Every November as the leaves are blowing off the trees and the smells of autumn – spiced apples and pine needles – are wafting through the crisp air, our thoughts turn to the rituals of fall…
No, not turkey and football, you silly people.
National Novel Writing Month!
Hundreds of thousands of people throughout the world embark on a quest to write a draft of a 50,000 word novel in 30 days, or die trying. Well, maybe not die. It just sort of feels that way.
I’ve been a member of NaNoWriMo since 2008, won it five times, and find myself planning my year around writing my NaNo books. I’m finally even getting ready to publish one. And now it’s November 1 again, and I’m busting open a new document in Scrivener with just the vaguest idea of what will happen when the words come out, trusting that they will, and am filled with excitement to see what happens.
If you’re new to NaNoWriMo, or you’ve never actually won before, here are my Top 6 Lessons Learned From Previous NaNoWriMo’s.
- Write every day.
This goes without saying, but a lot of people think they can do marathon sessions on the weekends, and not have to sludge and trudge through the grind of finding time to actually get those 1,667 words in each day. This is probably a bad idea. First, you don’t have the luxury of time to get to know your story and your characters if you’re just developing them as you go along in one month. You need to spend that time with them daily to figure out their motivations and be close with them. You’re not just casually dating this story – you’re full on living with it – and that means it deserves more than just weekend dates. Second, you need to develop the writing muscle, and writing just on the weekends won’t do it. You don’t get abs of steel by going to the gym twice a week. Writing every day, creating a ritual around the writing, trains your brain to expect to write, and when it’s already primed to pump out words, you don’t have to put so much effort into getting it ready.
- Know thyself.
Do you absolutely know that you suck at mornings and you’re way better writing late into the night? Then don’t plan to get up early to write, and instead stock up on coffee so you can keep going after The Daily Show is over. Do you absolutely know that you can’t concentrate when loud music is playing? Then politely ask your roommate to refrain from practicing on his new drum set when you’re writing. Or get some noise canceling headphones. Myself, I know that I write really well when I’m listening to Telemannn and have had coffee. So guess what I do. Have a Telemann playlist and three extra bags of Starbucks coffee in the freezer.
- Don’t Judge.
This is also obvious, but you have no idea how many people I see on Twitter quitting their NaNo journey because they don’t like the story. Seriously, stick with it you guys, and quit judging it. Just let the words come. You have no idea what will happen in the next chapter if you don’t write it. You could amaze yourself with some giant burst of inspiration, and the words will flow like butter. Even if your draft sucks, you can always go back and edit it. If you have a good outline and idea, it deserves to be fully explored. There’s no place better to explore your literary ideas and inspirations than in this place of complete freedom that NaNo offers.
- It’s not over till it’s over.
So you’re behind. It’s November 10 and you’re supposed to have about 17,000 words, and you only have 2000. That’s called a setback, but the game isn’t over until midnight on November 30. You signed up for this because there was a part of you that wanted to have fun and play with words for a whole month. That part of you deserves to be indulged and listened to, and not lose out to the lazy quitter part. So get your ass out of bed and write every morning, and if by the time November 30 comes around you only have 20,000 words, that’s fine. You have 20,000 more words than you had at the start of this thing, and you got to let loose and wander around in your imagination for a month. That’s super cool.
- Don’t take it so seriously.
NaNo loves to send out these inspirational pep talks from bestselling authors that got their start doing National Novel Writing Month. And that’s what they should be doing. Those people are amazing. I wish I was one of them. But I’m not. And I’m sorry to say it, but you probably aren’t either. At least neither of us are…yet. Who knows what the future holds for us and our creations? The point is, you can’t go into this thinking you’re going to become the next Hemingway, and by January you’ll be able to quit your job and live a life devoted only to creating works of literary genius each month. The point of NaNo is to have fun, explore your creativity, and write. You might come out with a really great plot that you can turn into a novel that you can publish, and that would be awesome. I’m finally getting to that place with my 2014 NaNoWriMo book. But that’s not the point. The point is to have fun and be creative.
- Get involved in the community.
I know, it seems like a big ask. I really understand it. You’re signing up to make a commitment to write 1,667 words each day, and I want you to go to a website and post on forums and get involved on twitter at the same time? How many hours in the day do I have, woman? Here’s the paradox: Going to in-person events and joining the conversations online make it all so much easier because you’re reminded that you’re part of a community of badass creative people letting loose and writing this month. When you’re stuck and you hate your characters and your plot, there’s somewhere to go to vent, and that might be all you need to get back to the keyboard and keep going. Plus, it’s more fun. And that’s the whole point of this month, anyway.
Next month you can stress about Christmas presents, and decorating the house, and the extra ten pounds you’ll gain on cookies. That’s fine. This month is for you and your imagination to hold hands and run wild through the forest of changing leaves, and to cuddle with each other next to the fireplace and share a mug of cider. Your imagination is knocking. Are you going to answer? Tell me in the comments, and add me as a writing buddy on NaNo (@nomadchick) if you are!