Notes on surviving Nanowrimo AND KICKING ITS BUTT

It’s Halloween! Which not only means it’s time to eat lots of novelty shaped chocolates, it also means it’s practically Nanowrimo: that special month of the year where a bunch of very enthusiastic people attempt to write 50,000 words or more in 30 days.

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This pleases Skeletor.

I am, in my own small way, a Nano veteran. When I first started taking writing seriously, I decided to try Nanowrimo as a way of teaching myself some discipline, and much to my surprise (being an inherently lazy person) it worked! In 2008 I reached my wordcount with an odd little fantasy book for younger readers called Bird and Tower. In 2009 I won with a YA book called Ink for Thieves, and in 2010 it was with an oddly named SF crime romp called Dead Zoo Shuffle. 2011 was where it got complicated – I intended to write the rest of this odd little serial I was writing, called the Copper Promise or something, but then the first section of it received a lot of attention and Nanowrimo dropped off the radar for me…

I was back in 2012 with another YA book called London-Under-Sea, with which I did reach the 50K goal but the novel itself remains unfinished, alas. By then, The Copper Promise was on the verge of being a real book, and what I found was that publishing schedules neatly elbowed Nanowrimo out of the way. I never seemed to be writing a first draft when November rolled around – I was always in the midst of edits. Consequently, 2013 was a miss for me, but with 2014 I squeaked in with 50K words of The Silver Tide. Similarly, history records that last year I registered The Ninth Rain as the novel I would be working on, but edits for The Silver Tide put a stop to that.

This year I have decided, with a heavy heart, that I will not make the attempt. I love Nanowrimo dearly, but I am in the middle of the copyedits for The Ninth Rain now, and there is no greater antithesis to the spirit of Nano than the dreaded copy edit. However, I thought it would be fun to have a think about all the things I have learnt about surviving a month of super-fast writing, and collect some of it here. If you are about to experience the strange adventure that is Nano for the first time, it might be useful. Or it might at least indicate what not to do…

No edits
It’s the most obvious and tiresome piece of advice, and if you are doing Nano you will have heard it 800 times already but: take your inner editor by the hand, give her one last hug, and then give her a sharp shove down the basement steps. Ignore her squawk of outrage and snapping limbs – for the next 30 days, you don’t need her. Soz, lady.

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Stop! Put that editing pencil DOWN!

Time is precious
Nano is brilliant because it teaches you to give yourself periods of time dedicated solely to writing. This time is precious. It must be offered up in sacrifice to bring your characters to life. But with Nano I would also suggest looking closely at all those bits in your day where you briefly have nothing to do, and snaffle those as well. Write bits of your novel on the phone when you’re on the bus. Scribble a section on your lunch break. Stuck in a waiting room? Get those words out. It sounds a little, uh, over the top, but even 20 words or so will help when you’re dragging yourself towards that 1667 words a day.

With that in mind…
I almost always write in a linear fashion these days, with scene following scene, etc. But with Nano, all rules are out the window. I highly recommend, particularly when you’re on the bus or stuck at work, scribbling little extra scenes, snatches of dialogue, conversations that pop up out of nowhere. The beauty of these little isolated fragments is a) they add to your word count and b) they can often lead to unexpected things – a secret about a character you didn’t know, a piece of worldbuilding that suddenly slots into place, and so on.

Sweets
A more responsible writer would tell you to eat healthy snacks, and if you like them, go for it, but I am not a responsible person and I like sweets. Snickers Flapjacks are bloody amazing, and there’s always the trusty Peanut Butter Chunky Kit-Kat. PLUS I highly recommend buying up all the cheap Halloween candy on November 1st.

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Shredder cannot *wait* to get his mitts on those tasty kit-kats.

The Desk of Awesome
If you can, make yourself a base of operations for November. I like my desk to be quivering under the weight of a thousand toys, but you might like a more minimal approach. I dunno. I guess some people like that. Jeez. I found that having a dedicated space to return to for writing sessions made more of an occasion of the whole process, and helped to get my mind into the right head-space.

Share it
Get other people to do it with you. Or, at least tell other people that you’re doing it. Abandoning the project halfway through November is much easier when it’s your secret challenge – if you have friends and family asking you how it’s going, that little flicker of guilt can be enough to get your bum back in the writing seat. And with Nanowrimo the little things count.

Incentivize!
Decide beforehand some landmark word targets, such as 10,000 words, 15,000 words and so on, and treat yourself when you hit them. An hour playing videogames, a special cake, a big glass of booze, or a giant Lego set. Or all of the above.

Get involved with the community
Although I was always more of a lurker than a poster, I spent quite a bit of time on the Nanowrimo forums. It’s comforting to know the struggles other writers are facing, and I was always fascinated to see what other people were writing. It goes without saying that the forums are packed with advice themselves.

Above all, have fun! The spirit of Nanowrimo is wild abandonment, so write whatever you bloody well like, and relish the freedom! FREEEEDOOOOM!!!*

*Wild spelling and outrageous use of exclamation marks are an inevitable side-effect of Nanowrimo.

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Look! Mumm-Ra believes in you!

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