Camp NaNo. It’s July 24th, and the initial rush and excitement (outlining! Meeting your cabin mates! Transforming a blank document into something magical!) has died down. The honeymoon phase is definitely over, and we’re down to the nitty-gritty–the hard work that reminds us of all the other things we’d rather be doing than slogging through this horrible first draft. But I’m here to tell you something important and something oh-so-true: you CAN finish your project. You CAN win NaNo. You ARE capable of completing your first draft, no matter how awful it may be (and let’s be honest, mine is looking pretty bad right now). However, I understand you might need a couple of tips to get through, so that’s what I’m here for. Minimize your novel document, wipe away your sweat and tears, and settle in to hear how you’re going to kick this thing.
1. If you’re tired, go to sleep.
First, let’s define “tired.” I don’t mean “tired” as in, “I wrote for ten minutes and now I’m stuck; plus, it’s eight PM, so I deserve some Netflix before bed.” No. I mean “tired” as in, “I worked an eight-hour shift today, I have a cold, it’s 10 PM and I can literally barely keep my eyes open.” Be honest with yourself about when you just don’t really wanna write, and when you do physically feel bad. Since I know that I get too sleepy to function around eight PM, I try to write several thousand words earlier in the day. If I’m doing okay in the evening, surprise! Maybe I’ll get in a bonus thousand. But if not, I know I’m good, and I can just rest.
2. Keep it simple.
After a long month of writing, words start to swim on the screen (if they haven’t yet, they will soon–believe me). You’ll probably get sick of your own voice, notice that you keep using the same three phrases over and over and OVER, and find yourself typing “fifty other ways to say ‘said'” into the Pinterest search bar. This is a bad idea on more than one level. First, we ALL know that Pinterest is #1 on the list of all-time worst distractions. But also, sometimes people just need to say stuff. They don’t need to murmur it, or this it, or that it–they just need to say it. Simple can be powerful; fancy language can distract from your story, especially if there’s so much of it that it seems unnecessary. But if you really feel like you need a word other than “said,” you can stick it in later. The first draft isn’t about perfect grammar or sentences that flow well or going back to set up that plot twist that you didn’t know you were going to do–the first draft is about locating the spirit and the magic of your work. The first draft is about making the story come alive. Keep your language simple, and you’ll thank yourself later.
3. When it’s going well, stop.
Some famous author (at the moment, I can’t remember who) once said that if the words are really flowing, then stop writing. It may seem counterintuitive, but it actually makes a whole lot of sense: if you know where you’re going, then the next time you can sit down and pick right back up. But if you write until all your words are used up, they’ll still be used up the next time you go to write.
4. As much as possible, eliminate other writing.
I understand that this tip might not work for everyone, but it’s been invaluable to me: this month, the only writing I’m doing is a) content for the CrossFit company I work for, and b) my NaNo project. I typically mess around with flash fiction pieces, and apply for a bunch of freelance jobs, and enter about ten writing contests–but this month, I’m not. (well except I have applied for a bunch of blogging jobs but I haven’t gotten any of them so yanno) For me, I feel like it’s best to be solely focused on my NaNo project. I need to be able to live in one world at a time in order to bring that world to life in the most vibrant way that I can.
5. Find a real-life writing buddy.
a hermit an introvert and you see no point whatsoever in having a writing buddy–like Michelle here–that’s fine. I get it.
But I’d definitely recommend that, if possible, you at least try having a writing buddy before you completely nix it! A friend who lives in my town is doing NaNo as well, so we met at Panera today to have lunch and then write. It’s fun and productive. If you can’t think of anyone, at least try to find an online friend to do word wars with. Word wars–where you and your buddy both write for a set amount of time and then compare how many words you each got done–really get me laser-focused because I’m so competitive (lol). Try joining the Young Writers Workshop Facebook group, or the Go Teen Writers group–people on there are always asking for word wars. And if you don’t have Facebook, email me! I’ll word war you any day,
because I really want to win.
How’s your NaNo project coming?