As of today, my writing streak has hit 464 consecutive days. Overall, I’ve written for 607 out of the last 609 days. (I missed two days in the summer of 2013 while attending the Launch Pad Astronomy Workshop in Laramie Wyoming.) But I haven’t missed a day since July 21, 2013. I have also successfully completely NaNoWriMo twice in the past. During the streak, I’ve learned a few things that may help out folks attempting NaNoWriMo this year. Keep in mind that these are things that work for me, given how I work. Your style and word counts may vary.
1. Baseline your metrics and understand what they mean
National Novel Writing Month is like a marathon for writers. It’s designed to be hard, and designed to push you to write every day. That isn’t an easy thing. Like anyone training for a marathon, it helps to know how fast you can run a mile, and how long you can sustain that pace. The same is true for writing in NaNoWriMo.
I have a full-time day job, two little kids, volunteer activities at my kids’ school, and all of the other commitments that come with life. One thing my writing streak taught me early on is that is useful to throw out your assumptions about what you can and can’t do, try new things and measure them. For instance, I always thought I needed to write at a set time of day for a set period of time, say from 5 am – 7 am. But things happen. Schedules change. Life intervenes. So I decided I would write whenever I had time, even if it was only 10 minute here and there–but I would write every day.
What I’ve learned:
Over on her blog, writer Wai Chim has a very cool info-graphic depicting some numbers from NaNoWriMo and other parts of literature. Since I like numbers, data-visualization, and NaNoWriMo, I thought I’d call it to your attention.
With less than a week to go before the start of the Big Event, I thought I’d provide some links to some of the posts I’ve written on NaNoWriMo that talk about tips and tools that I’ve used in the past. I have not yet decided if I am going to participate this year. I may use the time to focus on short fiction, and get back into a normal daily routine, but it’s looking more and more like I won’t be doing the traditional competition. I just have too much on my plate. That said, you can add me as a buddy over at the NaNoWriMo site, and if I do participate, I’ll also be posting my results here each day just like I did last year.
Nevertheless, I did make a donation to the Office of Letters and Lights, which runs NaNoWriMo and I encourage you to do the same.
And now, here are the promised links:
BONUS TIP: hold back 1 key scene that you are excited to write, especially during those first few weeks, even if it is out of sequence. Why? Over the course of 30 days, it’s inevitable that you’ll find one day where you just don’t feel inspired to write what you have planned for that day. The most important thing about NaNoWriMo, however, is to write every day and to avoid falling behind. If you keep one scene in reserve that you are really excited to write, you can pull it out on that day when you are not inspired by what you have on your plate, and swap it in. Write the scene you are excited about and save the other scene for the next day. I had 2 scenes like this last year and it worked like a charm for me.
5 days and counting. Good luck!
Having successfully completed NaNoWriMo on a couple of occasions, I thought I’d provide a few tips that I found helpful during my efforts. Each time I completely NaNoWriMo, it was with the intention of writing at least 50,000 words of what would ultimately become a full novel. So these tips may not apply to folks who are just out to write 50,000 words for no reason other than to complete the contest. Here you go:
1. Plan ahead
To write 50,000 words in 30 days, you need to write 1,667 words each day. For me, this required some planning. I spent a good deal of my writing time in October planning what I would write in November. This included a fairly detailed outline of my novel. My approach was to aim for chapters that were roughly 2,000 words long. I outlined about 45 such chapters, and I expected to get through about 30 of them during November. Planning ahead had the added benefit of letting me know what I would be working on each day. I never woke up and said, gee, I don’t know what to write today. It was always there in the outline, and I could often think about it the night before. That often allowed me to start faster.
Once I had the outline completely, I used Scrivener to a NaNoWriMo novel project and I created 45 chapters. On each chapter, I included my summary of the chapter from my outline. I didn’t worry much about naming the chapters at this point. I just wanted to make sure I had them all set up before I got started. Scrivener allows you to create a goal for each document, so for each document (and I had one document per chapter) I created a goal of 2,00o words. This comes in hand later when you are writing because you can see the progress bar turn from red to yellow to green as you get closer to your goal each day.
I’ve have participated in NaNoWriMo for the last several years. Indeed, I have “won” in the sense that for the last two years, I’ve written at least 50,000 words in 30 days. This year, however, I won’t be participating in the traditional way. I am not a novelist. I understand that is where the money is if you want to make a living as a writer, but I don’t make my living as a writer, and the truth is, the more I think about it, the more I realize that I don’t want to write novels. I love short fiction. I not only want to write more short fiction, I want to get better and better at it. I want to be a great short fiction writer. That is where my focus should be.
To that end, while I won’t be doing the traditional NaNoWriMo this year, I will be using the month of November and the NaNoWriMo motivation to produce some short fiction. I haven’t yet decided how I will approach this. Will I spend the month producing one long story? Will I try to write a story a week for 4 weeks? It’s not clear yet and I need to think on it some more.
That said, for those who are planning on doing NaNoWriMo and are looking for some advice on how to pull off 50,000 words in 30 days, well, I’ll probably have a post or two on how I managed to do it the last couple of years.
And because I think that NaNoWriMo is a good cause and a good experience for writers to go through, I will once again be donating some money to them.
For those interested in my past experiences, here are all my posts for NaNoWriMo 2010.