Over on the DWL forums, the lovely KG asked:
“Can you give us some pointers for how to make NaNo a (relatively) successful experience? What are the common pitfalls? What REALLY helps?”
These are good questions, especially if you’re brand new to NaNoWriMo. I can’t promise you the Ultimate Guide to Always Winning (at NaNo) because every writer’s process is different. But I can give you some decent advice on how to approach the challenge, which you can modify to your own needs.
Have a Game Plan
This isn’t quite the same thing as having an outline, though I’m a big fan of those myself. What you need is a plan for how you’re going to attack the month.
What are your obligations? Which of those can you skip and which do you have to do? For instance, work and school are not really chores one can slack off on for a month. Look at your weekly schedule and be honest with yourself about where you’re going to fit your writing in. Maybe this means that you get up an hour earlier or go to bed an hour later, or you let the kids watch a little more TV this month so you have some quality laptop time.
Be willing to turn down most of your social invitations, but not all of them. Your priority is getting your novel drafted in November, but I’m a big believer that all work and no play makes Homer go something-something.
Schedule in a couple of breaks – and try to hang out with people who will indulge you going on and on about how hard this NaNo thing is.
If your work or school schedule won’t allow for daily writing, make sure you know how many words a day you should be writing to make up for it.
… as a writer. Are you someone who can write anywhere, at the drop of a dime? Do you need complete silence? Do you need the drone of the TV in the background?
This took some time for me to figure out. What works for me is going out to a coffee shop or a library and getting my writing done there. If I’m home, my old friend the TV is a major temptation for me. Or I start thinking about the laundry that needs to get done. Oh, and then when it’s done, I need to fold it. Or I feel guilty that I haven’t seen my husband all day and feel like I should interact with him some. Hey! Look at these adorable cats I have and they need cuddling! And pets! Getting out of the house effectively cuts me off from my regular distractions and someone else makes and brings me my coffee.
I’m also a compulsive internet checker – I make great use of internet blockers during November. If that’s a problem for you as well, look into installing something like Cold Turkey or Stay Focused, which can completely shut off access to the internet or just certain sites for set periods of time. Or just use a notebook and a pen, because I’m pretty sure they’re not internet capable (yet).
Keep Track of Your Progress
The NaNoWriMo site allows you to track your daily word count and then turns your numbers into a graph that shows you if you’re hitting your goals. You’ll find the word count tool at the top right hand corner of page – click the drop down arrow to add your daily count. It will look like this:
I also use an offsite tracking calendar that auto-updates how many words I need to write daily if I’m going over or under the target 1667. The online program is called Write Track by David Gale. It’s not a NaNoWriMo specific calendar, but it is targeted for writers – you can set whatever goals you need in whatever time frame you need to accomplish them by. In our case, 50,000 words by November 30th. You will need to sign up for a free account to use the program.
Be Tough on Yourself
NaNoWriMo is a challenge. If you were a writer cranking out a book a month on a regular basis, you probably wouldn’t need to participate in this crazy endeavor. I’m guessing most of you are just like me – writers with good intentions, maybe great ideas, and not a whole lot of free time.
This month is going to be hard. It is going to be uncomfortable. It will be tiring.
That’s ok. You’ll live through it.
You’re gonna want to quit or you’re going to hit a wall or blowing off your novel is going to look appealing to you, especially around week three when the glamour of writing has worn off. Power through it.
The sacrifices you’ll make this month are temporary ones. You’ll catch up on your sleep later. You’ll catch up on your favorite TV show later. Laundry is still going to be there on December 1st.
You have a book inside you. You have stories inside you. You have worlds inside you.
Let them out.
But Also Be Kind to Yourself
Sometimes life gets in your way. Maybe you’ll get sick, like I did last year, and it knocks you out of contention. Maybe there’s a life emergency or a work emergency, or some other priority that absolutely cannot be put off. Don’t beat yourself up over circumstances you can’t control, but do be tough on yourself for the ones you can.
You are also not allowed, at all, at any point, to tell yourself that your writing isn’t good, that your ideas are crap, or that you’re not a real writer. I, Slay, forbid you from saying that to yourself. Don’t let those thoughts into your head. If you feel them creeping in, kick them the heck out. Say to them, ‘Not today, insecurity! Get thee behind me!’
Be doubtful in December. Question your work in December. Restructure your worlds in December.
November is for writing. So go write.
This post was originally published here.