It’s been years since I was able to participate in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). Basically every month is NaNoWriMo for me, so I’m usually already elbow deep in another project. Not this year! I’ll finally be able to participate again, in the program that got me seriously writing.
Nine years ago, I had only written a few short stories. I typed them on the family computer, usually while everyone was sleeping. I had no idea what I wanted to write. My stories were usually dark horror pieces with no happy endings, or literary vignettes about broken relationships—again, no happy endings. To be honest, I had no idea how to construct a short story. NaNoWriMo got my ass into gear. I wrote my first novel, The Praying Mantis Experiment. It about the Darwin party. There were some good parts (like the crazy old man character I invented to get the cannibalization going), but mostly, it was awful. It’s been erased from this planet—I promise.
It doesn’t matter that The Preying Mantis Experiment sucked, though. What matters is I put my ass in the chair, every day, for 30 days straight—until I had a novel. That was a defining moment for me. I still didn’t know what I wanted to write, but I knew for sure that I would not be able to breathe properly if I couldn’t write novels for the rest of my life.
It’s been a few years since I really participated, though. In the last year, I’ve written a lot of shorter works. Although I just finished writing a novel (The Nanny with the Skull Tattoos), I’m still a bit rusty when it comes to marathon novel-writing. (The worst part is, NaNoWriMo will kick off a five-month stretch of marathon novel writing. More about that in another post, though!) I had to do some brain-racking to help me remember how I survived, and thought I’d share with you.
- Do some preparation. Even if you like pants-ing rather than plotting, get to know your characters a bit. Create profile sheets for them as if they were filling out a dating site. Get more in-depth than just hair and eye color, though. Jot down their fears and goals. Figure out what pisses them off and makes them happy. To take your prep to the next level, decide on a (loose) beginning, middle, and ending to your novel. It can always change later.
- Stock up on your favorite poison. Okay, so you don’t have to drink caffeine. You can stash away a huge supply of hot herbal tea. Maybe you’re like me and drink one cup of coffee in the morning and then guzzle ice water for the rest of the day. Just make sure that you have enough of it on hand.
- Cook some meals ahead of time. If you’re the primary or even secondary food maker, you’ll want to freeze some meals that you can just toss in your Crock Pot or microwave. You can also prep some veggies ahead of time. I have a ton of slow cooker and freeze ahead recipes saved on my Pinterest.
- Have ample snacks on hand. Writing like a beat poet on amphetamines can make a person hungry. Like, violently hungry. It can also zap your blood sugar and send you into a catatonic state where you stare at your screen, unable to remember your name, never mind construct a sentence. Keep your pantry stocked with quick and easy snacks: almonds, clementines, apples, and graham crackers with peanut butter. These are easy to munch on while you keep the words flowing.
- Create a designated quiet writing space. Even if you don’t have your own home office, you can map out public places where it’s safe to write without being disturbed. Some of my favorites are: Starbucks or local indie coffee shops, Panera Bread, the delicious sushi restaurant that also has WiFi, and the Barnes & Noble café (which is technically Starbucks, but I just love my local BN to pieces). If you can’t escape your house and have a bunch of people running around behind the scenes like I do, create a signal to let them know you’re busy and should’t be bugged. Some authors have special writing hats. I just snarl at my husband like a wild animal.
- Find a writing buddy. The best thing about NaNoWriMo is the community. The NaNoWriMo website has forums that help match you up to people in your area who are participating, but you can also commiserate with people online. Another great place to find a buddy is Twitter, using the #NaNoWriMo or #amwriting hashtags. (Speaking of, you can add me on NaNoWriMo and follow me on Twitter. I’m always happy to chat.)
- Make a novel writing warrior playlist. While I’m writing, I like to listen to music that sets the tone for the scene I’m working on. My writing tends to be emotionally-driven, so music helps me a lot. It also helps inspire me when I feel like I just can’t squeeze a single word out. Choose some music ahead of time to help you fly through your writing sessions. You can use free services like Pandora or YouTube to create playlists, or purchase albums and create playlists on iTunes. Some of my favorite music to write to is Lana Del Rey, The Black Keys, and BANKS. For my NaNoWriMo project, I’ll probably be listening to a lot of The Duke Spirit, since my main character is inspired by Liela Moss.
- Keep a progress chart. Yes, the NaNoWriMo website has their own version, but there’s nothing like physically writing in your progress. I used to make charts, but now I incorporate my word count goals into my outlines. (Download a PDF or spreadsheet chart here!) If charts aren’t your thing, you can write your current word count into a journal or on a white board near your work space.
- Create a backup plan for writer’s block. Chuck Wendig says there’s no such thing as writer’s block, and he’s right. (He posted a whole list of things that your writer’s block could be here. It’s a great read!) NaNoWriMo leaves you limited time for freezing, so having an emergency plan can help you get back on track quickly. When I start to feel unmotivated, I write in my journal about my plot problem (or my own bad mood). I’ve even borrowed friends’ ears to work out issues. Doing some quick exercise like going for a walk or doing 15 minutes of yoga can help you unblock, too. Petting and cuddling animals also helps.
- Backup your work. Save like your life depends on it. Email a copy to yourself. Print each chapter as you finish it. These are habits I developed when I was a web designer and spent hours and hours coding web pages and designing graphics. It’s even more important when you’re a writer. There’s nothing worse than putting your heart and soul into your novel, only to have it disappear. It’s happened to me plenty of times, and it can happen to you. For the love of sanity, please backup your novel as much as possible, in multiple ways. You will thank me later.
That’s all I’ve got! What are your survival tips for NaNoWriMo? Is this your first time? Share in the comments below (and don’t forget to include your username so I can add you)!
Speaking of NaNoWriMo, I will be using this time to kickstart the South of Forever novels (ESX spinoff). I’ve decided to blog as I write, and will be posting each chapter as I finish it. (I will, of course, be leaving out some chapters. I’ve got to save some surprises for when it’s released!) Click here to read the blurb for Diving Into Him, the first of 5 novels in the South of Forever series. Stay tuned for Chapter 1, coming at you on November 1st!