5 Tips for NaNoWriMo 2016

This year's official NaNoWriMo banner

This year’s official NaNoWriMo banner

November means NaNoWriMo for huge numbers of writers, and if you’re one of them, take a look at the 5 tips that most help me when I’m trying to get words on the page:

If you can’t write, sleep. This is the rule I live by, and convincing myself to do it has resulted in huge productivity gains for me. The basic idea is that if you can work then you should work. If you have focus and energy at any given moment, then do the thing you need to be doing right then. This might mean putting off washing the dishes because you’re in the zone, or rescheduling a dinner date. It also means that if you’re not producing words, stop trying. Don’t stay up until 3 am, staring at a blank page, because you think that any minute now, you’ll figure out what you wanted to write next. This might seem counterintuitive; after all, finding time to write sometimes means carving out a few extra hours here or there, right? Sure, once in a while, if you’re actually writing, you’ll give up a little sleep to keep on typing. That’s fine. But in general, the less you sleep, the more unfocused and unproductive you are. Going to sleep — whether it’s getting into bed a little earlier than usual at night, or taking a nap during the day — helps you to recharge your batteries and clear out your brain so that when you are awake next, you’re more ready to write. Remember: Exhausted people don’t make word count.

Before you begin, tell yourself what you’re writing is going to suck, and that’s okay. There’s no way to write a great novel in 30 days without any editing. You might not even be able to finish the first round in a month. Even if you do, your first draft is going to be terrible, compared to what you’ll end up after you revise, rewrite, and edit. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t bother! NaNoWriMo is about giving yourself an excuse to write, or a deadline, depending on which you need to be motivated. It’s about getting 50,000 words down so you know that you can. So you have something to edit and rewrite (because you can’t edit a blank page). The only way to do that is to silence your inner editor, and write even if you think it’s bad. If you go into knowing that the novel you’re writing isn’t going to be brilliant in November, you’re a lot more likely to have actually written enough by December 1 that you have a draft you can revise.

Don’t spend a lot of time talking about, or decorating, your novel in progress. It’s tempting to write long blog posts, make Pinterest boards, and tweet constantly about the novel you’re writing this month. You’re investing a huge amount of time and energy into this endeavor, and you want your friends and family to know why. Of course you want them to see what you see in your story, even before you’ve written down. That’s natural. And after November, you can do all of those things. But, if you want to hit 50k in 30 days, you don’t have time to do anything other than write. (If you’re the sort of person who really needs social media approval to support you through the month, make it a reward for hitting smaller word count goals. A tweet every 1000 words, a blog post every 10 thousand, a new Pinterest board when you hit 25k, etc. Just remember, you don’t need those things as much as you need to write your novel. Always, always, write first.)

Maintain your health. In addition to sleeping, you need to eat. Take your vitamins. Get a check up or see a dentist, if you need to. Drink water every day. Get as much exercise as you can, when you can, even if it’s just setting an alarm to go off every hour so you stretch a little and pace around your apartment. (You can use that time to think about your next scene.) Your story isn’t going to appear on the page through willpower alone. You need to feed your body and brain for it to function at peak capacity. You need to be clean, and hydrated, and hopefully avoid those blood clots people get when they sit in the same spot for 14 hours without moving (like on a plane). It might be annoying to stop writing in order to stuff a sandwich into your grumbling belly, but remember that the November sprint is followed by the marathon of the rest of your life, and starving to death interferes with your ability to revise your novel in December.

Don’t listen to anyone who tells you that NaNoWriMo is a waste of time. Instead of arguing with the friends or family or other writers who try to stop you, or letting their negativity derail you, put it aside. You can hear them, appreciate your concern, and still do your own thing. Maybe it would be a waste of time for them, but if you’re doing it, there’s a reason. You see the potential of it. You need the structure, deadline, or community to help you through your first draft. You want the experience, or you need the practice, or you’ve just never done anything like this before and you wanted to try. Whatever the reason, it’s a good reason, because it’s yours.

Now, get off the Internet and write!

(If you’d like to add me as a friend on the NaNoWriMo site, I’m here: Carrie Cuinn)

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