{Prehistoric Amber} 11 Steps to a Fantastically Successful (& Freaking FUN) NaNoWriMo

It’s NaNoWriMo Time! 

It’s NaNoWriMo Time! 

Get Out Yer Pens Everybody, Cause Its NaNoWriMo Time! 

The above is a little song I made up. You know, on the fly. In like, 2 SECONDS.

And yes, my songwriting skills are available for hire!

In the past eight years of doing NaNoWriMo, I’ve learned a few things through trial and error. Here’s some of those things, in no particular order:

1. Learn to write anywhere
Just like with working out, if you’re not flexible with how you reach your goal, you’re not going to be consistent at it. I used to be that writer who could only write if I was sitting at my desk at night in a quiet house with a cup of hot coffee and a candle burning. And I hardly ever got any work done, because only being able to write in that particular environment is just not conducive to real life. There might be certain environments where you can do your best writing, and that’s great, but during November, you’ve got to be an animal about writing. You’ve got to be able to do this anywhere, at anytime, with anybody. One of the reasons why I got my teeny-tiny laptop was because I had spent the first 3 years of NaNoWriMo wishing that I had something I could just whip out during those odd 10 to 15 minutes of free time that always pop up during the course of any day. And one thing you’ll find during this month is that, when you’re not writing, you’re thinking about writing. And then you’ll be sitting there, and BAM! Inspiration will hit, and you’ll know that if you just had your laptop with you, you could easily pound out 1,000 words right now. So beat the beast and prepare yourself for that moment to hit, at anytime, in anyplace, with anyone.

2. Write NOW. Edit LATER.
It’s really hard for me to not spend an hour on each sentence (I’m not kidding), making sure it says exactly what I want to say and how I want to say it. But during NaNo, you’re not shooting for perfection. You’re shoot for fingers-flying, hands-furiously-pounding-on-that-keyboard, words-racing-on-the-screen, just straight up, who-the-hell cares writing. Which is the beauty and joy of it, but also the torture of it. I have a big sign on my bulletin board right now that says, “November is for WRITING. December is for PERFECTION.” so that I can constantly remind myself to let go of the editing and just write the shit out of this book.

However, sometimes it’s still not that easy, and you’ll probably come to a point in your writing when you get a really great idea for how you would want to edit an earlier chapter, rearrange a certain passage so it fits more nicely into this one, etc. And you don’t want to wait on it for too long because you’re scared that you’ll lose the inherent idea or image of what you want to do. I’m here to tell you that’s okay – BUT! Get your daily word count in first (or, even better, get your word count over the daily goal) and then feel free to edit. If you keep editing while you’re writing you’re going to keep losing words (duh), so reach your goal, revel in your accomplishment for that day, and then go ahead and prune and polish and perfect.

3. The block means you’re right where you need to be.
Writer’s block means you need to try something new. I often picture writers block as a bunch of actors on stage, all of them staring at you, like, “What we gonna do next, num-nuts?” Get crazy. Have fun. Remember – none of this has to make sense yet. Sometimes the best writing happens when you just let your characters take over and do the thinking for you. Jacob was never supposed to be a major character in Twilight, but Stephanie Meyer started to like him so much that she wanted to keep finding out about him…and tah-dah, the best thing to happen to werewolves since screen-printed sweatshirts was born. Do some crazy shit. Blow some stuff up. Make a hero into a villain. Make your villain into a hero. Base a character off the person you hate most. Surprise yourself. Again – it doesn’t have to make sense, and if it doesn’t work for this particular book, who knows – maybe it will end up giving you an idea for a whole new book.

