Nanowrimo Boot Camp – a quick and dirty guide to surviving national novel writing month for lazy writers

Posted: November 1, 2011 in graffiti living

my nanowrimo writing set-up

It’s nanowrimo again – the time of the year when all common sense goes out of the window and you try to write a novel in a month. Just for kicks. Nanowrimo is great fun and I’ve completed it successfully several times now. There’s a method that I tend to use that I’ve refined over the years, but it isn’t for the squeamish. Life is hectic at the moment, so I sure as hell won’t be blogging much throughout November – and if you are serious about completing nanowrimo then you probably shouldn’t be reading this. But for what it’s worth, this is what works for me. Here are some quick tips and dirty tricks to help get you through the month.

Do the Math
50,000 words in a month. That’s only 1667 words per day – you can do that in an hour if you leave your inner editor at the door. You’re not “writing a novel”, you’re writing 50,000 words. Don’t panic at the thought of writing so much in a month, break it down into manageable chunks. You only need to write 1667 words per day, and they don’t even need to be very good words. A great novel is something written by Dostoevsky. A nanowrimo novel is just 50,000 words. THAT’S ALL.

Are you a Tortoise or a Bunny?
Slow and steady wins the race, but hard and fast is also fun. Best not get hung up about this. You’re writing a novel, not having an orgasm. Aim to write 2,000 words per day as quickly as you can. If you want to polish and refine them throughout the day, knock yourself out. But once you’ve got your words done for the day, you’re clear. How you go about it and what you do afterwards is upto you.

Think Slowly, Type Quickly
Set your watch. Try to write 2,000+ words in an hour without stopping. It’s the most fun you can have in an hour – short of drugs or fucking. Sit down and knock them out so fast that you don’t have time to think, edit, or in any way fuss over what you’re writing. Don’t stop until your time is up. Spend rest of the day scribbling notes and getting ready for your next session. If it takes you most of the day to break the 2,000+ words barrier, you’re not typing fast enough.

Want to Increase Your Word Count? Lower Your Standards!
If you throw enough shit against the wall, some of it’s going to stick. These are words to live by if you’re a writer. Or a monkey. And you have shit. Don’t press delete until December. If you write it wrong, just write it right next time. Pile them up. ‘Don’t get it right, get it written.’ No-one has to read your novel. Not even you. Take chances. Do something random. It’s ok to be crazy, absurd, and fun – but screw literature. Don’t get hung up on plot. You’re just making a fix-up novel out of bits and pieces. You don’t even have to write them in the right order. Grab your story by the throat. Write whatever scares or excites you the most. Any time you think “I couldn’t possibly say that” – put it in. Keep your eye on the prize. You get across a pebbled beach fastest if you focus on the sea as you run; not by worrying about your poor feet.

‘Take Out’ Your Inner Editor
Your mind is going to come up with a billion different excuses about why you should stop writing, and even more seductive things you could be doing instead. Whatever it says, it is completely full of shit. Ignore it. Write anyway. If your inner editor gets in the way, write down what it says. Turn it into a character with a high squeaky voice and pink fluffy ears. Shoot it in the head. LAUGH! Or, you could always take it out to dinner – seduce it with the promise of a December spent red pen in hand, redrafting, rewriting, and demolishing your novel.

Do Your Time Like a Good Peon
If one day in a fit of madness you write 20,000 words – that’s great, but the very next day, you go back to writing 2,000 words again. No days off. If you don’t have an hour, do it in 15 minute chunks. But at the very least put in the same amount of time every day. Tell yourself whatever lies are necessary to keep your butt in the chair and keep you writing.

Don’t Obsess About What Pen You Should Use
Use whatever writing tools are to hand, or whatever you already like and are used to working with. For me, I just need three things: Tea, a notebook, and my Alphasmart NEO. Now, if you don’t know why tea is important, don’t even talk to me. My preferred notebook is whatever is cheap and happens to be lying around. Although I type up my novel, I always keep a pen and paper to hand. And for some reason, I always write in red pen, but that’s another story. Last but not least, it always helps to word process your novel, and my trusty NEO will always be my preferred place to knock out a shitty first draft.

You Can’t Edit A Blank Page
The notebook is your friend. Write down all your surface anxiety into the notebook; all the mad stuff that doesn’t belong in the novel but will otherwise crowd your head. Also include any ideas for future scenes, lines of dialogue, botched first attempts etc – anything that may well belong in the novel at some point, but gets in the way of what you need to write right now. That way you’ve already overcome the blank page before you sit down to write. You can then go over these mad scribblings later and use them as a starting point for your next timed writing session.

Malfunction! Need Input!
Not sure what to write? Allow random input to decide. Write down your dreams, shuffle some oblique strategies cards, roll some dice, or pull in people and events from the world around you. Whatever comes up – just trust it and go with it. I often listen to music that reminds me of my characters, sometimes to the point of obsession over a particular song. But I’ve found it’s best to write in silence. It’s hard for your muse to whisper in your ear if you’ve got headphones on. The only input that consistently stops me in my tracks is the bright shiny cat toy they call the internet. Write offline. You can always get your virtual hugs later. Social media sites and the nanowrimo forums can be fun places to hang out with your friends and fellow participants, but only after you’ve written.

Back Up Your Work
I know you’re all smart enough to do this already. But, writing 25,000 words in 24 hours isn’t fun. Trust me, I’ve been there! Backup to the point of paranoia and madness. I backup my Aplhasmart using Alphasync to several places including Dropbox, which makes it available to me pretty much everywhere else that I need it. It also helps to keep a separate master document – basically just a text file into which you pour your novel bit by bit as you are done with it. This is the final thing that you submit to nanowrimo to verify your final wordcount. Just don’t rely on any one back up to get you through. And besides, failing to back up when some smug ass has already told you to is even less fun than rewriting.

Back Up Your Sense of Humour
Check that your funny fuse hasn’t been removed. Some people forget that nanowrimo is supposed to be fun. Enjoy it! Give your nanowrimo novel an unfeasibly long title – one that makes you laugh and keeps you going. I once called mine ‘Fuck You Inner Editor!’ Any snob (including your inner editor) who disapproves of nanowrimo because it encourages shitty writing with no literary merit, you are allowed to bludgeon to death with your 50,000 words. But only after you’ve verified your wordcount. Anything that gets people writing has got to be a good thing. The process is what’s important, and you’ll learn a lot from it that will help you with your writing. Who cares if the end product is a bit shitty; it’s just compost. You can look through it for green shoots in December. Who knows, it may hold the start of something wonderful.


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