November is almost upon us, lurking like something cold and full of dry leaves and turkey brine. And with it comes the festival of creativity and/or despair known as National Novel Writing Month, in which participants attempt to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days.
I'm a relative newcomer to NaNoWriMo; I used the guidelines to write a really, just impressively terrible novel about ten years ago in January, and for the past two Novembers I've taken part in Nano proper, first writing one novel, then rewriting it from scratch a year later. I'm not doing it this year, on the grounds that I've written at least two books this year with Matt, and we're working on at least two more, and audiobooks, and... yeah.
I can, however, offer you some limited advice.
One: Clear your plate. Maybe you're used to juggling multiple projects at once, but if you're not used to churning out 1500 words a day...and as far as I'm concerned, even if you are... it's going to take a lot of time and effort. Keep that in mind.
Two: Try and figure out if you're a plotter or a pantser early. A pantser is a writer who works without a plot, just sits down and lets the narrative take them away. It took me two go-rounds with NaNoWriMo to figure out that I'm not a pantser. There's no right or wrong way to do it, but it's better to find out what works for you before you get to 40,000 words and realize your draft is fundamentally flawed in a way that will require an almost complete rewrite. That happened to me last year, and it is not an awesome feeling.
Incidentally, if you do get to about 40,000 words and realize that the thing is broken, you still have to finish it. You need that draft, so you can perform the autopsy, figure out what went wrong, and fix it. As Chuck Wendig is fond of saying, "Finish your shit." Visit his site for much more helpful NaNoWriMo advice than I'm going to offer. He talks a lot about Die Hard. This is as it should be. If you don't like Die Hard, you get the hell off my site right now, how dare you.
Speaking of much more useful advice, if you are a plotter, Rachel Aaron has some very useful advice on how to do that thing. She explains how she went from 2,000 to 10,000 words a day. Her book on the subject is well worth the 99 cents. And here, she offers a nuts and bolts guide to plotting a novel, which is a hell of a lot more useful than anything I learned in a college creative writing program.
Three: Get an early start. It is much, much easier to wake up too early and start grinding out words than it is to be up way, way too late. I've done both, and I assure you, 4 am feels better than 1 am. At 4 am, the coffee is in your future. At 1 am, coffee will no longer help you and your body is trying to betray you. Wake up an hour earlier than you normally do and start smacking the words around. Even if you don't make word count, you will at least have made a start.
Four: You will not always make word count. Sometimes life will intrude. Sometimes you will be sick. Sometimes you will stare at the screen and the inside of your head will feel like the sky from the beginning of Neuromancer. Whatever happens, sometimes you're just not going to make your word count for the day. This will happen, and it's okay. You will also have good days when writing dialogue will feel like stenography and you can see the entire story flowing in front of you like the Yellow Brick Road. It will balance out in the end.
Five: Start making a playlist now. I cannot write to songs with lyrics. If you can do that, congratulations, you complete freak. For me, background music is the oil that keeps the engine going, and I advise you to make yourself a writing playlist. A big one. For the past two years, my playlist has basically consisted of whatever Michael Giacchino albums I can get my hands on. Also, there are plenty of services that offer streaming playlists; look around for film music on any of those and you should have plenty of options.
Six: You are not done on November 30. I keep hearing of people who finish NaNoWriMo and immediately send their finished draft to an agent or a publisher or whatever. I cannot conceive of the crazed confidence it would take for me to do that. I promise you, no matter who you are, no matter what you've done, that draft is not fit for consumption yet. You need time away from it, so you can come back to it with fresh eyes and a highlighter and figure out how to really finish it.
Which leads me to Seven: NaNoWriMo is a training exercise. Maybe you're just doing NaNoWriMo for the sheer joy of it, and you have no ambitions other than completing what you set out to do. Good on you. For some of you-- I know it's true of me-- you want to eventually publish the things you've written, sell the movie rights, keep a piece of the merchandise for yourself, get Ryan Gosling and Channing Tatum to star, buy a house high in the hills, never go outside again and get super, super weird. We all want that.
For us, NaNoWriMo is not an end of itself. It's training. If publishing is the Olympic gold medal, NaNoWriMo is a marathon, a step on the way to getting there. And it's good training. It teaches you what kind of writer you are, what kind of schedule you need, whether or not you can actually do this month in, month out. Because if you're going to do this, really do it, NaNoWriMo never ends. You're going to go on feeding that word count for the rest of your life. This first month will tell you if you're going to love doing that or not.
Finally, Eight: Have fun. The underpinnings of NaNoWriMo are serious, but the whole point of the exercise is to have fun with it. Get some buddies on the site. Talk about it with your friends. Tweet your word count. Let the crazy plot twists happen. Post that "I won" jpg with pride. I'll be rooting for you.
PS - Scrivener. Scrivener, Scrivener, Holyoke Massachusetts Scrivener is a really good word processing program for novelists. Check out their special offers. They're not paying me, I just really dig them.