Thursday, October 30, 2014

How To Win NaNoWriMo In 12 Easy Steps

So. November is nearly upon is. The NaNoWriMo challenge looms ahead. Or maybe for you it lies ahead, beckoning to you like a wooded path glowing in the autumn light. Either way, it's just about here. Are you ready?

I am not accepting the challenge this year, at least not officially. I have a little middle grade verse novel that I will be working on, but I've already started it, and it would never be so long as 50,000 words. So my plan for November, besides PiBoIdMo, is to make steady progress on my little novel, with my goal being to finish the draft by the end of the month.

BUT! I did NaNoWriMo last year. And I won! So I thought I would share how I did it, in the hopes that it will help you crazy WriMo-ers to accomplish your goal, tackle the beast, cross the finish line, whatever metaphor you like.

So, how did I win NaNoWriMo last year? By following these 12 easy steps:

1. I had an IDEA. More specifically, I had an idea I was excited to write. This might sound like crazy talk, but having an idea you are excited about just might be the best motivation you can ask for.

Got your idea? Okay, move on to step two!

2. I planned ahead. This is important, as you need to have at least some inkling of who your characters are (beyond just their name and goal) and where you want your story to go. So, do an outline if that's your thing. Write a list of characters and their traits/goals/personalities. What I did was jot down a bit about my characters, and then I wrote a little blurb about my story. Kind of like the type of thing you'll find on a jacket flap. I also had to do a little research on the phases of the moon. Do a little planning, or do a lot. But do some!

Now that you have your idea, and you've planned appropriately, you are ready to start writing!

WAIT! Only start writing if it is 12:01 a.m. or later on November 1st. Got it?

Okay, go!

3. I kept a schedule. I wrote at least 3 hours every day M-F, and as often as I could during the weekends. Admittedly, working 3 solid hours of writing into my day wasn't too hard to do, as I do not have a "day job." But as any wife and mother knows, the demands of children, home and hubby can be very time-consuming. Plus, I was directing a Christmas play at church and hosting Thanksgiving dinner and an out-of-town guest. But whatever your schedule is like, if you want to write 50,000 words in November, you have to make time to write. Simple as that.

4. I followed @NaNoWordSprints on Twitter and enthusiastically joined in on the fun and craziness of five or ten or thirty-minute sprint sessions. I highly recommend doing this as a way to keep yourself motivated and have a lot of fun with fellow WriMo-ers. You might be amazed at how many words you can write in 5 minutes of sprinty madness!

5. I did NOT edit. Okay... I resisted editing as much as possible. Editing is a time sucker. RESIST!

6. I kept notes. Because I am not an outliner, one thing I did was keep little notes of what was happening in my story as I progressed. It was kind of an outline-as-you-go idea. Jotting down a line or two of summary at the end of each chapter only takes a moment, and you will thank yourself when revising/editing time comes around.

7. I wrote in the margins. I jotted down thoughts or questions that occurred to me as I wrote. Usually this was because something happened as I was writing that I hadn't seen coming: a new character would appear, or a thought regarding a character's motivation would jump out at me, or a question about an earlier incident would pop into my brain. Other times I had only a general idea of what would happen next, so I summarized it and moved on. I wrote these down in the margins of my composition notebook (or by adding a comment in Word once I moved to the computer) so that they would be there for me when I went back to revise.

8. I wrote out of order. This was probably the hardest thing for me, but in the end, I think it was the biggest reason for my success last year. I wrote down scenes as they came to me, with little regard for where they would happen in the story. This helped me keep my word count growing if I ever felt stuck.

9. I took advantage of dialogue. I wrote a lot of long, boring discussion scenes. If I wasn't quite sure how to proceed, my characters would have long discussions (or sometimes inner monologues) about their current predicament and what to do about it. This not only added to my word count, but also helped me work out some of the story's issues as I progressed.

10. I accepted that my family would be annoyed. I sat at the computer during movie nights. I let my kids fend for themselves on Saturday mornings. I stayed up late. But it was only for one month. And my family was very supportive. My kids are all teenagers, so it wasn't as much of a challenge as it might be for someone with tots. But again, these little changes make a world of difference.

11. I did not allow myself to get discouraged. Remember that out-of-town guest I mentioned before? As if hosting Thanksgiving wasn't enough of a demand on my time, having my cousin visiting from Minnesota was a major drag on my writing. I lost about three days, but I picked up where I left off and kept going! No matter how far behind you get, KEEP GOING.

12. I made a super-human last ditch effort. On November 30, 2013 I found myself about 8,000 words behind. I can't tell you how daunting it was to have those 8,000 words darkening my dreams of NaNoWriMo success. But somehow I managed. I wrote through the day and into the night, and at about 11:45 p.m. on November 30, I surpassed the 50,000 word mark with a final tally of 50,033 words of a brand new, very mess YA fantasy novel.

Okay, so maybe these steps weren't easy. But they worked for me. And maybe they will work for you too!

I wish you the best of luck, crazy WriMo-ers.

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