NaNoWriMo – How to Get Ready

NaNoWriMo is only three and a half weeks away. This year I thought I would share some of the things I have learned through my years as a NaNoWriMo participant. This post is about the stuff you will want to have prepped before November starts so you can slide right into writing on November 1st.

A NaNoWriMo Account
If this is your first year doing NaNoWriMo head on over to the site and get yourself an account. Signing up is easy and free. If you already have an account, you can head over now to create your novel for 2015. To create your novel login then click on the ‘novels’ tab.

Scrivener (or other Word Processor)
You will be writing your novel on your own computer, and I suggest using a program designed for writers like Scrivener. I have also completed NaNo using Microsoft Word. Whatever tool you use I suggest something with a word count tool. I also recommend, if you are using a new processor this year, you do a test validation as soon as validation opens on November 20th just in case your word processor gives a very different value than NaNoWriMo’s website. You wouldn’t want to find out on November 30th that you have 3,000 fewer words than you thought! For those who have never used scrivener before, but want to, they have a special NaNo trial which won’t expire until December 7th, so you don’t have to worry about running out of trial time part way through the month.

In person and/or Online Support
Having a supportive friend, spouse, roommate or neighbour can make all the difference when the going gets tough. At some point in the month of November you will likely come the realization that you are crazy for attempting this feat. This is especially true if it is your first year, or if it is the first year you are ‘in it to win it’. If you don’t have the support of someone where you live you might want to check out the NaNo forums to find some like minded writers. You can add writing buddies on the NaNo site if you know others writing this year.

Well stocked Freezer
This won’t apply to everyone, but is useful if you are usually the main (or only cook) in your household. Having a few meals prepped and stocked in the freezer can make a big difference on those days when you need to get in words around your homework, the kids soccer practice, or date night. I find I use my slow cooker more than usual during the month of November. A few of my friends swear by planning out meals for the entire month before Nov 1, so they don’t have to spend any extra time thinking about meal prep during a month filled with words, words, and more words.

Notebooks etc
While you can’t start writing until Nov 1st you can start plotting/planning anytime. If you are a plotter make sure you have your notebooks, computer files or note cards ready and waiting for Nov 1st. I plot, outline and keep notes with pen and paper. I like moleskin notebooks or I have a lovely leather cover for a classic blueline A19 notebook. I also like to colour code and always have my bic 4 colour pen ready and waiting in case those plot bunnies show up.

Are you ready for November 1st? I don’t have as much plotted as I would like, but I’m feeling pretty ready other than that.

All posts in my NaNoWriMo Series

Disclaimer: I don’t have an affiliation or get anything from the companies I have posted products from. I do have a full version of Scrivener which I bought with my winners coupon many years ago.

NaNoWriMo – Just over a week to go

Yes, another NaNoWriMo Post. I will be posting a NaNoWriMo mini series this year. Posts will go up every Friday until the end of November. Today I’ll talk about a few last minute things to keep in mind before getting started November 1st.

Get lots of sun shine
You might not see the sun much for the month of November. If you have a pretty full schedule already with work, school, sports, family, and/or household stuff you may find fitting in 50k around your regular life is going to be a challenge. Instead of taking a walk at lunch you will likely be trying to get your word count. Instead of long leisurely walks in the park you’ll be sitting at your laptop typing away. Get that vitamin D now while have the chance.

Spend time with your family and friends
In my last post about NaNo I talked about having the support of family and friends. In these last few days before NaNo spend time with your family and friends. I time my writing schedule around spending time with my kid. I do most of my writing on my lunch break or after the kid is in bed. This means I don’t get as much time with my husband as I usually do, but it keeps me from hiding away from my family completely. For the month of November I tend to sacrifice a lot of my personal socializing time in favour of writing. Getting in one last coffee date, movie, party, or other outing can make a big difference.

