NaNoWriMo: A Survival Guide
Well, here we are again: at the end of October, just about to tip over from “spooky season” into “really fucking terrifying season”, thanks to the fact that many of us will be taking up the hallowed mantel of National Novel Writing Month and putting our stories to the page over the course of November.
And this year, I’m approaching NaNoWriMo with a slightly different outlook, because my first novel is coming out in just a few months’ time. While I didn’t write it over the course of November, I did write RAPE JOKES in just four-and-a-half very intense weeks, and now it’s becoming my debut full-length novel, which is insane and exciting and terrifying and brilliant all at once. Throwing yourself head-first into a project as intense as this one can be scary, but I found that it’s also the best way to just lose yourself in the habit of working on something you’re passionate about every single day, to pull yourself out of your head for long enough to actually get that story down on the page once and for all. What I’m saying is: don’t discount the vitality of projects like this in actually writing something you can be proud of. It changed my life, in ways I could never have imagined.
And with that in mind, I’ve put together a few hints and tips based on my experiences writing a whole book in a hardcore month, in the hopes of helping you out with that dusty WIP you’ve had sitting on your desktop for the last eight months:
- It’s really fucking easy to get frustrated with yourself in the first few thousand words of writing. How can this idea, these characters, this story, that came so easily to you when it existed in your head seem so bloody hard now that you’re actually trying to commit it to the page? The story makes sense in your brain with such clarity because you have every little detail to hand – and you’re simply aren’t going to be able to convey every single one of those little details in the first flush of putting it out into the real world. That frustration can lead to abandoning the project because you feel like you can’t express it as well as you could in your head (say hello to the first twenty thousand words of three separate books I have on my hard drive right now), but grit your teeth and style it out for now. Because…
- Remember that this isn’t the only time you’re going to right this story. Seriously: I have tripped myself up so many times because I feel like I can’t get it right the first time around, forgetting that I have literally endless shots to make this as right as I can get it. Sometimes, sitting down and grinding out a thousand words can feel like a trial, but it’s always better to have them there and go hard on your edits than it is to work from a blank page.
- Plan your book. Now, this means different things for different writers. I like to have a set of character sketches (names, descriptions, backstories) because I am atrocious at consistent characterisation, and I also keep a chapter-by-chapter breakdown of the story so I can sit down each day and know exactly what I’m writing. But even a decent outline of what you want each act to look like, how you want each character arc to go, and the main themes you want to weave through the story is enough. For me, the most important thing is knowing what your end point is, and being confident that everything you’re putting down is heading in that direction – how does what you’re writing today serve the story and/or characters? Keeping that focus in mind can help when you’re stuck in the mire of the second act trying to figure a way to hack through the undergrowth of this great, unwieldy thing you’re grappling with.
- Get some accountability, and be prepared to wade through a mire of motivation once in a while. I like ticky-boxes that I get to gleefully fill in at the end of the day, but sometimes it literally took me tantalising myself with ten minutes of Youtube beauty community drama videos for every hundred words I wrote. Fuck it, message me on social media if you want me to come yell at you to write every day – I’ll do it, I’m usually mad about something my cat’s done and need to work out the tension.
- Write for yourself. No matter what your intentions are for this story, you need to ask yourself: would I read this? There’s a temptation – God knows I’ve succumbed to it – to try and write in a way you think you should rather than the way you actually like to. Sure, draw on authors you love for stylistic pointers, but don’t write for them, or their audience, or some imagined literary community you’re aiming this book at. If you like this story, if you like this style, then I guarantee you there are at least a few other people out there who feel the same way. Write for them. Write for you.