My good friend and fellow OYAN alumni, Irie Odessa shares some great tips from her experiences with writing a novel in a month–and surviving.
When the month of November approaches, most people think about turkey dinners, family gatherings, and Black Friday. However, writers tend to forget all of those things, because November is National Novel Writing Month – most often called NaNoWriMo, or sometimes the Month of Insane Writing Madness.
What is NaNoWriMo? It’s a challenge to write 50,000 words in 30 days or less. That’s about 1700 words a day, oftentimes more, due to the fact that it’s difficult to write when you’re expected to socialize over the holidays. It’s not helpful for everyone, but for some – myself included – it’s a lifesaver when it comes to actually finishing novels.
I’ve “won” (everyone who finishes wins, so it’s not really winning so much as completing) NaNoWriMo four years running, and recently finished my first Camp NaNo, the summer version of the challenge held in April and July. During this most recent writing frenzy, I actually finished the 50,000 words in two weeks.
It’s difficult – writing lots of words very quickly without having time to look back at them – but it’s worth it. I’m going to list seven of the tips I’ve discovered over the years that lead to high wordcounts in short timeframes.
- Music. For me, I can’t write in the middle of everyday noises. However, it’s impossible to escape them in my house, so listening to loud music in my headphones drowns out the general clamor of the family and lets my mind focus on my story.
- Change of Scenery. I’m unable to write if I’m in one place the entire time. My bedroom’s great, but after a few days, I’m sick of it and my mind tends to wander away from the story and towards tumblr and Pinterest and all those other time wasting websites. It can be as simple as moving your laptop to the living room, dining room, or basement. However, if you’re feeling adventurous, the local library or your favorite coffee shop can be great places to write. Also, if you get any opportunities to physically leave your house for a time, like housesitting, take them. It’s much easier to write when you’re totally isolated with nobody distracting you.
- Outlining. I had no outline for my first novel. I had a little bit of an outline for my second, as I’d been trying to write it for ten months previously. My third was totally as-it-came, and handwritten due to my schedule at the time. For my fourth, I had an outline in my head, but nothing solid. I finished them all, but with the exception of the third one (which was written in journal form and I’d never intended to have a plot anyways), the storylines had fallen away to nothing. A simple outline with just the basic events that need to happen will help a lot.
- Freedom from the Outline. Feel free to deviate from your outline if it’s slowing you down. The goal of NaNoWriMo is to write like the wind, and anything that slows your creativity should be trashed.
- Spreadsheets. With my Camp NaNo Novel, I made a spreadsheet with the descriptive titles of my 42 planned chapters. I had a column for wordcounts, and used AutoSum to bring the total down to the bottom. That way, since I had individual documents for each chapter and didn’t just have the one giant document, I could easily keep track of my total word count and where I was in the plot. Character spreadsheets are great, as well. Making a chart of your main character’s names, ages, physical descriptions, and other points that may be important to remember can be very helpful when you described Johnny six chapters ago and have forgotten if his eyes were blue or green.
- Turning off the WiFi. I usually don’t, because I enjoy writing best in short spurts with small internet breaks. But on occasion, like when I have a goal of writing ten thousand words in six hours, even brief internet breaks every few hundred words greatly increase the time it takes to get the words written.
- Take breaks. Seriously. After writing like crazy for six days straight, I’d reached twenty thousand words and was about to lose my mind. So I took two days completely free from writing and watched a ridiculous amount of television, not giving a thought to my story. After that, I was able to throw myself back into writing again with joy and excitement.
Writing a novel is hard, and writing it in a month may seem even harder, if not impossible. However, I’d suggest that every writer try it at least once. I’ve only finished one novel outside of NaNo. The pressure of the deadline and the knowledge that so many other people are writing like crazy at the same time is an incredible motivator.
So go forward, write boldly, and don’t fear the terrible quality of the words that will most likely come from writing so quickly. That’s what editing’s for.
Irie Odessa is an eighteen-year-old homeschool graduate obsessed with stories in every form. She also enjoys drawing, theatre, music, and dance, though she isn’t particularly good at any of them. She has finished five novels and is almost done with number six. Her favorite genre depends on her mood, and though she’s experimented with almost every one possible, she’s had the most success writing contemporary and fantasy. Check out her blog here!