Set your writing schedule
Over the next week think about when you could fit some writing in each day. Then sit down and make up a schedule for November. You may surprise yourself with how much time you have to dedicate to meeting the challenge of 50,000 words in a single month. If you write regularly already you may have an idea of how many hours you need to schedule each day. If this is your first kick at the can you might be surprised by how many hours it will take. In my experience with NaNo the first year is the longest. It takes skill to turn off your inner editor and just go for it.

Get your writing space ready
I don’t always write in the same place, but I always need the same materials. I will gather them up a few days before NaNo to make sure they are handy and waiting for me when the first of November comes. I keep things simple with a laptop, a pen, and a few notebooks. I also like to have water and often chocolate handy. If you plan to write at the same desk, table or couch all month get your writing space the way you like it now. The fewer excuses you have on November first the better.

What are your plans for your last week before you settle in to write 50k in a single month? Is this your first kick at the NaNo can or are you an experienced NaNo writer?

All posts in my NaNoWriMo Series

NaNoWriMo – Tips and Tricks to get you Started

Only two days until National Novel Writing Month! I have compiled a few of my favourite tips and tricks for getting through 50,000 words in a single month. Hopefully these will help you get started.

Quantity not Quality
The number one piece of advice I have for NaNo is to remember the goal of the challenge. The goal is to write an obscene (for the average writer) number of words in a single month. Fifty thousand words a month, or 1,667 words per day. Like most NaNo participants I am not a full time writer. I work and have a family. I can’t spend hours and hours each day working on getting a wonderful, amazing, beautiful 1,667 words. For me NaNo is quick and dirty. I get my word count each day, but it is rough and unpolished. Some days it is words for the sake of making the arbitrary goal of 1,667 words.

Do not edit
This actually relates to my first point. If you start editing your previous days work you can easily get sucked into the always editing, never moving forward, trap. If you absolutely must edit or you won’t be able to move forward then set a time limit. Take ten minutes to reread the previous session’s work but no more. During NaNo I employ a strict no looking policy for previously written words. I don’t want to see how bad they are or I might lose heart and give up writing completely. I know there will be plenty of editing to do, and after November I can take as much time as I need to get it done.

Do not delete scenes
Even if you know with 100% certainty a scene will never be part of the final novel do not delete it. You wrote those words, and at the end of the month you may need every one of them to cross the finish line. If you absolutely can’t stand to look at the scene either move it to a ‘deleted scenes’ folder if you are using scrivener, or turn the text white if you are using a word processor. Either way you want those words to count toward your word count.

Don’t over think it
You are here to write a rough draft. Don’t get caught up in word choice and all the other minutiae of writing. Have horrid grammar? Don’t worry about it you can fix it all later. Trust me grammar is my nemesis. Don’t know what to name a character? Pick the name of your best friend from grade school and get typing. You can always do a find and replace on the name once you know what you actually want to use. Can’t think of the right term for something? Make something up and highlight it to come back and fix later. Keep your momentum as much as possible. This is a time to let your fingers fly.

Take risks
Have you always wanted to write a story with a dragon who takes the bus? Now is your time to give it a go. Be brave, take risks, and let strange things happen. If you get stuck have your characters do something unexpected. Channel Joss Whedon and kill someone off, or send your characters off to the moon in a spaceship made of cheese. Write in a genre that has always interested you but you haven’t been brave enough to attempt. Most likely any novel you churn out in a single month isn’t going to be the best work you have ever done straight out of the gate. Take advantage of that and try something new without all the pressure of getting it just right.

Do you have a detailed outline for your novel this year or are you pantsing it? Are you ready for the insanity that can be NaNoWriMo?

All posts in my NaNoWriMo Series

NaNoWriMo – How to catch up if you’re behind

Day six of NaNoWriMo has arrived. The good news is here comes the first full weekend of the month. Weekends in NaNo land are a bit of a strange beast. For many people they are a chance to write many more words than they could ever manage on a work or school day. Today I have some tips on how to handle this weekend if you find yourself behind in your dreams of writing 1,667 words a day for a whole month.

Take heart
Assuming you work or go to school on a M-F schedule you can find more writing time over the next few days. If this is your first try at NaNo you probably have a much better idea after 6 days of what the time commitment will be for you. That knowledge can help you work out a schedule to get caught up or even pull ahead this weekend.

