1st Nov 2012
Top Ten Tips For NaNoWriMo
NaNoWriMo is both brilliant and terrible in equal measure. On the one hand, it’s motivation to sit down and write; the flipside is that it doesn’t take much to fall behind.
I have participated in NaNoWriMo for the past three years. So far, I have only ‘won’ once and it was a total anti-climax. My 50,000 words were just words. Lots of words.
There’s a difference between writing lots of words and a novel. As someone who has learned this the hard way, I will gladly save anyone else the trouble.
Here are my top ten tips that help make the crucial difference between writing 50,000 words, and 50,000 words of a novel.
1. Have a good idea
Think of an idea that is substantial enough to create a full novel. If not, you’ll just be padding out a short story with superfluous dialogue and description.
2. Have a plan
This is something that has recently been drilled into me. And yes – I resisted too, believing that ‘planning’ is a sterile, soulless process. But is it really so illogical to plan your novel before you start to write it?
Say you’re cooking dinner for your friends; do you go shopping for the ingredients or just throw random ingredients into a pan and hope for the best? Sure, it’s all food, but does it make a meal? One that’s actually edible?
3. Create good characters
My previous novel-attempts all included half-baked characters who only served as vehicles to carry my half-baked plot. They had no function and no presence.
Take time to really think about who your characters are. What is their purpose? What is their story? I recommend writing a biography for each character before you start writing.
4. Have an ending in sight
Your ending is your goal. Each chapter is heading for that place. You don’t have to stick rigorously to your original ending (after all, your characters can surprise you), but there’s nothing worse than a meandering novel that doesn’t seem to go anywhere and suddenly ends with a freak nuclear apocalypse
5. Ask questions
If your reader already knows what’s going to happen by chapter three then they’ll probably stop reading, assuming that the rest of the book just drags out the stuff they already know, culminating in a predictable ending (or a freak nuclear apocalypse).
Ask questions, and delay the answers. Be a tease, be suggestive, plant questions in your readers’ minds, and then leave them high and dry in the next chapter. Ask questions – lots of them, and then delay the answers.
6. But what happens?
If you can’t think of an answer, or the answer is ‘nothing’ then go back to tip number one and start again. Do not pass go. Do not collect £200. If nothing happens then there’s no point continuing.
You need a story to make a novel. A story is something where stuff (conflict, action, resolution) happens. If nothing happens then there’s no story. Just a novel full of characters going nowhere, doing nothing and having conversations.
Everything that has happened so far has been leading up to this point – the point where something happens. If you’re writing a first novel (which is between 80,000 and 100,000 words) you want to be hitting your climactic scene somewhere around the 50,000 word mark. Again, if there’s no climax, then nothing happens, you don’t have a story – just lots of words.
8. Don’t write for the sake of it
The 1667 word target means that if you do wobble off track, you can end up writing any old shit to make up the word count. This has been my mistake every year.
If you find your characters having mundane conversations that don’t move the story forward, then you need to stop – return to your plan, and figure out where you went wrong and how to get back on track.
9. Plan a routine
If you disappear to write your daily 1667 words and instead find yourself conducting a pants and sock drawer audit, then you are procrastinating and need to have a word with yourself.
It is difficult writing a novel alongside absolutely everything else you have to do, but be honest with yourself – if you really don’t have time to write, then don’t pretend you’re going to do it.
If you’ve committed yourself to taking part, then be tough with yourself. Don’t accept your own excuses. Find time to write every day and enjoy that time.
10. Carry on working on your project even after the November deadline.
If, by midnight on November 30th you’ve hit the 50,000 word mark then – huzzah! You should celebrate! And then the next day, continue your daily word count.
Continue writing your way to your ending and by the time Christmas rocks up, you’ll have the first draft of a novel. Crack open the champagne (or have a cup of tea and a Snickers bar if, like me, you’re poor and can’t handle your booze) and start the New Year editing your novel.
Are you participating in NaNoWriMo this year? Have you taken part before? What are your top tips for survival?