For those of you who don’t know about NaNoWriMo, it’s an event that takes place in November every year. Hundreds of thousands of dedicated writers all over the world each pledge to write a rough draft of a novel (at least 50,000 words) in one month. That’s almost 1700 words per day: a serious commitment and an exhilarating one. I wrote my first Nano novel in 2009, starting at midnight November 1 in my pension in Znojmo, Czech Republic. I wrote all the next day on foggy train rides in South Moravia, the perfect mysterious setting for writing my tale.
I now have five Nano novels under my belt. It’s a great experience and I highly recommend it. Here are some things I’ve learned from NaNoWriMo that can apply to all writing, not just crazy novel-in-a-month challenges.
1) Have Concrete Goals and Record Your Progress. “Write a novel this month” doesn’t work as well as “Write 1700 words today.” During NaNoWriMo, I update my word count daily on Nano’s cool website so I can get a visual of how well I’m doing. It’s really motivational. You can create similar charts on your own, with spreadsheet graphics, other computer applications, or simple paper charts above your desk. The very act of physically marking off your progress (or realizing you haven’t done the work to allow you this satisfaction) really helps.
2) Band Together with Other Writers. In Nano, depending on where you live, you can join regional groups that host in-person planning sessions, parties, and write-ins throughout the month. Even if you don’t have an active regional group, there are virtual write-ins and word wards (where you compete to write the most words in a set time limit). NaNoWriMo forums are fantastic places to go for inspiration or to do research for your novel. Ask what arsenic poisoning feels like, or how much beer costs in Germany, and you’ll get answers. It’s amazing. In non-NaNoWriMO life, writers’ groups are just as important. I am and will be eternally gratefully to my writer’s critique groups, who not only help me become a better writer and catch my stupid typos, but who motivate me to write, write, write, so I can submit regularly.
3) Lock up your Inner Editor. When you’re trying to get a story down on paper, try not to re-read and edit as you go. It slows you down and may kill your inertia once you get going. I used to edit a lot as I went. Every time I sat down to write, I’d go back several page sand re-read and edit before I started writing. Sometimes I’d run out of time or creative energy and never get to the actual writing part. In Nano, if I wanted to reach 50,000+ words in 30 days, I couldn’t afford this, so I would open up my document, read maybe two paragraphs, and then start writing. And my rough draft wasn’t as rough at the end as I supposed it would be. Now I try to implement this “just get it down first” style of writing even when I’m not in a time crunch.
4) Plan Plenty of Time to Revise Later. My first NaNoWriMo novel is in print and available. I’m querying my second to agents. But my third, fourth, and fifth? They’re in the trunk, not completely finished and mostly unedited. What I’ve failed to do is commit as much (or more) time to polishing these novels as I did to writing the first drafts. They say, of course, that writing is 1/3 of the work and revising is 2/3. So plan for this and don’t let your drafts languish in Rough Draft Land.
So this year I’m not writing a novel during NaNoWriMo. Instead, I’m rewriting and revising a trunk novel—still in 30 days, still a huge challenge. And though I’m a little sad not to be writing something new, I’m excited about readying my old work for public eyes.
It’s not too late for you to start Nanowrimo:
If you want to read my first NaNoWriMo novel (on sale now in honor of Nano), here’s the Amazon link: Far-Knowing
Far-Knowing is also available at other major online bookstores.
Melinda Brasher loves visiting alternate worlds through books and exploring this world through travel. Check out her newest article on Go Nomad: “Hunting Mushrooms in Wallachia.” For some free short fiction, read “Stalked” on On the Premises or “A Learned Man” on Electric Spec.. Visit her online at melindabrasher.com