NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month, is an incredibly tough challenge. The goal is to write a novel, or at least 50,000 words of a novel, during the month of November. 30 days of writing, 1,667 words per day. To meet this goal likely means writing every single day, without taking any breaks.
Or, as someone on Urban Dictionary put it:
NaNoWriMo, an acronym for National Novel Writing Month, is an especially sad disease, causing its victims to suddenly believe they can write a 50,000 word novel in a month. It is a particularly horrible form of social suicide, which, once having taken hold, cannot be avoided (Urban Dictionary).
Before this last weekend, I had never heard of NaNoWriMo. I attended Mile Hi Con, a science fiction and fantasy writers convention in Denver, Colorado. While there, I got to talk to a lot of authors and publishers. One of the most memorable authors I talked with was Paul Lell, who spared a lot of time talking with me, and answered questions I had about writing, publishing, and his role playing game.
Paul invited me to a panel on NaNoWriMo (let’s just call it NaNo from here on), where he and other authors discussed what the purpose of the competition is, and gave several tips on how to be successful.
What is NaNo Success?
One of the first things that was discussed was that NaNo was intended to get people to write novels, not to “win” the badge on a website. If you write 1,000 words, that is a success. Those 1,000 words would not have been written otherwise.
What is important is that you write. Every day.
To have a chance at winning NaNo, one must develop new habits and mental tools. There are a lot of tips I have heard, but for the sake of not having an incredibly long blog post, we will only touch on a few.
Disable the Internal Editor
Editing something while I write is a habit I have developed. I cannot see how this would be a bad habit, but it does get in the way of writing quickly. In fact, I have put off writing for several days because I am having trouble getting what I previously wrote to sound the way I want it to sound.
To write 1,667 words a day will probably take me about two hours per night. Adding editing time to that will make this nearly impossible to fit into my schedule. Some people suggested adding parentheses with notes to yourself for later if you think of something to change, so you can go back to it during the editing phase.
Don’t Waste Time on Names
Coming up with names is incredibly difficult for me. When I play games, I spend the first couple of hours staring at the character I just created trying to come up with a name, repeatedly hitting the “Random Name” button for ideas. For main characters in my stories, it is even worse. For minor characters, I have turned to fantasy name generators online to find something that works, or I give a shout out on Facebook, Twitter, or at home asking for a name. Before my son was born, when my wife and I were in the hospital, it was just a couple of hours before his birth when we finally decided on a name – Malikai.
During the NaNo panel, Paul mentioned a very elegant and simple solution to this, one that I can’t believe I had never thought of. Instead of stopping your writing to come up with a name, just insert some random character that you can search for later, and then come back and fill it in when you have a name.
For example, “Well, on second thought, let’s not go to <>. It’s a silly place.” Then, when you think “Camelot would be a great name for that!,” you can do a search for “<>” and replace it. This way, you do not stop your writing process to think and research a name, which may lead to even more distractions. Other people in the panel used different words or acronyms.
I wonder if that would have worked at the hospital with my son? “Just put <> on this birth certificate, we will fill it in later.”
An important question I have to answer is, why do I want to do this?
The short answer is, because having a challenging goal in writing can be fun, especially when doing it with thousands of other authors around the globe.
I know that this will help me develop a writing routine that I will hopefully keep in the future, making it easier to finish my novels without taking years to write them.
Another reason is, it gives me a chance to work on a new project, which gives me a break from the current series I am writing. I know that it will not distract me for too long, since it is only a 30 day challenge.
There is something else I am hoping to learn from this. Ever since I thought about being an author, I have written down story ideas that I have come up with, but I have never come up with enough information to write a story about them. Now, I only have nine days before the NaNo challenge starts on November 1st. In that time, I have to pick one of five story ideas, and develop it just enough to start writing it.
If I am successful at writing 50,000 words from just nine days of prep work, then fewer of my stories will be stuck in limbo. I will know that I can write a book from the idea I already created, rather than waiting for my brain to think up most of the story before I start on it. Being forced to start on it before I finish the idea may very well be a good thing. I hope.
Are you going to join the NaNoWriMo challenge this year? What tips do you have for those of us trying for our first time? Leave your tips in a comment!