23 Oct 2011

Didn't You Get The Memo? My Top Tips for Nanowrimo

This post has been a long time coming, but seeing as Nanowrimo starts in eeeep....(counts on fingers) 9 days, I thought I'd better put it out there. So, if you're thinking of doing Nano, you're a newbie and you've signed up or you've done it before (winner or not), this post is for you.

Btw, if you're wondering wtf Nanowrimo is, it's a crazy month of madness whereby you try to write a novel - or 50,000 words of one - in a month. Hence National Novel Writing Month. I've only done it once before - last year - when @aliamck encouraged me to do it. However I should add that prior to November 2010, the last time I'd written more than a sentence was at university. So doing Nano last year was a little like running a marathon with no practice. That's not to say it shouldn't be done like that. Anyway, on with the tips aka "what I learned from Nanowrimo 2010 and how it might help you"

Tip One: Write Like No One's Going To Read It
You know that expression dance like no one's watching? And then you see people dance who adhere to that - some are bad, some are good, some are awesome. But, they're all putting their heart + soul into it. Well from what I know about writing, that's how you should write. Sounds a bit crazy I know, but the books I most enjoy and the authors I most admire, are the people who write with a true clear voice and stick to it.
That's not to say you won't worry about people reading your writing, but with Nano, I worked on the basis that no one was ever going to see what I wrote. Not my husband, not my friends, not agents or publishers let alone the general public. Nope, not a page/sentence/word/letter. Remember that actually, you're in control of who sees your writing, so if you don't want people to see it then uh, don't show it to them. I found that reminding myself of this - and I did most days when I was nano-ing - really helped me overcome my writing inhibitions

Tip Two: Have Fun!
I can see the looks on your faces....how does writing 50,000 = fun? Well try not to take it all so seriously. If you're adhering to tip 1, you're well on your way there....remember if your book/character/plot is boring you - chances are, it'll bore other people. When you're a writer you effectively get to play god :)
A good example from my experience last year was when I got totally stuck. I'd written about 12k words and I knew what I wanted to have happen but I seemingly couldn't get there without writing pages of crap. So I asked my husband what I should do. (Warning: typical man response coming)
"Blow something up!"

"Blow something up? But its a literary dystopian romance. I don't even know if they have bombs?"
Husbando looks nonplussed "You asked my opinion - and last time I was helpful".
He was, that's true - I'd thought I was the only person on earth to call my rebel factions the rebel alliance. As a life long Star Wars fan you can imagine what he thought of that (I'm very ignorant).
So the point is, have fun with your plot and characters. I *did* put a bomb in my book and it ended up being a pivotal plot point, enabling various key events to happen - including a major sex scene :P...which brings me neatly on to tip 3.

Tip Three: Experiment
Ah yes, not just sexually, experiment with YOUR WRITING. And nano is the prime opportunity to do this. I saw it as the chance to write all the different characters and plot points and scenes that had been tootling around in my head for years:

- sex scenes (of various natures) TICK
- Complex plot points which double back on themselves - TICK
- creating a dystopian universe in which you realise 25k words in that you need to write + create an entire political history for the last 200 years of the universe, *just* so your book makes sense - TICK
- stereotypical baddie character TICK
- main character has all the physical attributes you would like to have (long red hair, ability to do splits, mysterious and reserved, not overly talkative) TICK
- hateful female character in which you manage to use up all those pithy one liners you've thought up several days after an argument has passed TICK

I think you see what I mean here. In this respect Nanowrimo was more cathartic than anything else. I didn't go into it planning to have a publishable novel, but I came out of it having gotten all those crazy writing ideas out of my system so that I could settle down and write something a little more structured. Certainly this year I don't plan to have to create an entire universe in one month - the expression biting off more than you can chew springs to mind - but I sure am glad I had a go at it!

