Repost: Nail NaNoWriMo! A routine to help you finish

As NaNoWriMo gets under way, how are you doing?

Are you finding NaNoWriMo easier than you thought it would be, or harder?

I’ve never done NaNoWriMo because other projects have got in the way, but I have had to write several novels to tight deadlines – 50,000 words in two months, finished and ready for a publisher to see. It was effectively two NaNoWriMos back to back, which I did several times. I had detailed synopses, but I had to just get my head down and pound out the words. It taught me a thing or two about keeping myself at the keyboard.

Here are my top seven tips.

1. Are you getting into the scenes enough? If you’ve written a synopsis, you’ll have summarised everything. The first draft is where you turn it into living, breathing scenes. That’s how you meet the wordcount, because it takes a lot more words to write a scene blow by blow than it does to say ‘Vanessa confronts the woman who betrayed her’. In your NaNo draft, DO NOT summarise anything. Show, not tell. Try writing to music – it can help you immerse yourself. If scented candles do it for you, give yourself a Proustian boost!

2. Are you worried about the quality of what you’re writing? Don’t be. NaNoWriMo is about inventing. Editing is not allowed until the month starts with a D but you might be better leaving it until J is involved. You can’t edit as you invent, your brain doesn’t work that wayand you’ll never make the wordcount if you stop to fret over what you’ve written. So let the scenes unfold in your head, write down what’s happening and to hell with how it reads.

3. Are you getting stuck in your story? Use reincorporation. Find a thing or a character you put in the story before and work it back in to solve your problem. This is the single most useful way to solve a story problem.

4. Are you giving yourself enough credit? Make yourself visual awards. Find a way to visually represent how far you’ve got – a thermometer with coloured bars, a graph climbing slowly skywards, or any combination of these. Put them up in your work area. Yes this is just like in infants’ school where the teacher puts up rows of stars. We are primitive at heart. Reward your inner child for writing so much.

5. How NaNo is your environment? Theme your writing area. If you’ve made an ideas scrapbook for your novel, put up pictures and make the edges of your monitor or your desk into a mood board. Change them regularly to keep your interest and sense of immersion, or to kick-start your writing for the day. In December, tinsel and stuff helps you feel Christmassy; in November, decorate for NaNoWriMo.

6. Will you be derailed if you miss a day or fall behind? Everybody falls behind a little, because we all have lives to live as well as books to write. A sudden birthday or crisis need not derail your NaNo plan. Make sure your writing plan includes some slack so you can steal back time if you need to. If it doesn’t, rewrite it NOW, while you still have plenty of room for manoeuvre.

7. Remember NaNoWriMo is an experiment. You are experimenting with your muse and your writing habits by setting yourself a challenge – and a difficult one. Experiments don’t fail or pass; they produce what they produce. Some of it will be nonsense, and some will be sublime invention. This is why it’s a good thing to do, despite what its critics will say. Stay the distance and see what happens. Enjoy the journey and the surprises. That’s what it’s all about.

If you’re doing NaNoWriMo this year, how’s it going? Post up a link in the comments to let us all cheer you on! If you’re a past WriMo, what advice would you give to this year’s runners?

You can find tips for researching, outlining and what makes a robust story in my book, Nail Your Novel – Why Writers Abandon Books and How You Can Draft, Fix and Finish With Confidence.

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  1. #1 by virginia @ where you hang your hat on November 6, 2009 - 5:31 pm

    Thanks! This is my first NaNo and I’m at 13468. I’m going to look for some more inspiration photos today.

  2. #2 by Celise on November 6, 2009 - 10:08 pm

    I’m doing it my way. I’m writing everyday and I’m managing to stick with it. Since I work FT, I only have my notebook while I’m at work and I haven’t been typing up anything when I get home. So I’ll wait until the end of the week to view progress. And I’m refraining from looking at the progress of my writing buddies because I know their numbers will be bigger than mine. LOL. This is my second attempt. Don’t remember what happened the first time, but I’m hoping I’ll get close.

  3. #3 by Zelah on November 7, 2009 - 10:43 am

    This is my fifth year of doing NaNoWriMo (well, technically sixth but I didn’t write a single word the first year as I was too busy trying to get rid of the nightmare flatmate from hell!) I’ve now ‘won’ (i.e. managed the 50k words) four times and I intend to manage it again, however tricky it is!

    I’m on 9,203 words so far but haven’t started yet today. I always set out a writing schedule for the month working out when I’ll have time to write and when I won’t & I’ve scheduled myself 4,000 word days for today and tomorrow so that should be fun! Still, I’ve got a contingency of 10,000 words in my schedule so I can afford to slip a little!

    If you schedule with contingency then missing days doesn’t matter. I’ll be unable to write on Friday, Saturday & Sunday next week so I’m having to try and write more now to make up for that. I’ve also pulled three 5,000 word plus days out of the hat before in the last week so it’s always possible to catch up!

    I’ve done NaNoWriMo while working full time before but doing it while pregnant and working full time is a whole new challenge due to the tiredness! Still, I’m only about 800 words behind where I should be at the moment.

    Best of luck to everyone here having a go at it! It’s hard work but it’s SUCH a sense of achievement when you manage it!

    • #4 by CG Blake on November 11, 2012 - 1:26 pm

      Contingency planning is part of my game plan. I always take a few days off from work around the US Thanksgiving holiday to get caught up if (when) I fall behind. I’ve gotten good at binge writing.

      • #5 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on November 13, 2012 - 7:22 pm

        I’m a bit late replying to your comments, CG, but they’re much appreciated. And by now you’ll be nearly half-way through NaNoWriMo… so hope it is going well.

  4. #6 by Bridgid Gallagher on October 12, 2010 - 6:02 pm

    Great list! I’m trying NaNoWriMo for the first time this year. Your post has given me a few things to think about. Thank you!

  5. #8 by Tony McFadden on October 30, 2012 - 8:22 am

    Is this three years old or did I finally get that time machine working?

    • #9 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on October 30, 2012 - 9:03 am

      Bums! I’m going to be away next week and was tidying it to tweet this weekend. Has it gone into people’s inboxes? Didn’t think that would happen! (As you can see because it’s written from the perspective of NaNo already being under way…)
      Sorry about the time machine, Tony. Try reversing the polarity of the neutron flow.

  6. #10 by CG Blake on November 11, 2012 - 1:22 pm

    I’m at 16600 words after 10 days, but I’m running out of story. I’m experimenting with plot strands that more deeply explore the traits of the major characters. I won last year in my first try and if I wasn’t so darned competitive I would be satisfied with 30000 words. Thanks for the helpful advice, Roz.

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