The month before NaNoWriMo is always filled with writers who are doing NaNoWriMo ‘the right way’ (aka those who spend the entire month of October outlining and learning about their characters.) and writers who believe NaNoWriMo is an unforgivable act against God. They run their mouths to anyone who will listen on the internet. And then there’s those of us who barely declare our novels before the month begins, and we just jump straight into the deep end praying fervently that we won’t drown. We bite our nails as we read their comments on the internet.
Last year, I spent nearly the entire month of October freaking out to the point where all the bit of writing I had accomplished – between anxiety ridden daydreams – was scrapped. Everywhere I looked people were telling me I needed to follow a certain set of rules otherwise I’d fail (I didn’t, thank you very much.). Whether you are planning out your story or not for NaNoWriMo, know this: your process being different does not make you a failure. Drink some tea, open a book and calm down, you will be fine.
Let’s set a couple of things straight before we get started:
- You do not need to outline your story. (It may make your writing easier.)
- You do not need to know who your characters are. (Funny story on that later.)
- You do not need to clear out your November schedule.
- You don’t have to attend write-ins. (I don’t personally recommend going – introvert problems rearing their head – but if you want to: attend a write-in, you’ll only experience this year’s NaNoWriMo once. Not all NaNoWriMo years are created equal. While I succeeded last year, I may fail this year even though I’ve graduated and I have more time on my hands.)
Whatever other well-meaning writers tell you to do, you do not need to do. I am also a well-meaning writer which means you can read this entire blog post and then trash everything I say. I won’t be offended, in fact I completely understand.
The reverse of everything I stated in that list above is also true:
- You can outline your story (If you want to.).
- You can get to know your characters (If you want to).
- You can clear out your schedule (If you want to – unless you have school, do not ditch school. Clearing out your schedule is not very practical but if you can manage, all the power to you.).
- You can attend write-ins.
And so on and so forth.
As I will mention about a hundred-million times, from now on: do you, boo.
When I sat down to write, the first afternoon in November, I had only the night before declared my story, and all I knew was that my main character was going to be named Deborah. My now very outdated (Which is the only reason why I share it.) synopsis read as follows:
Deborah Winston is part of an underground rebel group looking to overthrow the oppressive government. When the group’s leader dies, Deborah is pushed into power despite her lack of experience leading people and her young age. Many of the rebels do not agree with council’s decision.
Distrust and unrest spread across the nation as another year of elections come and the people cry out for change. Deborah struggles to gain and maintain the rebel’s trust while keeping the public’s view of their organization positive and keeping an old flame at bay (I suck at Romance, so this never made it in.).
And my excerpt was:
…I watch the mighty nation fall beneath his hands, and I weep because there is not a thing I can do… (I don’t even think this line ever shows up in the novel.)
That was all I knew. I didn’t know where I was going to start, and my outline was the vague idea I had of the city burning down at the end of the novel (This does happen, kind of.).
The first thing I did was start my music (My Spotify playlist is here while it’s not how I listened to my music, it is all the songs I listened to.), then I opened a google document and I stared at my blinking cursor. By that point the nerves had turned to excitement and I sat there waiting for something.
Some more waiting.
I didn’t start writing until four o’clock.
I’m scared that I’m starting something that I can never finish. I’m scared because I haven’t started yet and so many are already a thousand words in. And I’m scared because I’m about to write the longest story that I’ve written yet. What if I’m only good at telling short stories? What if my novel sucks? What if.
My first official word of advice to new NaNoWriMo participants is this: join twitter and follow @NaNoWordSprints.
In order to channel all the excitement and energy into words, it needs to be let after something, in this case, trying to write the most amount of words with a certain amount of time with other writers. Pull your competitive streak out (the one you didn’t know you had.) and go for it. Words you didn’t know you had will flow from your fingertips or pencil (typing is easier to track, so I recommend writing on computer, laptop, phone, but whatever floats your boat.) and you’ll inevitably write a lot of BS (I‘m currently rewriting/editing my last NaNoWriMo Novel and I have so much to cut out but I know my story and characters so well now because of that BS.) but that’s perfectly fine.
My second official word of advice is kind of twisted. Many people (everyone) will tell you to: write now, edit later. I agree, but I’m not gonna tell you to do it – because most likely you won’t (at least not right away.). While swimming in excitement and adrenaline it’s inevitable that you’ll edit a bit on your first three days, because you wrote 1k in an hour and you’re so damn proud. But the time you get into your stride you’ll have so many red swiggly marks under your words and you won’t even care (one thing I definitely recommend is to turn off all the auto-correct, squiggly lines, and the spelling suggestions before starting a sprint. During sprints you don’t want anything to catch your eye and distract.). We all have to start somewhere and you’re more likely not to do it again in the future if you try it and it screws you over, then you are if I tell you not to (tough love, kids). ‘Write now, and edit later’ is something that can make or break your NaNoWriMo novel.
Ultimately, it’s up to you.
The blues are inevitable.*
I’m back, my groove is back and the fog from the past few days has lifted.
