The days are drawing in, the weather is decidedly colder than a few days ago, children are back at school and the shops are already filling with Christmas stock; it can mean only one thing – it’s time to make ready your preparations for entering one of the most widespread writing competitions of the calendar year.
How can you plan for an entire month of writing you may ask. Well, when I entered last year I had only the basic knowledge of what to expect – to write 50,000 words in November – but beyond that I had no idea.
Thankfully, I have that experience to draw upon and hopefully let me enter this November more fully equipped to write. With any luck, my “finished product” shall be the first draft of a book that won’t need numerous rewrites before even making sense.
So, some tips, before you begin:
– Find yourself an idea. Even if you don’t have a plot in mind, having an idea to work away from, or back toward, can really help erase the intimidation of a blank page.
– Figure out what times of day you’re at your most creative. If you have your best ideas late at night, and can afford to spend an hour longer at your keyboard then plan for it. An hour of writing a day, especially in your personal high-productive time, can make a massive difference.
– Avoid taking on too much in one go. This is not saying that you should ignore everything else in your life, be that work or socialising, but rather that you shouldn’t plan to do NaNo while simultaneously renovating your house, taking a fortnight backpacking holiday somewhere remote, taking up watercolour painting and adopting several animals. (Not that any of these would necessarily be on your to-do list, mind you.) The point is that your time is limited, which brings me to my next point.
– Prioritise. All the well-meaning gestures in the world won’t stretch the 24 hours in a day even a minute longer. If you want to sit for an hour in the morning to get some writing done then be sure to get up earlier than you would just to go to work. Similarly, don’t be afraid to say to your friends, and family, that you’re going to spend some time writing. Let them know when you’ll be done, and spend time with them then.
– Organise yourself somewhere to do your creative work. If your best ideas happen when you’re away from your desk, then take advantage of that and take a notepad and pen with you everywhere – even to the bathroom – and leave it within reach. Then, when you have an idea, you can write it down before forgetting it. I feel I must mention that I strongly discourage the use of anything electrical while in the bath, or in contact with water – the risk of electrocution is not to be taken lightly.
– Attitude is key, so try not to panic. So you’ll be writing 50,000 words in 30 days. You’re fine with that, until a little voice screams at you that it’s more than 1500 words every single day. Well, it actually averages out at 1,667 words for the duration of the month. When I saw that figure last year my imagination ground to a halt. I spent perhaps four days where I hardly wrote anything, but I knew that every word I didn’t type put me further behind and I started to panic.
If you find that happening, here’s my advice: pack yourself a lunch, a drink, your notepad and pen and go out. Just get away from your computer. (For those who are adventurous and choose to write their NaNo by hand, this all still applies.) Get yourself out of the “I must write, or I won’t finish” mindset for a little while, enjoy the open air and just breathe. Remember that this is all meant to be fun, not a month-long session of self-imposed torture, so enjoy yourself a little.
– Set smaller goals. If writing 1700 words sounds too big, set your task to write 300 in an hour or two. I found that, rather than worrying about actually reaching 300 words, I was writing freely. When setting these mini-goals, often I would exceed them. In those cases, I’d give myself an even bigger reward. Which brings me to my next point.
– Reward yourself. “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy“, such truth there. When you reach a goal you’ve set yourself, treat yourself with a little something nice. An hour of TV? Some chocolate? Whatever you fancy when you sit to write, or crave during your writing, use that as your carrot. I didn’t think this would be especially effective, but on those days where nothing seems to be going right, a little treat can be just what is needed.
– Balance the Carrot with the Stick. Yes, there has to be some balance, else where is the true encouragement? If you don’t meet your mini-goal within the time you decided, you do a forfeit. Putting on the laundry, doing some revision for an exam, going out for groceries; your stick can be anything you don’t especially enjoy doing (but then you usually have to do anyway). [On a side note, there is usually a “Carrot or Stick” thread in the NaNoWriMo forums if you’re stuck for ideas.]
– Persevere on your worst days. Everyone has off days where nothing seems to flow. If, on these days, you can manage to write even a little, it’s far better than giving up on that day’s writing and playing catch-up later on.
– Shout about your achievements. Perhaps not literally shout about them, but be sure to share your successes. Tell your family and friends, Tweet your daily #wordcountgoal to your twitter followers and let your blog followers know too. The people supporting your journey can give a real morale boost on the good days and the bad.
There are almost certainly more things I could say, but really NaNo is about having fun and channelling your creative side through a month-long adventure, with the promise of untold rewards just beyond the finish line.
For anyone wanting to join me in my NaNoWriMo journey this year, it’s free to sign up and take part. I log in under the username Pendulumlum. I hope to see you at the finish line., I wish you all the very best of fun!