What is NaNoWriMo, you ask? Why, you must be new here -- welcome! I'll explain. NaNoWriMo is short for National Novel Writing Month, a grassroots event in which participants (sometimes referred to as WriMos, although not by me) pledge to write 50,000 words in 30 days. That's 1,667 words a day, more or less.
No, I'm not that good at doing division in my head. It's just that I've done this event so many times that the word count is engraved on my brain. This will, in fact, be my fifth NaNoWriMo -- not counting the Camp NaNoWriMo that I did earlier this year -- and not to brag, but I've won every time I've entered.
So what I can I tell you about NaNo that I didn't say in last year's post, or in the mini-plug for NaNo the year before that? Hmm. How about if we talk about not winning NaNo? Because every year, a whole lot of people start NaNo with a boatload of enthusiasm and the best of intentions -- and every year, a fair number of them quit partway through the month.
Why do people quit? I've heard a number of reasons (and thanks to Kat and Amy for helping me round them up). I'll list them below, and then I'll talk about ways that I've avoided having each reason derail me.
- I don't have time to write every day. So don't. I usually do try to write every day, but sometimes life demands that you take a day off. Even if you write only a page or two, instead of the six or so you need to do to stay on track, you're doing more writing than you would have done without NaNo. If it's a consistent problem, do what the gym rats do: schedule writing time into your day, either by getting up earlier or staying up later. Or skip having lunch with your friends and use that time to write. Unlike with a workday gym break, you won't need a shower afterward.
- I didn't write for several days, and now I'm too far behind to ever catch up. Here is my dirty little NaNo secret: I am often several days behind. There have even been a couple of NaNos that I started at a deficit because I was out of town for the first few days of the month. The way I catch up is by writing a little bit more every day thereafter -- so maybe 2,000 words a day instead of 1,667 -- and/or doing a writing blitz with a 5,000- to 7,000-word day the following weekend. Also, I've said it before and I'll say it again: for Americans, Thanksgiving weekend can be a NaNo godsend. You can send the family out to the mall on Black Friday and spend your whole day writing.
- I ran out of story. Pantsers, I believe, come in two varieties: anarchists who are constitutionally unable to write an outline and stick to it, and newbies who don't realize that not every writer is a pantser. Just to be clear, I am a plotter, and my kind is legion. I always write an outline before I start a book. It's not a very detailed outline -- it often includes multiple instances of "I'll figure that out when I get there" -- but I have a pretty good idea of where I need to be at the end of each chapter so that I can be at X when the book is done. If you're stuck for where your story's going next, stop and write yourself a brief outline for the rest of your book, and include your outline in your word count. (You wrote it in November for the book, didn't you?) Alternately, you can introduce a new character, or write in some random event, just to get things going again. But don't dismiss the idea of outlining your book before you start; you might find that it works really well for you.
- I got bogged down with doing research. Unless I need a quick answer (for instance: what's the name of the street on the western side of the National Museum of the American Indian?), I don't do much research at all while I'm writing a first draft. Not only can I get caught up in cascading web pages, but there's always the temptation to click over to Facebook or Twitter to see what's new. I'm told there are nifty programs out there that will shut down your Internet access for a period of time. But my personal policy is to just avoid opening the browser. Instead, I put in a string of question marks or asterisks -- something that will be easy to find-and-replace later -- and just keep writing. I've also been known to put a word in brackets, if the synonym is eluding me, rather than get caught up in a thesaurus.com search.
- I just can't stop myself from editing as I go. My dear, NaNo was made for you. The tyranny of the daily word count is designed to be enough to keep you from doing extensive editing, if you will let it. Typically, I will read over my last couple of pages, just so I know where to start from -- but all I do is read. I don't touch much of anything. If you're unable to keep from fiddling, stop your writing session in the middle of a sentence.Then it's easy to pick up and keep going the next day.
- All my friends are way ahead of me. Ah, peer pressure. Listen, the only number that counts in NaNo is 50,000, and the only date that counts is November 30th. If your writing buddies' word counts discourage you, don't check their progress. Or find a group that writes at your pace and buddy up with them. NaNo is only a group activity if you let it be. During November, I go to the NaNo site to plug in my new word count and watch the videos, and that's pretty much it. If I do check my buddies' word counts, the thing that most upsets me is a number that hasn't budged in several days, because usually I find out later that the person has quit. I'm always sad when that happens. I want everybody to win NaNo.
Last year, I dithered over whether to do NaNo again. I'd just finished writing Tapped on an accelerated schedule a couple of months before, and was feeling some first-draft burnout. In the end, I convinced myself to give it a try, as I was going to have to write Gravid anyway; if I didn't get started on it in November, I would have had to write the book the following month, while also baking holiday cookies and generally gearing up for Yule. This year, I'm in more or less the same place -- I finished drafting Crosswind in September and am editing it while preparing for this next book. But I've been excited about Undertow ever since I conceived of the idea for this series. So this year, I'm looking forward to NaNo. Come on, November!
Thanks to those of you who downloaded Seized during its free days last week. This week, Fissured will be free at Amazon from Wednesday through Saturday. And also this week, I'm releasing the final "Land, Sea, Sky" prequel, "Prophecy". It should be out on Wednesday, too. As always, I'll let you know when it's live.
Oh, and if you want to be my NaNo buddy, click here and add me as a buddy. I promise to add you back.
These moments of helpful NaNoWriMo blogginess are brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.