4. When in doubt, DIALOGUE.
Do me a favor – go to your favorite coffeeshop, sit there for a couple of hours, and just start copying down all the conversations around you. I can guarantee that at least one of the conversations you copy down reads like the worst writing you’ve ever read in your entire life. However – that’s also how writers get good at dialogue. People who say they can’t write dialogue are fooling themselves – unless you live in a cave, you probably talk to someone at least once a day, right? That’s called dialogue. Some of the best dialogue out there is the stilted, full-of-awkward-pauses, weird convos between the main character and the barista at Starbucks. Why? Because we’ve all had the same conversation, that’s why. Dialogue is also an amazing, blow-your-mind, move-up-the-action word count builder. It’s the perfect tool for more “show, don’t tell” writing. So use it. And then use it some more. And then keep using it, all the time, until it becomes a natural thing for you to have your characters talk about what’s happening instead of you doing the talking for them.

5. Have some fuckin’ fun already, why don’t cha?
This is supposed to be fun. Alright? So stop taking yourself so seriously. No one ever wrote a perfect book during NaNoWriMo, because no one is meant to. Even the ones who did end up publishing their NaNoWriMo books (Water For Elephants was a NaNo book. So was The Night Circusand FanGirl ) did so after at least a few months of rewrites and editing. So lighten up, Hemingway. Give yourself a break. Go read a People’s Magazine or something.

6. Sprint!
I am not what you would call a “naturally focused” person. One moment I’m thinking about how I should get more involved in activism and the next moment I’m thinking about how good Garrett Hedlund looks in flannel. So I have to use certain tools in order to get anything done in my life – to-do lists, post-it reminders, Google Calendars, and NaNoWordSprints. Follow @NaNoWordSprints on Twitter and get ready for a few amazing hours of productive writing. It’s better to write for 20 minutes straight and give yourself a 5 or 10 min break before getting back to it than to write for one hour and then get distracted for the rest of the day. So follow them and let them guide you through the process. And then ask them why they never reply back to me when I ask them (nice, polite) questions but instead can take the time to repeatedly answer the rude dumbasses who constantly tweet “What are sprints?” and “You tweet too much! LOL!”.

7. Reward yourself.
Seriously. You’re doing something amazing. You’re writing a whole book in one month. Some people go through their whole lives saying, “Someday I’m going to write a book” and you’re actually doing it right now. And yeah, it’s hard. It’s tough shit, especially when you’re so dedicated that it means giving up on some fun stuff with friends or missing out on things like lazy Saturdays. This is also why I think the universe has been ordered in a particular way so as to ensure that NaNo happens to fall on the same time of year that Starbucks has their Holiday Lattes out. So get yourself one, sparky. You deserve it.

And when everything else fails –

8. Make a playlist for each character. What kind of music do they like? Listen to it before you write about them.

9. Sit down and ask yourself this question for every single character in your book – “What does __ want most in the entire world?”
If you can’t easily answer it for every character that you’re writing, then you need to get to know them better, which also means the reader needs to get to know them better. Looks like you just came up with at least 2 more chapters for your book!

10. Go to Barnes & Noble. Take a look around.
Bookstores are like speed for writers – one step inside and a glance at all the other books that everyone else has finished writing, and you’ll be doing the “I’m walking fast but trying not to look like I’m walking fast” walk to the café to get some writing done (because you’ve already mastered the tip of bringing your laptop everywhere with you so that you can write anywhere, right?!).

11. Shut out your inner audience.
During NaNoWriMo, every time you hear a voice in your head that says, “Someone’s probably going to read that and say “borrrring” or “Art won’t think this plot device makes any logical sense” or “I don’t want Emily to read this and think it’s stupid”…tell that voice TO SHUT THE HELL UP. You’re writing fiction, here. It doesn’t have to make sense. It’s probably not going to. And why should it? This is your own personal book. Make it whatever you want it to be.

Written and published November 6th, 2010, and revised November 1, 2013

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About Amber L.

Hi! I'm Amber. I've been telling stories with books and blogs since 2004. I also spent 10 years working as a behavior therapist, which I now put to proper use by publishing thought pieces and dissertations on '80s pop music and the defining TV shows of our current times ('The Bachelor', 'Vanderpump Rules', etc). I can also be credited with single-handedly ruining the city of Portland, OR just by moving here.

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