It’s that time of year again! No, I don’t mean autumn — I mean…dun, dun, dun…the approach of NaNo!
I’ll give you a moment to scream into the void.
For those of you who don’t know what NaNo is, grab a pillow.
Okay. For anybody who’s participating, I have laid out 7 types of cake and tea with milk, sugar, honey, and lemon. To everybody else — staring blankly at us and wondering why they aren’t invited to partake of the treats — NaNo is short for National Novel Writing Month, and every year crazy writers dive into it, temporarily abandoning sanity. Every year we wonder why we’re doing this yet again…but we strive to push through, and complete the task.
The goal of this endeavor is to write 50,000 words on one project within 30 days. In theory, you could have most of a whole novel drafted (or an existing draft really whipped into shape) before the month is over. If you write/type at least 1700 words a day, you’ll have it done in approximately 4 weeks.
However… There are theories, and then there’s reality. Hence, cue the screaming.
In reality, you will have the time and opportunity to get down about 856 words before your toddler turns off your computer (yes, that was me), or the sink gets clogged, the delivery guy arrives with new bookmail, a co-worker calls and needs you to cover their shift, or there’s a Marvel marathon on TV.
Do we start November with the best of intentions? Oh, my, yes. Do those intentions get derailed hella fast? OH, MY, YES.
So, why do we do it? Repeatedly?
It’s the writer’s equivalent of climbing Mt. Everest and conquering the behemoth. When we, on November 29th, upload our daily word count with bloodshot eyes and take a cold swig from our 4th cup of coffee, and see the chart shoot up from 48,770 to 50,011, and we realize I’VE DONE IT, this is the biggest rush since the first time we ever finished a project. The elation that rushed through us the very first time we typed “THE END” is replicated. We have clambered onto the summit and planted our flag.
So, how do you survive NaNo, and maybe even finish on top? From my participation in previous NaNos, here are some strategies I’ve acquired from literal blood, sweat, and tears:
Don’t set ridiculous goals. Aim to write about 1500 words a day. If you can’t hit the goal you did set, don’t beat yourself up. If after 2 hours your numbers are somewhere around 1026, rejoice. Many people dream of writing a novel and don’t get any further than the first page of the first chapter. Embrace whatever progress you make.
Don’t be finnicky about quality. This is absolutely a matter of quantity. You can go back and edit later. As a habitual edit-as-I-go writer, this was an extremely difficult notion to wrap my head around. It’s how I’d get down to the last week and still need at least 5,500 words to make the ultimate goal. This year, I have already decided: As long as it at least kind of makes sense and I didn’t do something terribly stupid (like suddenly change a character’s name), I’m going to let it slide.
Take care of yourself. (Or I will hunt you down and force vitamins and vegetarian curry down your throat.) You will get nowhere fast if you’re sleep deprived and not drinking water and putting off eating a rejuvinating, healthy meal. A daily word count of 4438 is incredible…and also potentially deadly. Your family needs you to be around after November. So be good to the physical you, not just the creative you.
Know how you write best. What’s your preferred way to draft? Type? Handwrite? Outline? Pantser it? Whichever is your comfort zone, stay there and make no excuses for not leaving. Outlining is how I kill a previously great concept, so I no longer force myself to play at it. While I do have plenty of little notes on relevant stuff I really should remember for the sake of continuity, and I stick to that, I am not going to spend 2 weeks on a detailed outline I will scrap by November 3rd. And my method works for me. No apologies required. There is no perfect or mandatory way to attempt NaNo.
There are lots of reasons to avoid participation as well. Last year I opted out because there was too much else going on in my life, and I figured I’d make it to the halfway point by Thanksgiving, and was not in the mood to “fail.” Here’s the secret about NaNo, though: If you decide to quit, that’s totally okay. It’s free to enter, and the only loss if you don’t finish is…well, yes, you “wasted” some time and weren’t “successful.” But even that doesn’t measure up against closer examination. The fact you got several thousand words down on a new project, or put in effort on revising something that was giving you grief, is a success, and was worth it. Don’t toss that aside just because you didn’t “win.”
Because here’s the unfortunate truth about NaNo: Our prizes are not actual gifts or currency. The reward is mostly the satisfaction, and the street cred, of scaling the summit. Which is part of why many opt out; and I get that, too. There’s also no shame in deciding to NaNO.
And don’t for one second underestimate the importance of having a support network. When you sign up on the official NaNoWriMo website and create your profile, you can make buddy requests. Do that. Find out which of your friends are also torturing themselves — ahem, diving in, and build that buddy list with familiar faces. When it’s November 15th and you’re starting to wonder if you can make it, your friends will cheer you on. There were instances I almost threw in the towel somewhere around 35,000 words, but really would’ve kicked myself later for it, and getting the flood of support on social media did rev up the remaining creative juices.
But true friends will also congratulate you on what level you reached before you quit, if you announce you’re done. And there won’t be berating or yelling; only stuffed animals and copious cups of tea and biscotti.
And there is always next year. Or 2023.
Remember, there is no perfect way to NaNo.