If you think you can catch up
By the end of the weekend (to be ‘on track’) your word count should be 13,333. Subtract your current word count from that number to find out how many words you would have to write to catch up over the weekend. Take a look at your weekend schedule and your progress so far to set up a schedule. If you are averaging 500 words an hour you now have an idea of how many hours you need this weekend. Maybe you will surprise yourself and get more than you need each day and find yourself ahead before the weekend is out.

If you can’t catch up don’t lose hope
If you are far enough behind you don’t think you can catch up in a single weekend, don’t lose hope! NaNoWriMo provides a stats chart for all registered users who have set up a novel. You can find the chart by logging in, clicking on ‘My Novels’, then on the stats button for your current novel. Take a look at the “Words Per Day To Finish On Time”. It will be most accurate before updating your word count for the current day. Your goal is to get that many words each day this weekend. Even if you haven’t written a word as of today that number is only 2,000. Tomorrow it will go up to 2083 for those who haven’t started. Whatever that number says get at least that many words each day this weekend. That will prevent you from falling further behind and set you up to catch up once you find your groove.

Let yourself write
One of the biggest stumbling blocks for people jumping into NaNo can be the ability to let themselves write. If you are struggling to get words on the page try giving yourself permission to write really bad words. NaNo isn’t about writing the perfect novel, or even a perfect rough draft in a month. It is about getting words on a page. For many of us writing a novel stops with the intention and desire to write a novel. This is your chance to get some of that novel on paper. Seize this chance! Enjoy it and let yourself off the hook that the words you are typing now aren’t as shining and glorious as you expected. You can focus on making them shining and glorious after November. For right now just focus on getting them on the screen. If you are struggling with this you might find my tips and tricks post helpful. Every novel has to start somewhere. Your novel can start right here and now.

How are you holding up after 6 days of writing? Is getting your daily wordcount taking longer than you expected or are your flying through?

All posts in my NaNoWriMo Series

NaNoWriMo – Stumbling Blocks

When people train to run marathons or ride long distances they talk about hitting the wall. Hitting the wall is when part way through a long run or ride you have a sudden decrease in energy. Instead of running strong, you are tired and struggling to put one foot in front of the other. During NaNo the writers version of hitting the wall usually happens around now. Here are some of the stumbling blocks I have run into over the years and how I dealt with them. As always these are just the things that worked for me, your mileage may vary as they say.

Longest project ever
My very first NaNo was the first time I had ever broken 10k on a project. I remember when I realized I was officially writing the longest piece of fiction I had ever tackled. I was both proud of the accomplishment and at the same time paralyzed by it. This was new territory for me. I had never written something that got past the newlywed phase. I still liked the idea, but did I still love it? Would I be able to write a full 50k from this idea or would I find myself grasping for ideas in the final stretch? For several days I kept a ridged 1,667 words per day schedule. I tried hard to think about the scene and the words instead of the project as a whole. It is okay to take it one day at a time.

Past the beginning
If you are a linear writer, like I am, you may find yourself struggling through the middle. When I get an idea for a story it is usually the first or last scene that pops first. If you started the month with a clear view of the beginning, but only a hazy idea of how to work through the middle, it is easy to get stuck. The good news is this is NaNo and you have to write through it. You don’t have time to put it aside and wait for the ‘right’ time to continue the story. Before trying NaNo I would have given up a this point. Now I know to fight through it and the words will come. If you are really stuck with where to go next try throwing something unexpected at your characters. A villain makes itself known, a fairy godmother appears, or there is an unexpected earthquake. New ideas will be flowing before you know it.

Another idea just won’t leave you alone
This is the time when I usually have plot bunnies multiplying like crazy. Before I wrote regularly I got new story ideas a few times a year. Once I started writing more frequently I noticed that the ideas never stopped coming. Something about starting this creative process gets your back brain all fired up. If the new idea can be worked into your new story go for it! If it won’t fit and you are worried about losing the new idea, let yourself write some notes in a word file or a notebook. Keep your main focus on the NaNo novel though. Don’t take your eyes off the prize of 1,667 words each day or 50,000 words this month.

