So. We’re three days into NaNoWriMo 2011. By now you may be wondering, “What in the world did I sign myself up for?” You may be giving yourself a sanity check. After all, don’t you have work/class/thesis to deal with? Aren’t you supposed to be gearing up for the holiday party season? What are you doing drowning in caffeine and trying to hammer out 1,667 words a day every day for an entire month?
Stop. Right. There. Take a deep breath. Remember why you’re here—you want to write a novel. And, I promise you, even if you don’t get to finish it this month, even if you don’t get to 50,000 words, you’re going to feel great just for having tried. After all, writing is both art and craft, and you don’t always get a magnum opus your first time around. Like anything worthwhile, you’re going to have to work at it. And NaNoWriMo is all about helping you get into the habit of working at it.
Yes, you have a lot to do this month. But that’s why we’ve got a community—to help you cope. I’ve prepared a few tips I’ve learned from my four years in NaNoWriMo, and I hope they’ll be able to help you.
1. Don’t sweat the small stuff.
This is a cliché, I know, but it’s really important to focus on the goal here. Turn off that inner editor. So your word processor has underlined a word because you’ve made a typo. So what? When you go back over your novel after November’s done, that word will still be underlined in red.
Also, don’t worry about small discrepancies. If there’s something you can’t remember, like, say, the medical term for a certain type of operation your character has to have, you can just type in a descriptive phrase (e.g., “the operation in which part of the liver is removed to be transplanted into a compatible person”). Highlight it, and return to it later, when you’ve looked the word up.
2. Get a support group.
Now, this can include your mentor if you’re a newbie. It could include your writing buddies or whoever’s in the chat or on the forums when you come online. But it could also include your family. Trust me, there’s nothing like having someone to support you when it comes to doing something you really are passionate about. What’s more, having someone who keeps track of your progress, even if they can’t relate to the NaNoWriMo experience will help you stay on the straight and narrow.
After all, if your sister takes over your evening chores for you so you can eke out another 1,000 words on your novel because she’s hoping to read it when you’re done, you’d better be at the keyboard while she’s washing the dishes or sweeping the floors!
3. Don’t forget to reward yourself.
Don’t just set celebratory goals for the big milestones. If you wait until you hit 50K on your word count to treat yourself, you may find yourself falling behind because you feel that your goal is just too far away. Reward yourself for hitting your daily quota. Give yourself a little extra incentive if you double it. It doesn’t have to be big—it could be something as simple as a fun-size Milky Way.
If you’ve got a writing buddy, you may want to bring in the spirit of competition and work it out so that you’ll get each other something great once you hit your milestones. I know Tina and Anton have a food/book reward system going this month.
4. Give yourself consequences–and make yourself pay them.
Negative reinforcement can work just as well as the positive type. If you combine the two, well, you’ll have that much more incentive to hit your quotas. What I like to do is put a little money in a jar for every day I don’t hit my quota. If I don’t write at all on a particular day, then that’s even more money. If I hit 50K, then I get to splurge on me. If not, then it goes toward my donation fund (not that I don’t donate anyway!). Still, there was one year when, at the end of November, I had something like 400 words over 50K, but I still got to use my punishment money to buy myself a cute pair of ballet flats. You’ll probably know better than anyone what “punishments” work for you. If it’s denying yourself chocolate or Internet use before you hit quota, then do that.
5. Plot in your non-writing hours.
This is something I learned when I started working really long hours—right now, that means 12- to 16-hour days. And even if there are days when I just don’t get any words typed up at all, at least I know I’m working on my story. For me, that means working out the whos and whys of my characters when lining up at the bank or while I’m in the shower. I work out the twists and tangles in my plot on my commute to work—even when in the loo.
Do I take notes? Sometimes. Most of the time, though, I let those things percolate. My stories are the background noise to my day. And when I do have time to sit at the computer and write, I find that the words usually come easily because I’m not thinking, “Who is this guy I’ve just introduced into my story?” I’m not working out how to get my characters out of the mess I’ve written them into. I’ve already done that—and it’s likely that part of the work was done subconsciously. All I have to do is type it up.
These tips may or may not work for you. I hope they do, though! Part of what I love about NaNoWriMo is that I have gotten to know myself as a writer. I know how I plot, how I like to let things stew in the back of my head, that I’m more a weekend warrior than a 1,667/day kind of person. By the end of this month, you’ll know your own writing quirks better too—and then it’ll be up to you to figure out ways to compensate for your weaknesses or setbacks and to play to your strengths.