We’re approaching the end of October, and my skin seems to prickle with anticipation as I consider subjecting myself to another 30 days of literary abandon in the madhouse that is NaNoWriMo.
NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month, and the aim is to write 50,000 words in the month of November. That is roughly 1,667 words per day.
I’ve done NaNoWriMo almost every year since 2006, with various levels of commitment and success. My two published novels, Metro 7 and Carnifex, were both started during previous NaNoWriMos. Hopefully, you’ll find something in these tips and tricks to help you reach your lofty goal.
Find your local NaNoWriMo group
I am pretty sure that if it wasn’t for the BrisNano group, NaNoWriMo would never have been so much fun, and I would have run out of steam years ago. Crammed into the un-air-conditioned back of the Milton Coffee Club we form a conclave of literary mavericks who spend most of their time sharing ideas, drinking caffeinated productivity potions and trying not to sweat too much in the heat of the impending Queensland summer.
Some of my biggest writing breakthroughs have come at NaNoWriMo events, and I would highly recommend tracking down your local tribe. The best way to do this is by creating an account on the NaNoWriMo site and choosing your home region.
Know what the fuck you’re going to write
You can’t write a bloody novel without knowing what you’re going to write about. Well, you can. I’ve read a few novels that felt like that.
But maybe you shouldn’t.
You’ve got about a week to firm up whatever concept, character or situation you want to write about, so make the decision and commit to it. You do not want to find yourself thinking about the other cool story you could be writing while you’re waist-deep in the mire of your NaNoWriMo work-in-progress.
Figure out how the fuck you’re going to write it
Some writers out there are called pantsers, and they like to fly by the seat of their pants. They go into their books with nothing more than an idea, or a character, or a scenario, and somehow all the rest of it just falls out of their brainscape as they word-vomit it onto the page.
I can’t do this, at least not well, so I’m what they call a planner. If I go into NaNoWriMo without knowing the basic direction that I’m going, I end up getting distracted by random plot threads. You need to decide whether or not you’re going to wing it, or you’re going to set yourself a plan. If you’re going to plan, there is no time like the present.
Commit to your story
I’m not talking about asking your story to marry you, but you need to be ready to at least move in together and play house for a bit. You need to get to know your story. You need to romance it. How else are you going to figure out all of its intimate secrets? You can’t just flirt with your novel. You need to stay up late and peer into its soul.
Set a routine
You’ve got a busy life. So do I. But if you want to do this, you need to make the time to actually fucking do it. I’m balancing full-time work, being a part-time co-parent, exercising my fat arse into a mountain-climbing machine, writing a dark fantasy LitRPG trilogy, and also trying not to go completely fucking bonkers all at the same time.
Shit’s hard. I get it.
But that’s no excuse. Not if you really want this. Sorry. It’s up to you to figure out how you’re going to fit the 1,667 words you need to write each and every day into your routine. Set yourself a schedule and stick to it. For me? I’m using my double 40-minute train ride each day to do a huge chunk of words. I can usually swipe-type about 800-1k words per trip, so that’ll do nicely.
Schedule some rest days
This flies right in the face of exactly what I said above, doesn’t it? Write your 1,667 words every bloody day. Except there are going to be some days where you just won’t be able to do that. So you need to get ahead of the schedule. Pull some double days. Write an extra couple of hundred words a day to give yourself a buffer for when you inevitably say fuck it and watch Netflix all night. Or, you need to actually go and do social things like a normal well-adjusted human.
We, humans, are fallible. Prepare for it, and you won’t feel as bad when your commitment inevitably wavers.
Find Your Fire
Writing an entire novel is a hard slog. Our brains are wired to reinforce behaviours that make our naturally-occurring happy-chems flow, but when you’re doing a protracted thing like writing a novel you’re not generally engaging with behaviours that make your brain happy. Somehow, you have to ignite the fire to keep you going through those days where your mind can only think of the things you’d rather be doing. Trust me, you don’t need to vacuum as often as your brain is insisting.
For me, I use a couple of different things as motivation. Firstly, every minute I spend writing now is an investment in my future. I’ve been working for the same employer since I was 16, and now I’m 32. I’ve been chipping away at the dream of being a full-time writer for years, and one day, my hard work is going to pay off.
Secondly, I use my family as motivation. Every bit of work I put in now is going to mean more time I can spend with them once I can transition to writing full-time. That’s my fuel that lights my fire – soul enrichment, and being able to spend more time with my family.
Get. It. Done.
If you’re anything like I used to be, you’d start more projects than you’d finish. You’d be overwhelmed either with the next big shiny idea, or all of the reasons your current project is going to fail. This is a completely normal part of being a neurotic creative who needs constant reassurance that they’re not fucking everything up.
You’re not fucking everything up. Everyone goes through this. The difference between professional writers and amateur writers is that when a professional has a bad day, they still knuckle down and get the work done. Amateurs bemoan the muse and her fickle attention, but the professional sits the fuck down and gets it fucking done.
When I was writing Carnifex I was going through a lot of mental health shit and a huge amount of stress. I had so many bad days that I regularly thought about throwing in the towel.
You know what happened when I sat down to start editing the damned manuscript? I couldn’t tell the pages I wrote on the bad days from the pages I wrote on the good days. Get. It. Done.
Perfection is a myth
Our planet is absolutely perfect for humans, isn’t it? It has absolutely everything that we need to survive, thrive, and strive. But if a great bloody asteroid hadn’t slammed into the Yucatan peninsula 65 million years ago, the oxygen density of our atmosphere would be toxic to us.
Perfection is perception, and perception is both subjective and flawed. There is no such thing as a perfect novel, so put that idea right in the fucking bin. There are shit novels, good novels, great novels and excellent novels. The only difference between them is the amount of work that the writer has put in. Work on writing a great novel, and you might just write an excellent one.
What makes an excellent novel will be different to you than what I might consider an excellent novel. You’re never going to make everyone happy, so don’t even try.
You make the rules
Back when I first started NaNoWriMo there were some pretty rigid rules that you weren’t supposed to deviate from.
You must write 50,000 words during the month of November.
You must start a new project at the beginning of November.
Working on an existing project was not allowed!
People who rejected those rules were always around, calling themselves NaNo Rebels, and some NaNoWriMo participants were precious about it.
These days, it’s anything goes. Do you only want to write 10k words in November? Sure, set that as your personal target! Want to work on an already existing project and add your word count from that? Sure! Set your own achievable goals, but always push yourself.
After all, that’s why you’re doing this, right? If you were just writing, you could do it any time of year.
That’s all from me, folks. Now, over to you! Are you a first time NaNoWriMo participant? Or a seasoned veteran? Sound off in the comments below with your best tips, or a little bit about what you’re writing.
You can always add me as a NaNoWriMo writing buddy.
See you all in November in the madhouse!
One thought on “NaNoWriMo Boot Camp”
Fantastic notes. Love the tough love approach. Write hard or die!
You have to push as hard as you can, but remember, the month is a marathon, not a sprint. It only takes a few hours to write your daily total, take some of the rest of your day to rest up and refill the creative well. Spend time with the family, walk the dog, watch a movie, do whatever it takes to bring you back fresh the next day.