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October 21, 2011

Make NaNoWriMo Great

This year marks my eighth year participating in NaNoWriMo and my fifth year as a Municipal Liaison for the St. Louis region of said program. That means that I've written at least 350,000 words in the last seven years, and I plan to add another 50k onto that this year. Maybe more, if I can cudgel a few more ideas out of this brain of mine. So I think I have a pretty good idea of what makes for a good time while you're on your crazy experience with literary abandon.

First, make sure you plan a little bit. You don't have to make a full outline with Roman numerals detailing every movement of your (triply-named) character--that can get boring, fast, since you already know what's going to happen, so why write it?--but you should at least figure out a few details about your world, its magic system (yes, I write fantasy, what of it?), a few names that fit in this world (there are tons of generators out there), and a few plot points you'd like to work into the story. This will give you something other than a blank screen to stare at when midnight rolls around on November 1st, and you'll be glad to get that first 1667 words out of the way. Planning also could span preparing your writing software. Some people are fine with a plain Word document, others (like me) use a program like Scrivener, which is designed for authors. There are lots of features and there is a learning curve, but you don't have to use everything baked into the software. Use only what you need, and try to get used to it before you start plonking out words.

Second, get your butt in a chair (or beanbag, or coffeehouse booth, etc) and write. The words won't show up on their own. Hopefully you've been planning, so you have ideas ready for you when you start writing. If you've run off your outline or your mind map, but still need words for the day, try freewriting (write whatever comes into your head, even if it has nothing to do with your story--keep your fingers moving on that keyboard, no matter what) or look up some writing prompts or even search for inspirational pictures related to your story. Anything to keep the words flowing. Make them up. It doesn't matter if they further your plot for NaNo--quantity over quality here. Quality is for revision time. You can try the virtual writer's dice here if you are absolutely stuck.

Third, and utterly contradicting #2, is to not write all the time. If you force yourself to do something, it will probably make you unhappy. If you force yourself to do something at the expense of something else (like meeting a friend for dinner or seeing that movie you've been waiting for) you will start to dislike the thing you're forcing yourself to do, and it won't be fun anymore. Don't get to that point. Remember, NaNo is not your life. Take breaks. Don't forget to eat or pet the cat. Remind your significant other that you exist outside your writing room. Call your mom. Then get back to writing when you're refreshed.

Fourth: the combination of 2 and 3. Be social with your writing. Come to a write-in or three during November. You might surprise yourself with how much you like them. I know they're not for all people, and that's fine--but it's a very nice thing to realize you need a plot point, and you can just ask the room at large, and one will be found for you. If you don't want to go out, try browsing the NaNo forums (particularly your regional lounge, where there is lots of important information from your MLs! Just sayin') and pose your plot problems there. I've met a bunch of interesting people through NaNoWriMo, and you can too. St. Louis is having a writing marathon on the 20th...

Last, and perhaps most important: do what works for you. Some people can write several thousand words a day without thinking about it. I quite often have trouble just reaching my word count goal, but I've managed to write 50k every year, even when I was faced with a major biochem paper due on November 29. Don't be afraid of the large number. Don't be afraid of failure--just by writing something you have already surpassed the majority of your peers who have only ever talked about writing a novel. You're not crazy; hundreds of thousands of people are doing the same thing you are. Write the best you can; write as much as you can, and call that a win.

See you in November!

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