Maybe it’s just time, you know?
Time to take on that lifelong dream. The one in the back of your head. The one you said you’d tackle, next time you were between projects, semesters, or significant others.
November is National Novel Writing Month. The perfect excuse to write the book you’ve dreamed of, whether it’s about business, your life, or something else entirely. Abbreviated NaNoWriMo, the idea is straightforward: On November 1, you begin working toward the goal of writing 50,000 words by 11:59pm on November 30. (Yes, you’re a couple days behind, but don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good here.)
If starting a book scares you, here’s the good news: You won’t be alone. At least, not in November. Last year–the 15th year of the project–there were 325,142 participants, many of whom shared their progress on social media. NaNoWriMo boasts 133,000 Twitter followers, and uses hashtags like #NaNoCoach to spread tips of all types. As a novelist myself, I’ve got some tips of my own to share about the process:
1. Enjoy yourself. If you look forward to writing, you’re more likely to do it. What’s more, the joy you’re feeling will shine through to readers. Life is short–and the time any of us has to write is shorter. Don’t waste it on a project you can’t savor. (Especially if no one’s paying you.)
2. Learn about yourself. If you’re not having fun, that’s okay too. It’s what you’re trying to discover, when you embark on a project like NaNoWriMo. If you long for sitcoms and podcasts during your writing time, consider it a sign. Maybe you don’t want to write a book. Maybe your subject isn’t amusing or engaging.
3. Exercise. Even if you use a standing desk, writing is a mostly motionless activity. You’ll be more focused for it if you’ve worked out. If you prefer writing first thing in the morning, exercise in the afternoon. Remember, this is long-term practice–something you’ll ideally continue beyond November. Staying in shape is essential, because health problems can derail you.
4. Maintain the magic. Make sure you write–or at least edit what you’ve already done–each day. The idea is to stay engaged with the world you’ve created. More than 48 hours away from it will turn you from a parent to a babysitter.
5. Settle for small windows. If you tell yourself 30 minutes a day is not enough, you will never get anything done. Work with what you have. Over weeks, the minutes add up.
6. Eat responsibly. Never too much–nor too little–before you write. You need to be attentive and awake.
7. Socialize. Don’t let your project turn you into a hermit. Part of being a novelist is understanding how humans speak and behave. If you isolate yourself, you’re neglecting your craft.
8. Embrace your day job. The only thing harder than writing is writing when you’re worried about money or your business. Don’t view your job as an obligation that is oppositional to your craft. Instead, focus on how they can be complementary. View your company (or employer) as your sponsor. View your co-workers as your readers.
9. Read. Aside from the act of writing, the best way you can improve your craft is by reading extensively. Inevitably, you’ll encounter passages where authors have succeeded–or failed–to execute the same types of scenes you’re working on. Either way, you’re learning.
10. Don’t sweat the word count. It’s just a number. The last thing you want to do is draft fluffy scenes for the sake of making the 50,000 total. If you finish November with 40,000 words you love, you’ll be happy.
11. Bulldozing beats stalling. By the same token, you don’t want to spend all 30 days perfecting the 250 words you wrote the first day. Move on. The time for revision will come. And come again. And again. The joy of the first draft is not worrying about it yet.
12. Envision ideals. Even if you love what you’re working on, there will be days when authorship feels like a fruitless task. Envisioning ideal outcomes–What will the book cover look like? Whom will you thank on your acknowledgements page?–can help you endure rough patches.
13. Develop social explanations. One sneaky challenge of authorship is explaining to family, friends, and strangers what you’re doing. With harmless intentions, they’ll ask what your book is about. Even though you know the answer, it’s hard to convey it with cocktail party brevity–especially when you’re still creating it. Develop a one-liner. It doesn’t have to be accurate. It just has to get you through the conversation.
14. Solicit early feedback. You can also use social interactions to test the future elevator pitch of your book. How do people react to your one-liner? Are they intrigued? Indifferent? This feedback can help you–way down the line–when you’re pondering how to pitch your book to agents or publishers.
15. Find like-minded partners. In the fitness world, training with a buddy means you’re less likely to veer from your routine, because you don’t want to disappoint your friend. If you pursue NaNoWriMo with friends or colleagues you respect, you’re more likely to stick with it.
16. Stretch before you run. You need not dive right into your novel. Warm up by reviewing what you wrote yesterday. You can also warm up with crossword puzzles or LEGOs. The idea is to break away mentally from what you were doing prior to your writing window.
17. Eliminate distractions. Shut your phone off. Close your browser. All you need is pen and paper. Or whatever word-processing software you use. What you don’t need is wi-fi.
18. Forget research. Research is crucial for novels, business books, and short stories. But for NaNoWriMo purposes, you shouldn’t worry about it yet. Focus first on figuring out if you enjoy the act of writing. Devote your writing window to the act of writing.
19. Accept your wounds. If what you’re writing comes from your heart, you will cry. You will uncover sad memories. Depending on your disposition–and the memory–these moments can feel wonderfully therapeutic or trigger downward spirals. Don’t let the mood mess with your writing window. If you must have a crying jag, get it out, and get back to your words. If that’s too difficult, write a short note to yourself about what you’re feeling. Take no more than one minute. Then get back to your words.
20. Temper expectations. If you’ve never tried writing a book before, you shouldn’t expect to master the craft in one month. Long-term practices require long terms. Don’t judge yourself based on where your book stands November 30th. What matters is if you’re still writing December 1.