Are you guys joining me in NaNoWriMo? Here are some tips to get started!
Hey Legion! LoL founder Jenna Busch here. If you clicked on this story, you probably know what NaNoWriMo is. Maybe you’re gearing up to write right now. If you’re not familiar with NaNoWriMo, it’s National Novel Writing Month. The goal is to do a 50,000 word novel by November 31. Now, that might seem like a lot, but once you get going, if you write a little bit every day, you could easily have a first draft of something that might end up getting published! You can go here to register your book. There are a ton of fun things to check out on the site, from fellow authors to word count accountability.
I’m working on a novel that is almost done, so I’m not doing 50,000 words. I’m almost to 99,000. However, I’m using NaNoWriMo to write the rest of it, and to go back in and edit my work. It’s inspiring, having the world join you. Maybe it’s not a novel you’re doing. Maybe you’re editing like I am. Maybe it’s non-fiction. Maybe it’s a backlog of writing you meant to get to but got overwhelmed. Let me tell you, I understand. I get it more than you think.
I’ve got some tips for you. Quick background: I write every single day. My day job is writing. My night job is writing. I take breaks to exercise every single day, but other than that, I’m typing my little fingers off. I write for a million sites. I write news. I write fiction. I write non-fiction. I contribute to the PsychGeeks series. (Working on the 10th one right now.) I write reviews and grocery lists. I speak at conventions about writing and the discipline of it. So, to help you out with NaNoWriMo, here are some tips to get started and to keep going!
Find a time that works for you
If you have kids or your house is noisy, maybe early morning or late evening is the time you can spare to write. If you need privacy to write, and being asked where the cookies are, and which side of the street the car is parked on is going to mess you up, then maybe this month you get up early or stay up late. Having a dedicated time to write will help keep you on track. Any time you can write distraction free, you’re guaranteed to get more done.
Set a time goal
No, you don’t have to write eight hours a day. You don’t even have to write for four. Those are the lengths of time many writers cite, but some of those writers get to do it in a child-free cabin in the woods. I have cats and a boyfriend and phone calls and UPS, etc. I choose to work for two hours either in the early morning or late evening. I even set a timer. If it’s an appointment to do something for yourself, you’re more likely to stick to it.
Set a word count goal, but only if it’s not going to stress you out
Now some people like a word count goal. I do for my day job, but not for the novel. I want to write what comes to mind and worry about that later. There are going to be days where it’s harder to work, or the ideas aren’t coming as fast as others. If you’re cool with a lot of work on one day and less on others, then adding it all up to a daily word count, great. If the idea of a goal freaks you out, don’t bother. Just start. I promise you, as you go, that word count is going to feel like a goal, and you’re going to start counting.
Find a writing cave – even if it’s under the covers
I have a tiny little apartment in Los Angeles. I don’t have a cabin in the woods (which is fine, because that’s where horror movies happen). What I have is a little corner of the kitchen where I shoved my desk. However, I made it nice. There is a cat bed on there (Peanut is my writing buddy) because that’s what I like. I have little toys on my desk and my glasses set in a special spot. It works for me. If you can’t get time alone, go sit in the bathroom. Sneak your computer in there in the middle of the night and tell your family you ate something weird. I once wrote in the tub during a convention because it was cool and I was alone in there. Please learn from my mistakes and put a pillow under your butt if you do that. The point is, having a small place to go to for your daily appointment with your novel helps.
DO NOT STARE AT A BLANK PAGE
I don’t get writer’s block very often, and there is a reason for that. There are days that I have no freaking idea what to write, or days I go back and rip apart what I did the day before. That’s all part of it, and if that’s what you do one day, you are not alone! Writer’s block is a nightmare, but let me tell you, a blank page only makes it last longer. So, if you have no idea what to write today, or every idea seems like a piece of crap, start writing your grocery list. Do it as though it’s your character’s grocery list. Are you writing about someone in Ancient Rome? Cool. Start writing about how they need to get peacock tongues and how the wine has to be watered (Claudius gets drunk if you don’t), and how you need to get that toga hemmed by someone because you’re tripping over it. So embarrassing! Write it in list form or write it as a conversation that your character is having in their head or with someone else. How about a stream of consciousness about how your character feels about another person, or how they feel about the shoes they have on? No, you probably won’t use it, but you’re writing. There is something on the page. You can go back and edit later, but what you’ve just done is a character study. Then…
Don’t be afraid to erase what you’ve done
…erase what you’ve done, but make sure you back it up! Cut and paste your musings into a different document and leave them there. You can always use that as your “sketch pad” when you need to get into the mindset for your character or the book. Anyway — and I cannot stress this enough — do not be afraid to throw out your work if you’ve backed it up somewhere. It’s really hard for writers to go in and edit (and you can ask for help here from select friends — more on that later), but being able to throw out your work, even if you just love that turn of phrase, is the biggest hurdle you have to get over. It hurts. It’s painful to throw out your work. It sucks. You have to do it anyway if it’s not working. I just cut nine chapters out of my book because the beginning was too long. I also kept them in another document because I might need them later, or they might be the beginning of another book.
Ask for help, but not from everyone
Here is where you let your baby go. They have to grow up sometime. So, you’ve written a few chapters. High five! You did great! Now, you have to find some outside eyes. Many writers differ on who to ask, but in my opinion, you find your most honest friend, and you ask them for help. Then you find a few more. Not a lot. You just want friends who you can trust, and who are big readers. Now, if you have 10 friends in your writing circle and one of them doesn’t like something but the rest do, listen to that friend, but remember that not everyone is going to love your work. If five of them have the same issue, it’s probably worth checking out. If they all feel the same, it’s time to restructure. Keep the group small, though, and keep to people who aren’t going to tell you it’s great so they don’t hurt your feelings.
Can’t find time at the computer? I have another way!
Want to know how I started my novel? I wrote it while hiking. Seriously! I needed to get exercise in, and I came up with an idea while hiking in the mountains. I spoke scenes into my phone and let it transcribe. Oh, you have to go back in and fix it all up, but it works! I would hike and speak, and I got 45 chapters done that way! I didn’t always write them in order, but I did it. Then I’d get home and my time at the computer was spent fixing grammar or editing. Everyone I passed thought I was crazy, but who cares? Do they have a book?
What to do about writer’s block
See the above tip about not staring at a blank page first. Not working? Here are a few more things to try.
Get outside: A change of scenery really helps stir you up.
Do something physical: Running, yoga, cooking, walks with your friends…anything to get you moving and take your mind off of what you’re stuck on.
Talk it out: A conversation with a good friend about what your character would do, or how a plot point is going to work can get you unstuck pretty quick.
Don’t beat yourself up: You are not alone, and it will pass. I promise.
So, are you guys joining me in NaNoWriMo? Let me know in the comments! Good luck! I can’t wait to read all of your books!