Words,  Writing Advice

How to Prep and Survive NaNoWriMo

I’m a WriMo, as in NaNoWriMo.

It’s a term for those who participate in the annual November National Novel Writing Month. We are WriMos, not to be confused with WiNos (or could we?). I embark on my 7th year of NaNoWriMo in hopes to complete at least one of these unfinished novels collecting dust on my hard drive.

I am not scared (Liar. My pants ARE on fire.) I have learned that the only thing that can stop me from finishing is me. I am fantastic at getting in my own way. I assure you of this. So, what do I do for prep?

My quick answer would be nothing, but that’s not really correct. I have to prepare mentally, and I have to remind my family that I am going into NaNo mode, which means when the MS Word or Google Doc is up, unless you’re dying (or bringing me coffee), leave me alone. Mommy has checked out for the duration…

And NaNoWriMo starts in a little over a month!!

That’s right. It‘ll be here sooner than you expect. It will sneak up on you like an ill-intentioned shadow creeper, and since I don’t want you to start a 50k run on words alone, I want to help you prepare. The biggest step is choosing what to write.

How to Prep For NaNoWriMo

So often, NaNo snuck up on me. I would think about it all summer, and when a story started getting longer and longer, I ‘d plan to complete it for NaNo.  If it’s not something that I think I can get at least 50K out of, then I move on to my unfinished WIP pile. Boy is that a task I still have to complete! I have so many to choose from, that’s pretty much an impossible task too.

Choose your story

I’ll critique and plot, in my head of course, in an attempt to either develop one of those billion ideas I have scattered everywhere or give some necessary completion to one of the characters always chattering in my brain.

I may even come up with something new, but will it make a 50,000-word story? I will admit that going from being a short story writer by habit to trying to stretch it into a 50,000-word novel is a task, especially as I am diehard pantser and loathe change. I have years of NaNoWriMo under my belt, most of which I won, should I choose to proceed with this year’s challenge, I’m confident something will force itself to the forefront on my imagination. (update! It did. I decided to use NaNo to complete the second book in the Destiny Defined series, Catching Dragons.)

Despite all the unfinished NaNo projects collecting dust in their folders, and the first year project still needing its companion stories finished (yes, still!)… I’ll dive in, full mode, trying to put this story together. I lay it out in PMs with my writing partner or my writing group (you know because unicorns have excellent imaginations!), bouncing ideas off other equally creative brains. A plan formulates that is at least further along in my head than last year’s project was. And then…

Sort through your ideas

My muse will misbehave and dangle tasty new tidbits of ideas in front of me, forcing me to jot the ideas down on. Now, I’m questioning… Should I do this new idea or should I stick with the one I already have?

I may still not be sure of the answer when I meet that blank page on day one, but I am ready to take on NaNoWriMo regardless.

Be prepared

For those of you taking on NaNo with me this year, remember it’s really simple:

  1. Set aside a block of time, the same time every day, to write. Turn off all distractions and set your cellphone to silent.
  2. Have any “supplies” handy—fill your glass; bring a snack, whatever keeps you going—before you start writing, so neither thirst or an angry tummy distract you.
  3. If you must read what you’ve already written to keep going, resist the urge to edit. There will be time for editing later. The purpose of this project is to get the story down, even if it doesn’t flow together as smoothly as you want.
  4. Just write. Set a goal on the number of words you want to write, and keep going until you complete it. And, don’t stop just because you meet your word count. If you’ve still got words in you, put them on the page.
  5. Before you leave your project, start the next scene, even if it’s just a sentence or two. This will save you time going back to read.
  6. Reach out to your NaNo buddies through messages on the site or twitter using the hashtag #NaNoWriMo. Help, motivation, is only a click away. You can follow along with the discussions too. Reach out to your community for help, support, word sprints, and more.
  7. Download the free trial of Scrivener from the NaNo site. Take the day today to get to know it. I hear it’s wonderful for keeping notes and storing information for scenes you will write later in your story.
  8. Relax. It’s only as hard as you make it. You’re a writer. You have the words in you. You can do this.

Survival necessities

Now that you’ve learned how to prepare, let me give you some tips on how I manage to survive NaNo year after year, even if I don’t meet the 50,000 word goal.

Tip #1: Don’t stress

No, I’m not insane, and yes, I know you already are. But stop. You’re not going to burn in writer’s hell forever if you don’t meet the 50K mark, I promise. That only happens when you misuse ‘you’re’ (ha!) pronouns and overflow on adjectives. Seriously.

Set your goal, do your best to write every day as much as you can. Some days you will exceed the suggested word count, and some days you won’t. Don’t let that status grid put excess pressure on you. It’s only a graph. It’s not like they put it there purposely to overwhelm you (or maybe they did. It always gets me in the end). Just do what you can with what you can, as often as you can. That 50k goal is just a number. Even if you don’t meet it, you still win. You wrote, and your story grew. That’s all that really matters.

Tip #2: Ignore the word count stats graph.

Really. In fact, I suggest you only update your word count once or twice a week. Minimize the stress and give the pressure a good ol’ kick in the rear. Depending on the program you are using, you can keep your own word count going. It’s a defeatist move to add your word count and have the stupid thing tell you “at this rate you’ll be done by Christmas.” Yeah, whatever. At least it gets done, right? That’s the main point of NaNo. All the rest is just decoration.

Tip #3: Engage in writing sprints.

If you are on Twitter, @nanowrimo does quite a bit of sprinting throughout the day to help people overcome any blocks keeping them from writing. Sprints are useful because you write for a set amount of time, just writing, not fixing mistakes, ignoring the red squiggles under words, until the time frame is up, then you share with the others how many words you finished. Don’t be dismayed if your word count isn’t as high as others. It’s not a race, just a focus on writing. Take a short break and come back to your project. Try another sprint or do it on your own. I’m always amazed by how time disappears while in writing mode.

A recent tip I just learned (and you may already know): Set up a long series of applicable music on YouTube and let that be your timer. I did that the other day with horror music when I needed to finish a short story. Within 52 minutes, I had added 2,000 words. 2,000 words is almost the total goal!

Tip #4: Start the next scene before you walk away.

Keep your momentum going. If you start the next scene before you walk away, when you return, you’ll be able to pick up where you left off without much trouble. I’ll explain using a sample from my own work, an unfinished story I call “Rolling in the Deep”.

Here is the ending of the last scene I wrote:

“You asked earlier what they wanted in exchange for helping us. This is what they want.” The captain picked up the crying child and cradled her in his arms. “They want us to raise her, protect her. She must have a great destiny ahead of her. We need to go ashore. The queen gave us a bounty to ensure we found the child.”

“…And that’s how the pirates were defeated, at least according to the captain. You showed up at the church right after. It wasn’t until yesterday that I remembered this and put it all together.” Father Brown finished.

Since I have a tendency to walk away and get sidetracked, I added the beginning of the next scene:

Celia suppressed the laugh that rose from her belly. She did not believe for one moment that he conveniently happened to remember this story. And, while Father Brown did not come out and state it, she understood what he intimated. The very idea that she came from the ocean, that there were people living in the ocean, sounded preposterous to her. Yet, she could not deny her dreams. Her hands rose instinctively to her throat. Her soft, unmarred skin met her fingertips. Her human legs stretched out in front of her without bidding.

This may not mean anything to you, but for me, it always brings me back into the story, and I am able to remember where I left off and stay following the direction of the story. This is probably the most important tip I can give you other than to “Just Write.”

My second year of NaNo, I took on a little project that twisted and turned with sci-fi, paranormal, and etc aspects. The story itself moved along quite well, but at the end of the month when I hit that 50,000 word mark, I was so exhausted and burned out, I stopped, even though the story wasn’t finished. And that brings me to the next tip…

Tip #5: Finish the story

Your story may not end at 50,000 words. Honestly, that’s just a mark. Most full length novels are closer to 80,000 or 100,000 words. Don’t make the same mistake I did, dropping the story my second year and walking away. Life gets busy (at least for me) and when I finally returned, I had completely forgotten where it was going. These 50,000 words are still floating around in my files waiting for inspiration. I’m bummed. So, take a break, write a short piece of flash or two, then return to your story, working on it each time you write (even if it’s just 10 minutes a day) until it’s complete. At that point, you should put it aside for a short while (a couple weeks to a month) before returning to it so it’s fresh and you’ll catch more errors.

#NaNoWriMo tip: take a break, #write a short piece of flash or two, then return to your #story. Click To Tweet

Tip #6: Edit as you go

I know, I know. They say not to do this, but honestly, do you really want to spend all that time fixing stupid little typos and such? I don’t. Now, to be clear, I am not talking about full on editing where you cut this scene or kill this character. I’m referring to all those squiggly red and blue lines that pop up while you are typing.  I mean if you are anything like me, I’m confident your page is filled with them. My fingers tend to move faster than my brain can think, and it gets me in trouble quite often.

Just think of it in this way: Remember when you were a teenager and your mom told you to clean your room? You always did the barest minimum to make it look clean without actually cleaning it. You stuff all the clothes in the closet and under the bed, pile all those half written chapters and penciled character sketches on a heap on your desk. Just enough to make the floor visible. Right? (Be honest. We all know you did this, too. It’s a rite of passage.)

So in that sense, all you’re doing is cleaning up the edges, dotting your t’s and crossing your i’s, fixing all those your and you’re, their and there, adding that missing letter or i before e except after c…

Tip #7: Reward yourself

This is probably the most important motivational tip I can give you. Writing consistently is a big deal. Whether you meet that 50k word count or not, your story is further along today than it was the day you started. Reward yourself daily. Set up small rewards for every self established word count you meet. Week 2 and 3 seem longer than they really are, the motivation is weak, and you will need a little something to boost your spirits. Reward yourself.

Tip #8: Just write

Some days the words will struggle for release. This is normal, it happens to everyone (even Stephen King!). Don’t get discouraged. Open a blank page and just spill everything that’s in your head and write. Just write. Write til your mind is clear, or the time limit is up. These “braindumps” are excellent exercises to keep your creativity in shape. You might even find a jewel or two within those words to inspire you.

I know you’ll find lots of tips for prepping for and conquering the NaNoWriMo beast. These are mine. I am by all intents and purposes 100% a pantser (link to your pantser post). This is what works for me. These might work for you, and they might not.

So tell me, what’s your NaNoWriMo process? What tricks work for you?

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