Five Things I've Learned from NaNoWriMo

In six days that glorious month starts. The month of Thanksgiving, of celebration, of pumpkin-flavored everything, of shopping and of pre-holiday excitement. But nothing is more exciting than the biggest month for writers everywhere. The one time a year where writers open up about their projects and their progress and unite in a 30-day maddash to write 50k words.

Yes, I'm talking about NaNoWriMo.

National Novel Writing Month, whether you are a supporter or not, is upon us. This will be my third year participating, and it's an event I look forward to all year. (There's something about watching that little bar on the website get bigger that always keeps me motivated.) This year I'm really excited because I get to work on the sequel. In year one, I wrote FMTD; in year two, I re-wrote it. So, it's pretty cool, and I feel like I've come full circle after a lot of hard work.

If you are doing NaNo, you should find me! I love having new friends and people to cheer on. I'm DanielleEWrites there, so it shouldn't be difficult. (Plus, I linked it!)

I've participated in NaNo twice and "won" both years, so I want to pass on some of the things I've learned.

1. Have a plan.

You've probably heard this, but it's so much easier when you go into each writing session knowing what you're going to do. I'm not saying you have to outline, but you should definitely have a goal beyond the 1,700 words. The goal can be that your character goes here, or does this, or this scene happens and moves you to this point. It doesn't matter. Just make sure you know what you want to do each day--or each week--and do your best to stick to it. Obviously, things will change, but it's good to have a plan. It makes 50k seem less daunting, and you don't waste time.

On the wasting time note, you should always leave your story in a stopping point that isn't resolved, because I have found (personally) that when I have to think about how something will start, it takes so much longer than if I had left a small outline or a few notes or written a paragraph before I quit the night before.

One more thing--have a plan for the holidays or that weekend that you're out of town and you know you won't write. You can double up a few days to get ahead. Planning for events during NaNo and being proactive so you don't get behind will work to your benefit, and keep your stress level down.

2. Be flexible!!! 

Not every day will be the same. Some days, writing will be so easy, and others you'll want to shoot yourself in the foot. This is probably the biggest thing that I've learned from NaNo. You have to be flexible. I know I just said to set a goal and have a plan, but sometimes those change as you go along. You need to be able to roll with the punches and do whatever the story is telling you.

Another thing about being flexible, and seriously, if you only take away one thing from this post make it this: Be easy on yourself. Writing is hard. Writing 50k in a month? Even harder.

Obviously, your goal is about 1,700 words every single day. Now, November is crazy month--especially if you think about Thanksgiving and Black Friday and all the prep for everything that comes with it. The one thing that no one ever, ever told me is that some days you won't have energy or brainpower or time to hit that number. Go easy on yourself.

If you know that you have a weekend when you are out of town, pre-write. Maybe you double up a couple of days (whether on accident or on purpose) and that's great. If you write 3k in one day, then you're allowed to have a day off. Or if you miss a day, you can be a little behind and catch up when the story allows you. And seriously, if you need to take a night off, no one will yell at you. You can do that. 50k is an end destination--not necessarily a rule. 

Be flexible and realize you are a human, not a machine, so go easy on yourself. (See how I brought all that around?)

3. Don't quit. 

There are good days and there are bad days. Don't quit.  Write.

Even if the scene is complete crap, write. Even if the story isn't doing what you thought, write. Even if ten pages have nothing but dialogue---hey, those are words, too--so write.

Don't quit.

Even when there's a week left and you're only at 30k, keep going. At the end if you've only written 30k, that's 30k more than you wrote before.

Don't quit. Don't quit. Don't quit.

4. Celebrate
Find small milestones and celebrate them. I like to write a post every time I hit 10k, because that is an accomplishment to be proud of.

When that character does that one thing that  changes everything, celebrate. When the story comes together, celebrate. When your NaNo buddy succeeds, celebrate.

And when you finish, when the month is over--whether you have hit 50k and "won" or hit 30k---celebrate. The month is about writing, and if you are writing, then you are winning.

So, always, always enjoy that and celebrate.

At the end of the month, you will need it.

5. Revise & Edit

If November is "writing month" then December and January and February and March should be "editing months" because there is no one that I have ever met who wrote a book and succeeded without revising that book.

When you finish your MS, you need to revise. 

Don't query until you've read that thing and revised like a crazy person. Seriously. It's the most important part of NaNo and no one really talks about it. But writing a first draft is only a small, small portion of writing a novel. So, write it and then take time to revise. Get into crit groups, ask your NaNo buddies to read, find people who can help you revise your book.

As an editor, I can tell you first hand that the month after NaNo is really scary. We get these unedited manuscripts in our slush piles--and all that does is make us mad because we've wasted our time and make you look back for not editing. You want yours to stand out. It won't do that if you don't edit. Take your time and don't rush. We're not going anywhere, and neither is your book.

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Anyway, those are five things that I have learned from NaNoWriMo. Do you have anything that you want to add? NaNo is a fun time, but it's a lot of work.

Find me, be my buddy on NaNo and let's WRITE.


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