How To Survive National Novel Writing Month

Someone posted a thread for Experienced Wrimo’s to impart their wisdom on my region’s board. I’m going to re-post it here, because a lot of what I said can also be said about the writing in general:

1) Write crap. Embrace the crap you write and love on it. Crap is good. Don’t just stare there at the page waiting for your muse to come to you. 90% of the time your muse won’t show up on command. Just write. You will write a lot of crap before you stumble across a few gems, but the crap is worth it. Sometimes you can even salvage it and it turns into something beautiful.

2)You will deal with writer’s block; don’t panic. Look for trends in what’s causing the block, because half the battle is knowing what you’re up against. For me, it’s that I get so focused on what I’m writing that my brain shuts down and refuses to think of the story. I walked away during Camp NaNo this year for 5 days straight. I have no regrets. You may have to walk away from your story for a few days, but it’s okay. It’ll be worth it in the end.

3) Don’t obsess over your word count. NaNo is a journey, a fun event, and if you’re fretting constantly over your word count, you won’t enjoy your experience. During Camp NaNo, while my older sister fretted over me being four days behind on my word count, I just shrugged and tried to get past my writer’s block. 50K is awesome to reach, but NaNo is so much more than just a word count. It’s a journey, and you don’t want to miss it.

4) Carry around a notebook or something portable so that when you get those bursts of inspiration, you have a place to jot all of your brilliant ideas down.

5) Back up everything, including your notes, often, across different mediums (dropbox, notebooks, etc.). I lost critical notes because I didn’t transfer information from a notebook  to my computer.

6) NaNo is doable on your own (based on doing two years of NaNo without showing up to a single write-in, except maybe the kick off party), but you are seriously missing out on epic moments if you don’t show up to the write-ins. Not only do you have guilt monkeys at your disposal, but you have people to voice your frustrations to – chances are someone else is frustrated as well and you can bond over your frustration and misery.

7) Don’t be afraid to write more than 1,667 words. There will be days you will not be able to write or you will deal with writer’s block. The extra words act as a nice buffer for those days.

8) Things might change as you work on your novel. Details, protagonists, the plot – writing is a nasty beast in that it sometimes changes mid-stream, but don’t be afraid to follow the new current. It may be the story you intended to tell.

9) Embrace the word padding powers of backstories. Backstories can be found in the oddest of places, including the dagger underneath the bed. Don’t be afraid to explore (but what do I know, I’m a Hufflepuff) your story, you will find things you may not have intended or planned on finding. 9 times out of 10, backstory is a powerful and effective way of advancing the plot, not to mention it’s great for character development.

10) This is a first draft. First drafts are idea dumps and are hardly masterpieces (unless you’re lucky or you’re a genius). Just pour all those beautiful words, details and ideas to the page, even if you end up cutting out some of those words, ideas or details later. Don’t let your inner editor get the better of you by questioning if something will fit into your story or not. That’s what editing is for.

11) There is no magical one size fits all approach to writing. Not everyone writes with a fancy writing computer program (some like Scrivener, some like WriteWay), pen and paper, or even a typewriter. Some write using the “Three Acts” method, others wait until editing to divide their manuscript into chapters and scenes. You have to decide what works for you and you only, because what works for me might not work for you.

2 thoughts on “How To Survive National Novel Writing Month

  1. That’s a brilliant post. And yes, I’ve done NaNo since 2007, and the first couple years I was on my own. These past two years I’ve been involved and it’s helped a lot. Just talking random scenes and plot ideas, or even having someone else come up with a character name or a word war, it all helps.

    Best tip, just write, write the crap. writing helps no matter what comes off your fingers.


    • The first two/three years I did NaNo, I flew solo because I couldn’t make the meet ups. I could only ever manage the kick off. I really love the write-ins, especially since, in the Ottawa County-Grand Rapids region we also have a crafts element to our noveling (cyborg attack weasels, and NaNo bots). Showing up at the Write-ins, especially the chat room write-ins, are priceless, even for the hilarity that usually goes down.


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