It’s very tempting to participate in Nation Novel Writing Month. 50,000 words in 30 days? No problem! And while everyone starts with gusto, after the first handful of days, the strain of the undertaking starts to take it’s toll. But fear not! Here’s some advice from a seasoned NaNoWriMo veteran to help you get to the end of your novel!
The Words Don’t Matter
This sounds counter-intuitive; isn’t writing about choosing the right words? But here’s the thing: NaNoWriMo is all about writing your first draft. And even without the slapdash pace of trying to write in month, first drafts are made to remade. So if you’re just going to rewrite it (and you will), does it really matter if “crimson” is a better descriptor than “red?” Remember, you’re going for quantity, not quality. Don’t worry about whether or the words you’re choosing are the right ones. Just get them on the page.
Don’t Look Back
If you’re not caring about your word-choice, it can be easy to look back at what you’ve written and want do fix it. Don’t. Don’t change a thing. What’s written in the past is written in stone, not to be touched until you’re finished. It may be awful. Leave it. It may be incoherent. You’ll fix it later. It may be about one character, but now your comic relief has taken center stage, so all of sudden it’s her book now. That’s fine. But do not go back and rewrite. Leave notes for yourself of things you want to change, and then charge forward, ever forward.
TK Is OK
Speaking of notes of things you want to put in, a great way to mark those bits is with the letters “TK.” TK are rarely up right next to each other in English, so you can do a search for it later when you’re revising and fill in all the details you couldn’t be bothered with. TK is great for things you need to research, allowing you to write “TK – average rainfall of the Amazonian Rainforrest” and move on. It’s also good for dialog; “TK – funny retort,” and “TK – villainous insult” are perfectly acceptable if your breakneck writing pace as you without your usual store of wit.
Break Your Writing Day Up
50,000 words over 30 days ends up being 1,667 words a day. That’s a lot to ask of yourself to accomplish in one sitting. Break up your writing sessions through out your day. 250 words in the morning, 500 on your lunchbreak, etc. The more opportunities you give yourself to write, the more likely you are to meet your word count for the day.
“I Have To Go”
Nothing can bring a winning writing streak to a halt like a scene you don’t know how to end. You’ve gotten out your dramatic pronouncements, your surprise reveals, your swears of vengeance and…then what? You can’t just leave your characters there, they have to get to the next scene! But they can’t just…walk away, can they?
Actually, they can.
All you have to do is make one of the characters say four little words, the sweetest four little words in all of rough-draft-dom: “I have to go.” Boom. Done. The scene is finished. Not only does this free you up mentally to you can move on the next one, but it’s a great signifier to yourself later of which scenes you had a ending for and which ones you came up short.
No matter who you are or how much writing experience you have, NaNoWriMo is a tall order. NaNoWriMo drafts tend to get a little nutty as mental exhaustion starts to take hold. The best way to handle this is to accept it. Lean into the madness. Your private-eye’s new partner is a talking squid? Your horror novel has become a bucolic romance? Your spaceship is inexplicably filled with elves? Roll with it.
After all, NaNoWriMo is about a total word-count, not a coherent story. Sometimes, you can’t make a omelet without breaking a few narrative conventions.