NaNoWriMo: Are We Done Yet?

Wednesday, November 13, 2019
So we’re close to the midpoint of November and that means—for those of you participating in NaNoWriMo—that you’re about halfway along in your journey, assuming you haven’t pulled out your hair and run screaming from your laptops. But I feel like I need to lay a little truth on you: if you’re reading this, I suspect you might already be in the weeds.

Because the diligent-and-on-track NaNoWriMo participant doesn’t have time for reading blog posts or much of any other shenanigans…like eating or sleeping. The writer who’s got around 25,000 words is rather smugly humming along and we kind of despise her (or him).

But it’s not too late for you to become smug and detestable yourself. I’ve got a few tips to get you back on track and though you may not finish with the Great American Novel ready for submission, you WILL finish with…well, something. (Your lost hair is on you.)

Tip One: Make a Plan

Yes, I know, you’re a pantser. You don’t plan, you just write, write, write and it’s all whiskers on kittens and kisses on mittens or whatever. Until it’s mid-November and suddenly it’s Nightmare on NaNo Street because you have pantsed your way to 5,347 words.

Uh-oh. MAKE A PLAN. Take a look at the number of days you have left (18) and consider realistically the number of days you will write. That means, friends, that if you haven’t written on Saturday yet, don’t count Saturdays, okay? Next, assign a goal to each day you will write. But you cannot give yourself two days off in a row. And that’s not because I’m being a meany-pants; I have a very good reason for this part of the plan.

I know this requires a bit of math and figuring so I’ll give you a few minutes to make a plan. And no, you cannot wait till tomorrow.

Tip Two: Do Not Backtrack

When I am working on a manuscript, even a first draft, I will write, write, write. And then the next time that I go to the manuscript, I will go back and read what I wrote, wrote, wrote. Sometimes, I’ll dump it all and start fresh. Sometimes, I should have dumped it all but I edit, trying to make it nice. The point is, I edit as I go.

If you’re doing NaNoWriMo, going back over what you’ve written is the kiss of manuscript death. There is no time for editing or finding your voice; there’s not even time to fix some egregious grammar mistake (and seriously, I shuddered just writing that last bit). Just plow ahead with writing no matter what. But—and here’s a big but—that’s easier to do if you write every day.

Writing every day, even if it’s just 500 words, keeps your mind entrenched in the manuscript as well as your butt in the chair. And once there, you’ll probably write more because you’re doing off-to-the-races writing! So if you want to revise that plan you made (the one where you skipped writing on Saturdays), I’ll wait.

Tip Three: Accept Imperfection

Now you have a plan that may or may not mean you have to write 2, 471 words per day for the next 18 days. You have vowed that when you sit down to write, you will not, under penalty of manuscript death, look at any words you have written before but will have at it, mid-sentence if need be. But come November 30th, you must face that what you have written—and really, with no editing what can you expect?--could be a pile of steaming word mush (to put it politely). But that’s okay. Because you’ll be done with NaNoWriMo and you’ll have a 50,000-ish word manuscript-ish.

We shall talk about revision tips on January 1st.

~Cathy C. Hall


Sioux Roslawski said...

Cathy--Your post made me chuckle over my first NaNo. That year, I did not use a single contraction. I needed every word I could get. I knew it would sound incredibly stilted and awkward, and I knew I would have to go back and change almost every one into contractions, but in November, I didn't care. I just wanted to make it to the 50,000-word mark.

Which I did. It ended up being an incredibly stinky draft, but it got done, and it's never going to see the light of day. ;)

Your suggestions/advice are spot on. I'm not doing NaNoWriMo this year, but I wish everyone luck who is doing it.

Diane Martin said...

I LOVED this post! I've "won" NaNo several times but have also failed the past couple of years. I'm participating again this year but haven't written anything in 6 whole days. Ugh. You're absolutely right, though -- Writing every day keeps the story in your mind. I'm going to get back to my project today but am going to have to reread my notes to see where I want this baby to go.

Thanks for the morning chuckle!

Cathy C. Hall said...

I'm glad y'all had a few chuckles! It's hard, writing 50,000 words so we need a little laughter break now and then.

Not that I'M doing NaNo, but you know, the rest of y'all. Now get back to writing!!:-)

Madeline Mora-Summonte said...

Okay, "Nightmare on NaNo Street" made me laugh out loud - love it! :)

Linda O'Connell said...

"Nightmare on NaNo street...funny stuff! I have never participated in NaNo. I have enough pressure. LOL Wish all those well who do.

Evelyn Krieger said...

Although I'm not participating in NaNo, I am in the midst of finishing the first draft of a middle-grade novel. I find the inspiration and tips on NaNo helpful to this process--year round. Your practice of "never looking back" in writing the first draft is interesting and one I've certainly heard advocated. I don't think there is any one best way, though. Each strategy has pros and cons. It makes a lot of sense to get a draft quickly. I find that the chaos makes me too uncomfortable. I'm taking the middle road by rereading what I've written the previous session and editing that slightly. When I'm feeling stuck, discouraged, or disengaged, I may go back and read several chapters for motivation. Along the way, I may end up revising. I have to watch myself, though. I've cut out a lot of polished but unnecessary paragraphs.

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