Happy Halloween, everyone, and to all the writers shitting bricks about tomorrow, happy NaNo Eve! While Halloween is sure to be delightful, tomorrow kicks off NaNoWriMo, the month where millions of writers will attempt to complete a 50,000 word novel in less than a month. Every year, I come up to November 1st dreading it, but every November 30th so far, I’ve out the other side with a brand new, word-vomited manuscript that I can go back and edit later.
This year marks my 12th year participating in NaNoWriMo, and while many of those projects never saw the light of day, one of them ended up being my first published book, Whiteout. Now, there are still 10 other mostly-dead manuscripts sitting around, but 1/11 ain’t bad, and some of those others might yet make it out. All that to say, I might not be a hot shit writer, but I do know how to finish a book and finish it quick. If you’ve ever struggled to complete NaNoWriMo, here are a few tips that get me through every year.
My NaNo Credentials: https://nanowrimo.org/participants/mac_ashton
1. Embrace the word vomit
I’ve said it a million times, but somehow it doesn’t seem to always get through. There are going to be days this November where you feel like you’re writing beautiful prose and every word is perfect, but the vast majority of them will feel like slinging shit at an empty screen. That’s ok. Even when the words are clumsy, you’re still writing, and every word is experience. Write words and fix it in post!
2. Don’t be afraid to deviate
Outlines are great, they help keep you on track through the month and make sure you know where you’re going. I’ve done novels with and without them, and it’s really a toss-up as to which came out better. But, either way, don’t be afraid to deviate from your vision. If you’re getting bored with what’s happening, have the characters go do something else. Sometimes these little asides can become the best part of your book (looking at the cannibal cult in Whiteout).
3. Set aside time
You’re not going to complete NaNo if you don’t set aside time to do it. This might sound silly and obvious, but making the effort to schedule writing time is important. I get up earlier than usual in November and get a lot of my writing done before I’ve even gone into work. Tell your loved ones what you’re doing, and ask them to encourage you along the way. It helps when there’s others yelling at you to go write 🙂
4. When your stuck, use the egg timer
If you don’t have an egg timer (because it’s 2019), use your phone. I learned this tip from the great Stephen King in one of his interviews. If you’re stuck, set a timer for 20-30 minutes, turn everything else off and write. I don’t care if it’s: “and then the characters went here so the plot could move along” (I’ve done that more than once), but write. It doesn’t matter what it looks like, because whatever you write in NaNo is a draft. You can go back and fix it later. By the end of the 20-30 minutes, I often find I’m through whatever plot block was vexing me and itching to keep going.
5. Have fun, remember, it’s just a draft
Tying into my previous point, you’re never going to produce a perfect, finished novel on the first try, especially if its through NaNoWriMo. A month is far too little time to produce something publish-ready, and that’s ok. The most important thing is that you got the words on the page, you gained experience, and hopefully, had some fun. Look, I won’t lie, NaNoWriMo can be stressful, but at the end of the day, I feel satisfied knowing I put in a month of good work and have something to show for it. Even if last year’s book was an ill-advised sci-fi romp through post-apocalyptic Seattle (yeesh), I still wrote it.
I wish you the best this year with NaNo, feel free to connect with me on the site, Twitter, wherever. Always happy to offer words of encouragement or to talk through plot quagmires. See you all on the other side, you beautiful novelists, you. Here’s to this being us in 30 days: