30 days to write a novel, can you do it?
If you’re new to the writing world you may just now be hearing about National Novel Writing Month, more commonly called, NaNoWriMo. You can register on the official website to participate with badges and more. It’s a simple concept that can turn your November from a slow ramp of holiday preparations and turkey eating to a full-on, “What did I get myself into?”, sprint. In short, start today, finish the draft of a novel on November 30th.
I’m going to be taking on the challenge myself, though not quite in the traditional fashion. I will not be tackling the first draft of a book, but the rewrites and edits of the fourth book of Air Awakens. Given that editing can take twice as long as drafting, I think it’ll still be a worthy challenge!
Like any good general, I’m approaching this battle with a strategy. I thought I’d share some of my preparations with everyone to give you some ideas on how to make your NaNoWriMo more successful.
1) Set a Daily Word-count Goal
If you plan on writing a full-length novel in one month you’re looking at (about) 80,000 words. Some genres have longer word counts (like high-fantasy) or shorter (like thriller), but I think 80,000 is a very respectable goal for a draft. You can always edit up or down later.
Note: The NaNoWriMo site sets the goal at 50,000. But I think that’s a little low, I believe in you! You can push for 80,000!
It’s now a numbers game. To have a novel, period, you need those words on paper. They may not all be the best words possible but if you don’t get them out you’re going to have an unfinished story staring at you by the end of the month. (But, let’s be clear, even if you only get 40,000 words you’re still 40,000 words closer to a finished manuscript and that’s awesome!)
If that 80,000 word-count doesn’t scare you away that means you need to write about 2,667 words a day to get there.
2,667 words a day.
Two-thousand, six-hundred, sixty-seven, words every day.
Repeat it. Tattoo it on your forehead (not literally). Put post-its on your fridge, computer, bathroom mirror. This is now your mantra and it needs to be embedded on your soul for you to succeed.
When I was drafting Air Awakens I set a goal of 3,000 words/day and I didn’t let myself sleep until I hit it. No matter how tired I was from work or how busy I was. I wrote all five novels in less than a year. (And they were significantly longer than 80,000 words)
2) Take a Day (or Two) and Plan
If you haven’t already, take today – the first day of NaNoWriMo, and plan your novel. If you have planned your novel, check your plan. This is coming from the author who’s always saying how I just “go” and rarely plan anything. Now that I’m publishing and writing on more serious timelines I’m taking the time to really plan my novels. I don’t have the time to wander with my words and edit down later. If you’re trying to get a novel done in a month, you don’t either.
If you need further proof of the helpfulness of planning, look at the prolific writer R.L. Stine. From 1992-1997, Stine churned out 62 books in the Goosebumps series. That’s nearly one book per month for five years.
One book per month for five years!
Can you imagine?
What did he say enabled this pace? He wrote six days a week and planned.
“It’s like factory work and I have a goal… 20 pages a day… It’s only because I planned it out first. I spent like a week and planned it all out. So when I wrote the book I didn’t have to do any thinking. I’d already done all my thinking.”
You can watch the full interview here:
3) Think of a Bucket of Character Names
This may sound a little silly at first, but I promise I’m not crazy for suggesting it! When you’re trying to get 2,600+ words/day the last thing you want is for something to break your flow. One thing that certainly will do it is thinking of character names, especially for that “random salesman” or “delivery person” who’s really not that important. You likely have all your main character names picked out from planning, but you never know who else will come up.
All of a sudden 15 minutes of your precious writing time was just spent looking at baby names websites and then you got lost on Twitter.
So, have a list of possible names you can just draw from when needed.
4) Develop a Writing Tic
Tic: Noun, “an idiosyncratic and habitual feature of a person’s behavior.”
You need to make writing a habit. It needs to be a part of your life and having a physical reminder that you are about to tackle it can help put you in the zone. This is particularly important for combating busy lives. At the end of the day you’re likely tired, you have a million other things in your head, you don’t feel connected to your characters and your mind begins to wander.
Have something physical that tells your restless mind “its writing time” can help you get in the zone faster. It doesn’t have to be anything particularly fancy, just something different. Some that I’ve used:
- Having a special cup you drink from while writing
- Buying a new keyboard for your manuscript and only using it when you’re drafting
- Having earphones in when writing – even if you don’t have music on
- Sit in the same place every time when writing
- Bundle up in a blanket you only use for writing
5) Tell Yourself Your Draft Will Not Be “Good”
Okay, that sounds really harsh, but hear me out, there’s more to it… Tell yourself that this DRAFT is not going to be the best writing you can do. There will be places with grammar issues, misspellings, wrong words, hanging sentences, and continuity errors. If you accept that, I think it’s a lot easier to just move as fast as you can and not worry about the details.
Enjoy the writing and let it flow. Don’t worry about fixing that one sentence that’s awkward and bugging you right now. You have to make your word-count so focus on one goal at a time. If you want a completed draft by the end of NaNoWriMo hunt down that goal relentlessly.
Plus, editing would be your next step anyways and then you can make it perfect.
Are you doing NaNoWriMo? Share your tips and tricks for rocking out the biggest month for writing in the comments below!