NaNoWriMo, NaNoWriMo, NaNoWriMo. Try to say that ten times fast. If you can’t, that’s okay. We’re writers, not public speakers. But whether you type it, say it, or scribble it on the walls of your home, it’s here. Whatever you may think of it and the inherent push for quantity over quality, as a writer it’s hard to resist. It’s like telling an ice cream taster that a new brand just hit the shelves. It may be cheap, it may cater to the more casual ice cream goers than the connoisseurs, but, dammit, you need a taste!
So where to start? Well, that would have been two days ago. But never fear, better late than never. If you have your own set method for November 30 to supply you with a fresh, new novel under your arm, then by all means, feel free to continue. But if you’re finding yourself struggling with how to make this happen, I’d suggest a very simple thing: set goals.
If I’m not mistaken, NaNoWriMo pushes for 50,000 words in one month. That’s about 1600 words per day, roughly this blog post plus the one underneath it. Doesn’t sound like much, huh? You’re right, it doesn’t. That’s why I want to encourage you (and you, and you, yeah, you too) to go for 2400 words per day for a total of 75,000 words. There are a few reasons for this. 1) Even falling short of a large goal will probably garner significant progress. 2) I find that in the editing process, manuscripts get smaller instead of larger. By the time you edit down a 50ker, you may be looking at novella material. Think of your potential first draft as a huge block of ice and editing as shaving it into a beautiful sculpture. Which would you rather work with? 3) This is Scribophile. ‘Nuff said.
I’m not going to try to convince you much more on the length. The point is to set a daily goal. Once you have it, do whatever you can to reach it. Set time aside each day (I’d suggest about two hours to begin with) and crank out those words. You should quickly begin to get a feel for how fast you write and then adjust time allotment (or daily goals) accordingly. Establish this fairly quickly–no later than the end of the week. The time slot and word-goal will be with you for the rest of the month: commit to it like it’s your job.
Setting goals and knowing limits are all fine and dandy, but what do you do when things start getting rough? From my experience, the first few days are the easiest to stick to a new routine. You’re committed, it’s new, and it’s a different kind of failure not to be able to keep something up for even a short amount of time. Then things start to come up to take you away from the task at hand. Excuses that you wouldn’t have embraced before start to look legit, even logical. You start to make deals with yourself: Okay, if I don’t write today, I can just write twice as much tomorrow. During this time, you have to be realistic with yourself. If you don’t feel like writing 2400 today, then you definitely won’t be up for 4800 tomorrow. The worst thing you can do is miss a whole day of writing. It breeds a lethargic, excuse-driven mindset. Even if you can only get down a hundred words on a particularly busy day, promise yourself that everyday will see progress.
To avoid coming to a place where you just don’t know what to write, try to constantly think of your novel and where it should go next. The beauty of the brain is in its multi-tasking ability. Whatever your day job may be, you can still complete the task perfectly well while creating images and scenarios in your head for your novel. This way you’ll be itching to write once those two hours come along. It’s better than shutting the story out of your mind all day and then trying to switch to fully engaged when writing time comes around.
If anything, NaNoWriMo is a motivation. It may not give you a masterpiece or a bestseller, but it will provide the confidence that you can commit to something and finish it. Think of it like kindergarten or your first years of elementary. You don’t produce spectacular work, but you learn how to get in the habit and mindset of doing work. Chances are, those who utilize this month and see it through will find it easier and less daunting to start that future Pulitzer Prize winner. And you won’t need a special occasion to sit down and do it, either.