It’s that time of year again when NaNoWriMo approaches, looming on the horizon like a Grim Reaper for your social life. Back in 2015 I wrote some ‘helpful advice’ that mostly involved things like hooking yourself up to an IV drip of coffee and learning how to live without human interaction, but there were a few useful tidbits in there. This year I’m older and wiser (ha!) and so I thought I’d compound my infinite wisdom into something that might actually be useful.
So here are my top tips for prepping for the coming storm, otherwise known as National Novel Writing Month or, more affectionately, Hell Month.
- Get familiar with your writing patterns. Are you more productive first thing in the morning, or last thing at night? Do you like writing in a coffee shop or holed up in your room? In a group or by yourself? Knowing your patterns means you can carve out your writing time when it suits you and you won’t have to struggle to make yourself write. Your NaNo experience will be a lot less stressful if you know your rhythms, and you’re more likely to hit that sweet 50k.
- Find your mental writing space. It doesn’t matter where you write; what’s important is that you’re in the right headspace to comfortably concentrate and be creative. Stick in some headphones and listen to that album that always pumps you up. Find an ambient soundscape to help you relax (I really like the Hogwarts common room ones you can find on this site). Sit properly at a desk, or in your favourite comfy chair, or wherever you like as long as you’re comfortable. Half the battle with writing is getting yourself to a place where your creativity can flourish.
- Plan in the way that works best for you. Of course, that could mean absolutely no planning at all, or a colour coded binder detailing every scene from beginning to end. Personally, I like character sheets like this one I posted back in 2015, and then I write a few sentences to a paragraph on the basic outline for the story. There is no right way to plan; the way that’s most helpful to you is the right way.
- Get connected with like-minded people. My first experience of NaNo was one of the most wonderously bizzare scenarios possible: a group of stressed out, sleep deprived writers all sat in a public space typing furiously while surrounded by an assortment of fruit (was the fruit as an identifier at the first meet-up just a South Yorkshire thing or is it international? I took a melon and named her Barbara.). If that sounds like your cup of tea, get on your Home Region page to find events organized in your area. If not, get on there anyway! It’s nice to know there are other people just as crazy as you, even if as far as you’re concerned they look like the anime character in their avatar. Then there are the forums that are an amazing resource even outside of November, offering everything from opening lines to adopt to advice on closing plot holes to general encouragement. There’s something for everyone in there, even people who don’t want to venture out of their caves and interact with real human beings.
- Aziz Ansari says it best:
Set realistic goals and reward yourself for reaching them. I like chocolate every 1000 words – other varieties of treat are available. Whether it’s an episode of your favourite show once you’ve reached your daily word goal or popping that prosecco when you hit the big 5k (drink responsibly kids!), finding something to keep you tapping away at the keyboard can be a lifesaver when motivation is low.
- Enjoy the NaNo experience. Yes, NaNo can be stressful and okay, you might cry occasionally, but if you’re not enjoying yourself then why are you doing it? The NaNo experience is a wild ride of creative buzz and caffeine haze, and it’s so much fun. Embrace the crazy, and at the end of it you’ll have something that may not be great, but will have so much potential.