I write a novel usually every November for National Novel Writing Month, abbreviated NaNoWriMo, and further abbreviated to NaNo. I’ve been doing NaNo since 2004 and I almost always win (if I’m writing a novel — sometimes I have done revision instead, and my success is more mixed with revision), and usually finish the novel, which means I usually end up writing more than the 50,000 words required to win. Last year, 2016, I won with over 96,000 words with a finished novel. So, now that I’ve presented my credentials, on to the advice!
Caveat: This advice (well, except for #1) might not work for everyone. I think #1 is absolutely necessary for everyone. Oh, and #10, too.
1. HAVE FUN. If you aren’t having fun, you’re doing it wrong. That doesn’t mean you enjoy every single second. Sometimes, you will get discouraged or have bad days, and that’s normal. But overall and in looking back, you should remember it mainly as a time of fun. You should do silly things and go a little crazy. In fact, sometimes when I do get discouraged or have bad days, I turn them around by deliberately doing something extra silly. Even if the words are bad, I end up having fun.
2. HANG OUT WITH THE OVERACHIEVERS AND LET THEM INSPIRE YOU. They are proof that not only can this be done, but that even more can be done. Maybe you won’t match them, but let yourself be amazed by them and work towards meeting and exceeding your own personal goals. Some people get discouraged, and I get that, but at least for me, it’s a choice. I can choose to be discouraged or to be inspired, and when I choose to be inspired, I write more and better. This might be in the category of “easier said than done” for some people, so if that’s you, try it a few times when things are going well for you and build up the practice.
3. USE A TIMER AND MEASURE DIFFERENT LENGTH SESSIONS. This is how I found out at one point that I was best with hour-long sessions. My averages for shorter times and longer times were less words per minute than for the hour session, but that has changed. My averages now are more consistent across the board: 5 min=150 words, 15 min=500 words, 30 min=1,000 words, 1 hour=2,000 words, 2 hours=3,000 words. But when I originally started tracking, I was only getting 400 words for 15 minutes and 800 words for 30 minutes . . . and still 2,000 words in one hour. So, two 30-minute sessions would only give me 1,600 words, while one 1-hour session would give me 2,000. Same amount of time, but because it took me awhile to warm up, I was faster in the second half-hour if I had already been writing. Sometimes, I still did shorter sessions because it isn’t always about the most efficient plan but any plan. Some people do best at 15 minutes or 3 hours.
4. TRY EVERYTHING. By this, I mean read lots of different advice and try different things out. This might span multiple years, too. Pants a novel. Plan a novel. Just plan the plot. Just plan the characters and setting. Edit as you go. Don’t edit anything, even typos. Break each scene up as separate documents. Write the whole novel in one document. The more you try, the more you learn about what works for you and when. I found out in my first NaNo (failed) that I *need* to edit. If I leave in all the typos and do not at least comment on the bigger problems, I end up with a big SUCKY NOVEL black cloud that hangs over my head and makes me miserable and makes me hate even thinking about the novel, so then I just stop writing. It makes me violate Rule #1. If I at least note that there’s a problem, it cues my mind that the problem has been dealt with at least for now and I can keep having fun. Others end up in a morass of eternal editing-not-writing if they even stop to correct one typo.
5. TRY TO WRITE EVERY DAY. But forgive yourself and move on if you end up missing one or more days. I used to always have a few 0-word days and I still usually won. Now I don’t because of that darn write 30 days achievement and also not wanting to lose my streak at 4thewords.**
6. MIX UP YOUR ROUTINE. Especially if you feel stuck. Go somewhere else. Write on paper instead of the computer. Ask your characters what’s wrong.
7. FEEL PROUD OF YOURSELF. If you have done more than you would have without signing up, you are winning. And darn it, you are writing a novel (insert other crazy “impossible” goal for rebels)! You are doing it!
8. COMPETE WITH YOURSELF AND OTHERS. Don’t lose sight of #2, though. Compete with the people who are close to you in word count — sort your Writing Buddies by Word Count – High to Low and try to get onto the first page by slowly beating the people on the same page as you. Try to beat your personal bests. This requires knowing what they are, so track your progress.
9. UPDATE YOUR WORD COUNT AND POST (sparingly if you get distracted easily) ON THE FORUMS. Because you will see your bar and that will inspire you to write more.
10. BACK UP YOUR WORK. You don’t want to lose it in a storm or fire or something. Make copies if you aren’t working on a computer and save those copies in another place. Print hard copies and save your work in multiple places if you are working on a computer. This is your novel!
11. SURROUND YOURSELF WITH NANO. Wallpapers, special playlists, etc. Have reminders everywhere, so you feel the urge to up your word count wherever you are.
12. CREATE WRITING RITUALS. They shouldn’t be necessary (that is, you should still be ABLE to write without the ritual), but have certain things that you do to signal that it is writing time – like setting the timer in Rule #3.
13. WHEN YOU ARE IN A WRITING SESSION, WRITE. However you choose to delineate a writing session, do not allow yourself to go away from your novel for any reason. If you have bodily issues, take care of them before starting a session, unless they are a complete surprise. And do not just stare at the screen. Write. Something. Anything. Write.
You can do it!
**For information on 4thewords and other writing resources, check out my Writing Resources page!