Tip Four: True Grit (it's not just a movie)
I'm not going to lie. It's not easy to write 50k words in a month. It's definitely enjoyable for sure but be prepared for hard work. I found nanowrimo was a lot like how I imagine running a marathon to be. I certainly felt a lot like I did after I've done a huge hike.
At the beginning you're excited but also quite nervous (that vomity feeling also applies weirdly). After a week/at around the 12-13k mark you're feeling quite proud of yourself but wondering HTF you're gonna make it to 50k. At around 28k I started thinking, crap, Imma gonna finish by 35k words. By 35k you know you've got enough left to get to 50k at least but you're wondering if you're gonna make it in the next 10 days. By the time you hit 45k, if you're anything like me you're on a mega sprint to the end. And the feeling is amazing!!!!
BUT you need to make yourself write. Every goddamn day if possible. Nano has a handy word target which adjusts depending on how much you write a day and I was a slave to this. I did not meet my word counts everyday but I slogged on to catch up, once even writing 8k words in a day. I just wrote and wrote and wrote.
If you're thinking yikes, I have a life already, how do I do that? Well, there is no easy answer, you just do. You fit in the time. You get up early, you write on your commute, on long train journeys, in boring meetings (!). You do it over the weekends (be prepared for a messy house) you have A LOT of take out for dinner.
Be sure to tell your loved ones that you're doing it. They'll ask you how you're getting on and take it very seriously "wow, you're writing a novel". This will make you crap yourself and write frantically. Also there's no pressure like your boss knowing and telling people that you're going to become a famous novelist. Yeah, I'm still waiting for that one.

You may, at this point be thinking but "yeah like, where do all those words come from. I hate my work, I practically vomit out of my eyeballs reading it sometimes". Ah, yes, read on for tip five, you're gonna love it...

Tip Five: Editing Is A Dirty Word
Oh yes, it is. NO EDITING ALLOWED.Try not to faint. The point of Nano is to write and write and write some more. December is for editing. As hard as it is, do not - I repeat - do not edit your work. And by this I mean literally no re-writing/re-structuring huge chunks. Once it's on-screen or in a notebook, that's it. The only bits of editing I allowed myself to do were correcting typos and when reviewing the previous day's work, sometimes I'd amend the last couple of sentences, just to get back into the swing of things. Other than that, hand on heart I did not edit anything.
That's not to say I didn't have various scribbled plans and plot notes and timelines randomly jotted in my notebook/on napkins/in my phone/on my hand. These kept me in place. I knew what happened in my book overall and various key events. I would write out of sequence to get some of these bits done in big chunks. Other parts weren't filler but I drew a sort of map of what needed to happen in what order to get there. This helped me not to need to edit. It can be done.

Overall Nanowrimo taught me
- you really can't choose what you write, it chooses you. sure, initially you think hey, my brain, my idea, but really the characters and plot just have their own ideas. and they often will surprise you. this is a good thing
- to persevere. really. the sense of achievement I felt at the end of November was unreal.
- it's only a month. it's not for life
- do not underestimate just how much you will use adverbs.
- be prepared to be told to go back and remove ALL the adverbs at the end.
- show not tell. this is hard. you want to show your reader what happens. not tell them. it's not easy and I am a slave to the adverb. but I'm getting better.
-  everyone has a story to tell and that just because it's not for everyone to read doesn't mean it lacks value. far from it. if you want to write, go for it

That's all I have for today but tomorrow I'll be posting about my plans for this year's Nanowrimo - needless to say, I am soooooooooo excited about it. In a sort of delusional-forgotten-how-hard-it-is-way. If you like this post, feel free to share it and comment below with your top tips too!

Thank you and goodnight

Stupidgirl has left the building


  1. Thanks for the tips! I'm always looking for ways to write 50k in a month right now, and I'm buying new notebooks to write in almost daily. Sites like this are a great help!

  2. Great tips! Even as a NaNo veteran (who yes, thinks writing a 50k word novel in a month is fun, because writing is fun, by George!), it's nice to see other people gearing up and read what they think.

  3. Good post and good luck this year!

    Remember everyone, it's about having fun! (I feel like I should shake a pom pom here, but I look horrible in little pleated skirts...)

  4. Ooooooh thanks everyone, glad you liked the post!

  5. Great post, thanks for sharing your learning! Going to be my first time NaNoing :D

  6. enjoyed it all - my 1st time but I already write like this ie no editing, remove adverbs at end, write scenes as they come to me!! what i want to do is change styles completely - yes new sex, new plot lines, new location etc - for a story thats been bugging me for 20yrs now!!

    good luck everyone