You all probably know what NaNoWriMo is if you’ve been following my blog for a while. It’s National Novel Writing Month—30 days, 50,000 words. It’s tough, it’s fun, it’s my favorite month of the year (November), and I recommend the experience to every writer out there. But NaNo is not for the lighthearted! So here are some thoughts from a veteran, for anyone thinking of trying it out this year.
1. Before you start writing, figure out what it is that you want to get out of NaNo. Content generation? A writing community? The introspective aspect of writing, where you just put words on a page day after day, more like journaling? I highly suggest that you figure out what you want from the experience before you actually start working. NaNo is difficult; there’s no denying that. It’s really easy to get discouraged if you don’t meet a word count one day, or if you hit a plot wall. So, it’s important to consider options like Camp NaNo, or Youth NaNo, both of which allow you to adjust your own word count through the month, instead of holding you to the 50K.
I find that the most important aspect of NaNo is the constant immersion in the story—I have to be in my characters’ heads every day, so I never get lost writing my way in and out of their points of view. Of course, other aspects are still important—write-ins are basically my favorite events ever, and I love having the ability to discuss writer-y things with other people who are in a similar place to where I am. My friends and I will sometimes just sit in a circle, typing furiously, and only talking when someone hits a plot hole, or runs into an inspiration wall, at which point we all brainstorm until we have collectively brainstormed some decent ideas.
2. Know your writing comforts. Food, music… you name it. For me, the food is mostly hot beverages, particularly coffee (hot and black, or iced with almond milk), or hot tea (I typically alternate between Earl Grey, peppermint, and green with jasmine, depending on how much I need the caffeine). I even have a travel mug that has the official NaNoWriMo seal on it, plus a Faulkner quote and “Slay 50K” written on it. Music, in the past, has been many instrumental playlists, but this year… well, I’ve been listening to the Hamilton soundtrack continuously for two months at this point, and I have no reason to believe that that’s going to stop, because I’m still completely obsessed (Besides, “Hamilton wrote the OTHER 51!” has become my inspiration to keep going whenever I consider quitting anything). I jot down notes in physical notebooks (my current one is adorable and slightly smaller than my hand, and I love it), using fountain pens, so I try to have those on hand as well.
3. Connected to writing comforts, how about the writing necessities? The comforts are the things that it’s nice to have around. The necessities are the bare essentials. For me, it’s the hot beverage and the laptop. And as for my environment… I’m a high school student on the go. I carry a laptop with me pretty much everywhere, and as long as I’m sitting still, I can write. It’s one of my magical talents—I can focus on one thing to the absolute exclusion of everything else. Once I’m reading or writing, nothing can break that focus, unless there is a physical intrusion between my face/hands and the page/screen. So, I don’t need a particular space for writing. But I do try really hard to avoid writing while I’m in my bed: it’s very easy to forget to sleep during NaNo, and I try to keep my bed a designated place for rest, and not work. And sleep. Sleep is a necessity. It’s not tangible, like the rest of this list, but I cannot reiterate its importance enough.
4. Figure out your inspiration. Everyone needs it. Figure out what yours is—for me, it’s mostly a million different quotes about creativity, and my 365/365 goal (read a book per day in2015) has been a huge contributor to my writing. For you, it might be a sport. What’s most important is that you love it, and it’s enough to keep you writing. My two ‘quotes to live by’ for NaNo tend to be “If a story is in you, it has to come out,” from Faulkner, and also “Sometimes, you wake up. Sometimes, the fall kills you. And sometimes, when you fall, you fly,” from Neil Gaiman’s Sandman. The second quote might seem really random, but it reminds me that I need to let my imagination loose—as Natalie Goldberg would say, I am free to write the worst junk in America! The important thing is that I am writing, and I just have to rememberthat there is a chance that buried somewhere underneath the mire and silt is something really good, which I can work with later to make it even better. I also have added in a new quote, to which I alluded earlier—“Hamilton wrote the other 51!” I’m obsessed with Hamilton. Not denying it. Just accepting it and living with it happily. And if A.Ham could write 51, I can write 50K.
5. Most importantly, don’t be too hard on yourself. Just enjoy it. There’s a lot to love about NaNo. I don’t know where my writing would be without it—Touchstones, my published novel, started out as a NaNoWriMo project my freshman year of high school. Light of the Oceans, the novel I am currently editing, was written entirely over the course of and between two sessions of Camp NaNo, in April and July of this year. But as much as I love NaNo, I have to keep it in perspective. It’s not the only thing in my life. I also take classes, extremely challenging ones. I have a social life. I have a job. I do s
ports. I manage to squeeze NaNo into every minute of the day when I’m not doing something, but… everyone has the days when you don’t hit the word count. Everyone stares at their computer at some point in the month, and thinks, why did I ever decide to write a novel this month????
Everyone deals with it. That’s not what matters. The important part is how you deal with it. You can’t beat yourself up over what you haven’t done, or what you dislike about your novel. What you can do is work with what you’ve got. Go back to those goals, those hopes and expectations of what you want to get out of NaNo. Think about your priorities. It’s okay not to finish. It’s okay to change up the plot by introducing alien goldfish that eat brains, if that’s what it takes to get the plot moving again.
When I don’t meet my goals for a day, it sucks, and I do spend a few moments feeling sorry for myself. But then I go for a run, or I spend ten minutes actually living in the real world, the one that isn’t made of paper and words. Sometimes I even go to bed early and marvel at how much more functional I am the next day.
The next day is always a fresh chance to catch up, to change directions, to try something new. That’s how NaNo works—you take it day by day, and there is no judgment. The whole point is to create a supportive, encouraging, writing community.
I have been NaNo-ing for 4 years, and I have won the past 3. I love this writing process and the people I’ve met as a result of it more than anything, and if you’re considering giving it a shot this year, I highly, highly encourage you to try it out!
I will probably not be updating this blog much with my own writing over the next couple of months, because of NaNo and editing. But I will try to post some helpful links over the course of NaNo!
pic creds to YPLibrary for all photos in this post, and to Kittywow for the gif