Still super stoked that the Weird Theology audiobook is now on sale. (You can check it out here). That also means it’s officially time for me to focus on my next project.
We are just a few days away from the start of National Novel Writing Month, abbreviated to NaNoWriMo or just NaNo, the annual celebration of writing where millions of people write hundreds of millions of words in an attempt to finish a complete novel. NaNo is something that I talked about doing for years, but never actually did before. Then, in late November 2015 I got cancer. I distinctly remember thinking, while recovering from one round of surgeries, “If I survive this, I’m never missing a NaNo again.”
Well, I survived it, and come 2016 I did my first NaNo. I won, hitting the 50,000 word mark. That novel, The Apollyon Effect, remains half finished and may never see the light of day, but I did it. In 2017 I did it again, this time working on both Weird Theology and The Dragon’s Scion, the first of which became my first published novel. It’s 2018, and NaNo is coming again, and you can bet I’m doing it again.
In the past I was what NaNo calls a “pantser,” someone who goes in flying by the seat of their pants, with no real plan for what they’re doing. And while pantsing can be a ton of fun – I recommend that everyone tries it at least once, because it’s an exhilarating experience – I’ve learned since 2016 that going in with some degree of a plan means you have a much cleaner first draft. I don’t think I’ll ever be a full on plotter, someone who goes in with every detail laid out – for me, the story loses some of the excitement when I plan that much – but I’m trying to become what NaNo calls a “plantser” – someone who has a mix of a plan and improvisation.
So, here are my top three suggestions for NaNo prep:
1) Time Yourself Writing 1667 Words
I know it’s kind of cheating to do any writing in advance, but it doesn’t have to be for your NaNo project. The point of this is to find out how long it takes you to write 1667 words. That number is, of course, how much you’ll need to write on average every day to complete NaNo. So time yourself and see how long it takes you to write that much. Then double that timeframe. Did it take you an hour? Then assume the average will be two hours. Did it take you 30 minutes? Then holy crap, you could definitely have a career as a ghost writer.
You don’t have to write every day for NaNo. It’s entirely possible to skip a day, and then catch up. However, doing so is hard – you end up needing to make the words up somehow, and it can start to really pile up. It’s one of the roughest things to have to tackle, and I don’t recommend it. Instead, plan to write every day, and plan for twice as much time as your initial test run. The extra time is for three reasons. First, it means that if life happens and you miss a day, you’ve built in buffer time to catch up. Second, it means that if you finish before that time is up, you can keep going so you’re ahead of the game if something else comes up later. Finally, and most importantly, it means that if you hit a difficult point you have some time built in to push ahead.
Then make a schedule. Find the time that will work best for you each and every day, and set that time aside. One of the big benefits of NaNo is that it develops the habit of writing daily, so it’s important you find what time works for you on a given day.
Now, if the 1667 words is something you can’t manage in a reasonable timeframe every day, there’s a decent change you won’t hit the 50,000 words. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do NaNo, however. It’s still a great way to get started and push yourself. Just keep in mind…
2) Plan not to edit.
This is a tricky one for a lot of people. You want to find the perfect word for what you’re trying to say. You want to find the ideal simile. You want to write something that will resonate throughout the ages and bring tears to the eyes of people across the globe. And that’s a great goal to have…
…but save it for the edits.
The Goal of NaNo is not to write the most beautiful book ever on the first go. Water for Elephants is my favorite example here, because it’s an amazing book with some absolutely beautiful prose, and it was born out of a NaNoWriMo project. Now, I’ve never seen Sara Gruen’s first draft of this book, but I would be shocked as hell if it was anywhere near as polished as the final version you can read right now. (Sara, if somehow you see this, care to confirm?) Remember, the goal is not quality for NaNo, it’s quantity. 50,000 words, minimum. No writer is going to produce their best work under those constraints.
Instead, for NaNo, forge ahead. Push yourself to go as fast as you can. If a part doesn’t work, put a note in there that says “come back to this.” Save it for December, or January, or whenever you want to go into the editing process. In fact, I’d suggest not even reading anything you wrote until the end of the month – especially if it’s your first time. You might start second guessing yourself, and that’s something you want to avoid at all costs. Note that this is not a way I’d suggest writing at any other point. Some degree of revision is good even while writing a first draft. But during NaNo…nope. Just push ahead.
3) Have a loose plan.
This should be true even if you’re a full on pantser. When I went to write my first NaNo project, all I had was a title, and a note “What if, in a cyberpunk settings, there were suddenly superheroes!?” Yes, I did use that exact language. It…made the middle part of that book a mess, and part of why the book remains unfinished because there are several spots where I wrote a note saying “blah blah blah, this is a part you need to come back to, figure something out to stick in this spot.”
I never did.
Instead, I’d suggest taking the five days we have before NaNo to do a loose outline. Something as simple as a title, three major characters, and a three sentence synopsis of the plot will do. If you want to get more detailed, you can, but if you have some kind of plan you’ll be all set to push ahead. Don’t be afraid of the “blah blah blah come back to this” notes, because if you have some idea of what you’re doing, it’ll be easier to go back and fill those holes. I’d suggest not going too detailed here, just because if you’re reading this post you have less than a week before NaNo starts, and you don’t want to stress yourself out during that week. Keep it loose, keep it simple, and get ready to make the words go.
Good luck, and happy writing!