I decided to stop myself right before I hit my word count goal for today, because it’s been a couple of heavy days and I need time to get back into my story, to hear my characters and to feel it’s heartbeat.
For some they hit at the beginning when they feel like they’re behind everyone else (No matter how good you are, you will always be behind. There’s this ridiculous handful that always gets like 100k within the first five days). For others the blues hit in the middle, when there’s huge expanses of writing done on either side and their word counts aren’t as high as they were in the beginning. For me the blues hit in the last three days and for two days in the middle. The Sunday before the month ended, I had already hit a little over 51k and I didn’t know what to with my life anymore. Instead of continuing on with bigger word counts, I got in a couple more words and then spent the next two months not writing at all. Do not do that, please.
This past week has been tough; I’ve pushed myself to write at least five to four hundred words everyday despite getting completely stranded in my MC’s mind. There was a day that I failed at that and wrote (according to my clock not the real world time.) a grand total of zero words.
If the blues hit in the beginning, just write BS. DO NOT DELETE, EVER. It doesn’t matter if it actually has anything to your story idea.
Do not delete.
Just keep writing.
I had so many scenes that didn’t seem to connect and I had scenes that I put in during the heat of the sprint that I now have to delete (Which is annoying yes, but it does reveal things about your story/characters.). But do not delete during NaNoWriMo, add it all to your word count (If you have to move the scene to the back of the document and change the font color to white. The word count will still include it but you don’t have to see it). It all adds up and it’s humorous (or cringey) and informative to look back on later.
The point of NaNoWriMo is to write 50,000 words, they don’t necessarily have to make sense. Sometimes those scenes you almost deleted end up working in perfectly later on in your story, or they’re the missing puzzle piece you didn’t know you needed until you went back and re-read, re-wrote, or edited.
If the blues hit in the middle, take a quick break, your mind is tired. I took a one day break in the middle of the month and just let out a breath. Go bake something, make some coffee and get right back to it. DO NOT let your break last more than 2 days. For every hour your break lasts, the harder it is to start again. Then sit down and do a couple a sprints, just writing complete BS again.
If you’ve done enough sprints by the time the blues hit, doing a sprint right away may solve your problems, as your mind may begin to associate writing with sprints, which is something that caused a bit of a problem for me after I finished NaNoWriMo.
Even if the blues don’t hit you, I do recommend taking a short break in the middle of the month, even if just for a day. Spend the time you’ve dedicated to writing, reading some books. Reading will relax (Don’t read horror or thrillers, they are not physically or mentally relaxing.) you, restore your mind (Take care of your mental health, y’all), and rejuvenate your creativity.
If the blues hit at the end, you can either quit or do what I did last year, and quit (lol). In all seriousness, if you’ve made it the entire month without hitting the blues and you’re happy enough with your word count, feel free to call it quits. I wish I hadn’t last year though, I feel like I would’ve been able to hit about 56 to 60k on my story in those last three or four days because I would’ve hit another roll. My decision to quit while ahead haunted me a couple months later when I picked up the manuscript to keep writing.
If you’re feeling mentally and/or physically exhausted then I recommend stopping a few days early. If you want then maybe try employing the tricks I’ve mentioned before, but you’ve been relentlessly exercising your mind for 20+ days. Your mind isn’t a tireless machine, it needs breaks too, and not taking one can be very dangerous for your mental and physical health along with the lives of those around you. Take care of yourself.
If your blues are instead caused by the fact that NANOWRIMO IS ALMOST OVER OMG I DON’T KNOW WHAT TO DO, then keep on writing. Get all those words out onto the page. You’re fine.
My fingers have been rather melancholy today and I hesitate to rejoin the river that is chipping away at the goal word count. While I love sprinting, against myself and others, I have found that sprinting does have its down falls and sometimes I find myself wasting precious moments trying to think of the exact word that I’m looking for. It frustrates me to use lesser words and though I know that it’ll all work out when I edit, I still worry over it because I wince at the amount of work and pressure I am putting on my future self.
*One thing I do want to clarify now, is that ‘the blues’ I speak of are not depression, if you’re feeling depressed please talk to someone and get help. You may have to quit this year’s NaNoWriMo, but take care of yourself. You are the only you we have on this Earth. We love you and we want you to live a happy, healthy, and fulfilling life. A contest/event isn’t worth your mental health.
‘The blues’ I speak of is when the initial excitement/adrenaline rush fades and you realized omgihavetowrite50kin30daysandi’veonlywritten500todaythecursorisblinkingandthepageisstillblankineedtowritebutialmosdon’twantto. It’s when the writing is just trudging along, but it’s not quite writer’s block yet.
Don’t worry, I’ll be sharing plenty more tips and tricks in a future chapter for when ‘the blues’ cross the line right into writer’s block.
If you’ve done NaNoWriMo before, when did the nerves and blues hit you? Share how you combated them for the rookies.
If you haven’t done NaNoWriMo before, which one makes you the most nervous/worried/concerned? Do you have any tips from other writing experiences?