Along with the promise of turkey and the faint tinkle of not-so-far-off holiday music, November means something very special is in the air: the sweet smell of National Novel Writing Month. NaNoWriMo is a month-long celebration of creativity, in which participants each attempt to write a 50,000 word (or more!) novel in just 30 days. (For reference, this is roughly the size of The Catcher in the Rye.) This means writing at least 1,667 words a day.
Your novel can be about anything you want, whether it's space zombies (no oxygen? no problem!), the failures of modern marriage, or the failures of modern space zombie marriage. No matter what you're writing, the guiding concept is to turn off your inner editor and just get as much on the page as you can.
If you're reading this, you've probably already decided you're going to go for it — and that's great! You (and your characters) are about to embark on a wild, crazy, fantastic journey. No matter where you end up at the end of the month, the sheer act of trying is marvelous.
I've been doing NaNoWriMo for a few years now, and I've had success along with my fair share of failures. But even in the years where I didn't officially "win," I've learned a lot of lessons and picked up many tricks for how to make the most out of the challenge.
Don't Get Discouraged if You Fall Behind
When you're writing so many words a day, the days on which you don't write build up. Your word count can quickly take a turn from "pretty good" to terrifyingly minuscule. Don't let this scare you into giving up! It's actually not so hard to make up for lost time.
If you want to do it gradually, your NaNoWriMo page will calculate how many words per day you need to write in order to reach 50,000 by the end of the month. But you can also just write as much as you can when you have the time for it. (On the same hand, if you've got extra time and ideas, keep writing to bank some words in your novel for future wiggle room.) The first year that I won, I was frighteningly behind with little time left, and I ended up writing 10,000 words in a single day, bringing me back into the green. You just have to put your mind to it.
Writing Prompts and Tiny Challenges Are Your Friends
One of the hardest challenges of NaNoWriMo is that feeling of being stuck. The good news is that there are so many resources to help you find inspiration. Test out fun prompts and see where your characters end up. Follow @NaNoWordSprints on Twitter for prompts and "word sprints" (in which you have to write a certain number of words in an allotted amount of time) throughout the day. For even more prompts, check out books like 642 Things to Write About by the San Francisco Writers Grotto. Try not to worry too much about fitting the subject of the prompt into your story right away; part of the fun is seeing what comes out and then adding in the puzzle pieces that make everything fit together.
Location, Location, Location!
Whenever I'm stuck, I turn to setting. Use up words by describing the place your characters are in, or a new location in the same city, or even a new place entirely. Get into the details and make discoveries as you go. Is there something on the hook by the door? What color is the ceiling? How would you get from one side of town to the other? My first successful NaNoWriMo novel took place in my hometown, Austin, and I felt like I had a Mary Poppins-esque bag I could pull ideas from. There ended up being many long, intimate descriptions of the Austin Public Library in particular, and once, just for fun, I had my antagonist prowl down my own street.
Split Up Your Writing Sessions
Especially when you've got a busy life, it's hard to find the time to write. It's tempting to do as much as you can in one sitting, and often that works. But if you're having a hard time, it can be easier to tackle your daily word goal in small chunks. Try writing a little bit in the morning, a little bit over lunch, and a little bit before you go to bed. It will give your brain some time to generate ideas, and each session will seem like much less of a strain.
Once It's On the Page, Leave it Alone
A large part of the NaNoWriMo philosophy is to turn off your inner editor, which can be easier said than done. But the thing to remember is that nothing is permanent. There are no real mistakes. Just put what's in your head down and worry about the grammar, the logistics, and the pacing later. Just keep going. You can always add, change, delete, or move things around later. You don't have to put everything down perfectly. (It would be a little scary if you did.) Making corrections can be addictive; don't let it interrupt the flow of your writing.
Feel Proud of Yourself
No matter where your novel or your word count end up, it's capital A-Amazing that you challenged yourself to do this. You are working hard, and you are getting writing down on the page. You are a champ.