Dr. Peeler's Five Laws of Nanowrimo!
Howdy folks! I'm doing Nanowrimo this year, and I thought I'd share my thoughts on how to engage with National Novel Writing Month successfully.
"But you haven't even finished successfully, Dr Peeler," readers may be thinking. "You are only halfway done!"
This is true. But what I've noticed these first two weeks is that Nanowrimo is mostly what writers do, when they're on deadline. A few thousand words a day is not much for us, especially if we write genre fiction. On Twitter, writers with contracts for 3-4 books a year (a pretty standard number for those who actually make a living writing) often talk about writing five thousand or more words per day.
And that's partly why I like Nanowrimo as a learning experience for aspiring writers. It's nice to think of writing as this wonderful enterprise where one sits in a puddle of sun, scribbling and laughing and eating bonbons. The truth is much uglier, oftentimes a bit smellier, and definitely involves other physical reactions than laughing, dread being at the top of my own list.
So here's how I get through my novels, and here's what is making Nanowrimo actually quite easy for me. I know how obnoxious that sounds, but I want everyone who wants to be a writer to think about what I'm saying. Think of me sweating, and swearing, and spending mornings, unshowered in my pajamas, frantically typing while wondering how I'm ever going to get through it all.
That's called being a writer.
And here's my top five tips on how to do it:
I don't care how you plan. I don't care if you outline (although that's my method), or storyboard, or write on cocktail napkins or tattoo your inner thighs with random plot points.
BUT YOU MUST PLAN. Writing an actual manuscript is not about vomiting out great ideas. Great ideas are a dime a dozen. Furthermore, there are no original great ideas. What there is, however, is the possibility of heartfelt execution that brings something nuanced to those tropes we've been battering about ever since humans started scrawling on the walls of their caves. So plot! Think about what you're doing! Think about how you will do it! And write something down, on something, somewhere.
2) WORK WITH YOUR OWN SCHEDULE AND HABITS.
You know yourself. No one else does. People will say, "Oh, you HAVE to write in the morning," or, "I get all my best work done at night." I don't care if you do your best work on the toilet, wearing a tea cozy on your head. If that's what works for you, that's what works for you.
That said, you do want to spend a little time thinking through your schedule. There will be days that you can't write, so you might have to make up for those days over that weekend, or the next day. There will be days that you definitely can't write in the morning. But what if you do your best writing in the morning? Maybe that's a situation in which you don't write one day, but get ahead on any other work or chores using that time, and then write the next day, knowing you have all morning. So basically, if #1 is Plan Your Novel, #2 is Attempt to Plan Your Life. Obviously, that's easier said than done, but do make an effort to figure out what works for you and how you can achieve your optimum writing time. Then, constantly reassess as things change.
3) REACH OUT TO OTHERS.
The great thing about Nanowrimo is that it introduces people to other writers in their area. Reach out to them! Attend Write-Ins if you can. If you're someone who does actually live in the middle of nowhere, and there really isn't anyone else around, reach out to your family. Someone's always working on something--taxes, PTA posters, whatever. Tell them you'd love to set aside some "working time" at a cafe, or your house, or their house, or in the middle of a stream. It doesn't matter. What matters is not feeling so alone in this endeavor. And this idea of reaching out is actually a really important part of writing, for all of us. Writing can be very solitary, and so Nanowrimo helps facilitate what other writers have to do on their own--finding people who commiserate.
4) DON'T FOCUS ON THE FIFTY.
I think that, for a lot of people, the idea of writing 50,000 words is hugely daunting. No matter how it's written, 50,000 (fifty thousand, 50k, etc) is a huge number.
That said, keep in mind that 50,000 words isn't even a "real" novel. It's a novella, at best. I'm not saying that to be a jerk, I'm saying that to remind everyone that 50k is an arbitrary number.
So that's why we shouldn't focus on the fifty. Instead, focus on more manageable goals. Focus on daily word counts, or on weekly word counts. Focus on the quarter-mark and the halfway mark. We should also reward ourselves at each milestone. Because any words written at all is a coup. Which leads me to....
5) IF YOU WROTE ANYTHING, YOU'RE A WINNER.
I don't care if you wrote 1,000 words, or 49,995. To me, it's not about "winning" Nanowrimo. As an educator, and a professor of creative writing, I think that attempting Nanowrimo can teach people so much about themselves and their real relationship to writing. The key is to self-assess, no matter how many words one accomplished. Maybe someone "wins" Nanowrimo, but they hated every minute of it, and they hate what they wrote. Such a person should think about whether he or she really wants to be a writer. Conversely, maybe someone only wrote 20,000 words this month. But if, upon assessing her progress, that person realizes that she loved every minute of the process, and she loves her book, and that 20,000 words x 5 months=100,000 words=one whole novel, I would consider such a result a much greater reward than a "winner" icon.
So those are my five rules for Nanowrimo. A sixth might be NOT to fall into the trap of snacking while writing, as down that road lies obesity, but that's another rule for another day. ;-)
If you want to add me as your Nano buddy, I'm NicolePeeler. To all, good luck with writing! And keep on trucking!