Today’s post is written by Mercia Dragonslayer, a semi-finalist in the Write It Sideways regular contributor search. Thanks, Mercia!
“Write a novel in thirty days? How does one do that?” I wondered, as I read the website for National Novel Writing Month.”That just seems like a quest for absolute insanity!”
Until November 2009, I had never finished a novel. Sure, past attempts up to 15,000 words littered my desktop, but finishing?
This “NaNoWriMo” business promised great things for young writers like me. Finally, I could finish something worth showing off! I could be the hero of my favorite writing website! I could claim bragging rights and the recognition due to me!
The only thing stopping me? “How do I write a novel in thirty days?”
Since then, I’ve learned more about writing and speed-writing. Now that November is here once again, I want to present budding writers with the chance to complete their own novel right on time.
Here are a few tips to make one-month-noveling an easy breeze. (Or maybe a hurricane force wind, but no tornadoes, right?)
1. Plan, Plan, Plan
It’s rarely a good idea to dive into any writing project without some sort of outline in place.
NaNoWriMo is no exception. A loose outline of the main events and characters will keep you on track and give you plenty of information to work with.
In 2009, one of the main problems I ran up against was, essentially, lack of story. NaNoWriMo requires 50,000 words in order to win, and my novel simply lacked that. While planning your novel, make sure the plot has enough twists and turns to last for 50,000 words.
2. Practice, Practice, Practice
See how long it takes you to write 1,667 words (50,000 divided by 30). This will give you an estimate of how long you need to write each day to make your goal.
Practice under a number of conditions—at your kid’s soccer practice, at the lunch table, at your desk. Unless you’re an insanely fast writer, plan at least two hours a day to get your words in.
It may be tempting to pull an all-nighter because That Idea will go to waste otherwise. This is a very bad idea. Work, school, and family will suffer if you decide to go the whole month without enough sleep. A finished novel is wonderful, yes, but don’t sacrifice your health to do it.
I know from experience that once one stays up late for too long, it becomes a habit too hard to get rid of. You don’t want to be sleep-deprived in December too, right?
“I can’t! I’ve only written 2000 words in the two hours I’ve been sitting here! NOOO! Don’t drag me away!”
Okay, so that’s probably a bit of an exaggeration, but it’s very important to exercise throughout the month. Otherwise you could end up with one novel under your greatly loosened belt at the end.
This year, I plan to take a break every 2000 words and go for a two-mile bike ride. It gets me out of my seat and burns those calories I’ll take in with candy and hot chocolate.
5. Reward yourself
Eat tacos every 10,000 words. Have a candy every 1,000 words (keeping tip #3 in mind!). Go out to lunch at the halfway point.
By rewarding yourself, you have that extra motivation to keep going and you learn self-control. An especially wonderful treat at the end will make winning even sweeter.
Alternatively, you could use reverse psychology. Take away the TV until the day’s word count goal is reached. Keep the phone off if you’re behind. In addition, by making the consequences of not finishing your novel horrifying and disastrous, you will desperately want to finish, if only to not be deprived of tacos for December.
Events like NaNoWriMo stand as mere conduits for your creativity. Remember to eat, sleep, and exercise properly, and you’ll be off to an amazing start.
Mercia Dragonslayer blogs on Slaying Dragons when she has something fun or crazy to say. In 2010, she was published in The Young Writer’s Magazine. She lives in North Carolina with her family and two cats.
Join the discussion
sharon k owen says
Great suggestions. Especially the one about testing how long it takes to right the target number of words. Also love the reward part. Like the carrot in front of the donkey theory.
Mercia Dragonslayer says
Thanks, Sharon! I’ve always found those tips to be particularly helpful to me even when writing outside of November. I hope they help you in all your writing endeavors!
Bethany LeBedz says
Great job, Mercia! Wonderful suggestions!!! Keep up the great writing, and I hope I’ll be able to read the novel you’re writing during NaNoWriMo this year 🙂
I’m am currently attempting NaNoWriMo for the 6th time (although the first five times were unofficial in the month of July -otherwise it was the same thing). I planned very little most times. The twist and turns you come up with on the fly can (sometimes) be just as good as ones you plan beforehand.
I practiced mainly by doing it. Of my first give attempts: 1st) I make an easier goal for myself the first time and got it, but didn’t make the month goal. 2nd) I fizzled out around half way) 3rd) I succeeded, 4th and 5th) I succeeded with time to spare.
To me, the trick is to not try to make it good. One main point of NaNoWriMo is silencing your ‘inner critic’, freeing yourself to write something which may turn out horrible. But it’ll still be fun while you’re working on it, and you will have come up with some ideas which can be rewritten into something good later.
Mercia Dragonslayer says
Wow! I commend you for finishing with time to spare! I have yet to win, but I think this might be the year I break that habit.
I agree that the novel doesn’t have to be GOOD. All of my first drafts (even those produced outside of NaNoWriMo) were absolutely awful. It’s the rewriting and polishing that make the book readable. The goal of NaNo, after all, is to produce a working first draft.
Thanks so much for reading and commenting!
Ileandra Young says
Great article and so true. Particularly the sleep bit; forcing myself to leave the computer is always agony which I quite resent at times. o.O But I certainly feel better at work the next day for having done so.
I don’t do masses of planning, but that might why the middle of these novels (this is my second year of NaNo) turn to drivel and need quite violent pounding when I get to rewrite stage.
Meh… NaNo is about the act of writing right? Not about writing something awesome and beautiful and perfect. I mean… who can do that in 30 days?
Mercia Dragonslayer says
Oh, yes… The ‘forcing away from the computer’ bit is especially hard when there’s homework (and writing!) yet to be done.
Have you ever tried using the dares on the Young Writer’s Program website? When I get stuck, they’re a particularly useful bouncing point.
NaNo is all about the act of writing! Le Inner Editor gets shoved aside for thirty days in order to produce something, anything–then the saw comes out, and the sander, to make it polished and beautiful. 🙂
Rose Byrd says
Sleeping, eating, and exercising properly are truly necessary. As far as the rewards go, I have found my more enjoyable reward, an extra walk in field and forest also works to facilitate my planning and my practicing, as I can then recite outloud my propsed verses/dialogues and receive new enlightenment for my next writing session. And thank you Mercia Gragonslayer, for reminding us the NaNoWriMo is about producing a working first draft! However, I have found that if I edit each morning’s work that evening (at least briefly), I write much more effectivly the next morning. Anway, thanks so much for the post!
Mercia Dragonslayer says
Ahh, yes. The rewards of even a simple break can go a long way… Writing for a long time is hard!
You are very welcome. I used to edit my rough drafts constantly, until the first chapter was perfect but I was only halfway through with writing. I wasted a lot of time doing that (I’m weird–once I start editing, I can’t stop!), so this year I’m handwriting it.
Cindy Huff says
Setting goals for completing a novel is always worth it. I set myself a goal of completing a novel idea I had pitched at a writer’s conference by that next conference a year later. I completed the first draft in six months, that included research and character sketches, it was 100,000 words. There were two rewrites and more editing before the conference. that was 2010.I was also taking a fiction writing course at the time. I am still learning how to craft a novel. That novel has not been picked up by a publisher. Maybe it won’t ever be, But because I completed one I know I can do it again. Knowing that is half the battle.I am free to jot down new story ideas knowing I will write another novel.
Mercia Dragonslayer says
Congrats, Cindy, on finishing your novel! Writing and rewriting are always a long-lasting process, at least for me–I’ve completely rewritten stories many times. I hope you have a wonderful experience learning how to craft more novels!
I haven’t done Nanowrimo yet but I can attest to the fact that writing a novel makes one insane. (I wonder if it gets better when I finally get to my 2nd, 3rd or 4th novel?) It was especially bad when I first started. I was too pedantic with my writing. Now I know better.
Unfortunately, extrinsic motivation doesn’t work for me (snacks or treats). I’m the type that needs intrinsic motivation. Removing distractions and/or handwriting/printing out what I’ve done so I can see my progress is, at the moment, working wonders for me. I just hope that I can keep it up. Even so, I have never been the motivated sort.
I struggle with point number 3. This is mainly due to the fact I’m on holiday till March and I can rearrange my plans to fit around odd hours of sleep. My Mom keeps telling me this is unhealthy. Maybe, I should take my Mom’s advice — and yours!
Sarah Baughman says
I am in awe of you and others who have successfully completed NaNoWriMo! So far I’m full of excuses, but I hope to get rid of them someday and when I do, I will remember your words of wisdom. Even though it seems like a lot of pressure to write a novel in a month, I think in an odd way NaNoWriMo must actually take the pressure away– you might not feel as “blocked” by the desire to make everything absolutely perfect if your goal is to meet a certain word count each day. In that sense, perhaps it can really free a person up to do some great writing.
Great! I just love ALL of Write It Sideways advice! Keep it up!