I’m not very good at preparing for NaNoWriMo. Most of the time I get to November 1 and write a sentence and then wish I’d spent more time figuring out what the next sentence should be. But if you’re the kind of person who chooses to shame and embarrass people like me, here are my suggestions for starting the month with a bang instead of a scrawl.
Although the law* states you must only begin writing in November, you can make as many notes as you want to. Character notes, plot notes, world notes. In theory, you could write your whole book in note form and then just pad it out with adjectives. I mean, that’s all writing is anyway, yes?
This is a pretty great lecture on seven-point story structure. Having clear markers mapped out before you start might help if you get stuck. It doesn’t help me, but if I know that it’s helping you then I’ll feel much better about eating this entire tub of Ben & Jerry’s Clusterfluff.
Something I sometimes like to do when I’m feeling particularly out of touch with reality is to write my characters into another situation. Grab your woman in the pink hat. Instead of sending her into the story about the time she did shrooms in Jane Austen’s house, pop her on a paddle steamer and see how she feels about being holed up with the lower classes.
Nano is no fun at all if you feel guilty the whole time. Shirking your responsibilities in the name of art is one thing, but it’s much easier to write if you’re not also worried about all the stuff you’re behind on.
Make a list of everything you need to do between now and November. Then make another list of stuff you might be expected to do in November, especially by people who don’t appreciate the solemnity of Nano (everyone you’ve ever met). Do as many of those things as you can. Set yourself up for to-do list success. Knock your obligations on the head ahead of time and you’ll never find yourself weeping in the library because you’ve forgotten to pre-plan your funeral.
One of the reasons Nano is so successful is that it’s many people all doing the same thing at the same time. You could set yourself the challenge whenever you wanted. You could sit at your kitchen table and say, “Right! It’s April 3rd. By May 3rd, I will have written 50,000 words!” And maybe you will, and be wildly successful.
Writing is, for the most part, a solitary activity. There is almost no accountability, save for the embarrassment of the person looking back at you from the mirror. It’s easy to go slow, or fast, to stop and start. It’s easy to give up at the first hurdle and never have to tell anyone, or to bail out on the insurmountable loneliness that is a life spent with words instead of friends.
Nano is partly an exercise in writing, and partly an exercise in camaraderie and also fierce competition. I am a hugely competitive person. Being able to go to a forum or a Facebook group and smugly post, “2500 words today!” is my life blood. You are probably a better person than me, so maybe you would benefit from some kindliness and empathy, or just some indication that the despair you’re feeling is normal.
I know, this is so obvious. Maya Angelou said this thing you’ve no doubt seen every day for your entire life:
Writing from a standing start is hard. It’s also totally unnecessary. The more you write, the more the writing will come out of you. Your brain is a muscle. You know how Olivia Newton-John tells old people to do sudokus, to ward off dementia? It applies precisely to this. You’ve got to oil your machine. Limber up. Find the part of your mind that puts words together to make sentences, and begin a regular dialogue with it.
I’ve written about this before:
Practising writing is easy. Find some writing prompts (no pressure to use mine), and every day between now and November, write 250 words about anything at all. Write about the obvious things: your first day of school, your first pet, your favourite meal. Any words that come out are the right words. You don’t have to write fast or well; like running (or so I’m told), the more you do it, the faster and better you will become, whether you like it or not.
Last year, right after Nano, my cat died, and I wrote about it. People said, “You can tell you’ve been writing a lot.” Writing begets writing. Words will begin to fall out of you and you’ll have to find new and creative ways to store them.
It’s a-ok to write fewer words. The important thing to remember about Nano is that any words you write are extra words. If you start the month with zero words and end it with 1000 words, that’s 1000 words you didn’t have before. Writing 50,000 words and still being a functional partner, parent, employee, student or prime minister is really hard. Do what you can manage, and then force someone else to pat you on the back in a massaging motion for 2-3 hours.