Hello, dears readers, and welcome.
Ah, it’s getting to be that time of year. Autumn (Aki — or 秋, to make further use of my studies) is finally in the air, which here in Florida means the breeze is somewhat cool at certain points during the day, and there’s Pumpkin Spice drinks everywhere. Halloween is approaching, and I still need to watch some movies. And I have to stop myself from buying every bat I see (I love bats, in case you were wondering).
There’s one thing about autumn (秋) that I love more than anything, though–
NaNoWriMo…also known as National Novel Writing Month.
Started back in 1999, NaNo is a month-long writing challenge that spans the whole of November. The challenge is to write 50K (50,000 words) of a novel you’ve been dreaming to write — write alongside people from all over the world (pun intended)! It’s plenty of fun, and if you haven’t tried it, I recommend giving it a go at least once if you’re interested in writing, even if you have no desire to publish.
This will be my 9th year doing NaNo (almost to 10!), and I’m very excited. Every year on my old blog I wrote a post with tips for NaNo, and this year is no different. So sit back, relax, and prepare for some advice!
(And after you read this year’s tips, take a look at the bottom of the page for links to previous year’s tips.)
Tip #1: Don’t Edit!
My #1 writing rule (which I will get further into at some point) is this: first drafts are never last drafts.
Before this scares you, please wait a moment. This is actually a good thing!
In her book Bird By Bird, well-known amazing lady Anne Lamott calls the first draft the “shitty first draft” (pardon my words), and she’s exactly right. The first draft of a novel is almost always…well, if not awful, definitely not something you could shop to a publisher.
But that’s okay. Because the first draft is where you let your imagination run wild and run all over the sandbox of your mind. It doesn’t have to be perfect, because it’s play.
If you want to write a good story (and especially if you want to publish) you’re going to write more than one draft, from scratch. It’s just the way it is. You get to know more about your story and your world the more you write. But that doesn’t mean the first draft isn’t important, or that you should worry about having to rewrite it. It’s actually all part of the fun.
This leads to my tip: don’t edit during NaNo, because you’re going to rewrite everything anyway. And even if you’re just writing for fun (in which case you don’t have to worry about multiple drafts), it’s best not to edit, because it’s wonderfully easy to get stuck writing the same thing over and over again, and never get any further with the story.
If you’re unsatisfied with what you wrote last, keep going anyway, because you can fix it in the next draft. You can write notes on what you’d like to do differently next time if you want, but keep going. Forward momentum is key during NaNo. Worry more about having fun than that fun being perfect.
(Now there are some people who write a chapter they hate, and can’t go forward no matter what they try because they’re dissatisfied. In this case it may be a good idea to write that chapter you hated over again — saving your word count from the “dud draft”, and adding it to your overall. People aren’t cookie-cutter, so advice doesn’t work for everyone. The important thing to remember, I believe, is that you want to keep going and finish the story. If you need to tweak things a bit to get there, then fine — but don’t stop your forward momentum!)
Tip #2: You’re Not A Loser!
I love NaNo, but everywhere you turn you see “50K” flashing in your face, and sometimes this can be disheartening…especially if it’s halfway through the month, and you’re still at 10K or less.
Yes, the flashy goal of NaNo is to reach that 50K, what is (loosely) considered a novel. It’s a good accomplishment, and it’s worth being proud of. But what if your story is over at less than 50K? What if you only get halfway through the project? Or less than halfway? Does that make you a loser?
You know what is really worth being proud of, even more than reaching 50K?
I have not reached 50K every year I did NaNo, though I used to feel like I had to. The first year I “lost” was difficult for me (you can read about it here). I’m a perfectionist, so I always want everything to be orderly and amazing. I expect far too much of myself. You might be like that, too. But there’s a difference between challenging yourself and holding yourself to an impossible standard.
Is it possible for you to reach 50K? Yes, it is. It may not be during NaNo because of whatever reason, but you can finish your story. That doesn’t mean the work you put in during NaNo isn’t worth something, though.
I recently met a young girl who quit NaNo last year because she didn’t get very far, and work got in the way. When I encouraged her to try again, I said she’d win even if she only reached a few thousand words. She looked at me like I’d grown an extra head.
But it’s true–
Writing is the real goal of NaNo.
Trying something new. Working and continuing to work. Believing in what you have to say. Because this is what “real” writers do — write when they don’t feel like it, when they’re under pressure, when everything seems to be going wrong or you have no time. If you keep pushing forward, you’re being a real writer, even if you only write ten words a day.
50K is great, but don’t fall into the trap of believing that it’s the ultimate goal.
If you’re working and persevering — no matter how many words you write, or how sloppy a chapter is, or how trite the dialogue seems — then you’re winning.
Reaching 50K is just a bonus.
Tip #3: Love That Story!
As I mentioned above, the first draft of a novel is the equivalent of a sandbox. There might be hidden toys or coins or old candy wrappers somewhere in the sand. You don’t know–
But it’s your job to find out what’s there…and what to do with it.
Can you build a novel out of old junk? Sure you can. Writers recycle ideas all of the time, and that’s not a bad thing; we humans love to put a new spin on things. But you might find that if you polish that old junk, it will turn into something beautiful…even something new once you add a few flourishes.
Chances are, you chose whatever story you’re working on for a reason. It doesn’t really matter what the reason is, because it (and the story) are unique to you. In my experience, we tend to write about things that are personally important to us, or things that we personally like. So embrace your likes and passions, no matter how strange they may seem to someone else.
It’s your story, after all.
I’ve switched ideas (I tend to do this) and am working on a sci-fi novel. It’s a product of my complicated relationship with technology and science, born from several of my favorite shows and characters. The story is very close to my heart, though someone else would probably laugh about it.
But who cares?
This is my story to cherish and love, just as your story is yours to cherish and love.
So be loving to your story during November, and be loving to yourself. Remember why it’s important to you, why it matters.
Unless you let them, no one can take that away from you.
Tip #4: Take Care (Of Yourself)!
Who here tends to forget to eat, sleep, and stop working?
Hopefully I’m not the only weirdo out there. But if I am, oh well. I’d love to not to be in good company, because none of the above things are particularly desirable. I’m hoping you don’t need this bit of advice, and can move on to the bottom of the post.
But just in case I’m not the only weirdo, I’ll give you a (probably) much-needed reminder (which I am also giving myself):
Writing is great. Goals are great. Challenges are great.
But remember to take care of yourself during NaNo.
You can’t finish that novel — or write another one — if you don’t care for yourself. Your body is only made to take so much. Overwriting can be damaging to your arms, back, etc., so remember to stretch, to take breaks, to take days off if you need to (don’t look at me like that; your health is more important).
Remember to eat well, and sleep. Bring snacks to your desk if you have to (I do). Showers will keep you from feeling too grimy to write, and your (real and imaginary) friends will thank you.
Also, remember to spend time with your family. Carve out a schedule if you must, but don’t ignore people during the month. Not only are family, friends (and your fellow Wrimos) great sources of encouragement, but they can be great sources of inspiration, too.
Also, go to a NaNo event if there’s one near you. Writers aren’t usually serial killers — just the characters in their books.
(I mean: we can be a strange bunch, but we’re usually fun. Go meet someone who loves words as much as you do, and help support them in their writing, too).
I hope you enjoyed the post, and are excited for NaNo to begin. It’s coming soon, so stock up on snacks, pens, paper, and charge up your laptop to get ready to go!
As promised, here are links to my previous NaNo posts. Enjoy!
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