Have you heard of NaNoWriMo? If you haven’t, don’t worry; I didn’t know what it was either until a few months ago, and now here I am, proclaiming its worth to the world! In some ways, I feel like a door-to-door salesman advertising the wonders of NaNoWriMo, only perhaps a tad more foolish since no one’s paying me anything. Such is the power of NaNoWriMo – or, to call it by its full form, National Novel Writing Month. This month, in fact: November. The purpose of such a month? To attempt the Everest of writing: to write a complete novel, in its entirety, from start to finish, in one month. Does that sound crazy? It is, in many ways. Does it sound impossible? It’s not, in many ways. Perhaps, in many ways, it could be the right challenge for you!
Wow. Definitely a door-to-door salesman.
Anyway, both blooming and experienced writers have faced the harrows of novels – or memoirs, scripts, any projects, really – left unfinished. You got halfway and then, like a distracted magpie, another promising premise or character caught your eye. So, you dumped the novel you were in the middle of writing to go begin another. Indeed, many authors have more unfished projects lying around than finished ones. NaNoWriMo, then, is the push to keep a promise to yourself and to finish, decidedly finish, whatever it is that you set out to write. As someone attempting NaNoWriMo for the first time, I’d like to share with you how I’ve made it through.
Here are the best NaNoWriMo tips I’ve either heard or invented:
1.Keep to a word count of about 1,700 words a day. This will lead to about 50,000 words – or the length of your average novel – completed in a month.
2.Never skip a writing day. My professors insisted on this one. It’s detaching, it’s demotivating, and frankly, it’s hardly ever necessary.
3.Have a good writing drink. Whether that’s hot cocoa or whisky or lemonade, find a drink that motivates and refreshes you and keep it by your side at all writing times.
4.Remember – for once, just for once, it’s quantity over quality. My professors liked to call your NaNoWriMo draft ‘Draft Zero’. It’s just the bare bones, and sometimes not even that, of the novel you’re aspiring to write. It may be rubbish – it most probably will be – but at least this way, once you’ve finished, you’ll have something concrete to work on.
5.Know what you’re writing tomorrow. Every day, have a basic idea, and maybe even write a few notes, of the scene you’ll be tackling tomorrow. This helps keep the flow of your writing and helps you get started on days when you really don’t feel like it.
6. Don’t ask anyone’s opinion. This may sound badass, but really it’s just a practicality. You don’t need anyone’s opinion yet, whether it’s good or bad. This Draft Zero is meant to be yours, and this journey is something you’re undertaking no matter what others think of it. Don’t give them the opportunity to tell you this is crazy (which you already know) or that you’re doing great (which you also already know); simply don’t ask.
7. Don’t isolate yourself. The first NaNoWriMo was started by a creator who convinced his friends to write along with him. They pushed each other forward and convinced each other that what they were doing could be done. Now, hundreds of thousands of authors have completed NaNoWriMo, and more are joining every year. If you can, find a friend, a relative, any loved one who’d like to share this with you. Do it together. Let them be the climber that holds you by the rope when you nearly fall off the mountain.
8.Morning or evening? Pick one and write.
9.Make a skeleton. This is essential for both aspiring authors as well as aspiring mad scientists. Before you set out on the writing of the novel, make sure you understand its structure; make sure you know who this is about, where they are, where they’re going, and how they get there. You don’t need to know too much, but you should know enough to be sure that you won’t stop halfway through to figure out what your plot should be.
10.Go wild! What you’re doing is an incredibly difficult task, but it should never be without enjoyment. Don’t limit yourself too much; change up your writing location, tone, even the order of scenes if you’d like. There’s no need to write in chronological order; there’s definitely no need to take yourself too seriously. NaNoWriMo’s creator began this month in the spirit of madness and fun; I’ve done my best to embody this spirit as I set out on the journey he mapped out.
If you’re debating whether or not to try this, I’d say go for it. You’ve got nothing to lose and a whole novel to gain. You’ll learn so much about your own writing, your working habits, the story you want to tell…and you’ll never lose that sense of accomplishment, either. Because no matter what you face, no matter what insults you endure, you’ll always be able to look life in the eye and say: Whatever. I wrote a novel in a month. This is nothing!
Zuni Chopra is currently a freshman at Stanford university where she’s studying the creative arts. She has authored three books of poetry and one novel. Through this column, she chronicles her journey as an international student leaving home for the first time to study abroad.