5 NaNoWriMo Tips from a Guy who Hasn’t Done it

After Novel Writing Month Comes Novel Re-Writing Year(s)

Last month was National Novel Writing Month,or NaNoWriMo, a web-based write-a-thon in which participants try to write a novel (of at least 50,000 words) in the month of November.

50,000 words in a month comes out to a daily word count of 1,667, or roughly seven pages. That’s challenging but not impossible.

I haven’t done it, not in November anyway. I did use NaNo’s rules to draft the (short) novel I’m currently rewriting. The deadline brought out something I didn’t know I had in me, and the pressure to finish on schedule might be the only reason I finished at all. The experience taught me some good habits that apply to everything I write.

Here are five tips that may help you get through your own NaNoWriMo from a guy who who hasn’t been there himself.

Shitty First Drafts

As the name suggests, the ‘shitty first draft’ method asks you to let go of perfectionism and just get down a draft no matter how rough it is. Anne Lamott coined the term in her book Bird by Bird: some instructions on writing and life.

30 days isn’t enough time to create something polished and impressive, but that’s not the point. The only thing that matters is hitting 50,000 words by 11:59 PM on November 30th. Not 50,000 good words, not 50,000 publishable words, not 50,000 proofread words, just 50,000 words. Your only criteria for success is achieving your word count before time’s up.

Forget about grammar, syntax, punctuation, and good form. Just get the words out. Make a mess.

Surprisingly, the best way to write a great final draft is to start with a shitty first draft. When the time comes to rewrite and edit, you’ll thank yourself for all the raw material you came up with. It’s much easier to subtract bad words than to add good ones.

After my 30 day draft, I found myself wishing I’d made things messier. Here are my thoughts from an early post over a year after I started working on the novel:

I set out to write a complete first draft in thirty days. I did it. The work wasn’t all-consuming or frantic, I may have even taken a day or two off. If anything, I underestimated how quickly I could get the words down. If I could do it all again I would have been more all over the place, I would have overwritten more, written out every alternative ending, to give myself more raw material to work with later.

Never Hit Delete

For the next thirty days, treat your laptop like a typewriter. Instead of rewriting a scene, just write an alternative version and bank both in your word count. The act of writing around a problem rather than backspacing can bring out pleasant surprises. Writing this way keeps you in a flow state and forces you to do your thinking and imagining on the page.

For hard-cases, try Write or Die which erases what you’ve already written if you don’t keep typing.

Cut out Distractions

In On Writing, Stephen King tells writers to ‘shut the door’ literally and figuratively. Do whatever you gotta do to create the time and space you need to do the work. Take it one day at a time.

Some Nano writers get off social media for the month, others install software like Freedom to block the internet during writing hours.

An easy rule of thumb when it comes to distractions: if it doesn’t get you closer to 50,000 words, it can wait ’til December.

Be Accountable

Tell everyone that you’re doing NaNoWriMo. Don’t talk about what you’re writing (Stephen King will kick your ass) but do let people know that you’ve accepted this challenge.

Stay accountable to your followers by blogging about the experience or tweeting your word count as you go (assuming you haven’t gone off the grid.)

Connect with other writers on NaNo’s forums.

After Novel Writing Month Comes Novel Re-Writing Year(s)

The rewrite is where you find the truth of every clichéed marathon running and mountain climbing analogy. This really isn’t a sprint. When it comes to rewriting, discipline and habit beat inspiration and motivation every time. The folks who only write when they feel inspired can probably slog through a NaNoWriMo but they’ll never get to the real finish line of a final draft.

Use this month to become the kind of writer who writes whether or not she feels like writing.

For more NanoWrimo tips checkout Storyist and Writer’s Digest.