NaNoWriMo: Surviving and Winning

NaNoWriMo is coming up, and as a repeated achiever of that madness I wanted to share some insight with you all.

For those who don’t know, NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writers Month, indicates the month of November, and is a brilliant literacy-and-creativity-encouraging event thought up by some people who thought it was a good idea to try to pack 50,000 words into 30 days. During the beginning of the holidays. And then they added competition, community support, and the idea took on a life of its own. For those who don’t do novels, per se, there are also script frenzies, edit frenzies etc that they sponsor. The group is a nonprofit that lives off the talented volunteering they have garnered across the globe. I discovered the community in 2005 and I’ve been hooked ever since.

Those who have read some of my work may be surprised to know that Beneath the Crust was written during the 2009 NaNo, a giant chunk of STEAM scripts were written during the 2011 NaNo, and I wrote book 2 (Breaking the Light, working title) last year during the 2012 NaNo. My intention is to write the final book of the trilogy, Defying the Sky (working title) during this NaNo. Having those successes is great, but I wanted to lay out the pros and cons for you and let you make your own decision about whether NaNo is for you. I’ll also give you my methods for survival, because the first time you try to write 1,667 words a day for 30 days you will experience madness.

Some PROS of NaNo:

  1. It gets you writing.
    Seriously. Even if you don’t consider yourself a novelist, the act of pouring out 50k words is an experience everyone should include as part of their ongoing education in life.
  2. It creates a deadline.
    Most people don’t realize how much deadlines impact what they accomplish. If you are an aspiring writer, whether accomplished or not, having deadlines will drive you forward. If you’ve never worked under deadlines before, you will learn a skill that many editors wish many authors had acquired.
  3. You have community support.
    Most of the time, if you tell the people around you that you are going to write a novel, they will tell you to get a real job. Or tell you about their story. Maybe they’ll be supportive, but secretly they think you’re nuts. The upside to the NaNo community is that everyone involved is there to help you reach your word count–whether you like it or not.
  4. It doesn’t have to be perfect.
    It’s generally understood that the first 50k words or so you spew forth in a frenzy will be unedited and in need of some love. And that’s OK.
  5. You can use run-on sentences.
    This blog is my practice for NaNo, and like my novel will likely need additional editing after the fact.
  6. People who would never have written anything are enticed by the competition.
    With any luck they are reading thanks to NaNoWriMo too.

Some CONS of NaNo:

  1. You have a deadline.
    And that means you have to be self-motivating. Get your stuff together, kid. You’re going for a ride.
  2. The “novel” you create will be really rough.
    No one. NO ONE. Writes a perfect novel without editing. You will need lots of it after this.
  3. 50,000 words is a really short novel.
    Good thing you have all of December to write another 50k, right?
  4. Holiday Season.
    It’s easy to get sidetracked by the second half of November. But at least it’s not December?
  5. People will think you are crazy.
    But that’s a given.
  6. People who have no business writing will be writing.
    But don’t be an elitist, seriously.

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s talk about the ultimate goals of NaNoWriMo.
Your absolute first goal is to hit 50,000 words. This is the definition of “winning” at NaNo.

Your second goal (which is important AFTER 50k words) is to complete the first draft of the manuscript. That means continuing after you hit 50k if that is not a complete work. And this goal is the hard one, because you’re going to want to pop a cork after you hit the first one.

Now for the protips. The techniques and methods discussed in this blog post have worked for others, but we cannot guarantee the techniques and methods utilized here will work for you. But for the love of Zeus, try them anyway. If you haven’t already succeeded at NaNo, your best bet is to hear out the people who have. So, here are my steps for success (survival) and winning.

  1. Use a word processor like Microsoft Word if you can, because it keeps track of words. Save your work often. Don’t lose a whole chapter to system failure. Use this word counting system to keep track of how many words you are up to, so that you can track your progress.
  2. Sign up on the website for an account and join your local NaNo community. And then stay off the forums once the thing actually starts, unless you’ve hit your word goal for the day.
  3. This one is really important, and it’s the reason this post is coming out in early October. Do some prework before you get to November. Decide on a general idea for your story. Decide on a working title. Figure out a main character and write a paragraph or two out about who that person is. Without these ideas you will have a hard time starting strong. To go the extra mile, write a personal profile for each of the core characters for your story.
  4. This ties into #3, and is absolutely my most important protip. Write an outline of your story. If you expect to write a 60,000 word novel with 20 chapters, get a sheet of paper. Write #1, then next to it write 3-4 sentences about what will happen in that chapter (generally speaking). For example (from book 1):1: Kip Jensen Awakens from a strange dream and finds herself in the bunker she shares with Aria, her close friend. She prepares to leave for a day of exploring Old Denver and swipes a map from Aria in the process. She and Aria have a heated discussion about history and the government. Kip leaves Aria to her own devices and races off to the city on her cycle, Bat.This outline you are writing may change entirely while you actually write, but it is your lifeline to keep you on track when you get writer’s block. And you will get writer’s block. The outline (if you stick to it) will also be a rough basis for the synopsis you will need to write when you start pitching your novel, so get to it! You want to do this for every single chapter. I usually find that some of my one-sentence ideas really need a whole chapter, and when I am actually writing I will edit the synopsis as I go. The important thing is to have the synopsis ready.
  5. Set a goal of how many words you will accomplish each day, and don’t go to sleep until they are written. If you need 1,667 and got 3,250 done today, don’t take a break tomorrow. Get your 1,667 done anyway. If you take a break you won’t finish.
  6. Be firm with yourself and your schedule. Select a time every day (the same time every day, if possible) that you are going to write. Give yourself at least an hour. Don’t let yourself off the hook–if you don’t plan for the time you won’t get it done.
    I find the best time for me is before I go to work, which means I do most of my writing from 5am-6am (and then get ready for work). Unfortunately, having a toddler has made my sleep more precious to me, so last year and this have/will have experienced quite the sleep challenge in November.
    The most important part of this point is that you need to pick a time that won’t be too hard. If you’re not a morning person, don’t try to write at 5am! If your job is really tiring, don’t try to write immediately after you get home from work. If the time is too hard, you will struggle to maintain your schedule.
  7. If you maintain a busy schedule away from your keyboard, carry a notebook with you. Any time a thought comes to you jot in those extra 25-200 words. Every little bit is progress, but don’t forget #5. A notebook is no substitute for a word processor.
  8. If you hit a wall, just keep writing. It might get weird, it might get redundant, but the point is to make it to Goal #1. You can fix the reappearance of the word “ash” 67 times during editing.
  9. Attend a write-in if you can (see the NaNo forums for details) because it’s good to look for community support. But don’t expect to get a ton of writing done there, make sure you get your day’s words in beforehand. It’s hard to write and socialize at the same time.
  10. Turn off the internet. Seriously. Do NOT surf Facebook during your writing time. It won’t work.
  11. This crazy thing happens when you’re focused on writing one novel–other ideas that sound more amazing will come to you. Don’t start over! Finish what you started! Even if you hate the 50k words, just sludge through to the end. Editing can turn a painful story into a brilliant gem! If you have time after the first 50k, start the next novel…
  12. Don’t lose momentum. If you’re on a roll and you hit 1,667 words, keep writing if you can spare a few extra minutes. At least finish the thought you’re working on.
  13. If you’re having trouble sleeping, get up and write.
  14. Finish what you started! I can’t say this enough. If you hit 50k early or if you hit it on the 30th, focus on writing that novel to a conclusion. Remember goal #2: A complete first manuscript. The first 50,000 words will only carry you forward. Keep going.

Well, that’s the main gist of my formula, and I hope it helps you NaNoWrites out there–go forth and be prolific! Those of you who are already accomplished authors, weigh in–how do you NaNo?

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2 thoughts on “NaNoWriMo: Surviving and Winning

  1. Excellent post! I’m sharing it on my blog (crazywithkeyboard–http://sheilamcclune.wordpress.com/) in my posting tomorrow.

  2. […] people who have good and useful advice about how to properly prepare for a month of insanity (like Kronda Seibert, for […]

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