So, You’re Thinking About Doing NaNo This Year...

November is fast approaching and that means one thing1

NaNoWriMo is right around the corner.

For those not familiar with the National Novel Writing Month, here it is in a nutshell -- you have the month of November to write a 50,000 word novel.
2 I have participated in NaNo a number of times3, and completed the task a number of times less than the number of times I have participated but greater than zero.

All of the information, including where to find local write-ins, a kick-ass bulletin board, and many other treats are available on the
website. This post is going to be a small collection of things I have learned along the way. They are presented in no particular order and some may just have been nicked from other sources.

Plotting doesn’t count.
It’s a long held belief that planning your novel may be done ahead of time, so long as you are not actually writing sections of the novel before midnight on Halloween. Once that second hand ticks over you are free to burn through your words, but NOT until then.

With the exception of character studies, outlining, notes about places, etc. You can start working on those right now.

To Plot or Not To Plot
I have participated in a number of Plotters v Pantsers panels at various conventions. The basic, and for most people totally false, dichotomy is that there are people who outline and people who fly by the seat of their pants and never the twain shall meet.

The real truth is that most writers plot to one degree or another. I suppose there could be people who just sit down and have no idea where their novel is going, who have no idea what will happen or how it will end.
4 Some people outline religiously. Some use note cards. Some use the notecard function in software like Scrivener.5

Personally, I find outlines too restrictive.
6 It’s a bizarre twist of my own little OCD in that I would rather not have an outline than have an outline and deviate from it. I describe personal writing style7 as modified pansting. Those of us who are old enough to remember the pre-GPS days, when you used actual maps instead of your phone8, might remember the Trip-Tik. It was a free service for AAA members. You would tell them where you were going and they would print out a spiral bound booklet detailing your route. Each page was a little maplet with a major city or attraction at the top and bottom and a highlighted road connecting the two. This was the suggested route. However, there was always the possibility of deviating from this route, say to see a giant ball of twine, a wax museum, or the equally fascinating and disappointing Mystery Spot. The Trip-Tik provided the side roads as well, so you could eventually reach your destination.

That’s how I work when writing something long. I have specific scenes or beats in mind along with a general idea of how to get there. However, I am not adverse to taking a side route if something interesting happens along the way.

All of this boils down to me saying not to be afraid if your novel takes an unexpected turn. Go ahead and follow that path. Editing out what doesn’t work is for after November.

Don’t Edit
Nice segue, that. NaNo is about writing. It’s about ass in the chair, fingers on keyboard. It is NOT about editing as you go, or going back and reworking that problematic phrase. As a writing exercise, the key benefit of something like NaNo is that it forces you to turn of that little
10 voice that tells you that your writing doesn’t reach some lofty benchmark. For the month of November, it is all about the writing. The lump of steel that comes out of the forge isn’t the finished product. There are hours of hammering, heating, grinding, and polishing before it is turned into a functioning blade.11

Set Realistic Goals
Broken down, using that mathy number stuff, you need to write somewhere around 1667 words a day.
12 There are really cool programs and apps which will allow you to track your progress, show you how close you are to your goal, etc.

Here’s the thing: You’re not going to write your exact word count every day. Some days you are going to do double, maybe even triple what you should write. Other days you are going to barely eek out a couple hundred words and it will feel like pulling teeth.
13 If you can, build in a cushion so if something happens to come up, like maybe your family wants to spend Thanksgiving with you or some crap, you can take a day off and not feel totally stressed.

Set Boundaries
Make sure that your family, friends, pets, extraterrestrial visitors, freeloading spirits, and who- or whatever else might interrupt you know that this is something that is important to you. If possible, have a place to go where they know not to disturb you. If you can, pick a time to write -- early morning and after everyone else has gone to sleep work well. If you need to, lock yourself in the bathroom for half an hour at a time.

Beware Week Two
Sometime during the month, usually around the second half of week two, you are going to question a number of things. Why am I doing this? Why did I think I could do this? Does this really suck as bad as I think it does?

Ignore these questions. This is the voice of the television tempting you to binge watch
Fuller House instead of writing. This is the voice that says “One more YouTube video of skateboarders biting it won’t hurt.”

There is only one answer to all of these questions, and this is to sit down and write.

Have Fun
Yes, this whole process can be a giant ball of stress, but at the same time, it is exhilarating. Whether you write the Great American Novel or 157 words, you did what a slew of people are always talking about doing but never do. You actually sat down and wrote something.

This puts you in a pretty exclusive club.

Have a seat and a brandy.

You’re welcome here.

1 Actually it means a whole ton of things, not the least of which is that I need to get off my butt and get those Halloween decorations finished.

2 We’re not going to get hung up on definitions of novel vs. novella here, all right?

3 As frequent visitors will know.

4 Scratch that, I’m sure that there are people who write like that. I’ve tried to read their books.

5 Shameless plug for Scrivener. Someone tell them so they send me free software.

6 Unless I’m writing a mystery, in which case I’m usually writing backwards.

7 As anyone who has attended the aforementioned panels will know.

8 Because your phone was attached to the wall in the kitchen and the cord was barely long enough to get away from your parents, much less be taken on a road trip.

9 This works for me, but may not work for others. Try at your own risk. Mileage may vary.

10 Or in some cases, loud and blaring.

11 Sorry, I am totally obsessed with the History Channel’s
Forged in Fire.

12 I always use 1666 as a metric, because Devil Number.

13 Writers refer to this is My Job.

14 Yes, I’ve done this.