NaNoWriMo: A Survival Guide

The clocks have gone back, the nights are drawing in and the supermarkets are full of pumpkins. It is almost that time of year again…

nanowrimo-2014

For those not in the know, NaNoWriMo is short for National Novel Writing Month. The goal is simple: write a 50,000-word novella in the 30 days of November.

This year will be my fifth NaNoWriMo. I’ve participated in 2006, 2007, 2011 and 2013. 2011 and 2013 birthed my two published novels, Binary Witness and Code Runner.

If you are thinking of taking the plunge and participating in your first NaNoWriMo, I have a few words of advice to help get you through…

Plot as much or as little as you need
You may heard the question “plotter or pantser?” addressed to authors. Basically, do you plot our everything that happens in your novel or do you just write whatever you feel like at the time? I’m somewhere in the middle. I need to know how the novel begins and ends but the middle is a little more free-flowing. If I over-plot, I get bored because if I already know what happens, why would I bother writing it? I have to write for me as well as my imagined audience.

If this is your first piece of creative writing, you may not know what suits you best. However, don’t take the advice of anyone who says “you must plot” or “you must go with it” – everyone is different. I recommend starting with a basic beginning, middle and end, but you can fill in the gaps with reams of notes or nothing but air. Go with your gut!

Aim above your word target
If you’re aiming for 50k overall, you need to write 1,667 words per day to meet your target. I recommend setting up a simple spreadsheet to monitor your progress.

However, there will inevitably be days when Real Life gets in the way and you cannot write. The time to prepare for those days is at the beginning. This year, we are fortunate that NaNoWriMo starts on a weekend. For folks with full-time jobs, weekends are often the best time to build up words.

Some folks aim for 5k on the first weekend, to get a good head start. Do what feels right for you – don’t get burned out and disheartened by putting too much pressure on yourself right out of the gate.

Apologise to your friends and family in advance
Unless you are a demon-fast writer, you are going to be a recluse for the next month. You are going to be spending time every day writing, time that you would usually spend elsewhere.

The most probable area to take the hit will be socialising. You might have to decline a few parties or set your box to record all your favourite TV. Your spouse may have to cook a few more dinners.

If you want to compromise your people time as little as possible, look for areas where you can squeeze in some writing time. And remember to recharge – you can’t write all the time. Spending time living is where the creativity springs from.

Hang out on the forums
Between frenetically typing your magnum opus, you should spare a little time to check out the NaNoWriMo forums. For me, this is one of the best parts of the experience.

From bizarre fact-checking requests (“how can I poison someone underwater?”) to fun writing games (“write the demise of the last commenter”), this is where the spirit of NaNoWriMo really lives. Take encouragement from the thousands of people sharing the journey with you.

Finish – and then WAIT
When you’ve won NaNoWriMo, you feel on top of the world. You have done it – you are a novelist.

You are, of course, eager to show your masterpiece to the world. DO NOT DO THIS. You may have written a novel, but it is a raw, baby proto-novel. To send your novel out into the world now would be like enrolling your toddler in university. You are not yet done!

Put your novel in a drawer and wait. Wait at least a month and do not look at it. Do not even think about it. Catch up with all the people and hobbies you’ve been neglecting over November. Binge on Gotham and do your Christmas shopping.

In January, after you’ve recovered from New Year, you can look at your novel again. And then the real work begins.


Doing NaNoWriMo this year? Add me as a writing buddy! Writing a novel that involves psychiatry or psychology? Check out the #psywrite Twitter chat on November 18th at 8pm GMT – and, if you can’t wait, ask me on Twitter or Goodreads.

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