Okay. For the last few weeks, I have been getting YouTube messages, emails, and twitter @replies asking me for NaNoWriMo tips and advice. I haven't replied to very many of these since I wasn't sure what to say really, because I don't feel qualified to be giving writing advice when I spend my time rubbing shoulders online with the likes of Maureen Johnson and John Green, whose successful novels line my bookshelves.
But I do know that the spirit of NaNoWriMo is to encourage amateurs and first-timers to embrace literary abandon, so maybe hearing from a novice writer like myself IS what people need. So now I am going to sit here and type to try and give you a collective analysis of my NaNoWriMo experience from the last 4 years. Whether or not you can glean any sort of advice from it; well, that's up to you.
First, a timeline.
2005: Heard about NaNoWriMo briefly from someone on my LiveJournal friends page. Thought it sounded interesting, checked out the site, was intimidated, backed away slowly. Didn't try. LOST.
2006: 4 days into the month, was reminded of NaNoWriMo by yet another person on LiveJournal. Even though I was four days behind, I decided to throw caution to the wind and just go for it. I opened a word document, started typing, and didn't stop until I'd hit 50,000 words and had completed about 2/3 of a story idea I'd had in my head since I was about 11. I finished two days early. I felt like a warrior. NaNoWriMo is awesome. WON.
2007: Started preparing early in October. I wrote out character analysis' for everyone important to the novel, sketched out a pretty detailed outline, and was SO READY on November 1st that the novel honestly wrote itself. I stayed strictly on schedule, doing the reccomended 1667 words a day, and then when I finished early, kept writing and made it to 59,000 words (and again, about 2/3 of the actual novel) by the end of the month. I was beginning to think maybe NaNoWriMo was too easy for me. WON.
2008: Everything fell apart. Two days before Nov 1, I had decided not to do it that year. On Nov 1, an idea came to me and I decided to go for it anyway. I just decided to wing it. I had no struture, no pacing, the plot was sketchy... with 16,000 words to go I gave up because I was too busy, it was hard, it wasn't fun anymore. Then I had an inspiring conversation with Liz and I locked myself in my room and didn't stop writing. I didn't stop at 50,000. I kept writing until I finished the entire story, ending at a satisfying 58,000 words. Despite everything, this is still my favorite story I have ever written. WON.
Everything I could possibly tell you, advice-wise, would be completely contradictory to the story I just told you. My best advice is to just WRITE. Just do it. It's that simple. Don't make excuses, don't think about it too much - just open your word processor of choice and move those fingers.
- Writing an outline and getting to know your characters before you start writing is a good idea, but my best novel was the year I failed to do that.
- Setting a schedule for writing can be really helpful, but don't regiment yourself into time blocks. Sometimes you won't feel inspired. That's okay. Do something else, let your mind rest, but get back to it later.
- Think about what things you can let go of for a month to make room for writing. Obviously there are a few things that have to take precedence over your novel. You can't let your homework slide, and it's probably not the best idea to skip your weekly phone call home to your Mom. But maybe you can stop watching the six shows you enjoy for a month, and catch up in December. Or maybe it might be a good time to get a little less addicted to facebook for awhile. Your friends will still be there next month; you can resume stalking them once you can say you've written a book.
- Find writing buddies. It's a lot of fun if you have "real life" friends doing NaNoWriMo with you, but it's not the only way to share this experience with other people. You can check out the forums and find people writing similar things to you, and in my experience, there are loads of people more than willing to make a few friends for the month of November. There's nothing better than having your own little support group of writing cheerleaders rooting for you.
- Do word wars! Sometimes you're sitting in your bedroom at 10 at night and you haven't written anything all day. You feel like a failure. You have no inspiration. Turn it into a contest! Message one of your NaNo buddies on skype (or aim/msn/facebook chat/gchat etc.) and challenge them to a word war. My favorite way to do this is to set a time (generally 30 mins to an hour) and whoever writes more words than the other in that time is the winner. It's fun. :)
NaNoWriMo is a chance to make something that is generally a very solitary activity an almost social sport. People are inspired to write because everyone around them is going through it as well; we're watching our little green word count bars move up and up, and we're sharing a really challenging and fun experience with the online community.
That being said, you have to find your own methods. You have to figure out what you're personally capable of, and what works best for you. It's not going to be the same for any two people. Some people are naturally faster writers than others. That's totally okay.
So just write. Just do it, and no matter how hard it gets, or how bad you think your novel is, don't give up. Often times you'll read it back in December and be pleasently surprised at how not-bad it actually turned out to be.
My username is reallysuperneat, if you want to track my progress. :)
Edit: I just thought of this: If you're going to Wrockstock, which is right smack in the middle of NaNoWriMo this year, don't panic. Yes, you're losing quite a few writing days. No, we're probably not going to work on our novels at all while we're there. On second thought, actually, you should panic. Just keep in mind we all have a lot of work to do to compensate for the lost days. Try to get ahead in your word count before you leave. If you're flying, bring your laptop and write on the plane. Scribble down notes and ideas on a pad of paper in the lodge while we're eating grilled cheese at lunch. :D It'll be okay. I promise.
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