Some tips for new WriMos

nanowrimo - day 7 goal
Image by Paloetic via Flickr

I was browsing my Middle East Regional forum over at the NaNoWriMo website today and found a post thread that I imagine is showing up on everyone’s discussion forums: tips for first-time WriMos (a “WriMo” is someone participating in NaNoWriMo, though to be honest, I’m not a fan of the term).

The first question, unsurprisingly, was how to even make it to 50,000 by the end of the month. Most of the responses amounted to the easy (and good) advice to aim high: The daily average word count works out to 1,667 words, so if we all aim for 2,000 words a day, we’ll be well ahead of the game in no time.

But my regional moderator, “Brian C,” offered a few more detailed tips, and then I added my own thoughts on the end of it. What follows is Brian’s advice, and then my own:

Brian C’s advice:

  1. Don’t limit yourself to writing linearly. In other words you don’t have to write Chapter 1 first and Chapter 21 last. I usually make a list of scenes and then write whatever floats my boat on a particular day. If I feel dry on something I stop writing and look for a different scene that I feel more in tune with that day. Unless it’s clear in my head, I usually write my first chapter last. You can always rearrange everything into the correct order later (as long as you have named your files well). Of course tracking wordcount can be tricky this way, but I usually use a separate file for every day and every scene and or subscene that I write.
  2. If you miss a day or fall below your wordcount goal don’t get down on yourself and think, “Ahhh — how am I ever going to finish this now?” Just pick yourself up and start typing. A little bit of wordcount is better than no wordcount. (Closely related advice never, never, NEVER erase anything. Who cares if it is the most boring, stilted, stupid prose in the history of writing. Keep it and move on. Erase it December 1st!
  3. Related to #2. My first year I got sick and had some big issues at work and didn’t write for almost an entire week. I still came back and finished with over 54,000 words! Nothing is impossible!

And now, my comments:

As Brian C wrote elsewhere, the two things that helped me most last year were forcing myself to write constantly, regardless of quality, and coming up with a kind of outline or checklist — a model to go back to if I ever felt stuck.

These ideas seem antithetical — on the one hand, you’re writing freeform, wildly pounding out whatever pops into your head; yet on the other hand you’re planning and plotting and organizing and doing anything BUT write. But I found that the two opposites fed each other. If I woke up in the morning and couldn’t seem to pick up where I left off, I’d work on the outline for a while. You tinker with words and images and scenes long enough, sooner or later something’s going to grab your attention enough that you write a sentence, or a paragraph, or a whole scene, and once that happens you’re off and running. (Another great tip from Brian: Don’t feel trapped in linear writing. Feel free to skip ahead and write something at the end of the outline and fill in the rest later.)

Alternatively, if I wake up with the words already pouring, I can easily knock out several hundred words right out of bed, but then things might dwindle and I’m stuck with less than half my daily word count. Here, too, I return to the outline and tinker with the more basic elements of the story.

Another tip: Don’t be afraid of character sketches or scene descriptions. Not everything you write each day has to be a direct part of your novel. You might spend the first few days just writing out character descriptions and backgrounds, and because these will eventually make it into your novel in one way or another, I say they should count toward your daily word count. Likewise, you might spend some downtime trying out scenes, little bits of story that might not be related to what you started out writing but can come into the novel later. If they find their way into the story down the road, then those, too, will count toward the daily word count.

The beauty and joy of NaNoWriMo is that it allows us — or forces us — to write without rules, which means that as long as you’re writing and staying at least vaguely within the realm of your novel idea, you should be able to pound out 50,000 words by the end of the month.

Good luck to everyone participating this year! And if I come across any other good tips, I’ll post them here in the blog.

For more on my NaNoWriMo experience this year, visit my NaNoWriMo page here on my website, or check out my NaNoWriMo profile.

Published by Samuel Snoek-Brown

I write fiction and teach college writing and literature. I'm the author of the story collection There Is No Other Way to Worship Them, the novel Hagridden, and the flash fiction chapbooks Box Cutters and Where There Is Ruin.

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