katster’s handy fix-it-down and do-it-to-yourself type tips for winning NaNoWriMo with your sanity (mostly) intact…
This is a reprint of an article I put in my LJ last year.
The first and most important is that “It’s Nano. Embrace the suck.” (This is actual advice I gave last year to the Sacramento Nanoers. It’s advice I will be giving again this year. “Embrace the suck” has become the unofficial Sactown Nano motto.) Authors are not the most objective when it comes to their work, and will go on and on about how much the book sucks. Granted. It’s Nano; you’re writing 50k words in one month. Of course it’s going to suck. If you embrace the suck, it makes it that much easier to get through it.
Two, it really does help to write a bit each day. Actually dividing it out shows that one needs to write approximately 1,667 words in a day; Chris Baty and the other folk at NaNo HQ suggest two thousand words a day so that you can have slack for days when you absolutely cannot write. But try to get a few words down every day. Whether it’s three or three thousand, every word is one step closer to that magical 50k. (That said, I’m shooting for 2,500 words/day this year. I have to get on a plane and go back east before the month ends, and I want to be done before I get on that plane.)
Three, do not go back and edit. If you can avoid it, do not go back at all. Because seeing text on the screen seems to draw what Chris Baty calls “the internal editor.” You do not want the internal editor to show up! It makes it that much harder to make it through 50k. This ties into my first point about embracing the suck, because the internal editor is the guy mumbling that your work sucks, and well, if you just change this word to that word, and delete that sentence…the internal editor wants you to get *rid* of words, and that’s fatal when you’re trying to make word count. Lock the internal editor in a box, and don’t let him out until May at the earliest. June’s better.
Four, get started. Write as much as you can while you’re still bright-eyed and raring to work. Because it will slog later in the month, as the rest of the world, who doesn’t understand this whole Nano thing, will start making demands on your time, and you’re also going to hate this writing thing and curse whatever deities you believe in about letting you think you could actually do this. That’s natural. Plus, if you get behind on word count early, it’s somewhat discouraging. I know this one well because I didn’t get started until November 8th in 2005. I still managed to win, but that’s because I’m a fast writer, and the story suddenly just avalanched onto the page. I do not recommend this technique to anyone.
Five, use nasty tricks to get your word count. Is your character baking cookies? List out all the ingredients. Trying to figure out what to order at a cafe? List the menu. Another great one that was given at the Sac Nano meet and greet last year was “When in doubt, describe.” Description eats word count like nothing else. And if all you feel like writing that day is “I hate this; what got into my mind?”, go ahead and write it into the file. Yeah, it’ll end up a bit disjoint. That’s okay. Your inner editor is locked in a box, and when you let him out in
May June, he can take stuff like that out. Right now, all you care about is word count, and that sentence is eight words closer to it. If you write it a dozen times, suddenly, you’re 96 words closer to your word count. Plus, it’s a good frustration reliever. Also, RaBiChi, from the Sactown Nano group reminds me: Eschew compound words! Don’t shove words together! For example, it’s word count, not wordcount! Another suggestion to think about would be to get rid of all your contractions. But do not take this to extremes…unless you want to sound unnatural, that is.
Six, you don’t have to write in chronological order. There’s a neat invention on the computer called “cut and paste”, which you can use to move chunks of your novel around later. (Don’t do it in November. That’s dangerously close to editing.) If you have to write chronologically, but you can’t think of a scene, write “And then something happens” and go to a scene you know about. Remember, style doesn’t count for
much anything in Nano.
Seven, it isn’t Nano until you kill somebody in your novel. In 2005, I killed a minor character, but it lead to wonderful things happening. Also, I found out I can get in the mind-set of a sociopath. It’s not a good place to be, but it makes the character that much more believable. Just to have more fun, I started 2006 off with a mass murder. And if you’re looking at me like I’m insane, folks at the meetup last year suggested being even more drastic, like killing your main character. Yeah, it seems insane, but death scenes take up lots of word count. And if you have to kill a few kittens along the way, well, at least you’re just doing it on paper. (You *are* doing it only on paper, right?)
Eight, if you haven’t grasped it from everything else I’ve said, your mantra is “Word count. Word count. Word count.” Whatever you do, just keep putting words on paper, and trust that your brain knows what it’s doing when it comes to this writing thing. I once saw a sticker on a friend’s laptop that read, “You have 213 bones in your body. Surely one of them must be creative.” Trust that creative bone, and keep trudging.
Nine, ignore those punks who write their entire Nano in a week. They’re overachievers. Or they have *way* too much time on their hands. You’re not in competition with anybody unless you want to be. (That said, competition is sometimes a good way to get your creative juices flowing.)
Ten, if you have the time, find a local Nano group and hang with them. Sometimes, just knowing there are other actual people out there suffering under the same delusion that they could write 50k words in a month makes it that much easier to go from delusion to reality. Plus, there’ll be folks who have done it before, and they’ll offer you nasty tricks on making word count and support when you cry that 50k is just too much! (Seriously, the Sactown gang is what got me through Nano the last couple years.)
Eleven, you’ve won just by attempting this thing. The word count is immaterial. So what if you only get 15k or 30k down before you run out of steam? Yeah, it’s not 50k, but it’s still an accomplishment. 15k is 30%. 30k is 60%, which is more than half. It’s an awfully big commitment to write a novel in November, and if you manage anything towards it, that in itself is an accomplishment. That said, it feels nice when Nano declares that you’ve written 50k, even if bells and whistles and confetti are only going off in your mind.
And that’s pretty much all of my Nano tips. If you know any others, feel free to share in comments.