Holy crap, NaNoWriMo starts tomorrow (or today if you’re in Australia)! If you’re planning to write a novel in November, you’re probably pretty excited right now—and maybe a little scared. This is my fifth time at the rodeo, and I’m still terrified. But I’ve also learned a thing or two about how to get through it in one piece. Here are my top bits of advice, expanded slightly from a piece I originally wrote for Blurb’s Coffee & Quill Society newsletter.
1. Take it one day at a time.
Don’t worry about the big picture. Don’t worry about how long it’s taking to get to the next plot point. Don’t even worry about 50,000 words. Just relax and write. And keep on writing, every day. You’ll get there.
Ovaltine the Dragon, writing totem supreme
2. Claim your writing space.
Carve out a couple of hours in your daily schedule, take over your favorite desk or chair, and build a mental wall around it. This is your writing space. When you enter it, you are writing and the rest of the world fades away. Need help making the transition? Try putting on a special hat or using another marker to show everyone that this is writing time and you are not to be disturbed. I place a writing totem next to my keyboard: my li’l green dragon, Ovaltine.
3. No editing allowed!
You will be tempted over the next 30 days. A little voice inside your head will tell you to go back and “fix” all the things you’ve written. Do not listen. Your first draft is allowed to be crappy. First drafts are almost always crappy. That’s why they’re called first drafts! So ignore that voice. There is a time and a place to edit, and this is not it. You can edit as much as you want in December, after you have a first draft.
4. Go with the flow.
What if you want your characters to turn right (into the castle, let’s say), but they keep trying to turn left (into a weird, dark swamp that wasn’t even in your outline)? Let them go there. When you’re writing, all sorts of ideas will bubble up from your subconscious. When you say, “hey, my characters won’t do what I want them to do,” what you’re really saying is “I’ve come up with a new story direction but I’m afraid of the unknown.” Don’t be afraid—this is a good thing. Your characters should do something unexpected! It means they’re taking on a life of their own. It’s their story, so let them tell it their way.
5. Use your network (yes, you have one).
Getting stuck? Losing your mojo? Now is the time to lean on the NaNoWriMo community. If you have a team of personal writing buddies, reach out to them. If not, don’t fret. There are literally thousands of people online at the NaNoWriMo forums at any time of the day or night. Go hang out, meet some people, and get some fresh inspiration. Read one of the many great pep talks on the NaNo website. Or jump-start your word count at a local write-in or by diving into a writing sprint.
I hope this helps. If you need a little more inspiration, check out the webinar I did with NaNoWriMo’s founder and executive director last week. Then get out there and write that novel!