The words I have written are crap
Has your self doubt started yet? “I can’t write.” “Why should I keep going when the words I have so far are crap?” “No one else will ever want to read about this.” Thoughts like that are a normal (at least for me) part of the process. Remember no novel is perfect from the very first keystrokes to the last. With NaNo this is even less true (you are aiming for quantity not quality). You are writing for speed and fun. If you really can’t get past the feelings try taking a break for a few hours or even the rest of the day. Come back at it fresh tomorrow. And don’t forget: If you are interested in writing the story someone else in the world is interested in reading it. Edits can change everything, until then keep writing. You have to practice to get better and this November is all about getting 50,000 words of practice. I promise when you reread the whole thing in December at least a few scenes will surprise you with their potential.

Have you hit your first stumbling block this month? Are your staying on track with your novel?

All posts in my NaNoWriMo Series

NaNoWriMo – How to Survive

I know I am not alone when this part of November hits and I start to feel overwhelmed by it all. It isn’t just the writing (although that is a big part of it), it is also work, the house, my family, and other commitments. Keeping the balance for the month of November is like juggling cannon balls while riding a unicycle.

I think most people are busy people. We have jobs, school, families, charities, books to read, sports, and whatever else we shoved onto our plates. When you add writing a 50k novel to the month things are bound to get overwhelming. The kitchen is a mess, the laundry has taken over the bedroom, yours kids want more time, and you probably aren’t getting enough sleep. Below are a few things I do to try and keep my sanity. As always your mileage may vary.

1.) House work helpers
I am lucky enough to have a husband who tackles the majority of the house work for the month of November. I still try and unload the dishwasher each day. I also try and fold the clean laundry and get it put away. He does more than his fair share for the month though. My young son also enjoys cleaning if you catch him at the right time, so yesterday he vacuumed the kitchen, entry, and stairs for me. In short if you don’t live alone get the others in your family to pitch in. You can return the favour the next time they have a big deadline.

2.) Leave work at work
When I leave work at the end of the day, I don’t think about it again until I get back to my desk the next morning. My biggest project of the year overlaps with NaNo, but I don’t take the stress of it home with me. My job is my job, not my life. If you are in school or have a job that has to follow you home, do you best to separate your work and home time. Do as much assignment work at school as you can. Don’t respond to emails that are fine to wait until the next day when you get to your desk. A lot of your free time is going into writing. Don’t let yourself stall by handling tasks that really can/should wait until you are back in the office.

3.) You are very behind on your writing
This can be the cause of a lot of NaNoWriMo stress. I wrote a post earlier this month about How to catch up if you’re behind. If you’re behind, but still think you can make it, check it out. The most important thing at this point is to keep writing. Even if you don’t win NaNo you will learn a lot about yourself as a writer if you keep writing for the entire month. Sometimes the journey is worth more than the destination.

4.) You want to write, but have no idea where this story is going
This is the one that is causing me the most trouble this year. I am trying to embrace the challenge. Most (all?) writers go through a ‘this sucks’ phase. The last week I have been stuck in it. The only solution that works for me is to push through it. I write anyway. I constantly remind myself that it doesn’t really matter if these words suck. I can go back and edit them later. Plus the only way to get better at something is to practice. When it comes to writing the practice can be painful, but I hope it will all be worth it in the end.

5.) Don’t forget to take a break
Sometimes the fastest way to get a few thousand words is to walk away from your computer for a while. Go and handle one thing from your mile long to do list so you feel a little less overwhelmed by your life outside of writing. Do something relaxing like read a book, or take a bath. NaNoWriMo should be fun at least part of the time. If you have lost the fun, take an hour off and find that joy in another activity.  When you get back to your computer you will have a fresh outlook, and hopefully some new words.

How is your month going so far? What about NaNoWriMo makes you feel overwhelmed?

All posts in my NaNoWriMo Series

NaNoWriMo – How to Finish

We are in the final days of NaNoWriMo. This can be both an exciting and terrifying time. It is exciting if you are on track and (have) or will meet the goal of 50,000 words in a single month. It can be a bit terrifying if you are close, but worried after all this hard work you won’t make it.

Keep Calm and Write On
If you aren’t finished yet, then your number one job right now is to keep writing. Whether you are only a few hundred words from the finish line or still thousands of words away, don’t give up. The last weekend of NaNo is upon us and amazing word counts can be a achieved. But don’t forget not winning NaNo isn’t the end of the world.

Find a Writing Event Near You
If you need a little extra motivation, check on your local NaNo page to see if there are any write-ins happening near you this weekend. NaNo has given me some of the best friends I have. We didn’t meet through official meet ups, but we bonded over word sprints/wars at small NaNo gatherings. I don’t know where my writing would be without this amazing support. If you can’t find anything in person, check out @NaNoWordSprints.

Donate to NaNoWriMo
I know not everyone can donate, but if you can then get yourself a halo. I usually buy my halo at the end of the month when I put in our writing group’s NaNo order. It is only $10 to get a halo on your username. A small price to pay to give back to a wonderful event.

Enjoy the Moment
When you cross the 50k finish line, don’t forget to validate. To validate you need to click on the “I am ready to validate my novel” link under the spot you usually enter your words. Also be sure to tell your friends, family, and anyone else who will listen. You have achieved an amazing thing. Toot your own horn. You deserve it!

How is your NaNo going this year? Are you happy you gave it a try?

All posts in my NaNoWriMo Series

NaNoWriMo – Pros and Cons

NaNoWriMo has a lot of positive points, it also has some draw backs. For some people it’s a fun one time stunt. For others it just doesn’t work. For me it is a way to jump start a new manuscript or test an idea.

A few Pros for those who kept at it all month

1.) If you have persevered over your fight to 50k words in the month of November you have, if not a finished rough draft, a substantial piece of work. You also have bragging rights and a few prizes and coupons for winning. Give yourself a pat on the back.

2.) You have shown you have a good work ethic. If you finished NaNo or met your own word goal, you have shown a strong dedication to writing. Most people can’t come away from November with 50,000 words if they don’t write almost everyday of the month. Your win has shown that you can log the butt in chair time needed to improve your craft.

3.) You have probably increased your writing speed. Maybe you are just a faster typist now, or maybe you are getting better at moving the image/words in your head to the keyboard. Maybe you just managed to turn off your inner editor. No matter how you did it, you have increased your speed. Writing faster can come in handy when you hit a scene that demands to be written before you forget the details.

4.) Another great benefit of NaNo is learning to push through the hard parts of writing. It could be writing a scene you really didn’t want to write. It could be working through the ‘I suck and no one will ever want to read this story’ phase. You have tackled some of hard parts of writing head on and are a stronger writer because of it.

5.) Hopefully you found support and community through NaNo. Some of my best friends are the people I write with every November. They cheer me on, and later they become my critique partners. For me the greatest gift NaNo has given me is my writing group.

A few Cons about NaNoWriMo:

1.) NaNo focuses on quantity not quality. The words you’ve written are going to be pretty rough. Most of us are not professional writers and do NaNo in our already limited spare time.  The editing time on a NaNo project is likely to be longer than the editing time on a project where you took your time.

2.) It is very likely that NaNo took over your life. You may have forgotten what your significant other looks like. Maybe your friends are upset because you haven’t hung out with them all month. NaNo can take a real toll on relationships. Don’t forget to put some time into your relationships now.

3.) NaNo is so intense it can cause burn out. Maybe you would have only written 10,000 words this month without NaNo, but you probably would have an easier time getting something written in December.

For me the pros outweigh the cons of NaNo, but I know that isn’t the case for everyone. Is NaNo worth if for you? If you did it this year will you  tackle it again next year?

All posts in my NaNoWriMo Series