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Six Things I Learned about Writing From NaNoWriMo Last Year

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NaNoWriMo, also known as National Novel Writing Month, is an annual event that takes place every November, during which writers – from amateur to professional – try to write 50,000 words in 30 days.

NaNoWriMo is a slog. Trying to get your daily word count in (and trying to write well) makes November a time of dread for many a writer.

Nervous On Fire GIF by Robert E Blackmon NaNoWriMo
NaNoWriMo in one gif (via Giphy)

 

And yet, I’ve attempted (and won!) NaNoWriMo a grand total of four times! I’ve loved (almost) every second of it.

 

But there are a few things I’ve learnt in my previous NaNoWriMo attempts that I think anyone trying to complete NaNoWriMo for the first time should know:

Plan, Plan, Plan!

Listen, at any other time of the year, I’m all for “letting the creative juices flow” but not in November. NaNoWriMo is serious stuff. If you don’t have even a rough plan of your story, you’re going to burn out and end up lost and confused in the barren desert of your novel.

 

journaling sharpie markers GIF by Sharpie NaNoWriMo
Plan out the time you’ll put aside to write (via Giphy)

 

Of course, I’m not saying you need a play-by-play outline of every single chapter. But you should have at least a rough idea of your setting, your characters and the main plot points. Crucially, you should know what your ending will be, at least roughly. If you can see the light at the end of the tunnel, then the 50,000 words between beginning and end are going to seem much more achievable. So embrace your inner Virgo and plan, plan, plan!

Kill your inner editor

At any other time of the year, I can spend far too long agonising over a scene or a piece of dialogue because it’s not ‘perfect’. But NaNoWriMo doesn’t care about perfect (I mean, you shouldn’t care about perfect anyway, but especially not during NaNoWriMo). NaNoWriMo is about just getting the words down.

 

frustrated the worst GIF NaNoWriMo
Be nice to yourself (via Giphy)

 

Did you suddenly realise that you misspelt a word in a previous paragraph? Ignore it! Have you got two characters mixed up? They’re the same person now!

 

It can be so tempting to go back and make things nicer and prettier and more cohesive. But then you’ll never finish. You can always go over things with a fine-tooth comb in revisions. But first, you have to actually finish your novel.

 

Keep it Simple

 

keep it simple GIF by Swing Left NaNoWriMo
Amen (via Giphy)

 

We all want originality in our stories and if you’re like me, you want to write the most epic, complex, gut-wrenching fantasy novel ever. I’m talking “eat it, George R.R. Martin, there’s a new fantasy epic in town.” But that won’t work during NaNoWriMo. As we all know by how long it’s taken Martin to finish The Winds of Winter (what are you even doing, George? IT’S BEEN SEVEN YEARS!), writing an intricate, multiple POV, multiple storyline fantasy epic can take time. And you don’t have time. So keep your idea simple. Focus on one main storyline, a couple of minor secondary plotlines, and a handful of characters and just make it really, really good. Complex and intricate doesn’t always mean good.

The habit is key

excited new girl GIF NaNoWriMo
Keep at it (via Giphy)

 

This is actually the point of NaNoWriMo – to get writers writing regularly. Many people talk about “one day” writing a novel but they just don’t have the time. Well, make the time. You’ll never hit the New York Times bestseller list if you don’t actually take the time to sit down and write. Most working authors write every day (except, apparently, George R.R. Martin. SEVEN YEARS MAN!). If you want to win NaNoWriMo, there’s a certain amount of words you have to write each day (1,667 to be exact). So, bar your door and set your phone to airplane mode. You have work to do.

The end result won’t be pretty

Listen, first drafts are never good. Awkward dialogue, over-indulgent action scenes and flat, cardboard cut-out characters are part and parcel of any first draft, let alone one written in 30 days. Your completed novel is not going to be good enough for publishing.

 

excited marie kondo GIF NaNoWriMo
Marie Kondo your draft AFTER it’s finished (via Giphy)

 

Yet, so many people seem to think that their NaNoWriMo attempt is good enough to be published that at the beginning of December agents and editors are deluged with NaNo attempts. It ain’t pretty. Now, some famous NaNoWriMo novels that have ended up getting published (such as Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants and Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus) went through a lot of rewrites before even touching an agent’s desk.

Don’t get caught up in ‘winning’

We all want to win. Winning is nice. And it can be easy to feel like a failure when you only managed to end the month with 30,000 words. But – hang on. 30,000 words? That’s fantastic! That’s 30,000 words closer to a novel! 30,000 words that you may never have written otherwise. So don’t get down on yourself for *only* writing 30,000 words when a lot of people who ‘dream’ of writing a novel haven’t written anything towards that goal.

 

dab yolo GIF NaNoWriMo
Celebrate your achievements this November, regardless of whether you hit that 50K milestone or not (via Giphy)

 

Do you have any tips for NaNoWriMo newcomers this year? Let us know in the comments below!