NaNoWriMo looms like a big loomy thing – time to write a novel. In 30 days.
So how do you do that?
What I’m going to talk about here is how I do it. I’ve pulled bits and bobs from other people’s writing on the subject (particularly Chris Baty, of whose wisdom we will learn more at a later time) but I try to express these tenets in language which appeals to me.
I have already written about what I do to prepare for NaNoWriMo, but in short I will have 25 chapter summaries, expecting to write around 2,000 words for each (although of course more is better).
These are my rules for NaNoWriMo in general, and for high velocity writing in particularly.
The Rules of NaNoWriMo
0. give yourself permission to write crap. You will be writing quickly and not always selectively – do not think about quality. Get the ideas down, as fast as possible. More will be along soon, and you wouldn’t want to cause an idea traffic jam, would you?
1. write every day. Or thereabouts, anyway. 25 chapters in 30 days allows for five days off, but every day is better. This is particularly true of the wave of initial enthusiasm. Which brings me to –
2. build up a buffer. Aim to overachieve early in the month. This is usually not hard to manage in my experience because everything is fresh and joyful, especially in that first week, but the reasons for building up a buffer are more than just making allowances for an enthusiasm deficit in the third week.
Christmas is mere weeks away. In the US there is Thanksgiving in the last week. For myself, I lost my job half way through November 2008 and was so glad of the buffer.
So, write fast while the wind is at your back.
3. back up your novel. There are sad stories every year of people who lose a day’s work, a week’s work, or everything. The computer crashes, or gets stolen, or breaks, and everything is gone.
Back up your novel. Every day at least, in multiple locations.
As blogger Dan Rutter puts it: data you haven’t backed up is data you do not want.
4. finish the story. Hitting the daily word count goals is good; having a completed story at the end of the month is better. No worries if a chapter runs long, but at some point you have to go on to the next. Keep moving.
I broke this rule once, that dreadful 2008. I hit the word count goal for November, but there was still another 20k of story to go. Trying to grind through that in December was hard, particularly since, mirabile dictu, I was starting a new job and had to spin up on that too.
5. don’t read it straight away. This is the single most important piece of advice in Stephen King’s book On Writing – you need distance before you read the story, so you have some degree of objectivity about its quality. I leave it for six weeks pace King. Try not to let impatience overpower your good sense here.
The Rules of High Velocity Fiction
Getting everything down takes discipline. Follow these three rules and you won’t go far wrong.
1. never look back. It wasn’t a good idea for Orpheus, and it’s not a good idea for you. Editing is for later. You don’t have time for that now.
The story I wrote during my first NaNoWriMo in 2004 was one that had never previously got past chapter two because I kept going back and editing.
2. turn off the internet. That animated GIF of Space Cat? Look at it another time. Turn off the internet (pull the cable, turn off the wireless card, cut the string) and focus on what you are supposed to be doing: making words.
And researching that plot or setting detail you need for the story is not excluded here: time researching is time you are not making words. If you need to look something up, then put a note in the text [in square brackets] that this needs to be checked and then make something up which will serve as a placeholder. Look it up when you have the words for the day, or during a consistency edit.
3. don’t delete anything. Bad simile? Wrong name? Inappropriate joke about pixies? Don’t delete it, put it [in square brackets]. They’re words you have written in your novel and they should count towards your word count.
This may seem specific to November’s frenzy, but I would argue it is a general rule for any draft – they’re your words, and if you see them again in context during the edit there may be something there that might be of value. So leave them in place.
Truth to tell, I find that I don’t delete much for reasons of quality control because I am writing too quickly to be able to make such judgements in my sleep-deprived state (is there really such a thing as an inappropriate pixie joke?) but I do bracket out the wrong word or name. I also treat discursive commentary on the story as deleted words.
These are my rules for success. What are yours?