November. It’s an interesting month. The days grow colder as the darkness grows longer. We flip our clocks back an hour. Every November since 2008 I’ve made the pilgrimage to Traverse City, MI for the Criminal Defense Attorneys of Michigan conference. My birthday falls in November. And since 2010, I’ve participated in National Novel Writing Month.
National Novel Writing Month was born in 1999 and has become a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization promoting the writing of stories. In 2013, over 340,000 writers participated in NaNoWriMo.
The object is to write 50,000 words in 30 days. This averages 1,667 words per day, or roughly seven pages a day. But word count, not page count, is what matters.
It seems like an ambitious exercise, especially considering the Thanksgiving holiday and merchants bombarding us with their seasonal sales. However it is doable, and it can result in the rough draft of a novel you will be able to revise and publish later.
I’ve done this three years running, surpassing the 50,000 word count each time. Last year’s draft is the novel I am currently revising, to circulate for publication when ready. Here are some tips that I’ve found helpful in successfully completing NaNoWriMo.
1. Be prepared. You don’t have to know all the details of the plot, or all the characters that are going to inhabit your fictional world. But you do need plan. You need guideposts along the way that you are writing to. If you begin on November 1st without one you will find yourself sooner or later stuck with nowhere to go. You’ll get frustrated and give up.
2. Be flexible. You’ve created your guideposts, but realize they are not set in stone. As you write, characters and logic may drive the story off its original course. Pretend you’re in the forest. Stray from the path, but don’t let it slip from your sight.
3. Be forgiving. This is not the time to be worrying about spelling and grammatical correctness. Break up contractions (“don’t” = one word; “do not” equals two). Just get it out. This is your rough draft. You have permission for it to include some of the worst writing you’ve ever put in Word. That’s fine. Revision takes place the other eleven months of the year.
4. Be on-target. Don’t stop to research something. Memorialize within that this requires research. “Johnny rode his (manufacturer and make) motorcycle over the (name of highway) into the night.” Save the research for the other eleven months.
5. Be realistic in planning. Look at the month of November and realize where writing is going to be hampered due to work, school, or holidays. I factor in that I will be in Traverse City for a few days in the month, and find the dates where I’ll make up the words. For example, I’m currently planning on writing 2,020 words per day on 22 days, 2,000 words on 2 days, 520 words on 3 days, and zero words on 3 days.
6. Be off and running on Day One. Get off to a fast start. I have always tried to block November 1st from any distraction and exceed the word count I’ve planned for that day. It’s better to be running ahead in case of any surprises during the month than it is to be behind.
These are the suggestions that I have found to have helped me churn out 50,000 words in the month. Everyone works at their own pace and with their own style, so do whatever works for you. In the end, it’s the 50,000 words that matter, after which you could revise and get published like Sara Gruen did with Water for Elephants and Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus – two of many NaNoWriMo projects that became published novels.