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NaNoWriMo is here!  We’ve already discussed one way to get yourself started (with an outline – see Adrienne Spangler’s great post here) and now the question becomes: how to make it through?   Remember, every great novel was, at one point, a first draft.   A rough first draft.  From Twilight to Beloved to Anna Karenina.  And a first draft is what you want by midnight, November 30th.   But how to make it happen?

Here are some tips that I’ve found useful in helping me write under duress – that is, to write when I had to write – not necessarily for Nano, but because I had to pick up my son from school in an hour, or I had a work deadline the next day, or it was already 11 pm and I wanted to go to sleep.  Hopefully the suggestions below can help you through NaNoWriMo, or the completion of any first draft.

1) Don’t be precious.  Sure, everyone would love a regular writing routine that includes a desk with a view, a few hours of peace and quiet, good light and maid service, but the real world usually intervenes.  If you have a job, kids, friends, a life, it’s usually difficult to ensure the perfect writing environment for extended periods of time.  To keep up your daily/weekly word count, it’s important to use the time you have.  Carry your laptop with you, bring a notebook and pen, write on your (public transport) commute, waiting in the doctor’s office, before your kids wake up, after they go to bed.  Carry earplugs around if you don’t like noise; have a snack on hand if typing makes you hungry.  Don’t use the too-noisy, not-enough-time excuses.  Just write.  Fifty thousand words happens one word at a time.

2) Don’t edit.  This is an obvious one.  But it’s hard.  For just this one month, don’t let your perfectionist, type-A tendencies get the better of you.   And this means… don’t read what you’ve written!  Okay, read enough to remember where you stopped in your story, but don’t read with anything resembling an editorial eye.  First drafts are supposed to be rough.  They’re supposed to sound like crap and be filled with TK (to come) for all those finer points of Cockney slang or 18th century footwear that you don’t have time to look up on Wikipedia.  Don’t worry – you’ll work it all out when you’re revising.

3)  Build community.   Peer pressure is a valuable tool.  Tell people what you’re doing – your mom, your boyfriend, your mailman; do NaNoWriMo with friends; participate in the online groups, blogs and twitter feeds.  (Here’s the official NaNoWriMo website.) The more people you tell, the more pressure you’ll feel to finish.

4) Make your own inspiration.   If you’re waiting for the muse to arrive, you’re in trouble.  The muse might not want to hang out with you today.  Or even once during the entire month of November.  So you need to make it happen.  Some tricks I’ve used are:

  • Open a book that you love (I think fiction works best) and read a few lines carefully, focusing on the words (not the story).  I guarantee that something – an unusual verb, a sentence construction, an artful metaphor – will catch your attention and prod your imagination into action.
  • Throw something at your protagonist.  Make life difficult for him/her in some crazy way.   Zombie apocalypse?  Car accident?  Blister?  This might not make it into your final draft but you are sure to learn something valuable about your character along the way.
  • Use google (sparingly).   Generally, random internet use is strictly verboten during NaNoWriMo, but I would allow this one exception.   I have found it immensely helpful to have a picture of a character or place to boost inspiration.   If your novel takes place in Kansas City in 1962, use google to find an image of Kansas City in 1962 and print it out, keep it by your computer.    Can’t quite get a handle on your main antagonist?   Type ‘bad guy’ into google and see what comes out.

5) Don’t check facebook.

6) Don’t check facebook.

7) Don’t check facebook.

That’s about all I can think of at the moment.   So get some coffee, limber up your fingers, and write.  See you at the finish line!

What suggestions do you have for finishing NaNoWriMo?   Do you have trouble with first drafts, or is it the editing process that is more difficult for you?