Didn’t we just do this a year or so ago?
That’s right, kids: It’s the month many a writer circles on their calendar, often with some form of the question, “Do I or Don’t I?”
What are we yammering about? November, of course, is National Novel Writing Month, a 30-day odyssey of word pushing, key stabbing, stress inducing, existence questioning fun in which writer hopefuls block out most if not all distractions with the singular goal of racking up 50,000 (or more!) words toward the writing of a novel.
To be honest, I’ve had a mixed bag of success with this thing. That said, I still tend to be a cheerleader for the program because I do believe it has merit, particularly for the beginning writer. Figuring out how to hit a daily writing quota regardless of other commitments, demands, or distractions just during this one month period is a great learning aid as well as a valuable peek into the real world of a working writer. Even if you don’t hit that magical 50,000-word mark, embrace the opportunity here and all it can teach you.
On a few occasions over the years, I’ve written pieces for my blog and other venues where I’ve been asked to dispense “wisdom” to those attempting NaNoWriMo for the first time. Every writer’s mileage varies when it comes to their individual process and finding time to write in and around other commitments. With that in mind, I’ve always tried to keep my advice general enough so it can be applied no matter the specific situation. In that same spirit, I offer a few nuggets of hopefully helpful advice:
Manage your pace. You’ve got so many words to write, and so many days to write ‘em. Don’t over-think this. Figure out a words-per-day rate, and shoot for that. Take this in chunks, rather than concentrating on the 50k mark. It’ll start adding up pretty quickly. 50,000 divided by 30 days is 1,667 words a day. Sounds like a lot, right?
Now, break that down further. 250 words an hour is a figure I like to use, because that’s an old school measure for a page—give or take a dozen words or so—when you’re using Courier 12-pt font and double-spacing your manuscript. 250 words an hour isn’t a terribly stress-inducing pace, and doing that for seven hours gets you your daily quota and some extra padding, and you can do it in easy to manage chunks that you spread throughout the day. You know, one or two before work, one at lunch, one after work, and the rest in the evening. If you need or want to adjust that number up or down or how you spread it across the day, knock yourself out. The point is to find a pace that works for you on a consistent basis, but doesn’t stress you out while you’re trying to hit it.
Don’t kill yourself. Quit for the day if you hit your quota. If, on the other hand, you get froggy and write way beyond that, then give yourself a break the next day. If you miss a day, then work a bit harder over a few days to get back on pace, rather than trying to gain it all back in one chunk. Or, just recalculate a new per-day rate to absorb the words from the missed day. Again: Chunks. Pace. Consistency. Repeat.
Write now. Edit later. Your goal is to keep pushing forward, every day, all the way to the finish line, and you can’t do that if you keep going back over the stuff you already wrote. We all have an inner editor, wanting us to revise that paragraph or page we just finished, or who keeps telling us that chapter we wrote yesterday needs a rewrite. Ignore that skeevy bastard. This exercise isn’t about having a perfect, polished, ready to rock manuscript at the end of November. That’s what December’s for. So, tell that inner editor to sit down and shut his suck hole until the writing part is over.
My personal take on NaNoWriMo is that it’s a mechanism for instilling some structure and discipline into your writing routine and finding a way to integrate it with all the other demands on your life. As with anything else, it can be as useful or useless as the effort you put into it. This sort of thing’s not for everybody, so if you give it an honest try and discover it’s not for you, then screw it. Find a method that better suits you.
For those choosing to accept the challenge of National Novel Writing Month, I wish you the best of luck!