Please join me in welcoming guest blogger Janell E. Robisch to The Educated Writer!
So, you’ve decided to participate in National Novel Writing Month. You’ve committed to writing 50,000 words in thirty days.
If writing every day is new to you, you may quickly find yourself overwhelmed. However, with some simple tricks, you can preprogram your success and win NaNoWriMo!
1. Clear Your Schedule
If at all possible, clear your schedule of other major commitments, writing or otherwise, for November. Get as much done in advance or postpone things if possible until December to free up your time.
2. Get Prepared
People who have outlined and planned every detail have a major advantage come November. However, there are many options here, some of which don’t take quite as long as full outlining:
Use a common story structure, such as the hero’s journey or save the cat. You can also use a specific genre structure, such as the two-body plot for murder mysteries or Gwen Hayes’ Romancing the Beat: Story Structure for Romance Novels.
Use scene cards. Have scene summaries written out before you sit down to write so that they are handy when you get started. Some good things to note on each card are the scene’s setting, characters, character goal, conflict (what’s stopping your character from achieving his or her scene goal), and outcome.
Don’t be afraid to make mini-plans throughout the month. If you’re getting stuck, take some time to brainstorm what you’re going to work on for the next few days or week. Giving your mind time to process what’s coming often makes the actual writing go faster.
If you’re reading this before NaNoWriMo begins, there are many other ways you can prepare now and save yourself time during November (see 7 Things You Can Do Now to Get Ready for NaNoWriMo).
3. Know Your Goal
To write 50,000 words in 30 days, you’ll need to write 1667 words a day on average. If you do at least this much every day, you’ll be on track for the entire month. It may seem like a lot at first, but it’s very doable.
In fact, there are writers who have found ways to complete 5000 words an hour on a regular basis, not just for NaNoWriMo. Wow. Fortunately, you don’t have to do quite so much.
4. Track Your Work
Find a way to keep track of your words as you go. If you use Microsoft Word to write, you can see your word count in the taskbar at the bottom of your screen.
Scrivener’s Project Target window will keep you on track if you prefer to draft in Scrivener. You can type in not only your overall/monthly goal but also your session/daily target. The little progress bar will start red, turn yellow, and finally turn green when you’ve reached your goal.
If you’ve registered at NaNoWriMo.org, which I highly recommend you do ahead of time, you can enter your updated word count on the site every day after you’ve finished writing and even earn cool (virtual) badges!
Some people, myself included, also use a spreadsheet to keep track of their running word count. I have a simple daily writing log that I use, but I also keep track via the Twitter Monthly Writing Challenge log (see more in Find an Accountability Partner).
5. Write at the Same Time and Place Every Day
As with many things, turning your NaNoWriMo writing into a habit can make it much easier for you. If you already have a writing ritual, a time and a place where you write regularly, go ahead and use that. Just find a way to extend your time to get your full word count in.
If this is all new to you, try writing early in the morning before the demands of work or family start to take over your thought processes. For example, try getting up at 5 a.m. and start writing by 5:30 a.m. You can accomplish your daily writing goal before most people have had their first cup of coffee!
We’re often our freshest in the morning. I don’t know about you, but my brain starts to crash sometime midafternoon, and it’s much harder to push myself into meeting goals and being creative.
If early mornings just don’t work for you, however, write during your lunch hour, on the train, or after work. Just make it a habit for November.
6. Find an Accountability Partner
When you have only yourself to report to, you may find ways to make excuses. But when you know someone is out there waiting to hear that you’ve met your goals for the day, your brain is more likely to find a way to make it work, and it makes it a little more fun.
Not only can you see in your tracker that you’ve completed your goal for the day, but you get a pat on the back, a “way to go!” or a Like to buoy you up and encourage you to keep it up.
When I did my first NaNoWriMo last year, I had already been participating in the Twitter Monthly Writing Challenge for a while. (It’s like a mini-version of NaNoWriMo, where the goal is to write 500 words or edit for an hour every day.) So I continued to use my Twitter peeps as accountability partners but also joined a couple of NaNoWriMo Facebook groups, including one in my area that held in-person write-ins.
My advice here is to get your words in before you socialize. Once you start talking, it can be hard to get back to work.
7. Use Dictation
Ever tried dictation? It’s great for drafting. No, it’s not perfect, and it takes the software a little time to get accustomed to your voice and writing style, but if you get the chance, I highly recommend it. It’s much better than it used to be.
These Nuance programs are far from free, but did you know that many Windows and Mac computers have built-in speech recognition? I experimented with Windows dictation first before I committed to buying Dragon.
If you have time before NaNoWriMo to set up one of these programs and get used to using it, it can make a big difference in your writing speed and help you meet that daily goal!
8. Jump Around
Let me tell you a little secret: Many writers don’t write linearly.
If you’re stuck in the middle—this usually starts becoming a problem around week 2 of NaNoWriMo—feel free to jump around in the book.
Already know your ending? Go ahead and write that. Give your brain a chance to stew about the details in other scenes and give yourself something to write toward at the same time.
If you’ve done an outline or scene cards, feel free to move on to another scene that inspires you right now. You can return to skipped scenes later.
9. Write More
Some days will be better than others. Should you stop just because your tracker says you’ve reached 1667 words?
No. If you have time, keep going for a little bit. Get to the natural end of the scene or start another, leaving yourself some breadcrumbs to pick up on the next day.
If you aim to write 2000 words a day, just 333 more words, by Day 7, you’ll be 2331 words ahead of schedule already. If you get sick or something happens that causes you to skip a day later on, you’ll be glad you did.
10. Know Yourself
If this isn’t the first NaNoWriMo article you’ve read, you might have noticed one glaring omission.
Many writers are given the advice don’t edit when writing their first drafts, especially during NaNoWriMo, when time is short.
This just doesn’t work for me, although I’m sure it does wonders for others. Reading over what I wrote the day before and making minor adjustments helps get me into the headspace of my novel and makes that new blank space less daunting.
However, if you know that you’re the kind of person who will keep trying to perfect your existing writing instead of getting new words on the page, you should probably skip this step because you’ll never finish NaNoWriMo that way.
The point is to know yourself and your process and do what works best for you.
Good luck and get it done!
Janell E. Robisch is an editor, designer, blogger, fiction author, and nonfiction author of Saving Money on Editing & Choosing the Best Editor. She blogs for writers at Wordy Speculations, and her fiction website is at JElizabethVincent.com. She is on Twitter as @Fiction_Editor.