Writers Assemble!

NaNo-2017-Participant-Badge (1)The hour is nigh! National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) begins in just two days, and JMRL is here to support you in your writing endeavors. Are you thinking of taking on the 50,000-word challenge, or setting your own November writing goal? Here are my favorite last-minute tips and tricks for Wrimos and speed-drafters alike:

Aim for halfway. That 50k can feel like a lot, but the first 25k is the uphill climb. After that you’re coasting downhill toward the finish line. Forget about 50k—commit to hitting 25,000 words in the first two weeks. It will be painful, it will be hard, and you will hate your writing occasionally, but if you can hit 25k, you will have pushed through the worst of it!

Write your first page BEFORE November 1st. You can’t count any words written before November 1st toward the official NaNo 50k goal, but getting the intimidating blank page staring contest over before the real deal starts can be a huge confidence booster. Turn some of that nervous energy you’re feeling into an awesome opening scene.

If nothing else, figure out your premise. Even if you like to fly by the seat of your pants when you write, you can really benefit from having at least some vague points in your head before you start. It’s not plotters vs. pantsers to the death; There’s tons of middle ground between those options, and you can find a balance that’ll keep you motivated and inspired throughout November. If you do nothing else, it can really help to elevate your NaNo plan from a vague idea to a premise. Larry Brooks talks about this in his book Story Physics, and in this Writer’s Digest Article. Here’s an example using The Hunger Games:

  • [Idea]  I want to write a dystopian novel about reality TV
  • [Concept]  (add conflict and tension) I want to write about an annual televised event where poor kids are pitted against other poor kids for sport
  • [Premise]  (add character and themes) A girl named Katniss volunteers for The Hunger Games to save her sister from participating and has to fight to the death against other kids—including a boy from her own district who has always shown her kindness.

Look for that hint of conflict inherent in your basic idea and start questioning it like a toddler who just learned “why?”. And if you want to do a bit more in-depth prep, don’t forget that NaNoWriMo puts out some excellent workbooks through the Young Writer’s Program. The high school one is great for adults, too!

Use placeholders to keep up momentum. You should avoid stopping to research things as much as possible while fast drafting. Don’t know what to call that city? @CITY. Can’t come up with a name for that character? @GUY1. Can’t remember how many bones are in the human body? @RESEARCH LATER. Anything that will break your flow as you write, just throw a placeholder there and move on. Once you’re done with your first draft, you can use the ctrl+F (or cmd+F on a mac) feature to find every single instance of that placeholder in your doc. I always use the @ symbol, since I rarely write fiction that has lots of e-mail addresses in it, but you can use any symbol that doesn’t show up in your story.

Stay in the story between writing sessions. Carry a notebook around and always have those characters cooking in the back of your head while you do other things. When you sit down to write, you’ll be ready to go!

Reward yourself. Set mini goals along the way, and give yourself mini rewards. A cookie every 10k words? An hour of video games each week you make your goal? Whatever motivates you.

The challenge IS doable. Let your draft be rough. Real writing is rewriting. You’ll make it pretty and readable and entertaining later when you revise your novel. For now? Its only job is to exist. Make it exist.

Do you have any NaNoPrep strategies or tips that help you survive NaNoWriMo? Post ’em in the comments! Best of luck to all the wrimos out there. We will be victorious!

For a list of writing resources and related upcoming events at JMRL, see our Writing at JMRL page. See you at the finish line, writers.

About M.K. England

Megan K. England is an author and YA librarian living in the mountainy parts of Virginia. When she’s not writing or librarianing, Megan can be found drowning in fandom, rolling dice at the gaming table, climbing on things in the woods, feeding her video game addiction, or improvising truly terrible songs about her dogs. She loves Star Wars with a desperate, heedless passion. It’s best if you never speak of Sherlock Holmes in her presence. You'll regret it. Her debut YA sci-fi, THE DISASTERS, will be out in Fall 2018 from HarperCollins Children's. Find her online at www.mkengland.com, @GeektasticLib on twitter, and @m.k.england on instagram.

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