Tuesday, November 03, 2015

NaNoWriMo Tips

First drafts are for learning what your novel is about.
Bernard Malamud

I've participated in National Novel Writing Month 9 times now. I've hit 50,000 words 7 times. Which means I've picked up a few tips along the way on how to do that.

[What is National Novel Writing Month? An insane challenge to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days.]


Here are some ideas I've picked up from successes and failures:

Don't edit.

Even if the story shifts directions so that previous events don't make sense, DON'T go back to fix it. Just make a note where you are and continue on. Not editing can't be emphasized enough!

Your inner editor will protest loudly. That's why it's suggested that you send your inner editor on vacation for the month. It needs to shut up to let you listen just to your creative voice.

Don't think of this as a novel. Think of it as a crappy draft of a novel. If it helps you, you can even title your document Crappy Draft of [My Novel]. The title will remind you everyday that this will be and needs to be really messy.

Set a goal of 2000 words a day. 1667 is the minimum to reach 50,000 in 30 days. 2000 gives you some padding.

The benefit of NaNo isn't creating 50,000 words. The benefit of NaNo is gaining experience pushing past writing road blocks. Until you've experienced pushing past feelings that you can't write anything but crap, it's hard to tell the difference between the common panicky "This is crap!" feeling and the honest "This isn't working" feeling.

Don't fuss over the beginning of your story. You can't write an effective beginning until you've written the end. Keep reminding yourself of that when your inner editor makes an appearance to suggest improvements to the beginning. Make a note of improvement ideas where you are. Continue on.

Don't fuss over names. If a name doesn't jump out at you, call your character (or place) after their dominant character trait. That way when Aristocrat or Belligerent speaks, it will be easier to give them a unique voice.

You will hit The Wall at about 20,000 words. Probably most abandoned novels fall in the 12,000 to 20,000 range. This is the point where writers have spewed out all the sparkly ideas about their character and their world. Then they hit the point where all this set up needs to head somewhere. And they're stuck. This is perfectly normal. At that point you can have a ninja jump out of a cupboard. I like asking questions of my characters.
  • Interview your character. Ask her what she wants most from life, what she fears happening most and why.
  • Set up a debate between your main character and his opposition to discuss what each hates and admires about the other. Ask them how they think this will all end.
  • Interview a minor character about what she likes and doesn't like about her role in the story.
  • Ask a "What if?" question. Like "What if this were set in the Victorian era?" "What if the main character worked in a hardware store?" "What if one character were an alien?" Then brainstorm possibilities right there in the NaNo.
  • Remember it's supposed to be rough!

If you must rewrite a scene, don't delete the old one. If your story takes a turn and you need a new scene to build up to it, just leave the old scene. You may find a way to combine them in the next draft. (Thanks to Naila Moreira.)

If you absolutely positively must abandon a story, it's not the end! Just move the old story to the bottom of the document and start writing the new one at the top. One woman I know turned the old story into a dream. Later, when you're more confident, you can move it to another document to use if you're running short on words. If you're brave, divide 50,000 by the number of days left in the month to get a new daily word goal. Usually the number isn't as scary as you imagine! The forums are good for other tips.

Get Write or Die. It's a keep-writing-or-"die" motivation app. There are a variety of punishments and rewards. You can, for example, set you goal as 1000 words in an hour. Then if you pause writing for more than 20 seconds the screen starts turning redder and redder until it beeps incessantly at you. There's an online free version. There's a downloadable version you can use offline for $10 (for Mac, Windows and Linux).

It's okay ....
It's okay to not finish a scene.
It's okay to write scenes out of order.
It's okay to write the end before the beginning.
It's okay not to reach the end of your novel at 50,000 words.
It's okay to insert notes about upcoming scenes.
It's okay to have meta-discussions about your story.
It's all okay.

NaNo will fill the time you give it. If you give yourself all day to finish your words, it will take all day. If you only give it 2 hours, it will take 2 hours. And you'll learn a whole lot faster to make the editorial voice shut up and get the words out.
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