Making the Most of NaNoWriMo

NaNoWriMo 2018

Learning from the Challenge

NaNoWriMo is at its halfway mark! This 50,000-word novel writing challenge can be a tricky thing to beat. I’m not here to tell you how to win it. 50,000 is just a number, after all. I’m here to tell you how this challenge can make you a better writer.

By putting yourself to the test, you will discover a lot about yourself as a writer. Here are things I want you to look out for.

You are not a cheater

We all want to ‘win’ NaNoWriMo. All you have to do is reach the word count before the end of November and you’re golden.

I’ll paste bits I wrote earlier into my main document to pad the word count. Or – wait, I know – those notes I wrote about why the protagonist hates the colour yellow – I’ll type those up.

It’s simple and it counts – in the wrong way.

You’re only cheating yourself and your novel. Writing – especially first draft writing – is an act of exploration. It doesn’t matter if you’re a plotter, pantser, or something in between, you will have copy that doesn’t make it into the final product. This is fine and entirely part of the process. The above examples aren’t. You need to commit to the process with honesty and the realisation that you’ll have good and bad days.

You found your pace

To get to 50,000 words you need to write roughly 1,700 words a day. This can be a big ask, especially if other commitments eat into your time (or if you are writing a later draft). You should have an honest go at it.

I’m sure that many of you have found by now that you have a limit. It might be 2,000, or a 1,000, or just 300 words a day. The sentences that come out of you after that just…aren’t…great… The ceiling is different for each writer. This doesn’t mean that you can’t cut it as a writer, it just means that you’ve discovered your pace. (This is what NaNoWriMo helped me discover too).

By all means, during NaNoWriMo chase down that 1,700 number, but if you’re going to be writing for a living, you’ll need to respect your own pace. If you can only reach 549 words a day – aim for it – every – single – day. Once you reach whatever your arbitrary limit is – stop. Do this for long enough and you’ll find that you cannot let a day go by without writing.

Trust me, there will be days when you feel like you can go forever. Embrace them. But I’ve found that if I had a 4,000-word day, I am too drained to write one the following day. Know your limits.

You are a student of writing

You need to learn how to learn.

I’ve found that, once I’ve reached the end of a manuscript, I am a better writer than I was when I started it. You’ll find this too.

To make the most of this, you need to figure out how you got better. You need to be open to learning. This means that you should be able to look at a chapter – for example – and tell yourself which bits are good (and why) and which bits are bad (and why).

This goes beyond syntax and diction. Plot, story, character, voice – all should be under scrutiny.

You should also realise that what you have written is not sent in stone. This fact will break your heart. Something isn’t good merely because you wrote a lot. It is good because you wrote and rewrote it to polish its strengths and amputate its weaknesses.

With the Silent Symphony, I changed the direction of the last half of the book. This means that all that work had to be thrown away and lead to over a year of rewrites. This will happen – don’t dwell on it – accept it and use it to your advantage. In the chapters I threw away, I found moments of character development and great bits of dialogue that I could incorporate in the rewrite in new ways.

In writing, nothing is wasted, but not everything makes it onto the page. Write this down.

You found the heart of your story

In the words of the great Sir Terry Pratchett: “The first draft is just you telling yourself the story.” Words to live by.

The first draft will be bad – there are no exceptions. Don’t dwell on this fact. The job of the first draft isn’t to be ‘good’, but merely to exist.

It will help you discover the heart of your story: what you are trying to say, the true motivations of your characters, and (crucially) the voice. The latter develops as you write and can be tricky to nail down. Use the first draft as the testing site for the final product.

You are a writer (sorry)

Once November 30 rolls by, the temptation is to stop. To take a well-deserved break after working so hard. This is fine – you deserve it – especially if you’re doing it as a hobby or on a dare.

The hard truth is that – if you want to be a writer – you must keep going. As I said above, you need to find your own pace. You need to maintain that pace every day.

I had a three-mouth-streak of 20,000 words – sure it isn’t a NaNo victory, but my novel is 60,000 words closer to completion.

Your words

How is your NaNoWriMo campaign shaping up?

Have you found your pace?

Do you disagree with anything I’ve said?

Please share below.

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