fortitude than I. (I take too much comfort from other wrimos on Twitter during the campaign.) That may be too far, but I would actually recommend turning off your internet connection during the hours you’re writing. Many professional writers do this. A little procrastination is soothing. A lot of procrastination defeats the purpose of the challenge. Most of us (myself included) have great difficulty banging out 1,667 words a day, especially after 8 hours of work. The less tempted you are to go re-watch New Girl the better.
- Schedule time for conquest. Planner or pantser, this is vital. The whole point of NaNoWriMo is forcing yourself to make time for applying fingers to keys/pencil to paper. This might be an easy step for those who are able to arrange their own schedules. If you are one of these, congratulations, and also, I hate you. (No, I don’t. Just use your powers for good, alright?) For the rest of us – people with full time jobs, school workloads, and/or child-rearing responsibilities – this can be the most difficult part of the process. Set aside time every day to be awesome. It’s only one month. Skip the gym or the dungeon raid. We’re talking about true greatness here. It’s worth it.
- Get ready for how awful your writing is going to be. Total, utter crap. Give in to it. Own it. I’m usually a perfectionist with my sentences – I agonize over each word choice. I’m here to tell you, November is not the time for that. Deal with it in December. Used “hollow” three times in the same sentence? Big deal. That’s a job for your thesaurus in a month. November doesn’t care how pretty your words look, or how varied your adjectives, only how many of them there are. November is not your Creative Writing 401 teacher. It’s not even your freshman comp teacher. It’s your fifth grade teacher looking less for what you did on summer vacation than they are for your ability fill a page with something that looks mostly like English. 50,000 words in 30 days is approximately 1,667 words a day. That’s a little more than the length of this post. When you look at it in those terms, it’s not quite so terrifying.
- Reward yourself for how awesome you are. Pick out milestones during the month and celebrate them! (I hear Thor 2 is out on the 8th. Yum.) Go out for real food. Give yourself some M&Ms for surpassing your daily quota. Take a bath with a glass of cognac. Go outside and breathe real air for awhile. Air is important, apparently.
- Sign up at the NaNoWriMo site! It’s totally free, and chock-full of great pep talks from published authors, message boards where you can commiserate and brainstorm with fellow November warriors, and my personal favorite, a word count tracker to help chart your progress and keep you accountable to your noble goal. Feel free to friend me there. I’m ainelen. (And I posted a preview except from The Dragon ^_^)
Overwhelmed yet? Don’t be. It’s really only as serious as you want it to be. If you even write a couple thousand words during this month, well, that’s a couple thousand words you didn’t have before, so the experience is still a success.
Onward, noveling compatriots. Go forth and conquer. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a house to clean, a DVD collection to hide, and a plot to reshuffle. (I accept support in the form of sushi and/or wine.)
/cast iPod [Daft Punk – Tron soundtrack]
I find the NaNoWriMo subreddit to be more useful than the NaNo site itself. Also you find pretty much nothing but encouragement on there, unlike, well… most of the rest of Reddit.
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