In a mad dash to make it to the 11:59, November 30th finish line, writers must use as many underhanded (and overhanded) tactics they can think of to overcome their inner critics and write 50,000 words to earn a place in the hallowed National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) winners’ circle.
But it’s tougher than it looks, and while the whole point of NaNoWriMo is to free yourself from inhibitions and get into a writing routine, there are a few traps new and experienced writers alike risk stumbling into — so arm yourself with knowledge, and avoid these common pitfalls…
1. Planning too much, or too little
Some writers are pantsers (ie. they fly by the seat of…) if this is you, congratulations, NaNoWriMo was created just for you. But if you need an outline to get started, give yourself a brief roadmap.
Be prepared for more ‘experienced’ NaNoWiMo veterans to insist otherwise: maybe friends told you ‘it’s more fun’ if you start with a blank page and no idea.
Well, some people enjoy haunted houses and loud clubs, and for others the idea of clawing around in the dark with no idea where you are or what that furry thing is brushing up against you is a living hell.
That said, don’t deprive yourself of the cosy sense of adventure NaNoWriMo offers — so if you normally sketch out every scene before you write your opening sentence, try working from a one-page synopsis instead.
2. Doing a side project.
Trust me — NaNoWriMo is all you need in November. It shouldn’t be your side project, nor should you write ‘something else’ on the side. To hit your goal, you’ll need to write 1,666 words a day, and for prolific writers this isn’t much (Stephen King reportedly writes 2,000 words a day).
But what about those days when you just can’t help procrastinating, get sick, or have other commitments? Then, you risk not finishing NaNoWriMo at all.
If you need a change of pace, consider complementary procrastination that’s more physical, or ‘mindless’ — knitting a jumper, learning to roller skate, or catching up on boxsets. Why not read a novel in a month, as well as write one?
3. Doing NaNoWriMo in school
I’m conflicted about this one, as I went to university with a bunch of incredibly talented writers who smashed out NaNoWriMo at the same time as assignments — but because I didn’t, and I know they’re the minority, I’m going to downgrade this ‘no-no’ to a ‘beware of’.
School involves a lot of writing, and if you’re constantly switching back and forth between a critique of Hellenistic marble sculpture and your sci-fi vampire fantasy, your brain will get metaphorically fried.
If you’d like to do it anyway, find a bunch of fellow writers for support — or start a NaNoWriMo club!
Schedule a writing routine for your studies and for your novel, so you can easily track your progress for both.
Of course, if you’re studying literature or creative writing, you may be able to persuade your teacher to make NaNoWriMo a part of your course — killing two birds with one stone.
4. Burning out
If you’re constantly checking your progress against someone else’s, staring at a blank page, setting yourself goals of 5,000 words a day or putting pressure on yourself to ‘win’, you’re not doing NaNoWriMo wrong — but you do risk burning out. That’s not fun.
Creative burnout happens when you hate the sight of a project, can’t string another sentence together, or get overwhelmed by fear. Avoid it by upping your creative consumption to match your output: read more widely, watch more good TV, take longer walks, and fuel your ideas.
Don’t attempt more than 2,000 words a day unless you’re in the flow state and enjoying it: afterwards, feel free to take the next day off. Give yourself a little slack: write nonsense, gibberish, change your story halfway through. Just write.
And the last mistake…?
5. Not making mistakes
Yeah, you heard me.
If you strive to make everything about this year’s NaNoWriMo 100% perfect, you’re missing out on the core spirit: uncorking whatever’s prevented the novel inside you seeing the light of day.
Even if your 50,000 words was just ‘practise’ nonsense: you’ve shovelled out a load of the gubbins that was making it impossible for your real work to shine
Whether you start your ‘real’ novel on December 1st or another year down the line, or embark on editing your NaNoWriMo into a publishable piece of work, you’ll have done it — warts and all.
Read this? Read that: