The Only NaNo Advice You’ll Ever Need

The Only NaNo Advice You’ll Ever Need

So, NaNoWriMo starts in just a few hours – or has already started, if you’re in a futuristic time zone / actually from the future – and I’m here to give you some advice! To be fair, I wasn’t planning to write a blog post today, but I’m going to be seeing a LATER showing of Skyfall as the one we’d planned to go to is full (I’ll be home late enough I might as well stay up until midnight, but am not going to), and basically I have an hour to kill in which I cannot write because it is still October.

For those of you venturing out tonight, wear red and carry silver. Or iron. Whichever you think will be more effective. For you know what they say … at Samhain the fairies dance …

Anyway. Moving swiftly on.

Some authors don’t like NaNo. Some do. I’m one of the latter type. I like it because that’s my technique: binge write and then edit for a few months and then write another novel in a month. 50k isn’t a challenge when you write 90k some months anyway, but NaNo still feels like a push because you’re being held accountable. So I use it. It’s the one time I actually get my butt in a chair and write NEW material, instead of the endless editing I’ve been doing for the last 11 months.

There are multiple types of NaNo participant: the old hand who has one multiple times; the newbie without a clue what they’re doing; the veteran who has done it eight times and never won; the newbie who has been planning since April… etc.

But it breaks down into two main categories.

Plotters and Pantsers.

Do you plot? Have you got your whole novel planned out, with an outline written (probably colour coded or otherwise formatted in a pretty manner), a folder full of character notes, and daily targets for where you need to reach in said outline? Basically, do you know what you’re doing?

You’re a plotter.

And my advice to you is this: firm up that outline. Examine it for plot holes. If there’s still time (US participants, you’ve got an extra five hours or so. USE THEM) ask a writing buddy to look it over and ask you questions. Make sure you know the answers.

Then, once you’ve started, stick to your outline. Some digression is probably a good thing, but you wrote that thing for a reason. Make sure when you start each day you know what you’re planning to write and how long you want each section to be, else your careful structure will collapse. Refer to your character notes regularly to make sure you haven’t written them badly at one point.

If you had some initial notes or a prompt, read those through regularly to make sure you’re staying true to your original vision.

But above all, let me reiterate: STICK TO YOUR OUTLINE.

Does this not sound like you, at all? If you outline, it’s vague; you’ve got some idea how it’s going to end but not much; you know some of your characters but are happy for new ones to casually appear at any point… you’re planning to fly into this and write by the seat of your pants, following your story to find out what happens next, are you? Then you’re a pantser.

You’re in good company, and not just because every year until now I was one of you ;) (This year, I’ve plotted.) So my advice for you is this:

Let the story go where it wants and don’t complain if it takes an entirely new turn. Get ahead early in the month because come week two, the plotters will be laughing because they know what they’re doing, and you’ll be floundering in the shallows trying to think of something to write next. Get ahead. Maybe sketch a scene or two in advance as you go along.

Be prepared to rewrite. A lot. Your structure will suck because you didn’t plan it. That’s okay, if you’re prepared to fix it later.

Other than, my advice is the same for ALL participants:

  • Get ahead at the beginning of the month. You’ll be glad of it towards the end. If you’re a fast writer, set your goal higher or your end date earlier, so that you don’t have to panic so much come the 30th.
  • Write whenever you can, even if it’s just for 10 minutes. Every little helps.
  • Touch typing is a valuable skill. 90 words a minute means that 10 minutes slot will yield 900 words. More realistically, probably 600. That’s a decent amount.
  • Set out a time to write and guard it with barbed wire. Get up an hour early if you have to. Take your laptop on the train (that’s what I’m doing for the first couple of days).
  • Back up your work. ALL THE FREAKING TIME. Cloud storage is your friend. I once backed everything up on a USB… and it snapped in half. Not good enough.
  • Make good playlists, for when you get stuck.
  • Go to write-ins if you possibly can. They’re a great chance to wordwar with other participants and the competitive streak will help you hit your wordcount. Honest.
  • Tell people you’re writing a novel. They won’t feel guilty when you turn down their invitations to stuff, and they’re likely to ask you questions about your novel so you feel bad enough to have finish it. That also helps because no one wants to admit that they failed.
  • Tea. Or tic-tacs. Whichever works better for you.

Good luck to all taking part! Feel free to leave a comment below telling me a bit about your novel, or just your NaNo experience, or whatever :D


17 thoughts on “The Only NaNo Advice You’ll Ever Need

  1. Eeeee, be sure to tell me if Skyfall’s any good! It’s not showing in our piffly little army theatres yet, blast it.

    Great advice! Now . . . we have plots to bork! Or I would, if I had one . . . I know dimly where I’m going . . . that’s okay, right? xD

      1. You’ve not seen a Bond film before!? Oh my! I’ve not seen them all, but I’ve seen a good number. The classic Bonds are better – the ones with Sean Connery etc. Very daft, but great fun. Cracking lines and classic villains there.

  2. I’m definitely a pantser. I have a vague idea where I want my plot to go, and I know more or less who my characters are, but basically tomorrow I’m going to throw them at the plot and see what they do. Also I’ve got one, possibly two write-ins for this weekend. Write-ins are indeed fun; I named a mountain range one year based on a suggestion from someone else there. :P

  3. Hello. I’m one of your infrequent commenters (sorry about that–I do really enjoy your posts as they’re written better/are funnier than about 80% of the blogs I follow). For NaNo this year I plan to take the easy approach, if possible. Since I already have roughly five to six unfinished projects going on right now, I don’t want to start something new, so I’ll just use NaNo as a crutch to ‘get stuff done’.

    Anyway, I hope your November goes swell, and that your book (I believe it’s about angels in post-apocalyptic Russia, excuse me if I’m wrong) turns out well.

    Happy NaNo’s Eve!

    – Hannah Rachel

    1. Pre-apocalyptic is probably more accurate (and there are humans involved), since they’re trying to stop it, but other than that, you’re close!
      I know what you mean about having too many projects. I forced myself to put them aside because I haven’t written anything new since last November and I’m getting stale with all this editing…
      I notice you subscribed to me on YouTube. Welcome!

  4. Good advice. I need to remember that I’m a plotter, since I don’t always complete the outline beforehand, even though the only projects I’ve completed were pre-outlined. *NaNo procrastination*
    Good luck with NaNo 2012!

  5. I totally loved this! :D I’m not doing NaNo this year, but am seriously considering doing it (or YWP) next year, so if I do, this post will be referenced regularly! :D

  6. I’m not sure whether I’m a plotter or a pantser. I could say I’m a pantser at heart, but I did love planning for this NaNo and it has made writing my novel so much easier. At the same time, I sometimes feel that planning is boring and I’d rather be spontaneous. So what I do is (vaguely) follow my outline, with lots of little bits I add as I feel like it.

    I agree about writing a lot at the beginning and writing even just for a few minutes. Even if I only get 100 or 200 words in 5 minutes, at least I have more than I did before!

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