Or at least how I avoid having a mental breakdown during it.
I’ve participated in NaNo for — a lot of years now, under two different accounts. Both of my published books were actually born during NaNo. Some years, I was more successful than others, but every year I wrote all or most of the book I’d set out to write. And through those years of participating, I’ve figured out some tricks, ways to ensure I crossed the finish line at the end of November. These aren’t tricks to write X amount of words in X amount of days. This isn’t even a fool-proof list of tips that will absolutely work across the board and if you want to be successful, you have to do this. But it’s what has always worked for me and, hey, maybe it’ll work for you too.
It’s in list form. Of course it is. Man, I love my lists.
1. Give yourself permission to suck.
This doesn’t just apply to your writing, though it absolutely includes that. But I’m talking about sucking in general. This is one month to excuse yourself from being an A+ parent, partner, kid, etc. You have eleven other months out of the year to be on your A game. It’s fine if this one time, these thirty days, you let things slip. No one will die if you eat sandwiches for dinner for a week straight. Dry cereal is a perfectly acceptable breakfast, as is cake. Do you really need to go to the store? Fuck it. Let someone else handle it. I mean, do your homework if you’re in school and shower at least once a week, but aside from that? EMBRACE THE SUCK.
2. It’s a first draft.
It doesn’t have to be perfect. It honestly and truly doesn’t. You fix things during edits. You beef it up during edits. The first draft is a road map, the bones of your story. You’ll figure the rest out during edits.
3. Pretend the backspace or delete button doesn’t exist.
FIRST DRAFT FIRST DRAFT FIRST DRAFT. Don’t even look at that backspace. Don’t even glance at the delete button. Don’t you dare go back and do a read through. Your job is to get as many words on the page as you can. Again, YOU’LL FIX IT ALL LATER. Don’t worry about the mess you’re leaving in your wake. Beautiful things are born from messes. Don’t delete them. Love them.
4. Write every single second you can.
Carry a notebook with you. Keep your phone handy. It doesn’t matter if the scene or piece of dialogue that comes to you doesn’t fit where you’re currently at in your story. You can work it in later. Or not. The point is, snatch your words wherever and whenever you can.
5. Sprints are good. Sprints are great.
I’m usually not a huge fan of sprints. I don’t work well under that kind of pressure. But during NaNoWriMo? I’m a different writer. I usually have about an hour and a half of dead time before my kids get home from school and you bet your ass I use it. I set a timer and I go. I write hard and fast and messy. I grab onto those down times, and I fill them up with my words. As many words as I can in the allotted time.
6. When you’re not writing, read. When you’re not reading, draw. When you’re not drawing, color.
Use every chance you can to keep those creative juices flowing. Doodle in the margins. Listen to music while reading. Use that part of your brain where your stories hide.
7. If you’re stuck? Go for a run.
Or a walk. Take a shower. Dance around your kitchen. Hell, go ahead and clean out from under your bed. Do something that allows you to turn your brain off for a second and get lost in that action. Try coming back now. Got something? Even a wispy something? RUN LIKE THE WIND WITH IT.
8. Protect your writing time.
Pick a time, any time, that is just yours and protect it like a dragon. You are under no obligation to share it with anyone else. Figure out that part of the day when you can see your story the clearest, when the words flow, and set up a barrier around it. This is yours and your story’s. Don’t let anyone cross into it.
9. Ignore the par.
The par is an average. The par is where you COULD be on any given day in order to make your final goal. It’s okay if you’re behind. You’ll make it up. Shove away that unnecessary pressure and know that even if you’re behind, you’re still doing it, and that’s the whole point.
10. Likewise, ignore everyone else’s wordcount.
Having NaNo buddies is great. (Want to be my NaNo buddy? LET’S BE BUDDIES. ) This is your November tribe who will encourage you, who will cheer you on. These are your comrades in arms and it’s important to have them. What your buddies are not is your competition. Don’t fall victim to comparing. Don’t wring your hands and stress because someone is way ahead of you. It does not matter. This is not a competition. I don’t care what anyone says. This is not a competition. This is you writing a book in a month. Write your book. Celebrate your words and everyone else’s. Don’t compare.
Finally: my super secret, I-have-a-hard-time-turning-off-my-editing-brain is this: I handwrite my stories. At the beginning of the month, I go out and buy fresh notebooks and pens and I fill them up. Every night, I type up the day’s words and I edit them as I go. So, technically, what’s on my computer is a second draft. There will, of course, be many more drafts after I’m done, but this fulfills my need to edit without losing forward momentum.
So, there it is. How I kick NaNoWriMo’s ass. Results may vary.
Go forth and lose yourself in the magic of words.