Happy November! And welcome to NaNoWriMo!
For those who have no clue what NaNoWriMo is, I’ll make this easy — Here’s the link!
For the lazy, NaNoWriMo is short for National Novel Writing Month, a non-profit organization and event aimed to help young writers “find their voice and achieve their creative goals!”
For me, NaNoWriMo is that time of the year that reinvigorates my desire to write. Throughout the year, life can sometimes get in the way, and I often forget my love for crafting worlds out of words. But November comes around and I’m “forced” to sit down and remember how much I loved it! Now, full disclosure – I’ve never actually finished (or “won”) NaNoWriMo. But that’s okay! Because I have finished an unpublished novel, and part of the reason I finished it is because of the motivation that NaNoWriMo provides, not just in November, but throughout the year as well.
I will be participating in NaNoWriMo “officially” again this year, and I plan on writing not only 50k in a novel but a short story as well. You’ll find a lot of great resources and tips on the NaNoWriMo site, but I wanted to share my own here on my blog. These can be used for NaNo or for writing all year round, as well.
Getting started on NaNoWriMo (or writing, in general)
1) Clean your desk: literally, electronically & metaphorically.
Einstein is quoted to have asked the rhetorical question “if a cluttered desk is the sign of a cluttered mind, what then is an empty desk?” But let’s be honest… it’s much easier to write when your desk is clean and unencumbered. A good writing desk has three things for me: a computer, a notepad with pen, and a snack and/or a drink. If I’m at the library or the kids are home, I add headphones to the mix. Nothing more or less is necessary to my writing process, but your process may vary, so adjust accordingly.
Electronic clutter is something I struggle with, but thankfully I think I’m halfway through my 12-step program to electronic clutter recovery. Find a program you enjoy and stick with it. If you’re a Word lover, download Word on all of your electronic devices, including your phone. I enjoy Scrivener, and finally bit the bullet and purchased the mobile version. I’m glad I did because I can finally delete all the other millions of apps my ideas were floating around in and centralize my thoughts into one location. If you’re the same and also love Scrivener, I recommend you create one file for ideas, another for each of your works in progress, and another for your blog and social media promotions.
Metaphorically, you must clean the desk in your mind. We all have a million tasks that we need or want to do, but if you want to be a good writer you’ll need to make writing a priority. A writer who does not write is not a writer! Thinking about writing is not writing. Butt in the chair, words to the paper/screen is writing. Make writing a priority and do whatever is necessary to clear the metaphorical desk in your mind. If you have kids (like I do) and have trouble writing when they are home, find someone to watch them and head to a library or clichéd coffee shop. Do not feel guilty for spending time on your hobby & craft, even if you only wrote 500 words that you’ll later delete, even if your work will never see the published light of day — time you enjoyed wasting is not wasted time. The mental benefits will greatly outweigh the costs.
2) Streamline your process.
I’ve already talked about my love for Scrivener — it’s a love that runs deep! And luckily, if you’re a newbie to it, Scrivener is available for free trial download during NaNoWriMo! I fell in love with the free trial and eventually paid for the full version. While I’m a newer user of the mobile version, I can already tell that I will enjoy it just as much as its desktop counterpart. The Dropbox sync is a great idea and makes transferring your work from one platform to another extremely easy, but I recommend (especially for larger works) going “old school” and purchasing a thumb drive or external hard drive as a backup in addition to storing a current copy on Dropbox. Save your work more than once and in more than one location! Back up your back up and you will never have to complain about lost works ever again.
Keep all your notes in one place… while I enjoy a good notepad and pen, and can even be described as a “stationary nerd,” I rarely sit down and handwrite an entire story. So instead of having a notebook for each work, I’m streamlining the process and trying something different this year. I purchased one large, fancy journal for all of my writing related scribbles. This journal includes my weekly writing plan: my to do list for blogs & social media, my daily and weekly word count targets, what stories I’m focusing on this week, a list of writing related business type things I need to remember & do that week, and my actual daily and weekly word count totals. I start each week with this one-page weekly plan and use the next couple of pages for jotting down ideas or longer excerpts to log into Scrivener later.
For NaNoWriMo, a 1500 daily word count every day is necessary to ensure 50k words at the end of November. This target increases to around 1700 if you plan on not writing on the weekends. I’m trying a new “rewards” system this year — stickers! After each 1000 words written, I’ll put a new color coded sticker on my weekly planner page. My hope is to mark the tiny achievements with a physical action (placing the sticker on the page as a job well done) and load up my previous days with tons of motivational & colorful reminders of what I have accomplished! I cannot take credit for this idea, however — one of my favorite authors to follow, V.E. Schwab, has posted her color-coded sticker calendar on Instagram for a while now and I’ve always found it so organized and neat. I’ve added a few tweaks to fit my own style and I think I’ve worked out a system that will help keep me motivated and organized this NaNoWriMo season.
3) Plan your novel.
Again, Scrivener to the rescue here. I do well with the electronic visual Scrivener provides. I’ve tinkered with my files over the last two years and I’ve found a system that works for me. I like to plan by chapters, so I make a folder for each chapter with a color coded label marker. I set Scrivener to show the colors in the binder for easy reference. Then I adjust the file’s status accordingly: idea, to do, first draft complete, first edits complete, etc. I’m able to load my binder with chapters, fill each corresponding note card with synopsis notes, and create character and location sketch sheets to jot down important things to reference to later for consistency throughout my story. I can layout the notecards on my digital cork board and review for structural changes and flow. I’m lucky enough to enjoy doing all of this electronically. Your brain may be different, however, and you may need to purchase actual notecards and cork boards for this process.
Whatever you need to do, I highly recommending outlining your novel before you start. Your story should have a beginning, middle and end, but don’t forget the five act structure either. Your characters need a rising action and a conflict, and your readers will want to see a resolution. A properly planned novel paces these actions so the story flows smoothly — a poorly planned novel reads like a choppy sea that eventually and somehow abruptly finds dry land. Don’t make your readers seasick.
4) And finally, don’t edit.
Not yet, at least. Part of what makes NaNoWriMo great is that it focuses on one thing – writing. Sure, if you have a typo, correct it, or if you notice a glaring inconsistency that you need to fix right away, fix it. And if you find yourself making the same writing mistakes over and over (i.e. using passive voice or changing tense or point of view), do try to correct and change those habits as you go along. But try to save the larger edits for the end. Write first, edit later. Stephen King covers his writing process in detail in On Writing. I highly recommend reading it or listening to the audiobook for motivation and direction on this area. Don’t be afraid to write bad stuff — it can all be edited later. I think Mr. King says it best with “write with the door closed.” Only you will see your first draft. Don’t worry about what’s in it just yet.
So there you have it! What have you found to be some of your most important things to remember while writing? Are you participating in NaNoWriMo this month? Leave a comment below or on my Facebook page and discuss!