November is like early Christmas for many writers, because those thirty days are set aside as National Novel Writing Month–or NaNoWriMo, for short. Participants challenge themselves to write a complete, rough draft novel of 50,000 words between the first and thirtieth of November. NaNoWriMo beckons many writers and would-be novelists with thoughts of winning like sirens on exotic far-away beaches. They start using words like novelling, pantsing, plotting, and even plantsing. Why? Not for fame or riches–though I doubt anyone would turn those down–but the pure, joyful, adrenaline-fuelled experience of writing to meet a massively intimidating deadline. Oh, and of course, those all-important bragging rights.
With this in mind, I thought I’d share some of the strategies I’ve used to win in the past. And while I will be rebelling with a poetry collection this year, hopefully some of these tips will help you reach your November goals.
- Planning Your Time
If you write steadily, you need to write a minimum of 1,667 words each day in November to win. But let’s face it; things happen. Life happens. You will have days that you just can’t find the time or the energy, you might have to put writing on hold for a few days during Thanksgiving and Black Friday, and other obligations will happen. That’s why it’s important to plan for days you won’t be able to meet your daily writing quota.
The answer is simple. Plan to write a little more on your on-days so you have permission to slack a little on your off- days. For example, I know that it’s much harder for me to write on weekends than weekdays. So I plan a five day writing week, for four weeks, with a daily goal of 2,500. So I write 12,500 in week one; 25,000 words by the end of week two; 37,500 by the end of week three; and 50,000 by the end of week four. By giving myself daily and weekly goals, if I miss a day or get behind in my daily goals, odds are I will still be on schedule for the weekly goals. Plus, the first week is when people are filled with adrenaline and enthusiasm, so it’s easy to create a buffer for later on.
Another thing to consider is when you are going to write; saying you don’t have time isn’t really an option. Most people have time. They make the time for what they think is important. Sure, you might be really tired from work and want to just sit and watch tv, but couldn’t you use fifteen minutes of that time to do a word sprint? What about writing during your lunch break for ten minutes on your phone? If it’s important to you, you’ll find time. If it’s not, you won’t. It’s that simple. Remember, you are going for quantity of words over quality. I usually do fifteen minute sprints several times a day until I hit my goal.
- DO NOT EDIT.
Let me repeat that, because it’s important.
DO NOT EDIT.
Editing slows you down and keeps you from adding words. What’s worse, it usually means you are SUBTRACTING words from your total word count. Lock your inner editor in a closet for the month with a nice supply of canned goods and cookies, then forget about him! Here are a few tricks to help.
When you come across a scene where you are stuck, insert a placeholder instead. Put in an unusual word (like scrumpdillyicious) that you can search for in the document later–or a highlighted and ALL-CAPS notation to catch your eye–when December comes. That way, you can find your placeholder easily when you do edit. Plus, the extra nice thing about doing the ALL-CAPS notation (LIKE THIS), is that it still counts toward your word goal!
Now, I know this post is about preparing BEFORE November, not what you do during the month. So here is where it’s relevant to October’s preparation: create a loose outline this month with one-sentence chapter summaries that you can use as chapter HEADINGS in November. Not only does it help keep you on goal for each chapter, but it allows you to add to your novel wordcount without technically cheating. Sweet, right? I usually just copy and paste them in as my chapter headings, then fill out what’s underneath for my daily goals.
- Writing Tools and Delayed Gratification
Whether you write with a computer, a phone, or just a pad and pencil, it’s important to always have tools handy to write whenever you get a chance; all those stolen minutes add up. When you are waiting in a long line at the grocery store, you can write on your phone or in a notebook. Taking a ten minute break at work? Write a few lines. Hell, if you use Twitter and post on forums, those are words you could have written on your actual novel! I’m not saying don’t tweet. I’m saying, don’t tweet until you have met your goal, even if it’s just a mini-writing goal like 250-words before lunchtime.
I use this technique to meet mini-goals each day until I complete my daily goal. I can’t check my email until I’ve written at least another 250 words; I can’t have lunch until I’ve hit 500; I can’t watch tv until I’ve hit 750. You get the picture.
- Eliminate Other Writing Goals during November, if possible.
Part of the magic of November is that you are pouring all your creative writing energy into a single project, so don’t divide that energy between projects unless you have no choice. If you are a blogger like me, you can schedule blog posts ahead of time, so you don’t have to stop writing on your novel to write on your blog. If you post on twitter, you can schedule tweets ahead of time using FutureTweets.com. For example, I post a helpful vegan tip each day under the hashtag #dailyvegantip, so I just schedule those ahead of time.
- Brag. A LOT.
Yes, you are attempting something incredible, and just the fact that you are trying says awesome things about you. But that’s not the reason I’m suggesting you brag about writing a 50,000 word rough draft novel. I’m not suggesting you brag about the attempt, but brag about how you are going to do it, all the things you will do when you have completed your masterpiece, and so on. Why? Because if you don’t finish after shooting your mouth off that much, it will be a huge embarrassment. And embarrassment is a great motivator. Basically, back yourself into a corner so you have no choice but to write your way out of it. It works! At least, it’s worked for me in the past.
- Listen to podcasts
I recently discovered a podcast called NaNoWriPod, that you can download onto a podcatcher and listen to while driving your car or running or eating cookies. There are 39 episodes that you can listen to over the course of thirty days. I have not listened to it as of the date I’m writing this, but I’m looking forward to it. The NaNoWriMo site used to have an official podcast, but now I just find other ones to motivate myself. Another good podcast is Writing Excuses–“Fifteen minutes long, because you’re in a hurry, and we’re not the smart.”
And those, dear readers, are my October strategies. Use them in good health. Have a safe and fun Halloween, and don’t forget what true terror is–a missed deadline. Happy Novelling!*
You may also download the latest installment of my podcast, My Writing Niche 2.0 -Episode 1: Welcome to NaNoWriMo 2016. DOWNLOAD HERE.