On Friday, I will set off on an adventure to write at least 50,000 words in one month as part of National Novel Writers' Month, or NaNoWriMo. If you're reading this, then you are, too, because why else would you read this post? And because I am a giver, I want to pass along some lessons learned.
Lesson 1 -- Embrace the Shitty First Draft. NaNo's beauty and power is that it forces you to be heads down, writing like a lunatic, because you need your word count, which totally cripples your Inner Critic. You know, the one who argues with you for hours over proper use of a semi-colon versus a period. Hours. Usually in the middle of the night when you really should be sleeping. You have no time for the Inner Critic when you are writing that much in that amount of time. And let me tell you, as someone whose Inner Critic is on duty 24/7 and is also a douchebag, the freedom granted by silencing it is worth its weight in gold.
NaNo is all about turning off the part of your brain that wants/needs to nitpick your every decision. If you can do that, then I will promise you this. In its place, you will tap into something else, something bigger than you, a stream of artistic genius or energy that you never knew you could access. It sounds excessively woo, but it is true. NaNo has taught me that I have moments in my writing when I'm not doing the work. I'm just a conduit for something else.
Lesson 2 -- Know who you are as a writer. Having said that, you gotta be you. My style is to go into NaNo with just the most basic ideas because I want to give the work room to grow. In general, that's worked because the books and the characters have morphed in some unexpected ways. However, not everyone is okay with that. Back in 2011, I was in a group that met every week so we could help each other get to 50,000. The group leader was on the opposite end of the spectrum from me. She had done an insane amount of research before NaNo started, including multiple binders of printouts and notes.
The key here is that you have to know which way you work best. Do you need to nail down everything from background to plot to what the characters have in their pockets and you do the writing? Or do you want to take an "organic" approach and just wing it? Somewhere in between?
Lesson 3 -- Don't fall into the procrastinator's trap. I said yesterday that to write 50,000 words in one month, you have to write 1667 a day. Very achievable. However, it's really easy to have a day go by without writing, while your brain says "Okay, so I missed yesterday, that just means writing 3300 today. No problem!" Then, 12 days go by, and suddenly, you have to write 10,000 words a day to get to the finish line. My advice is that you look over your November and figure out when you might miss a day (like, say, on Thanksgiving) and plan accordingly.
Lesson 4 -- Have fun, for fuck's sake. (This is linked to Lesson 1.) You're not writing a masterpiece, you're setting out to write 50,000 words. Just write them and have fun while you do. Join with local NaNo groups and enjoy the comradery. Post things on the NaNo website or on Facebook. This is not about stressing yourself out, so don't do it.
Lesson 5 -- Self-care matters. Of course, you will likely pressure yourself to get to 50,000, especially if you get to 10,000 words. (That seems to be the tipping point between Meh, screw it, I didn't want to do it anyway and Hey, I can do this!) Make a list in advance of things you can do for yourself when those pressured moments hit. Do you go for a 20-minute walk? Work out? Watch cat videos? Put on a tuxedo and recreate the Puttin' on the Ritz scene from Young Frankenstein? (What do you mean, "That's just you, Bill"?) Anyway, know what you can do for yourself that reduces your stress level.
NOTE: As a life hack, you should have a list like that for everyday life. Most of us tell ourselves that we have to soldier through whatever we're doing, whatever the cost, but study after study shows that doing so is counterproductive. Take time to take care of yourself.
That's it for today. Back tomorrow with some more helpful NaNo prep hints.