This is reblogged from amwriting.com, a truly wonderful site for writers and writing.
NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month, is a month-long extravaganza where writers push through as many words as possible toward a 50,000-word goal. Sounds simple, and yet there are thick, twisted layers of mystery surrounding NaNoWriMo, usually stemming from some consternation that the writing process will be attacked by zombies. No wait. Not zombies. By writer’s block. That’s it, yes. Fifty thousand words feel insurmountable, impossible to achieve in 30 days. NaNoWriMo asks us to take a deep breath and jump in to our stories, even when they stop and start in mad fits, or run into brick, comical walls, or flick off the lights and force us to quandry wander. NaNo is a challenge, it’s true, but it’s also an experiment of will, a daily game of chicken against our fluctuating sense of authenticity as writers, and it’s up to us to stand firm in the face of whatever literary metaphor for irresistible force comes our way.
Here it is, Day 1 of NaNoWriMo. Heck, half of planet Earth has been typing away in earnest while we Western Hemisphere people are just sitting down with a warm mug of something and a working keyboard. This brings me to my first piece of advice, having gone through NaNo some eight or nine times now. NO EXCUSES. The road to a poor NaNo experience–and thus, everlasting sadness–is paved with excuses. I don’t have enough time. I’ll catch up next week. It was a bad idea anyway. I’m not good at this. Excuses almost never motivate good writing and almost always destroy process. So the moment you feel an excuse bubbling to the surface, shut it down with that rule number one: NO EXCUSES. Or to pull from a well known narrative–The first rule of NaNoWriMo Club is no excuses.
Truly, NaNoWriMo is for everyone. I say that because the contest doesn’t care if this is your first book project or if you’re a ten-time NaNo veteran. It holds out the same goal and the same exhilaration at winning on November 30. Now then, those differences in writing experience matter because they will push us to focus on our own points of import, and that is why we need to know what we’re gunning for at the outset. Today. Right now. Yes, I know you want to get hammering. But take a few minutes just to write down on a piece of sticky note paper, your top three goals. Do it now. I’ll wait.
*knee-slapping bouncy music*
Okay, great. Now put that aside and we’ll get back to your goals in a little bit.
Here then, are pep talks for breaking out of the writing contest gate, based on number of times you’ve attempted NaNo and number of wins:
First NaNoWriMo Ever (a.k.a. NaNo virgins)–Congratulations! You’re about to write a first draft of a novel! Right, it’s not a finished novel, and it won’t be on November 30. That’s a good thing, because I’ve just lowered the stakes for you! Act like it’s a good thing, come on. Focus on writing through each scene. If you want to plot out your novel first and then write, fine. If you have three characters in your head and you just want to go boom and write without an outline, do it. Something in between? Sure. There will be plenty of time in December and beyond to fiddle with the text and refine; your job this month is only to get the words into the manuscript. So go! Start typing and writing! See you at the finish line! Really the trick here for this group is to learn how to plow ahead. What kills the manuscripts of many a first-timer is doubt. Doubt about each sentence’s worth, about the prose not passing muster, about weak dialogue, and so on–don’t let this be you. I’m focusing on your getting through the first draft–or the first 50,000 words of the first draft–because that is how books get written. One page, one scene, one plot point at a time. The wordcrafting and attention to language and refinement of themes and character all comes later in revision. And revision is not what NaNoWriMo is about. Stick to your task at hand. And keep that sticky note on your monitor so you can give yourself a reality check on goals when you need it.
Writers with 2-5 NaNos under their belt (and zero wins)–Okay, I understand this NaNo thing seems daunting. Please recall that all writing is worth something, because all writing leads to better writing. You’re back again, you’re still interested and curious, and yes, it’s okay to return to a story that once held your attention, just as it’s totally fine to jump into something new. Writers “trunk” or set aside unfinished manuscripts all the time. It doesn’t make you not a writer to fail, it makes you a real writer. So this time around, tell yourself that the 2012 NaNoWriMo is doubt- and self criticism-free. You’re here to get through 50,000 words, not stall in the lane of crappy self-confidence. You need achievable goals on that sticky note. Make sure that one of the goals is about being good to yourself through the process, and then focus on the concrete. You’ll also do well to sign up for NaNo’s weekly pep talk email. And go on the site once in a while. See what others are writing and what they’re saying about their own work. Do whatever it is that keeps you charged up–great music, a fresh latte, a cat lying across your feet so you can’t get up, whatever. You need this win, and you deserve that fantastic accomplishment.
Writers with 2-5 NaNos (and 1 or more wins)–Every story is its own, and as we are largely reinvented people each year when we approach a new manuscript, it pays to give each NaNo contest its due. I’ve won NaNo a bunch of times and I’ve failed it, too. If you’re not all about the win per se (and you needn’t be), then set your own structure for the month. Maybe this is your own personal NaNoEdMo where you edit a manuscript through as many times as you can in one month. You can still have word and page goals if you work well with them. Or maybe you’re writing narrative nonfiction instead of a novel. Make NaNo your own this year and win it in a whole new way, unless of course, that next novel is burning a hole in your brain. Brain holes are never good, so get it out and onto the screen. Look at your stick note goals and smile, because chances are you’re going to meet them.
Writers with 5+ NaNos (and no wins)–Hey, stubborn gets the job done. Even Susan Lucci won eventually, so keep at it! Don’t know who Susan Lucci is? Doesn’t matter. You’ll do well to figure out what brought you down the last few times so you can move on this year. Maybe you need to pretend there’s no daily word count goal, or put some tape on your monitor where the counter sits. If you lost track of your characters, put them on some index cards and keep them face up on your desk. If you got bogged down in the always-present “showing versus telling” debate (hey, it happens) highlight all of the excessive telling as you go but keep plowing into new territory. Harping on one section because you’re unsure about it is not progress, not this month. Just highlight it as an issue and write the next scene. Or leave it there and write the scene again at the end of the week, after you’ve gotten more words down. I can’t say this enough–NaNoWriMo does not end in a finished novel. It ends with a first draft. It ends with the first 30 rotations of a fresh clay pot on the wheel, not the glazed and perfect piece of pottery. Don’t worry about finished pottery, or what happened in 2008 (it was a bad year for most of us), or if your whole idea is incredibly stupid. Nail down the scenes, and give yourself space to fall in love with your characters. Focus on your goals, the ones on your sticky note. Meet those and you’ll be well on your way to NaNo success.
Writers with 5+ NaNos (and 1 or more wins)–Why are you reading this? Get writing! And hey, mentor a few folks along the way, would you? Sign up for your local NaNo chapter and share your enthusiasm for storytelling.
Have a great writing month, folks!