It’s November again, and that means putting life on hold in order to attempt to pen a 50,000 word novel. For me, last year was a lesson in humility. I thought I could wing it, thought I’d have no problem being inspired, that the words would just pour out of their own volition. All I needed was a rough idea, a setting, bits of a plot, and the rest would come over the course of the month. I was so disgustingly wrong. It was one of the hardest things I have probably ever done. I was only able to hit around 16,000 words, and I was incredibly disappointed. Sure, that’s a lot of words in itself, but it’s not even halfway to the goal. Needless to say I really beat myself up, I hated everything I had written, and I questioned my own creativity and talent (and life). So to punish myself for my failure, I did what any normal person would: try and do it again!
So here I am, day 11, and I’m pretty much right on track to the goal. The exciting part? I’ve already passed last years word count. Do I like everything I’ve written? No. Will I use it all in the final product? Probably not. But at least I have something to work with, and that’s the point of NaNo. It’s all about just getting words down, get them out of your head so you can work with them later.
Since I’m having some more success this time around (hope I’m not jinxing it), I wanted to share some tips I’ve picked up during this experience. These are things I learned exclusively from NaNo, not from college (that’s a whole other post). First, I couldn’t be more of an advocate for Scrivener. It is beyond useful when writing something of this volume. Word just doesn’t cut it. If you haven’t tried it yet, you need to. There’s no reason not to, as they provide a free trial. You can even buy it after NaNo for a discounted price (more discounted if you win). So stop reading this and go install it (seriously). http://www.literatureandlatte.com/nanowrimo.php
1. Write out of order
This is perhaps the best advice I can give. People think you have to write from beginning, middle, to end, but that couldn’t be more untrue. Limiting yourself for where you’re going to start is the number one way to get stuck. Maybe it’s due to my schooling, but I think of my stories in terms of scenes. I visualize something, and then I can describe it. Do you think these scenes come to me in order? Hell no. They appear out of nowhere, and then I have to jerry-rig some kind of writing utensil to get them down before I forget, (tip 1.1: always carry a notebook). This is where Scirvener comes in handy. You can create entirely new documents for your various scenes, and then move them around later.
2. Pre-write as much as possible
This is a touchy subject. Some people think you should just let it come to you, that when you sit down to write, your imagination and creativity will flow out through your fingers. Others will tell you that proper planning will go a long way. Because of my experience last year, I am definitely part of the latter group. Outline, take notes, come up with questions, research, do as much as possible. That way if you get stuck at any point, you can go back to your pre-writing and get inspiration from that. Is there a scene you haven’t written yet that was on your list? Is there a character you forgot about? This could add up to a whole day’s worth of writing, and all from a sentence you wrote down weeks ago.
3. Find inspiration
This goes along with pre-writing, but find visible inspiration if you can. I find this particularly useful when describing settings, or even characters. Having a physical example to use is a great place to start with description, and then you can let your imagination go from there. This is another way that Scrivener is invaluable. You can create whole documents of just your research, and not just words, but pictures as well. Then you can have 2 documents open, the picture and then the document you’re writing.
4. Use placeholders
Sometimes I’m writing and I come to a halt because of I can’t think of a name for something. Don’t let this kind of thing stop you; put in a placeholder. You can use symbols, like # or * to denote where you need to go back to later (to research more, come up with a plot element, whatever), or use capitals for placeholder names so they stand out. For example, I haven’t come up with my main character’s names yet, (annoying, I know). So far I’m writing about the adventures of GIRLNAME and GUYNAME. If I hadn’t done this, I would have stopped in the middle of my first paragraph and taken valuable time to research a name, time I needed to get my word count. Names are important, but you can come up with them later, (same with titles).
5. Avoid distractions
This is probably the most obvious, and hardest, goal to achieve, especially if you’re like me and have a one-bedroom apartment with a roommate. I have to have silence when I write, so having someone across from me screaming into their headset is not conducive to writing 1,667 words a day. If you write with music, just put your headphones on and go, (and know that I’m totally jealous of you). Try to write at times you know you’ll be alone. Get chores and errands done first so you can have time to write the rest of the day, with nothing else on your mind. Keep two browsers open: One for tabs pertaining to writing (things like the NaNo site, thesaurus.com, wikipedia, etc), and have one browser for everything distraction related. Only let yourself open that browser when you’ve reached a word goal. Also, try not to write blog posts when you should be writing, (oops).
But the best advice? Just do it. Even if you write 500 words, that’s 500 more than you started with. I didn’t win last year, but I did write 16,000 words, and that’s 16,000 more than I would have had if I hadn’t tried at all. Even 11 days in, it’s not too late to sign up. And hey, there’s always next year. http://nanowrimo.org