Happy one-month-till-NaNoWriMo! This is a post I wrote for my former writing website last year.
Yes, guys, I did it. I wrote a novel in 30 days.
And you know what? It was much more manageable than I thought. Some days I would cruise along. Other days, especially near the end, it would be hard to generate enough material. I would try to get it done as early as I could. I usually get inspired in the evening, so I would often continue then as well. Nevertheless, I pulled through and ended up with something that resembles a novel. That’s still weird to say: I’ve written a novel! I am not a published writer, but a novice who writes for fun; most of my published things being in a literary magazine, Wattpad, fanfiction.net, or my blog. And I did it.
So what’s my advice? I don’t have anything be-all-end-all, but I thought I’d share just a few thoughts on my experience to help you see if it’s right for you.
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Tip 1: Get experience with larger projects.
In college, I learned that a good way to write a paper without being overwhelmed was to do a page a day- most of them were no more than 6 to 8 pages, so pretty simple. If I was inspired, I could write more, but I did at least one page a day. When I wrote my supah-long paper in senior year, I did two pages a day (and started early). I also wrote a novella, Twelve Days Till Dating. This took a long time, mostly because I procrastinated and wanted to wait to edit until spring so I could put it on Wattpad for Christmas in July. It made me look forward to doing other projects. I also realized that it was doable.
Tip 2: You don’t need a “reason.”
Much like hiking, you can just do it because it’s there. It’s also great motivation if you want to start writing and there’s a great community behind you. That alone is a great reason! More on the community…
Tip 3: Utilize your resources.
You can declare your novel on the official National Novel Writing Month website. You will then have access to forums filled with writers to talk to. You’ll also be able to connect to writers from your area, who may even have a Facebook group. Mine did meet-ups all the time, or gatherings where you could get together and write. I didn’t get to any of those, but hey, that’s just motivation to do this again! You can also shop from their store, earn badges for completing various tasks, and compete in “word sprint” challenges.
Speaking of community, social media can actually be great. Instagram is always a good place for writers to begin with. But in November, you can easily connect with and see what other writers are up to by searching for hashtags likes #nanowrimo or #writersofinstagram, among many more. I participated in a 30-day challenge that had the unique tag #nanothatwrimo so I could be connected to other writers doing the same challenge. I should mention that “challenges” consist of taking a photo of something, or posting a text graphic in response to the question. It was fun!
Tip 4: Don’t be afraid to plan. Actually, you should plan.
I’ve found a few great ways of planning. One is a chapter outline, or an outline of what should be accomplished in each chapter. Another is a scene-by-scene list. Of course you may deviate from this as you go, but they are a great start.
For a novel, you should at least do some planning. Knowing what you’re going to write about that day makes it so much easier, as is knowing who your characters are and what any plot twists are going to be–for me, the twist was the hardest part. If you don’t have any plan for a novel when you start, it’s going to be much harder for you. Once you’ve figured out the basics, all you have to do is write.
Tip 5: Write 1,667 words a day, no excuses, and try for more.
This is likely not going to be a problem for you if you breezed through papers in college. It really only takes 1-2 hours at absolute most if you keep at it. If you get inspired, don’t stop there. You never know when you’ll need to take a day off, or when something will pop up. I had a massive headache one day that prevented me from doing anything, but since I was ahead of schedule there was nothing for me to worry about. Keep in mind that Thanksgiving also falls in the same month as NaNoWriMo, so you’re probably looking at writing a novel in 29 days if you’re from the U.S., and that doesn’t count any surprise “off days” like mine.
You should really try for more than 50k. I had a word count mishap where I came up with 3 different word counts near the end…one in OneDrive, one in Word, and the other for the NaNoWriMo word counter. Just to be safe, write more! It turned out I would need almost 1,000 words on the last day rather than the 300 I was planning on.
Tip 6: Keep track of your writing.
I had a folder labeled “Seeking You” (my novel title) and used a one-document-per-day method, saving each one as you go. Seriously….SAVE SAVE SAVE! In more than one place! Use your computer, use Google Drive, use DropBox, and use Microsoft One Drive. Or use whatever you’d like. The more the better…even flash drives have been known to randomly stop working on me in the past. The NaNoWriMo website will not save your work. Then I entered the total on that day’s document into the NaNoWriMo word counter. (Sometimes it helped to have each document be one chapter, or half a chapter [so two days= 1 chapter], just to keep track of words. This of course can be changed in editing.)
You’ll also want to think of a method to keep track of word count. You could use a new document for each day of writing, and then add that word total to the rest of them, which is usually what I did. (Make sure you do a total count at the end of each day.) NaNoWriMo.org will do a total count for you if you use the word counter on your dashboard to enter the number of words you wrote that day. If you’re writing in one big document, or continuing in an existing one, separate that day’s writing from the rest by coloring that day’s words in a different color. Then highlight the colored text, count the words, and add it to your current total. This is why you should always find a good stopping point rather than leave your last sentence unfinished.
Tip 7: Remember it’s not the end of the world if you don’t win.
Many people don’t win, or finish the full 50k in November. That’s okay. The important thing is that you start a project, or told yourself you can do it, or whatever. Suit your goals to meet your needs.
Tip 8: If you have little going on in your life at the moment and/or considerable time in November, realize that this may be a good year to do it.
That would be me! My current job allows me considerable downtime; something I likely won’t have as much of in the future. It was a great place to get some writing done. How many people could say that?
Tip 9: Get it done as soon as possible.
Me personally, I get inspired at night and that’s when I churn out the most words. But what if I had plans one evening, or just didn’t feel like doing it one night? I tried to have writing be one of the first aspects of my day. Then it was done, and anything else I completed was a bonus and kept me ahead of schedule.
I have no idea what the next step even is. They say that NaNoWriMo is just the first step, but I feel that it is a big one! I do think that this won’t ever be published. Looking back, it may borrow from other novels a bit too much. Of course, I’d need someone to read it to be sure.
Wherever your writing takes you, be bold. Be fearless. Just write, even if it sounds ridiculous. Anybody can do it. Prose can be changed later. Or maybe you’ll look back in revision to see that it didn’t sound so terrible after all. Honestly, NaNoWriMo was just an idea lingering in my head. And then I started doing it, and it became much more real. And now look at me. I have a novel just waiting to be polished! Now that it’s done, the possibilities are endless. The hardest part is getting started.
Update in 2019:
My novel, Seeking You, has sadly been abandoned for the time being. I think I need to figure out how to tackle the editing process for larger projects, and the story itself just seemed messy.
Still, I’m very glad I did it, and it’s there should I want to return. Right now I’m working on a YA thriller and another twisty suspense story, both of which have more promise I think. Ultimately I would like to use NaNoWriMo to either start a children’s series, but either way I look forward to doing it again.