The ultimate test for writers world-wide: but how do those who win NaNoWriMo each year do it? Muffinz takes you through her strategy for writing a novel this November…
As someone who has competed in NaNoWriMo a couple of times, I know it’s a mammoth task. For those not in the know, NaNoWriMo is shorthand for National Novel Writing Month, an event held every November that encourages you to write a fifty-thousand word novel in thirty days. It’s a task which sparks insanity and dismay in those who are brave, or stupid, enough to sign up. My experiences of NaNoWriMo were quite different: my first year was a big fat failure, while this year I pushed myself to a win. There are distinct differences in my tactics each round.
Mirror, Mirror was the name of my first futile attempt, a work of which I was actually quite proud. I planned out every scene and plot twist eagerly and couldn’t wait to begin. I felt that it was quite high quality (so much that I actually published what I had written online), and looked over it constantly to ensure each word was perfect, and that it was my exact vision. I made it to thirteen-thousand words before I packed it in. This took about three weeks, and I gave up with the realisation that I’d never be able to finish in time. The writers at the Office of Letters and Lights, the administrators that work on NaNoWriMo, suggest that you should have written thirty-eight-thousand words by that point.
I felt as if I had made two staggering mistakes with Mirror, Mirror. Firstly, in plotting out every scene in great detail, I had taken away all the suspense and the future fun. By restricting my pragmatic imagination, I had chained myself to a fixed story that I couldn’t find it fun any more. I didn’t feel motivated to write a sequence which had already been decided. The first piece of advice that I would give would definitely be to only plan the basics, the frame of your story. Get your setting, get your characters, and get your basic plot figured out. Then, just allow yourself to embroider your story as it goes.
The second mistake was simply the matter of the word count. As I had allowed myself to get so far behind, by the time I realised I was so behind there was no way I could physically catch up. So, as obvious as it may seem, the most important thing to do is just write, with little regard to whether or not your story makes sense, whether or not you have gaping plot holes, or whether or not your initial sentence makes you cringe in horror. Give yourself some time a day and a goal – the NaNoWriMo website is brilliant for this, giving you suggested word counts per day and total word goals by date, along with a graph to help you plot your progress. If you don’t feel like writing, force yourself to sit down and type regardless: after a while, you’ll get into it and you won’t be able to stop. If you’re on target or a little ahead, take a day off only if you know you’ll catch up later. Make yourself get those numbers, and you’ll be on the track to success.
I sat back and thought about these flaws when it came to my second attempt at NaNoWriMo. My next NaNoNovel was a dystopia called Platforms. I planned a basic setting: my story would take place on giant Sky Platforms, my morbid, authoritarian take on the construction in Laputa: Castle in the Sky. I would have two characters, a man and a woman, who I could develop a romance with if I needed to plug a few words. My plot? It ended up so crazy, nonsensical and full of holes that I’m now ashamed to call it a plot, but I had a basic plan of how things would move forward with no real concept of events.
With these tools in hand, I sat down on November 1st , and I did my 1,667 words for the day. The next day, I sat down and did the same. On days I was working late shifts, I’d wake up early and thrash out my word count for the day, and I never looked back at what I had written to check it, and especially not to edit it. A word was a word, and I was keeping it. It was very time consuming, sometimes soul consuming. Finally, November 29th rolled around, and I took to my keyboard and diligently typed out the final words for my count.
Winning NaNoWriMo is essentially a test of determination, planning and discipline. You have to know that you need to type, a lot. You will need to sit down every night and get some words on your laptop. You will need to turn off the radio, turn off MSN, and focus on what will inevitably be a piece of fiction that will at some point break you. Then, when you drag your fingers towards the final of your fifty-thousand words, you will be overcome with joy. You wrote a novel! You can get it published for free thanks to the staff at NaNoWriMo! You will be presented with a selection of prizes to commemorate your achievement!
You’ll feel fantastic. You’ll be absolutely over the moon. Then, as you’re checking out the specifications for your published book, you’ll realise that you have to edit it first.
You will rage.