Have you always wanted to join National Novel Writing Month but never felt you had the time to do it? For a lot of people, the challenge to complete the first 50 thousand words of their novel in just 30 days is daunting. That pressure is the number one obstacle throwing off first-time writers from accomplishing their lifetime dreams. Many participants who sign up for NaNoWriMo quit shortly into the month, putting off their projects for a later date, at some point in the future in which they will have “more time”.But why wait for “then”, when you could start writing now! Every April and July, National Novel Writing Month hosts a “light” version of NaNo, where participants can not only choose from a variety of different projects--novels, scripts, poetry, etc.--but set their own word count goals. Still nervous? Don’t fret! Here are some surefire tips to winning NaNo this month!
1. Get inspired
Maybe you have always wanted to write a book, but have never known what to write it about. Or maybe you're flooded with ideas, and you just can't make up your mind. Actively looking for inspiration is an easy way to get that sorted. You can't always wait for it to come to you, so seek out the places inspiration tends to hang out in. Go for a walk, watch some documentaries on Netflix, read a book in a genre you don't normally read. Ideas come with time, but you can speed the process up by seeking them out yourself.
2. Keep a journal
You don't have to be as melodramatic as Snape, but keeping a diary is known to boost creativity. Challenge yourself to write more than just a list of what happened to you today: tell a story. Use dialogue and scene description, just like you would if you were writing your book, even if you have to paraphrase and make stuff up here and there. Journalling still not for you? Why not try Twitter or keeping your own blog? The sooner you get in the habit of making writing a daily activity--and one you're intrinsically motivated to do--the easier it'll be to finish that novel.
3. Make a game plan
You might feel like you write best flying by the seat of your pants, but if you've been stuck on the same story for too long--or haven't started at all--then it may be time for a change of pace. Pre-writing can be an invaluable skill to have in your writer's toolbox. Research! Outline! Make playlists on Spotify or storyboards on Pinterest. Make sketches of your characters or locations if you're an artsy-type or buy a box of index cards and create a set of scene cards if you're more of a planner. Having something laid down before the month begins will save you a lot of grief by the time the "Week Two Blues" come around , trust me.
4. Free write
On the same vein as keeping a journal, free writing is a way to shrug off some of that undue stress and just get writing! But while journalling is often personal, free writing doesn't have to be. If you're stuck at a point in your story, or sick of where the plot's going, don't be afraid to shake things up a bit! Introduce a unicorn into the next scene, even though it's not a fantasy. Have your main character fall asleep and wake up somewhere they've never been before. It may seem silly while you're writing it, but just the process of thinking outside the box is often enough to trigger that amazing idea that's been alluding you for the last couple chapters.
5. Kill your inner editor
Don't listen to that voice inside your head telling you that you need to delete the last seven paragraphs you just wrote. Smother it. No one ever wrote a perfect first draft and if you're going to write a book this month, or at all, learning to tune that voice out is the first step to completing your first manuscript. Send your inner editor on an all-expenses paid vacation for the next month because they're not needed right now. You'll be seeing more than enough of them when it's time for revision.
This might seem a little counterintuitive, seeing as the biggest difference between writers who have finished their manuscripts and writers who haven't is that good writers, you guessed it, write. Sometimes the best solution to working through writer's block is just to plug away at the page aggressively, even if it feels as though most of what your writing is filler. Other times, it's not. The fact is, everyone procrastinates, and the difference between staying on task and becoming a professional procrastinator is procrastinating successfully. Spend that time you should be writing diligently: people-watch at your favorite cafe, queue up that playlist of songs picked out for your story or chat with some of your writer friends in the NaNoWriMo forums about what's got you stuck. Procrastination doesn't have to be a sin, as long as you do it the smart way.
7. Beat writer's block
There are tons of sites out there with writing prompts to help get you kickstarted in your most dire moments. NaNoWriMo's Young Writer's Program has a widget called the Dare Machine on their main page that generates tons of wacky incentives to add to your plot if you're running out of action. You might also try WriteWorld, a Tumblr-run blog that's filled with photos, music, and sentence prompts designed to get your writerly juices flowing again, if you ever find yourself in the midst a dry spell.
8. Time yourself
Nothing like a little friendly competition to get the juices flowing. If you have some writer friends, challenge them to a Word War! Set a timer and see who's written the most words by the time it's run out. Friends out of town? NaNoWordSprints is the official home for Twitter-based word sprints. Every April, July and November, you can tune into their feed and find other participants setting up timed sessions for writers to see who can write the most before the clock runs out. If you truly prefer to work alone, set a timer on your phone for 15 minute intervals and see where you get by the time it starts ringing. You'll wander off less when you've set yourself a challenge.
9. Leave it unfinished
Whenever you reach the end of a writing session--any time you have to walk away from the computer, or pick up the project at a later time--don't finish your train of thought. Whatever description or line of dialogue you were about to type up, leave it unfinished. For a lot of people, starting is always the hardest part of writing; just picking up wherever it was you've left off. Leaving yourself an unfinished thought to come back to for your next session forces you to go back and read the last segment you wrote. This compels you to engage with the same vein of thoughts that led you to that stopping point. That way you can pick up where you left off and move on seamlessly.
10. Let yourself suck
If attempting to write a good first draft of your novel in just a month seems impossible to you, that's because it is. There is no such thing as a good first draft. The fact of the matter is, you're first draft is going to suck, whether it takes you four weeks to write or four years. That feeling of euphoria that comes from finishing your manuscript doesn't stem from feeling you've written the perfect book, it comes from realizing that you've finally done it. Those 50K plus words came from you, and with a little revision (okay, a lot of revision), they're going to transform into something fantastic. So don't be afraid to suck at first. Just know that what you're doing is amazing.
11. Just do it!
Don't wait. And don't worry. If you can tackle the story in your head with the same enthusiasm, flexibility and imagination as any of the stories you are a big fan of, that passion will translate and you'll have a finished manuscript within your hands in seemingly no time. Making the process of tackling a novel a fun one is what National Novel Writing Month is all about. There's never a convenient time to start writing. So make the time, and make it fun.
I look forward to seeing all of your books in stores someday.