10 Top Tips for National Novel Writing Month

It is said that everyone has a novel in them, but if you have always wanted to write one, but never had the time, or if you’ve started novels, but never finished them, then perhaps you should sign up to National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). It takes place in November and is an annual event where participants commit to writing a 50,000-word novel between November 1-30. It has to be a novel, not a play, or poem (or even the sentence “I can’t do this”, typed over and over again).

Starting at midnight (local time) on November 1st, writers can draft a new novel or re-write an old one, although you cannot continue a work-in-progress. Planning and outlining beforehand are, however, allowed.

“Start telling the stories that only you can tell, because there’ll always be better writers than you and there’ll always be smarter writers than you. There will always be people who are much better at doing this or doing that – but you are the only you.” – Neil Gaiman

There are no prizes. You ‘win’ by completing the challenge of writing a 50,000-word novel in 30 days. This means you’ll need to write an average of 1,667 words per day. You can sign up at NaNoWriMo website  and upload your completed novel there to verify your word count.

It seems like a daunting task, but here are 10 tips to make the whole challenge a little less intimidating.

1.LOVE the book you’re writing. Write the book or story that you really want to write, rather than one that you think would be commercial, or that you should write.

2. Work backwards. Plan only the ending of your story first and start writing. Once you have reached the end, you can go back and rework the novel, putting in elements that relate to the ending, ensuring that you reach it seamlessly.

3. Try writing for just a number of short periods a day. Surprisingly, two 15-minute bursts of writing every day may be enough. Even if you are not producing enough words initially, you will start to write more and more, and hopefully catch up.

4. Really know your characters. Know them better than your partner, your child, or your best friend. Give them a challenge, understand their character’s motivations and think how they will react to given situations. Ask yourself what would cause them the most conflict. See where your characters take you; you may have an outline, but your characters may take you off on an unexpected tangent. Let them.

5. Don’t expect your writing or novel to be perfect.  You won’t have every plot detail, or character motivation before you even begin. You can even think of the novel’s first draft as a way of gathering material and collecting as many ideas together as possible that can be then used later as part of your masterpiece.

6. ‘Build’ the world of your novel. Plan its backstory, geography, infrastructure and culture to ensure a tight internal continuity.

7. Try to distil the premise of your story into one sentence, defining the protagonist and his or her journey. Or you can just plot the most important scenes, even if you don’t know what happens between them, it still means you will have a roadmap to work with.

8. Don’t try to Edit as you write. Get everything down first, letting the words and ideas flow. Remember, this is not the finished novel; it is just the first draft.

9. Set aside a certain amount of time every day, whether it’s half an hour, or two hours, to write. Write at the same time every day, if having the routine makes it more likely that you will do the writing. 

10. If you suffer the dreaded writer’s block then stop writing the part you are writing and write something else. A different chapter, something that was not going to happen for another four chapters. Anything. Just make a note of what you were trying to do at that point you got stuck and you can go back and finish it later.

Bonus Tip – Don’t be too hard on yourself if you can’t write. There will be delays, things will interrupt you; you will just be simply too tired. Accept these times, because they will just happen. Carry on again when you can.

NaNoWriMo can be a lot of fun and it can help you with your writing ambitions. It isn’t easy, but it can be incredibly rewarding and even if you don’t quite get to the magic 50, 000 words, you are still left with much more experience and the start (or even the start and middle) of a novel that you can continue on with after the challenge is over.

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