Seated on my perch (excuse the bird puns) at home, I am nervously preparing for Nanowrimo next month. It’s a tough gig. But actually I’m excited because I believe it is a great way for me to get myself over my self-editing humps and hurdles.
For those of you considering whether or not to sign up, here are ten basic steps I’d recommend if you are interested in putting yourself through Nanowrimo’s paces:
1. If you are not already familiar with Nanowrimo, read up on it. It is quite a commitment – 50,000 words in 30 days – a bit like putting yourself in a writers’ bootcamp. That may seem daunting, but from what I have ascertained there have been many success stories and everyone has a different (and equally valid) approach. Many people use the Nanowrimo experience as a commitment to really focus on their writing and simply write more – that does not necessarily mean 50,000 words. There’s no harm in giving yourself a lower word count goal. I’ve done Nanowrimo once and completed it successfully, but last year I fell off the wagon after about 4 days. No-one shot me. No-one even gave me my marching orders. And I did jump back on the wagon as soon as I’d had a chance to catch my breath. What’s more I completed my manuscript. Sometimes life just gets in the way. Set yourself goals but don’t crucify yourself in order to achieve them.
2. Sign up and complete your author profile. This simple admin process somehow makes you feel more committed and you can feel the project starting to take shape and you familiarise yourself with the website, its forums, free classes and resources.
3. Find yourself some writing buddies. It might be that you have local writing friends who you can persuade to sign up with you or you may find new writing buddies through the forums. Unfortunately Nanowrimo machinery does not seem to make this process particularly easy. I’ve found the easiest way to do it is to go to your author profile, click in the url bar and copy your page url, then send this to those people who you’d like to be your buddies. It makes the whole process of finding writing buddies and your ‘writing flock’ so much easier.
4. Announce your novel. Give it a title. It doesn’t matter if this changes, but it is part of the commitment. You can even go so far as to enter the 30 covers in 30 days competition and see if you can get a free cover design. Having said that, if you want to keep your aspirations completely private and not tell anyone, then why the hell not …
5. As far as possible plot your manuscript in advance so that you have a clear road ahead of you. I’m a big Scrivener fan, so I also like to put a framework place on Scrivener to keep it clear in my head. I find that often writing is about having a clear head and clear thinking.
6. For the same reasons as above – clarity – I also try to have a well-formed idea of my main characters and settings as possible in advance. So I do my research, write up character profiles, find photographs and import them into my Scrivener manuscript. If you have some flesh on the bones, it is easier to start the writing sprint.
7. Use the Nanowrimo resources. There seem to be local writing Nanowrimo groups and forums popping up the world over to support you in your endeavours. There are now free Nanowrimo classes you can sign up to as well. Unfortunately for me, I never quite seem to be able to join the webinars because the timings are not always convenient, however I’m hoping they will record them. What I’ve found useful and insightful are some of the brilliant Pep talks. Nanowrimo keeps an archive of previous ones so do check them out. It’s good to do this in advance so there is no excuse for distraction during the days when you are actually meant to be writing. For me, I like to do all this so I can feel the writing buzz, the excitement of the challenge, starting to thrum in my veins. To some extent the few days before Nanowrimo are like being a horse in the stalls, waiting for the gates to be opened.
8. Be prepared and look after yourself. If at all possible have an idea the night before of what you are going to write the next day. Let ideas percolate in your sleep. Wake up (hopefully) raring to go. There is nothing more mind-fogging than getting to your desk and realising you haven’t a clue what you are going to write that day. Eat well. Drink water. Stretch and take exercise. Be kind to yourself. (To be honest, if I’m on a roll, I often fail to do any of these!)
9. Allow yourself to write drivel and keep your focus on the end goal. Hemingway was no doubt being Earnest when he wrote, ‘The first draft of anything is shit.’ Write shit. 50,000 words of shit if needs be. Do not let yourself self-edit or you will get waylaid.
10. If you fall off the wagon it does not matter one jot of the pen. Get up and brush yourself down. If you can, clamber back onto the wagon, but not if you are feeling too bruised and battered. There is always next year and there are many ways to write a novel – Nanowrimo does not suit everyone. DO NOT BEAT YOURSELF UP! Life is too short and us writers have to learn to be a little nicer to ourselves and enjoy the process, otherwise what the hell are you doing it all for!
Good luck! Write happily! I’d love to hear how you go.