The first time I participated in National Novel Writing Month—AKA NaNoWriMo—I was nineteen years old, and had no idea where my life was going. My first year in university had been miserable, and dangerously close to flunking out I decided to take the next one off. My part-time retail job became a full-time retail job, and as the days grew shorter, the wind chillier, I started to despair that I would be stuck in that in-between, uncertain place forever.
Books were my one retreat, and reading on my breaks at work kept me sane. I’d always enjoyed creative writing, but had never written anything longer than ten pages (double spaced!). I’d dream and joke with friends about becoming an author one day, but it always felt like that—one day. Writing a book was a thing I would do in the future, when I’d figured out my life.
I don’t remember how I found out about NaNoWriMo—presumably the Internet—but I tracked down the official NaNoWriMo guide and found a friend to participate with me.
My first NaNoWriMo novel was a mess. My main character changed appearance, careers, and I’m pretty sure names, at least three times throughout. So did their love interest. It was a disaster, and I loved every second of it.
I haven’t participated in NaNoWriMo every year, and I’ve only successfully completed the challenge twice—in 2007 and again in 2015. Now that I write professionally year-round, NaNoWriMo has changed for me. It’s still daunting and thrilling every time, but I have different goals. The first year I wanted to prove that I could write a novel, full-stop. That I had 50,000 words in me—even if they wound up being nonsensical. Now I use NaNoWriMo to challenge what I write. I explore ideas I shy away from touching in my “normal” writing. I pick the plot I’ve had floating in the back of my mind but haven’t had the guts or the focus to put on paper.
There’s a freedom in NaNoWriMo. You dare yourself try something new, and to rush headlong into it, consequences be damned. As a writer, there’s no greater high. If you’re thinking about participating this year, darlings, or you’ve already decided, I wish you the very best of luck!
Here’s a few tips and tricks I’ve learned:
Are you a plotter or a pantser? Figure out before November 1st whether you prefer a detailed outline, or like to fly by the seat of your pants. Not sure which? Try and write a short story—two pages max. Did you enjoy planning it out first, or did your pen hit the page and the story flow from there? If you know ahead of time what works best for you, you’re speeding out of the gate.
Your adrenaline is going to be high the first few weeks. Write as much as you can, more than the 1,667 a day goal if possible. You’ll need that head start as you near the end of the month when things can start to drag.
Write drunk. No, seriously. When things start to drag, and you feel like you’ve written yourself into a corner and have no idea how to get out… pour yourself a large glass of wine and put on an episode of Grey’s Anatomy. Then pour yourself another. After 45 minutes of wine drinking and not thinking about your plot, turn back to your novel. Drinking enhances your creativity, and giving your brain time to relax and focus on something else allows those wheels to keep turning in the back of your mind.
This one might be the most crucial thing I’ve learned: It’s okay if you don’t reach 50,000. It really is. I know how frustrating it can be to not reach a goal you’ve set, but sometimes life really does get in the way. And that’s okay! Because now you’ve got 10,000, or 25,000, or 48,000 words you didn’t have before. No matter what, that’s something to be proud of. Besides—there’s always next year ;)
Are you participating in NaNoWriMo this year? Do you have a plot ready? Got any tips to share? Let’s discuss in the comments!