Monday, October 21, 2013

Doing NaNoWriMo? Some tips for success...

November is coming up fast, and right now there are 120,000+ people out there in the world getting ready to start writing a novel as part of National Novel Writing Month.

As you may already know, my novel The Darwin Elevator started life as a Nano project back in 2008.  That was the second year I participated (2007 being the first), and so I thought I'd share some tips that might help you succeed.

Here we go!


  • Tip #1 - Write a novel.  You might be wondering why I'm saying this, and it's because I'm insane.  No, wait, not that.  The point is, remember that it's 50k words of a novel that is your goal, not just 50k words. I know some people who do fifty 1000 word short stories, or any other combination you can imagine that results in 50k words written, and more power to them.  This post is not for those people.  You see, the prize for "winning" Nanowrimo is the knowledge of what it takes to write a book.  You are finding out if that is something can, and want, to do.
  • Tip #2 - Don't edit, just write.  I don't care how screwy your project gets at the halfway mark, don't toss it and start a new one (the old 25k-split... we're on to you!).  If you realize on November 13th that your story would have been ten times better if you'd just had that troll help the hero instead of attacking him, then make a note that you intend to go back and change that and keep writing as if you'd done it that way.  Or hell, decide the troll survived and shows up NOW to help.  Make it work, keep going.  No first draft is flawless.  The trick for finishing Nanowrimo is to learn how to resist the urge to edit.  This may not be the way you'd do things without this artificial deadline, but that's okay, because...
  • Tip #3 - Remember this: The prize you're getting from Nano is huge, and that prize is you.  You, the writer.  You, armed with the knowledge of what it a takes to write a book.  You, with the extra swagger in your step because you know you've done it.  You, on the path to knowing what your process is.  Everyone's goal with Nano is to finish writing a novel, and everyone will have a different way of going about it.  If you fail, okay, look back on it and figure out where things went wrong.  Come up with a plan to fix those things next time around.
  • Tip #4 - Track your progress.  Whatever method makes sense to you, be it Nano's own tools or the built-in project goals in software like Scrivener.  I use a spreadsheet I made.  The thing is, it's sort of like trying to lose weight.  You don't set a goal of losing 50 lbs. in a year, start eating better and exercising, but neglect to weigh yourself until a week before the end and realize you've only lost 15 lbs. so far.  You weigh in daily.  You celebrate every half-pound gone.  You redouble your efforts if you get behind.  Treat Nano the same way.
  • Tip #5 - Plan ahead.  It's already October 20th, so I'd say this post is 20 days too late because a month of planning is good.  But that's okay, you still have time.  There's 10 days or so left, so devote each one to a bit of planning.  Make an outline, then throw it out and make another one that's better.  Start brainstorming who your characters are, what makes them tick.  What's your world like?  Start jotting down ideas on these things.  Unless you're a pantser (someone who prefers the blank page, and who thinks that any planning just stifles their creativity.  Horseshit, in my opinion, but to each their own!).  If you're a pantser I guess maybe start clearing your mind now!  Either way, spend this time leading up to November getting your head in the game.
  • Tip #6 - Take it seriously.  Looking back on my Nano years, it's easy now in hindsight to spot the people who won't finish.  Most of them, anyway.  They were the ones who started making excuses before November even arrived. Little innocent caveats about how they "guess" they're going to participate, or how they'll probably start but because of that new job they just landed they might not have time.  All fine and dandy, and I still encourage these people to participate because there's value, but it's defeating the whole purpose of NaNoWriMo.  Nano is a marathon and you've just signed up to run it.  Don't start in with the "oh yeah I'll be there at the starting line but I don't have any good running shoes right now.  Plus I've got tickets to see a movie that same day so I need to duck out at the halfway point anyway.  Also my leg is broken, which might make it hard to finish.  Still, I'm THERE!!!"  Don't do this.  Take it seriously.
See, the thing about Nanowrimo is that it has no stakes except those you create.  That's not easy for a lot of people.  No stakes, no motivation.  No tangible reward, no drive.  And for a lot of people it's hard, very hard, to invent stakes and impose them.  Inventing a reward might be a bit easier, but not by much.

So in this regard, consider ways to put pressure on yourself, and/or reward yourself.  The simplest possible way to do this is to let people know you're writing a novel in November.  People who care, people who will ask you how its going, people you won't want to look in the eye and say "eh, I gave up."  Don't have anyone like that in your life?  Fine, tell me in the comments. I'll hold your nose to the grinder and promise to post here praising your victory or mocking your failure as the case may be.

You can go farther than this, of course.  A lot farther.  For example, put 100$ in an envelope (or whatever amount of money you can afford to lose but will sting if you didn't get it back).  Give the envelope to a good friend or family member and tell them NOT to give it back to you unless you finish Nanowrimo.  Even if it takes you until March, tell them to hang on to that envelope until you can show them you've written fifty thousand words.  Someday you'll want that hundred bucks enough to get words on the page.

Any other questions? Ask in the comments!

5 comments:

Brett Russell said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Brett Russell said...

Thanks for the advice. I am still outlining but when the day comes, I am going to give it my all. I look forward to the encouragement/ kick in the ass you mentioned in your post.

Jason M. Hough said...

You got it, Brett!

Sarah Rieland said...

This will be my third year of NaNoWriMo. I won the last two. Despite a thoroughly booked November, I plan on winning this year as well. Finding out that the Darwin Elevator was the result of NaNo added to my motivation. I will keep your success in mind should anything threatens to keep me from my goal. Thank you!

Jason M. Hough said...

Brett!!!!! How's Nano going for you? I know this is the doldrums time of the Nano month, when you feel like you can't keep up the pace, and/or that your story is lame or falling apart. I went through all that, too, and encourage you to fight through it. It's worth it!

Let me know how you're doing!