It is that time of year again! Time to sit at the keyboard and hammer out fifty thousand words (or get as close to it as possible). It is time for NaNoWriMo! I have taken part in this a few times and found success here and there. I figured it is time to pay some of that writing experience forward.
For those who do not know, NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month. It is an international (yes, I know) writing competition where participants challenge themselves to writing 50k words in the month of November.
You can add buddies, discover fellow writers, listen to pep talks, raise money for worthy causes, and more. That being said, the event is free for anyone – so, there is little excuse not to take part.
This is a great way to get through an early draft of your work, as you only focus on getting words out and not on editing anything. Writing is everything. Editing is for later.
Now, this doesn’t work for everyone or even for every project. However, writing is one of those skills that can only improved by writing. Even if you use this period to try something other than your regular project, the act of writing every day is a healthy habit.
Around this time, there are many pieces of writing advice for this event (I mean, you’re reading one right now). However, as with most things, there are good pieces of advice and not-so-good pieces of advice.
Here are things that I do not recommend doing during NaNoWriMo:
- Filling out character bios
- Filling out location bios
- Playing lexicon games (“Exquisite Corpse”, etc.)
- Coping an established work (always a no-no, really).
While some writers find it useful to write out a full character bio that contains everything from the character’s eye colour to their favourite ice-cream, it is all … extra. This is just clutter to me. This is pieces of writing that will not make it to the final product and is frankly nothing but a waste of time.
If you have to resort to these tricks just to get a few extra words each day, you have bigger problems than deciding whether or not the villain likes pistachio or rocky road.
Rather, I suggest…
Better Writing Advice
Leave the forms and words games. Instead, focus on the story. Write the prose – leave the fluff.
If you are a planner (like me), figure out an outline before the event starts. If you’re a pantser, plan the character and place names at the very least. I know that sounds abhorrent (planning), but this will minimize the time you spend getting lost in search-engine-loops (it’s a thing).
Minimize the fluff (e.g. character forms, “research”, etc.) and at the end of November you will have something of value (whether or not you reach 50k). Trust me. This is the way.
Plus, on that note, I find that that kind of “over-planning”, your creativity gets stifled. Okay, so now you know that your character dislikes modern art, but how are you going to work it in? More importantly, is it relevant to the plot?
This is an important question to answer. Even if you see your story as “character-driven”, you need to realize that your characters are tools that aid you in creating certain emotions or reactions in your readers. Now, I know this can by a cold way of thinking about characters, but once this clicks, your writing will improve. In other words, your character’s favourite soup doesn’t matter unless soup is a major plot point and the act of your character refusing a bowl of minestrone causes the collapse of the universe (or something).
Here are some quick pointers that have helped me:
- Write the juicy bits first – this might seem sacrilegious, but try it before you knock it
- Don’t write chronologically – linked to above.
- Figure out the Ending early on – many won’t like this, but this will give you something to write towards, even if you change it later.
- If stuck, write down what doesn’t happen next – this works better than you might think.
- Have an overall structure, even if you aren’t a planner – having an overall shape always helps avoid blocks, there is nothing wrong with borrowing a structure from something else.
- Think in scenes, effective scenes – everyone has their own measure, but for me, each scene should advance the plot, raise/state the stakes, or show/grow a character (two out of three, at least).
- Let your characters talk – sometimes when you are stuck, it might be useful to put your characters in the same room and have them just talk (this verges on fluff, I know, but sometimes rather usable scenes can result in this and you’d be amazed at the word count).
- Discover the purpose of each character – as said before, characters are tools, thus by figuring out what each characters “purpose” is in your novel, you will find it easier to spontaneously write about them.
Over to You
These are things that worked for me. Writing is a personal skill – everyone gets through it in their own way. Thus, these tips might not work for you.
Please let me know in the comments below if you’re taking part. If you have tips of your own, please share! Also, if you know a friend that might need some advice, please send them here. There are other posts on writing and writing advice to be found here!
Good luck everyone!