I know everyone is peddling advice right now, but with my Inflatable Ink co-writer poised to throw herself into NaNoWriMo for the very first time I reckon I’ve got an excuse. If I know Steph, though, she’ll ignore this advice and tackle each day’s work in a single heroic sitting, wrestling her word count target into submission somewhere just before dawn. After all that’s when targets are weakest, and Steph likes a challenge.
If you want to get through NaNoWriMo month and fall into an untroubled sleep almost every night, though, here are some tricks I picked up on my last couple of NaNoWriMo adventures.
Start in the morning
If you leave it til the evening you’ll lose in two ways. Firstly you’ll probably be tired and demotivated. Secondly you’ll have a huge lump of work to get out the way. Even a small start early in the day can make a difference. Especially if you…
Split it up.
This is the real key. I can write about 200-250 useful words in ten minutes if I’m doing nothing else at all. Let’s call it 200. Get hold of an egg timer app for your favourite operating system. The iPhone’s bundled Clock app comes with a perfect one (I recommend the Harp alarm — It doesn’t jar, and it doesn’t make everyone else in the coffee shop pat their pockets for their phone when it goes off). Set the timer for ten minutes and do nothing but write for that period. Reward yourself on the other side with some random surfing. We have links for you.
If you can do this, you only need to find a few slots in a day to break the back of your target. Let’s say two sessions with your first cup of coffee/tea/virgin’s blood. One session in your coffee (or whatever) break mid morning (you’ve already got 600 words). One session at lunchtime, and a quick one as soon as you get home (1000 words). You only need couple of sessions after supper, and you’re done. Reward yourself properly now. In my case that means it’s time for a beer (I’ve sworn off blood). Substitute to taste.
(Edit: when I told Steph about this section she complained that her day was nothing like the one I made up. The point, I explained, is in the parcelling up of your writing into small chunks. These easy sessions can be smuggled into the cracks of any kind of day, and spread out fairly evenly. I’m not sure if she bought it)
**Set your wordcount high
If you add a couple of hundred words to your daily wordcount target early on, you’ll feel the hit less if you lose a day or so. And you will lose a day or so.
Don’t trust your word processor
Towards the end of the month, use the NaNoWriMo calculator on a regular basis. You’ll find it on the site, linked off your homepage. There may be a large discrepancy between the official estimate and your word processor of choice. Take it from me, you don’t want to find out about that at the last minute.
**If you’re stuck, go meta.
This is a first draft. You can get away with murder. In fact, name your crime, you can get away with it. So there’s no need to dry up. Ever.
You can focus in on setting, for example. A table could command a thousand words if you wanted it to. Describe the grain, the scratches and stains, its history, all the stories that have played out around it, under it, on it.
On the whole, though, you want to write something that will be useful to you. I tend to go meta. I play what if..? games. Say you’ve got two people in a room, and you’re not sure which way to go with them. Go all ways. Have your narrator stitch your versions together.
“Here’s what might have happened,” writes your narrator, “Bob kissed Sue.”
Try that out. It’s a bust? Nevermind, it was fun trying.
Back to the narrator. “Of course, really Sue threw tea in Bob’s face.”
When you come to edit, you’ll cut a lot out, but you’ll also have learned a lot about Bob and Sue. Those false trails will have revealed character and backstory.
Don’t be afraid to meander. It’s all wordcount, and you may surprise yourself. And that’s part and parcel of the most important rule:
If you haven’t done NaNoWriMo before, you may be in for a surprise. It’s hard work, it’s soul destroying, it’s sometimes lonely, but ultimately it’s a high, and it’s addictive. What’s more, as a bonus, you may get a first draft out of it, which is a better side-effect than most drugs can boast.