The good thing about failing the challenge twice is that you soon understand what not to do. Nanowrimo by merit of its peculiar structure makes certain things which would normally be okay hard to do or even drawbacks, especially for the first-time participant. Here’s a list of things that may help you as you burn down and go for the goal of getting 50,000 words written in a single month.
1. Be Modest in Your Novel’s Scope.
As of today, you have twenty-three days to research, plot, and prep your novel. Unless you already have a large outline and bunch of research for a project you’ve never actually committed a single fictional word to paper, chances are you are going to be trying to write from a hazy or undefined idea. While this is for fun, and you can plan as little or as much as you like, this tiny lead up time will affect the shape of your novel. It means you don’t have the luxury for many things, like intensive research, or that intricate plotting needs to be done very quickly if at all.
In practical terms, let’s say you love Game of Thrones, and you have always wanted to write an epic fantasy. By all means, it’s a wonderful idea, but keep in mind that a complex book like GoT that deals with tons of characters and incidents is not easy for even professional authors to write. It can often take years between installments. Trying to reach that level of complexity, especially as a first-time or budding author can be hard to impossible in the timeframe given.
Think about a less epic story, focused on fewer characters and modest situations. Even if you write epics just for fun, the more streamlined your novel’s reach is, the less issues you’ll have during crunch time, and the more effective your dwindling planning time will be.
2. Shorter is Better.
We’re used to doorbusters as readers. Reading 600-700 page books that only tackle one part of a complex series is very common, and like the example above, people love to read them. But even apart from Nanowrimo time constraints, shorter novels are often much better works. And of course, easier to write in that fast of a time frame.
Look at this way. Let’s say I plot my book out, and a rough idea of the word count would end up at 90,000 words. This is because I have a lot of events and chapters, and I am not James Patterson, who thinks 250 words a chapter is a readable book. That’s 3,000 words a day. Not so bad, right?
Here’s the thing though. You miss one day, you now have to make up 6,000 words. If for some reason you can only write 2k that day (being sick, the thanksgiving holiday, etc…) the next day you need to write 7k. The more words, the harder it gets when you miss or underperform.
A 60k word novel is only 2,000 words a day, and that writing rate is a realistic goal for many people to achieve. It’s easier to reach daily targets, and in case of a crisis, you can still dig down and reach your goal with hard effort. Think of this like a marathon-if you challenge yourself to reach too hard of a speed, you’ll burn out. Slow, steady, and constant wins.
One last plus is that shorter novels make you a better writer. The dirty secret of our age is that doorstoppers tend to breed lazy authors with no sense of precision or economy in their work, and many of the best works in the English language are short ones, like “A Wizard of Earthsea” or “Animal Farm.” Don’t despise shorter word counts.
3. Choose Your Idea and Stick to it.
You want to fail Nanowrimo, get tired of your book and shelf it for another one during November. In the above example, I talked about how high word limits make missing a single day hard or even impossible to recover from. A week, as well as planning on the fly? Good luck.
Even if you lose your way, or lose ambition, stick with the original idea. The goal is to push your limits to deliver a complete, written first draft at the end of November. Think like a writer, and remember you can edit it after or even shelve it if you don’t like it. But you must finish first.
4. Be Social.
Nanowrimo maintains forums to talk with others, and forums to get advice on concepts, bounce plot ideas off others, ask for help with research, or just to talk about things. They also list face to face meetings where local Nanowrimo people can write together in cafes or bookstores. This social aspect is a lot of fun, and also helps you. You aren’t in this alone, and you need all the encouragement you can get.
You can also make friends from it, and the whole atmosphere of the challenge is about connection and the communal aspects of writing. Be sure to use all the features and resources of the site!
5. Don’t be Market-Minded!
You aren’t doing this to write the great American novel. The time limit is a device for you to grow as a writer, either by finally getting off your butt and writing a complete book, or using time pressure to come up with works your normal schedule would never allow you to. Don’t come into this thinking you are going to write the next Harry Potter, or sell your novel to a big publishing house from it.
You’re writing a first draft, and it’s going to be ugly. You are going to encounter serious doubt about your abilities, and if you set those kinds of standards, you are going to look at your work in progress and see nothing but fail. But all those published works go through round after round of self-editing before they even see a publishing contract, and then more rounds under the imprint’s editor. The first draft is just the beginning steps of the novel, and a lot of the real work is in editing.
If you accept this, it helps. A common thread through these tips is not to set the bar too high for yourself to the point of making the challenge harder. Relax, accept your weakness, and you’ll really be surprised at what you can do when you are in the middle of the challenge.
I hope these tips help you. Remember, this is for fun, too. Reading these I come across as very serious, but the goal is to get you into a good flow state where you make your writing targets each day, and there’s less worry and more joy at the creation of a work. It’s very much like running or exercise-good habits and realistic goals make exercising easier on you and more productive. Keep that in mind, and you’ll have your first draft done at the end of November, and can celebrate.