How to Survive NaNoWriMo Without Losing Your NaNo-mind: A Tale of Two Years and Zero Mythical Circuses

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Ah, NaNoWriMo – that time of year when writers around the world attempt to churn out 50,000 words in 30 days. It’s a daunting task, to say the least. And many are able to accomplish that goal with flying colors and I say, good for them.

Even though NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) is in November, since I was recently talking about my new novel, I figured I’d offer my wildly unsolicited advice for anything looking to attempt NaNoWriMo for the first time.

You’re welcome world.

First things first: decide what you want to write. This may seem obvious, but trust me, it’s important. You don’t want to waste precious writing time trying to figure out what your story is about. So take some time before November 1st to brainstorm ideas and outline your plot. And remember, your outline doesn’t have to be set in stone. It’s okay to deviate from it as you write.

Once you have a general idea of what you want to write, set a realistic daily word count goal. That way, you can keep track of your progress and ensure you’re on track to meet your 50,000-word goal. This will vary from person to person, but I recommend aiming for at least 1,667 words a day. That may sound like a lot, but it’s only about 2-3 hours of writing, depending on your typing speed. And if you fall behind, don’t worry – you can always catch up on the weekends.

Another important thing to remember is to try and write every day, even if you don’t feel like it. Some days you’ll be on fire, churning out thousands of words with ease. Other days, you’ll feel like every word is a struggle. But the important thing is to keep writing, even when it feels like you’re not making progress. 100 words is better than no words.

But life does happen. Did I end up writing every day? Nope. Did I hit my word goal every day? Nope. Did I let that bother me at all? Nope. Progress looks different for everyone.

And speaking of progress, don’t forget to celebrate the small victories along the way. Did you hit your daily word count goal? Treat yourself to a piece of candy or a cup of hot chocolate laced with Bailey’s. Did you finish a particularly difficult chapter? Take a break and go for a walk. It’s important to acknowledge the hard work you’re putting in, even if you’re not quite at the finish line yet.

My novel was a horror story which meant creating characters that I loved and cared about and then putting them in life and death situations where the outcome was usually death. I had to take some time away after writing those moments to give myself some time to mourn. I know that sounds weird but it’s true.

Now, let’s talk about writer’s block. It’s bound to happen at some point during the month, so it’s important to have a plan in place for when it does. One strategy that works for me is to take a step back and do something completely unrelated to writing. Go for a run, take a bubble bath, bake a cake – whatever helps you clear your mind. Then, when you come back to your writing, you’ll hopefully have a fresh perspective.

Most of my latest novel was written on cruise ships (shout out to Royal Caribbean!). I would start my day with breakfast in the Windjammer where I would bring along my Fire Tablet and read an ebook for about an hour or so. Then I would relocate to Cafe Promenade where I would write on my laptop until I got hungry again (usually after about two hours). Then it was back to the Windjammer for lunch (I like the buffet, don’t judge me). 

After lunch, it was off to the upper deck with a physical book to soak up the sun and lose myself in someone else’s world for a while. The books I was reading were often in the horror genre to keep myself in that world but I would mix it up depending on my mood.

The rest of my day would be spent enjoying the on board entertainment. Since I was writing in Google Docs and had internet access, I would pull up a new, blank, document while sitting in a bar or in the theatre waiting for a show to start, and dump random thoughts that came to me during my non-writing time and I would sort them out later.

As a result you’ll find that many characters in my book are named after staff on the ship. I regret nothing and many of them were thrilled to learn that they’d be popping up as a character!

And don’t be afraid to mix things up if you’re feeling stuck. Maybe try writing from a different character’s perspective, or write a scene out of order. Sometimes shaking things up can help get the creative juices flowing again. Since my book is written in three parts, I’d bounce around between sections.

Finally, remember that NaNoWriMo is just the beginning of the writing process. Even if you hit that 50,000 word goal, your novel isn’t going to be perfect or even truly complete. It will likely need some serious editing and revision before it’s ready to be shared with the world.

So don’t put too much pressure on yourself to write a masterpiece in 30 days. Use NaNoWriMo as an opportunity to get words on the page and start the process of crafting your story. And who knows? Maybe you’ll surprise yourself and write something truly amazing.

It’s also important to remember that NaNoWriMo is not the end-all-be-all of writing success. If you don’t meet your word count goal or finish your manuscript, don’t beat yourself up. Erin Morgenstern, author of The Night Circus, has said that the rumor of her completing her novel during NaNoWriMo is not true. It’s important not to use the urban legend of a successful 

NaNoWriMo as a standard for getting your first novel done. Writing is a process and everyone’s journey is unique. The key is to keep going and keep writing, even if it’s not perfect.

Trust me, I know from experience. My recently completed first novel took me two years to finish. Two years of rewrites, revisions, and hair-pulling moments. And you know what? That’s okay, too.

Don’t get me wrong, NaNoWriMo can be an incredibly useful tool for writers. I used it myself to help get and keep me on track during the writing process. But it’s important to remember that it’s just that – a tool. It’s not a one-size-fits-all solution for writing a novel.

Another helpful aspect of NaNoWriMo is the writing tracking tools provided by the website. These tools allow you to track your daily word count, see your progress towards your word count goal, and even project your finish date based on your current writing pace.

I personally find these tools incredibly helpful for staying on track and motivated during NaNoWriMo and beyond, especially when I don’t hit my writing goal in 30 days (again, life happens). Seeing my progress towards my word count goal can be really encouraging, especially on days when I’m feeling stuck or unmotivated. And projecting my finish date helps me stay focused and accountable, as I can see exactly how much writing I need to do each day to reach my goal.

It’s also important to keep in mind that 50,000 words is actually on the shorter side for a novel, and many writers end up wanting to add more to their manuscript after NaNoWriMo is over. The word count goal of NaNoWriMo is really just a stepping stone towards a completed manuscript.

In fact, most novels typically range from 80,000 to 100,000 words, or even more for certain genres like epic fantasy. So don’t feel too restricted by the NaNoWriMo word count goal. If you reach 50,000 words but your story isn’t finished, keep going! Use NaNoWriMo as a way to build good writing habits and get a solid start on your novel.

For example, my completed horror novel ended up being over 85,000 words, which is much longer than the NaNoWriMo goal but more standard for that genre. But without the challenge of NaNoWriMo, I may have never been able to get past the initial stage of writing and actually finish the manuscript.

In the end, the goal of NaNoWriMo is not just to write a novel, but to challenge yourself and build good writing habits. It’s a chance to connect with a community of writers who are also striving towards the same goal. So don’t be afraid to participate, even if you don’t feel ready. Embrace the chaos and let your creativity run wild. Who knows, you might just surprise yourself with what you’re capable of.

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