If it’s November 1, then that means you might have some Halloween candy to munch on (whether stolen from relatives or a leftover bag of Fun-Size Snickers you couldn’t bear to give away) and a novel to write. November has become known as National Novel Writing Month or NaNoWriMo for those of you in need of a meme. Writers are taking up the challenge of putting down around 50,000 words in a whole month. As if worrying about Christmas holiday shopping and Thanksgiving wasn’t enough!
There’s a whole history to this challenge, which I’m not going to get into. I’ve tried NaNoWriMo before. There are helpful web sites, cheering sections in Twitter, word counters that help chart your progress, even web applications that grant you the peace and serenity of a blank screen to give you the space and opportunity to write. If you’re interested in trying, I certainly applaud you.
Now on to the bad news. A lot of hopeful manuscripts out there fail during this month. That’s a terrible word to use, “fail” (da-da-da-dum!), but it’s the state of mind that usually defeats the soldier, not the task. If we had time, inclination, and the drive, many of us could James Patterson-ourselves to multiple books of a trilogy in a single month. But that’s not the case. We allow ourselves to be interrupted, sidetracked, disturbed and basically doubt ourselves into giving up. I know this because it’s happened to me, and not even during November. I start, I stumble, I stutter and then I stop. Second-guessing myself is an issue and I’m sure it might be for you. But there are other hurdles to consider. The first days, even the first week, can be exhilarating as you slap down a thousand or more words in a writing stint. But then comes the hard part. You have to keep going. You have to trust in yourself as a storyteller.
You can do this, so here are some helpful things to consider after the first day, the first week or even when you’re staring November 30th in the eye and you don’t have anything close to the 50,000 word grand prize at the end.
It’s a Marathon, Not a Sprint
Long distance runners know this all-too well. You give it everything you got in the first few days, thousands of words flow from your fingers like rain from a tropical storm, and then … you’re running on fumes. The Wall–that thing stopping you from writing–is real, so learn to accept it. Pace yourself as you write and plan for the next hump. Sometimes it helps to write a little blurb at the end of your current writing session to cover the next thing you’re going to write about. Learn not to go all in.
Pay No Attention to the Numbers
Websites and helpful little guides tell you that you should be writing x amount in x number of days to hit the 50,000 word mark. Well, duh. Of course you need to hit a number, but that number could be anything. Sometimes you can write a little, sometimes it pours out like a faucet. The most important thing to remember is to NOT CARE ABOUT THE NUMBERS. When it’s done, it’s done. A number is meaningless and you should not let it hang over you like an IRS tax audit.
Go Off The Grid
Yes, I’m guilty of this. Get bored, check a web site. Stumble upon a need to know just how hot a forest fire gets? Jump on to the web. Curious about who’s putting down the moxie on Dancing With The Stars? (Aren’t we all?) Turn on the television and leave it running in the background. None of these things have anything to do with writing and telling your story so … stop it.
See that little wireless icon on your laptop? Click it with your mouse and switch off your Wi-Fi and network connections. Have all these extra windows open to follow your writing statistics and Twitter feed? Shut ’em down. Turn your phone OFF. Not to vibrate or flash a message when you get one. Tell your children they were adopted and they need to seek the assistance of another parental figure, preferably your spouse. Don’t chat on Facebook. Don’t send pictures of yourself writing to your Instagram account.
You’re are Officially Unavailable. You can’t write if you’re distracted.
Don’t Edit … Yet
The pain of writing is the birthing process. You lay down a stream of consciousness or clever dialogue and then you just can’t resist the urge to wordsmith the darn thing. Unless you are adding important additions to the Federal Tax Code or composing the finishing touches to Shakespeare’s Last and Lost Sonnet, there is no need for you to stop and fix something. Words are chains, so it makes little sense to break that chain of thought you put down just because you imagined a line or two going somewhere else. Editing is a different process from writing, so focus on the writing first. Turn editing and revising into another part of your process. Spend time writing, spend your other time editing. And lo, nary let the two intermingle.
Trust Your Craft
There’s this rumor going around that you might actually be a writer. I don’t want to frighten you or anything, but give yourself a moment to think about what you’re doing. You are crafting. Weaving and bobbing. Your story jumps through rings set on fire. Your characters sing, dance, jump from exploding trucks, fall in love, get divorced and wax philosophical. Your villains are evil. Your minions are miniony (I know, it’s not a word, but hey I’m a writer). Yes, you are a writer. Thank yourself for trying to finish a book in a month. Do not fall into the trap of thinking you are not a better writer than that dunderhead who just nailed herself a literary agent and a seven figure deal on her first NaNoWriMo book. You are not that person. You are a writer. Stay off Publishers Weekly. Keep yourself away from the New York Times best seller lists. Like a certain Jedi master might say, “Envy and grumbling leads to the Dark Side … and not finishing.”
Write for yourself. Write just because you can.