It’s coming. Oh, God, it’s coming. On my way too and from work, I have seen people rushing around to get the shopping done, seen the lights being put up ready to be turned on, but right now, the fear and excitement many writers will be feeling won’t be coming from the approaching holiday season. There is something creeping up on us, much sooner than Christmas. I say creeping, but it’s close now, a little under two weeks away, and with each day that passes, I keep remembering it’s coming and stopping everything I’m doing, as dread fills me. Dread, mixed with a bit of that excitement that causes butterflies that flip-flop in your stomach.
Many people will know by now what it is I’m talking about. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, with November on our doorstep, I am, of course, talking about one thing.
I love NaNoWriMo. To me, it offers a chance to really push yourself as a writer. Few people I know write more than 1,500 words a day, every day. I may, sometimes, do it, but usually that’s jumping from piece to piece, springing from one genre to another to keep myself going. Focusing on one thing for a month can be daunting, but it’s possible. More than possible. The first time I tried it, I was at school doing my A Levels. I spent a large part of October planning, and stopped writing pretty quickly. Lack of time and no interest in the story, I think. (Though the two times this happened, I did end up with a small bit of something I’d like to return to, eventually) When I started Uni, I had no desire to try it again. Daunted by the two fails, and settling into a new city with new friends, I just didn’t think I’d have the time.
November 1st came, and I was struck by an idea. I sat down, and I worked on it. What came out of that ended up spawning two other novels, the first drafts of which are both complete. That was 2009. In 2010, I was wondering whether or not to try again – I didn’t have an idea. I got the spark of one, but no main character came to me and I just couldn’t see a way to make it work. It came near the end of October, and once more I completed it. Last year, I had the idea for months. I stored it and thought about but only put a few words onto paper to keep the idea in my head. I completed it again, though that draft has remained on my computer, untouched and not being read by anyone.
Still, with three ‘successes’ under my belt, you’d think I’d be revved up for it this year. But there’s something hugely different now than the last three years. I’m working. I have a full-time job, and am actually starting in a new department on November 1st. On top of this, November has always been a busy month for me. My birthday is on the 12th, the last three years I’ve gone home the weekend before and usually done something the night of my birthday at Uni, while also celebrating the weekend after. Bonfire night is the week before, and deadlines for Uni fell in the middle of November. But I fell into the habit of doing 2000+ words a day, leaving myself time to do other things without falling too far behind. I don’t think I’ll have time for that this year. I still have my birthday, and Bonfire Night, but now I have work which means between 9 – 5 I won’t be able to write.
But I will try. If I can get in the habit of hitting at least 1000 words after work, and try to make up the rest on the weekends, then I may just scrape by. Or I’ll fall short. Either way, I know I’ll have tried. And that’s the whole point, isn’t it?
If you’ve always wanted to write a novel – or struggle to finish one – then I really do recommend you use November – and NaNoWriMo – to push yourself. It’s quantity, not quality, and December is when you can have a look over it and maybe thing about editing. Anyway, for anyone who is interested, here are my NoNoWriMo tips.
1. Plans Are Made To Be Broken
Some people, unlike myself, plan out their novels. They spend ages plotting, and fill pages with character descriptions, detailing every little thing about that character, from their childhood memories to their adult desires. Personally, I can’t do this, it makes me feel too constrained, and I find my characters come to life more if I just write them. Sometimes this means plunging them straight into the events of the novel. Other times I may write a few short stories or scenes, placing the characters in different situations.
Anyway, whatever your style, don’t feel you have to plan. But if you do spend October exploring plot ideas and what makes your character tick, don’t be afraid to throw it all out the window the second week of November if it’s not working. Similarly, if your plan for chapter five is to set it in a wooded area with birds chirping, but you get struck by the idea to set it on the side of the road, do that. Don’t be constrained; November is not the time to be chained to a plot idea, no matter how good it seemed in October.
2. Get A Good Tool
Of course, you could just use Word’s word count to follow your progress, but there are some great spreadsheets out there that allow you to input your word count and show you how you’re doing. I try to find ones that show the estimated date of finish (if you write the same amount every day), and how many words per day you need to write to reach your goal. They are brilliant, especially if you know you won’t actually hit 1,700 every day, and that your word count will drop up and down on a day-to-day basis. They work well to encourage you, too, and to give you a great idea of how well you’re really doing.
3. Write Something You Enjoy – Don’t Be Afraid To Play
This may seem simple, but you really do need to make sure you’re going to enjoy writing your novel for a whole month. It’s no good to set out to write a literary novel. Personally, I’ve found fantasy to be a great genre to write for this. For me, I like to write something that gives a lot of scope. It means that if I’m stuck on a scene, I can switch to something else or change POV. If you’re struggling to hit that word count, play around a bit. Multiple POVs worked for me in 2009, having a lot of different characters (demons and werewolves and vampires, oh my!) helped in 2010 and in 2011, I wrote about an immortal alien who has had to adjust to different time settings since World War One. It meant I could jump around whenever I got frustrated with one part of it. And don’t be afraid to mix it up; this year, I’m writing about a character who finds himself dropped to different points in time and space. Originally, he was just going to go back and forth in time but I decided to throw in a couple of AUs too, just so I have that scope if and when I need it. Main point; keep yourself interested. Don’t worry if it becomes jumpy and hard to follow, you can edit and cut after.
One of the best things about the last three years has been the fact that I have been at University. In terms of NaNoWriMo, it helped a lot; not only did I have the time, but often I could adjust and change things from Creative Writing seminars and use them in my work. Essentially, they were prompts, and if you come across any in November that you like, use it. They can really help, especially when you find yourself a bit stuck. Use the month to experiment, to try different things you maybe haven’t touched before. It can really help you keep things fresh and, more importantly, keep yourself interested.
5. Have Fun
This is the most important part, and it fits into everything else mentioned. You will not get through November if you don’t have fun with it. Don’t get stressed; you’re writing this for yourself, not for anyone else. If you get stuck, go for a walk, take a shower, read a book or play a video game. Relax, chill. Stress will make it harder, and may even stop the magic coming from your fingertips.
Good luck for NaNoWriMo 2012! Any tips you’d like to share?