Friday, October 30, 2009

How to Nanowrimo

November 1st marks the beginning of National Novel Writing Month. If you haven't heard of this zany event, the goal is to write a 50,000 word novel in thirty days, in a month that contains a major holiday. "Ack!" you say? You bet.

I participated in Nanowrimo four times, and met the challenge on three occasions, which resulted in the first drafts of several of my novels. Those first drafts were generally bad, but with the exception of my first novel, it isn't anything that hasn't or can't be fixed on revision.

To help me toward the final goal, I used the following tricks:

Daily Word Count

To achieve 50k in thirty days, one must write at least 1,667 words a day. If that load seems too much of a burden, shoot for 1,923 to 2,000 words a day, six days a week. I took Sundays off, so I know this works. This seems totally crazy, but once you get in "the zone", it's far easier.

Note: the Pirate's Code applies to daily word counts. If you fall behind, you stay behind, so don't.

Start Your Day Off Write

I worked full-time during several Nanowrimos, so Nano writing couldn't commence until six o'clock in the evening. That left only four or five hours in which to eat, write, and say hello to my husband, who, fortunately, was working on his M.Div and didn't have time to talk to me unless he needed to review the chicken scratch he called Greek. Talk about providence.

To help out, after my evening prayers, I mentally ran through what I wanted to write the following day, mulling over the plot and silently repeating dialogue. When the alarm rang the next morning, I jumped out of bed and wrote two to three hundred words while everything was still fresh in my head. That instantly knocked a chunk off my daily word count. After that, the day seemed far brighter.

I admit it, I occasionally skipped dinner. I don't recommend this. Just grab something you can eat while typing. A belated thanks to my darling husband who often laid a plate of food on the couch beside me. I haven't a clue who ate it, me or the dogs, but I wasn't malnourished during those months.

Utilize Free Time

Unless you've adjusted your word count to allow for a free day, don't take a break. On what was to be your day off, wake up, write your morning scene, eat (breakfast is the most important meal of the day!) and get those fingers back on the keyboard. You can also shoot off a couple hundred words during lunch breaks. Again, finger foods will help you to that end.

Just Write!

Once you get started, you'll probably find yourself in the zone, that mysterious place you enter after you disassociate yourself from the concrete world and slip into your character's story. As you write, images play out in your head like a movie, and the words fly. Don't try to be a perfectionist at this point! You could waste hours fixing a chapter or scene that may have to be cut during revision. Just Write.

If you write a scene and know for certain it doesn't mesh with the story, don't delete it! Simply mark it for deletion on December 1st by highlighting it. It will then count toward your final word count without sullying your story.

A few other tips to keep you from losing your mind:

For some reason, hard drives like to crash in November, so protect your work and your sanity by taking a few precautions. Set your autosave for one minute. In addition, manually save your file every few minutes by holding down the ctrl key and pressing S at the same time.

Don't stop there. At the end of every writing session, either back up your file to a flash drive, or send a copy of it to an email account that doesn't download your mail to your computer (i.e. Gmail or Yahoo.)

If you're planning to participate this year, have fun! And if you're still thinking about it, consider this: November will slip by whether or not you want it to, so why not write a novel as you pass on through?

To sign up, go to

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