Writers collectively look forward to and dread the month of November. It is affectionately known as National Novel Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo). The goal of this program is to write a novel in a month that is at least 50,000 words long (1,667 words per day). It's absolutely insane and fun, but the goal is to just get it all out so that you can revise it later and make it prettier. This is my sixth consecutive year participating and will hopefully be my 5th year making my word count at the end of November. (Last year was not the move and I did not hit my word count. In fact, I quit after November 2nd.) It's a daunting, but fun program to be a part of. To join, all you need to do is go to nanowrimo.org and create an account to track your progress as well as a lot of other fun features.
For those of you participating, here are 12 tips from a 6-year writer.
1. Don't look over what you've already written.
Every single year, I've fallen into this trap. I want to go back over what I've already written and I end up making small word choice changes or changes of a town or character's name. With that trap, I end up going over what I already had and not increasing my word count by much, if at all. Don't worry about what you've already written until November is over.
2. Don't name your characters
I always always always stress way too much about naming my characters perfectly. Sometimes certain names just suit a character, but it's easier to see that after the story is done and you've seen the character in their entirety. However, in my experience, naming them right off the bat has altered the character I wanted them to become. To combat that problem this year, I assigned each character a letter instead of a name and have a running list of possible names for each character. Side characters are easier to name, so if you don't want to go to extremes, reserve the "work-in-progress" names for main characters only.
3. Hold yourself accountable
As soon as you start slacking, the extra words you have to add on to each day to get back on track gets overwhelming. If you keep yourself on schedule, the word counts are manageable and your goal is still achievable. As soon as you let yourself get behind is when the trouble begins.
4. Try a notebook
This is something new that I've tried for this year. Instead of typing into one long document, I got a journal for my novel and have been counting pages instead of individual words. This has helped me limit the endless distractions my laptop can provide and gives it a more personal feel. There's also just something about putting pen to paper that's particularly satisfying. If you'd like to try this, I wrote a few pages and then counted the words on each page and averaged them out. I got an average of 250 words per page and so I divided the daily word count of 1,667 by 250 and found that I need about 7 pages per day to keep me on track. So far, this has helped tons.
5. Don't overplan
Give yourself a rough outline of where you want to go, how you want to get there, and who you want to take along the way, but don't plan out every minute of the plot. I've tried that and it ended up frustrating me when things didn't go as planned. It ended up being a frustrating waste of a lot of time and I ended up annoyed with myself in the end.
6. Maybe don't plan at all
Some writers opt to start on the first day with nothing in mind and just let it all come to them as it does. I would be way too stressed out with this method, but for some people it works.
7. Make bold choices
Don't be afraid of making a choice that you think might be too wild. This is your first draft. This is where you test things out to see if you like them. If you end up liking them, great! You just did the thing. If not, that's what revision is for. You tried it, you now know you don't like it. Lesson learned.
8. Get your friends to do it with you
There's nothing better than moral support. NaNoWriMo is challenging and it's nice to have friends to challenge and support you. If you don't have any friends interested in joining you, there are also online communities and communities for your area with people who are already noveling this month.
9. Worry more about quantity than quality
The idea is to get it all out. This is like a giant vent session for your novel. Let all of the ideas and the weirdness and quirkiness come out on the first try and then let it all be sorted through and improved later on. Make it complete now and good later.
10. Schedule the same block of time every day to write
If something becomes part of your routine, it's easier to forget to write or to let other things get in the way. I'm the worst with this and write whenever I get time, but I really wish I would get over myself and schedule a writing time every day. It would make my life a million times easier.
11. Keep yourself healthy
Don't kill yourself trying to make the word count each day. Sleeping, eating, and taking time for yourself are all important. If you don't think you can stay healthy and afloat in work/school, then this might not be the right time to participate in NaNoWriMo.
12. Enjoy it
If this becomes more of a chore than something you look forward to doing, then don't do it. It should be a fun way to encourage yourself to write. It'll get tough from time to time and you shouldn't give up just because of that. If this evokes more dread than excitement, then maybe it's not for you.