Perhaps you’ve heard of National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, which comes around every November and spurs writers to get busy on that project they’ve been procrastinating. The goal is to write 50,000 words between 12:00 AM Nov 1 and 11:59 PM Nov 30. There are no prizes for having met the 50,000 word goal, other than a web site badge (big whoop). However the feeling of satisfaction from finishing a writing project is worth far more than any monetary award. Here are some tips that will help you begin your NaNoWriMo project well.

  1. Carve out your cave. Writing is a solitary exercise. Alas, we must be alone for the writing. You will have to crawl into a cave to complete this manuscript. What I mean is that you will need to plan a regular time and place to get the writing done. PREPARE your when and where today. Are you going to go to Starbucks every morning from 5:30-6:45 AM? Are you going to write at the library every afternoon from 5:45-6:30 PM? Will you write at the dining room table or in an office at home? Achem, get ready, because there will be interruptions, unless you wake up at 4:00 AM to get it done. And maybe even then. Are you going to write on your lunch hour? Figure out your cave. If you think you will write whenever and wherever, you will write never.
  2. Tell your people about your cave. One month is a minimal time commitment, really, but your family and close friends will still need to know your habits are changing. As soon as you have figured out your cave, tell your people when and where the cave is. Let them know you will not be a cave-dwelling ogre forever. You think I’m kidding. Writing takes focus. I’m sorry, but you will need friends and family to focus with you. It is the truth to say that writing must be done alone, but it cannot be done alone. Let that sink in.
  3. Calculate your cave word count. So many people ask me: “How long does it take to write a book?” This is different for everyone, and is as personal and specific a question as asking how long it takes to get dressed in the morning. I know someone who takes a full two hours to get ready for work. Every morning. She looks beautiful, but honestly, not more beautiful than my other friend, who takes fifteen minutes to go from pajamas to front-door, lip gloss, good-to-go. I know how long it takes ME to write a book. But I do not know how long it takes YOU to write a book. And we should not compare our times. This is not field day. What did you decide about your cave? Did you commit to writing 45 min/5 days per week? Then you must do a dry run. Start a timer for 45 min and then write about your most embarrassing moment, or a time you were scared for your life, or what you would do if you won the lottery. When the timer goes off, STOP! Now do a word count. That is your cave word count. It is the amount you are capable of creating during your cave time on a good day. You won’t feel like writing this much every day in Nov, but you now have your target, anyway.
  4. Program the pace car. You know your cave word count. Let’s say you can write 1,000 words in 45 min. Well, now you must program the pace car. The NaNoWriMo goal is 50,000 words in 30 days. And if you divide 50,000 words by 30 days, then you would have to write 1,667 words each day, if you were going to write every single day. But you have already said your cave was going to be 5 days a week, because you were being realistic. So, there are 21 weekdays in Nov, and to reach 50,000 words, you will have to write 2,380 words each writing session. That’s a mighty fast pace car, and if you can only write 1,000 in 45 min, you are already behind. Can you write two-hours a day/5 days a week instead? It can be done. But you will have to train yourself to do it. OR you will have to decrease your word goal to 25,000. OR you will have to reach the 50,000 word goal by Dec 31 instead of Nov 30. There is no shame in this. You may have knocked yourself out of the NaNoWriMo festivities, but–pssst!–there are no prizes anyway. Look, if you extend your date to Dec 31, then by the end of this year, you will have written a book. It’s a win-win. Actually, it’s a win-win-win-win-win-win.
  5. Read. Writers are readers. Go the library and get five books that are similar to the one you plan to write. Then read like a writer, analyzing each scene. What made it compelling? What did the writer do? How can you do that when you write?
  6. Take notes. If you sit down to a blank screen on Nov 1, and have nothing in your hand, heaven help you. The screen may be blank, but the notebook in your hand should be spilling over. The rules of NaNoWriMo are that the manuscript itself cannot begin before Nov 1, but the notes for the book can be extensive and started much sooner. Plan, plan, plan. You should draw a plot diagram (If you didn’t pay attention to your high school English teacher, then google this). In your notebook, identify the climax of the story before you pen the first word. The writer who doesn’t know where she is going typically goes nowhere important. Let your imagination run wild as you plan! But let it run wild in a spiral notebook, so you won’t forget your ideas. (Start here?)

Good luck this fall! Don’t talk yourself out of writing that book! Sure, there are plenty of books out there, even on topics similar to yours, but those books weren’t written by you, so they are different.

We need your voice. I hope we hear it soon.


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