Yes, friends, November has begun, and with it National Novel Writing Month. What, you ask, is National Novel Writing Month? For those of you who are new to the scene, NaNoWriMo (NaNo) is a semi-organized challenge to write 50,000 words in 30 days (so actually not really a whole novel, unless you are working on a kid's book, in which case it's probably too long). Why? Because having a whole lot of people doing the same thing, and talking about it, is a great inspiration. And having an on-line word tracker to tell you if you made your daily target (roughly 1,666 words each and every day will do it) can be a big motivator. If you've been thinking about writing a novel, check it out. For more information, visit the NaNo web site, and check out the pep talk from one of my favorites, Chuck Wendig (yeah, the guy with all the weird writing prompts).
Now, before I ramble on about this, confession time: I am not participating this year. Last year I drafted a sequel to Death By Ice Cream, and at last I am ready to revise it (I had a couple of other books to finish first, including Halitor the Hero, coming out Nov. 30th!). So I'm having a fine NaNoEdMo (national novel editing month). But I intend to feed off the energy NaNoWriMo generates, in hopes of actually ending November with a solid second or third draft, ready for beta readers and editors.
But after participating exactly once, I'm going to brazenly offer some tips, or at least ideas, based on my experience.
1. Make an outline. If you read this and suddenly decide to participate, you are probably sorely tempted to just start writing. Resist the urge. Even if you are not normally an outliner (that would make you a "pantser"; i.e. someone who writes by the seat of their pants) I strongly recommend making at least a rudimentary outline. I did it last year (for the first time) and got two benefits. For one thing, I could turn to the outline when I got stuck, and always have a suggestion about what to write next. I am reaping the other advantage now: this is definitely the most coherent first draft I have produced to date. Even if you just make a list of plot points you want to hit, you'll thank yourself later.
2. Make a few NaNo friends. This will give you someone to whom you are accountable. You can either feel a desperate need to sit down and write as they pull ahead of you in the word count, or you can feel smugly pleased when you hit your target each day and they don't. Either way, you are more likely to keep writing. On the flip side: if your NaNo friend stops posting word counts, ask if everything is okay. A friendly hand up goes both ways.
3. Read a few of the blogs and forums about dealing with problems and keeping motivated, but don't get sucked into the black hole of the Internet. Maybe put your Facebook folks on notice that you are not going to be around much, and stick to it. You are going to need to carve out a couple of hours (at least) of writing time each day, and that means reducing distractions, because you still have to do your day job.
4. Leave blanks. Don't be distracted by the need to research obscure things or come up with a lot of names. I am finding all sorts of interesting blanks in my MS where I didn't want to take the time to look back at the first Pismawallops PTA novel to find a name or details of an event. Keep your momentum!
5. Whatever you end up with is more than you started with, so don't beat yourself up if you don't meet your targets. Just keep on writing through December, January, and whatever it takes.
And finally, the most important thing:
6. Don't publish what you have at the end of the month. I cannot emphasize this enough. A draft is not a novel. It's a good start. Celebrate your good start, let it sit a few days or weeks or months, and then start revising.
Good luck with the writing, everyone!