The Nanowrimo Survival Guide, Part I

I can’t actually give definitive rules for Nanowrimo because, let’s face it, I’ve always been of the opinion that no two writers are exactly alike. It’s like telling all artists to paint with only one brand of paint, or on one type of canvas, or even one category of subject. You just don’t do that.

That said, I’ve done Nanowrimo a few times, and I’ve only “lost” once (I moved cross-country in mid-November, so I kind of think I had an excuse, but you may proceed to mock me now), so I could probably give some advice. Which I will proceed to do after this fascinating introductory segment coming up right now.

So for the uninitiated, Nanowrimo stands from National Novel Writing Month. It takes place in November of every year, and has for the past several years. It was founded by an insane man named Chris Baty, who gathered a few of his close friends near and said, “Hey, why don’t we write a novel? In a month? Doesn’t that sound like a great way to cut through the excuses that get in the way of writing novels?”

And so it began. And the next year, more came to study at the feet of Chris Baty, and the next year, they brought their friends, and it grew into such an event that we regularly crash the Nanowrimo homepage. Hundreds of thousands of writers flock to this website every year with one goal: 50,000 words in 30 days.

(Just how long is 50,000 words anyway, Frea?)
Set, Spike, Dive! is about 47,000 words. In MS Word, single-spaced, Times New Roman size 12 font, that’s about 80 pages.
And that’s Nanowrimo in a nutshell. You set out on November 1st with no words and you end on November 30th with 50,000 words, and maybe even more than that. It’s an exercise that stresses quantity rather than quality, and breaking the mental dam between your brain and the blank page. Editing, as they say, is for December. Getting the first draft out is what matters. Your genre doesn’t matter, your writing isn’t judged. All that matters is that you do write. At the end of the month, you submit your work to a random word counter that won’t steal your work, and you hopefully get a shiny purple progress bar. For those who have always wanted to try their hand at writing a novel, it can be a great way to get past those reservations you’ve had.

Now, I’m going to be up-front about this: some people love Nanowrimo. They think it’s the most fun thing since waffle cones were invented at the World’s Fair.

Those people are lunatics.

I am one of them.

Nanowrimo is not a picnic for everybody. It involves a lot of putting your butt in the chair and staring miserably at your computer screen, forcing words from a brain that would rather check Twitter or Tumblr or something like that. You will spend the entirety of November with your brain completely wrapped around your story, and the people in your life will notice. There are days when you will want to throw your computer out the window. There will days where the high of writing can never be matched again. For most, Nanowrimo is a roller coaster.

And this survival guide will help you get through it. Here are a few rules to keep in mind:

1) Take care of yourself.

November is Cold and Flu season! Seriously, take your vitamins, try to get as much sleep as you can, and don’t, you know, die.

2) Make friends

Especially if they’re doing Nanowrimo with you—they’re good for strong-arming into word sprints, bouncing ideas off of, guilt-tripping you into working, or just being there to support you. Make sure you join your region of people on Nanowrimo and maybe try to make it out to a couple of the local meet-ups. If nothing else, they usually take place in a coffee shop, and that’s handy for rule #3.

3) Caffeine

Seriously. You’ll need it.

4) Try not to sweat the small stuff

Nanowrimo is about quantity, not quality. I’m not saying write the dumbest thing you can and don’t try or anything, but try to look at it like a shark might: keep moving forward. If your scene is screwed up, write yourself a note and go on.

5) Take lots of notes

Your brain becomes mush in November. Trust me on this. Don’t pull a Frea, though. Actually write your notes in a) something besides short-hand if you can’t read short-hand, and b) preferably longer than two words. I still don’t understand what I was trying to tell myself when I wrote a note saying, “Tail gate.” There’s no college football in that novel.

6) Plan ahead

Even if you’re a pantser (you write by the seat of your pants), have some idea of what you’re going to do. Preferably before November 1st.

There are loads more tips where those came from, but I’ll just make it up to you by writing another guide. If you do join up on Nanowrimo, come find me on the forums. I go by Lell over there, and I’ll friend you!

Good luck!

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