General Writing

Tips For Surviving NaNoWriMo

As we all know, National Novel Writing Month, better known as NaNoWriMo, is just around the corner (though considering it’s done all over the world these days, it might need a name change). If you are not familiar with the tradition, it’s basically that every year authors try to write a novel in the course of a single month, usually one that’s around fifty-thousand words, and always in November. Of the authors that choose to participate each year, some do it independently, while others do it through an international organization that can hook them up with other participating writers in their region and even let them know about local events centered on helping authors during the month.

I’m on the fence on whether or not I’ll be participating this year. I’ve three other books at various stages of editing and I have to decide if one of those books needs to be rewritten (if so, then I’m participating because that’s basically starting from scratch). Even so, I thought I’d serve the writing community and do my civic duty by posting some notes on how to survive and get through NaNoWriMo with all your fingers still attached to you and your sanity somewhat intact.

Because let’s face it, writing fifty-thousand words in thirty days? I don’t know about the rest of you, but normally that many words takes me six to eight months. Cramming all that work into a month, we need all the help and advice we can get.

So first off, don’t get stressed about the word count. To get fifty-thousand words written in thirty days, you’d have to write approximately 1,667 words, or about 6.7 pages per day.* I know for a lot of writers it’s difficult to get that much out in a single day. The thing to remember is not to feel upset if you can’t force yourself to get that many words out per day. Remember, all good stories take time, and there’s no prizes for meeting daily quotas (the NaNoWriMo organization hands out badges, but they’re like the ones from Audible, nice to have when you get them but they don’t make much of a difference after you get them) or getting the full fifty-thousand words written out besides bragging rights. Besides, if you have to force yourself to put out words when your heart is not in them or just to meet a quota, your first draft might not turn out so well.

That’s another thing: remember that this is a first draft. And a rushed one, too. So if you look at what you’ve written and wonder what the heck you were thinking, that’s a normal reaction to a first draft. They’re supposed to be full of errors and passages that make no sense to you upon the second read-through. It’s during that second read-through that you touch it up and get it closer to the gem that you know it’s going to be.

Now that we’ve gotten the tips that’ll keep you in a good frame of mind out of the way, let’s cover how we actually survive NaNoWriMo:

Prior to November, research and prepare. We’ve still got twenty-two days till NaNoWriMo kicks off. During that time, it might help for you to get an idea of what you’re working on, where it might be heading, and maybe learn a bit more about the subject matter you’re writing, especially if it’s a topic you don’t know very well (like a murder mystery in Tang China or a coming-of-age story set in an ROTC unit). Now I know a lot of you might like to write by the seat of your pants, but just doing a little bit of prep can be helpful, especially if it means you don’t have to stop midway through writing because you realized you don’t know a thing about car maintenance and you lose four days because you got a car maintenance manual and needed to cram all that info in.

It also helps to prepare so that you can make plans in case you have to stop writing for any reason. Whether you need to attend a wedding midway through the month or you have to put the metaphorical quill down because you have a Poli Sci exam coming up you need to study for, having a contingency plan in case that happens can work wonders.

Speaking of which, while it is important to get out as much writing as possible, make sure not to neglect your life just to write. Many of us have day jobs, school, families, friends, and a variety of other things that require our attention. While it is important to write and maybe give up a few social obligations or fun outings to work, don’t neglect the real world entirely. I find the real world can not only give me great ideas for stories, but also reenergize me so that when I sit down to write, I’m not restless and looking for a distraction or yearning to go out and see the latest horror movie or something.

And while you’re working so hard, remember to take care of your health. In some ways, NaNoWriMo is like the last three weeks of a college semester: you’ve got a ton of work to do, only so much time to do it, and you’re willing to get maybe four hours a night of sleep and eat ramen noodles three times a day if that’s what it takes to get through it on top. I’m advising against that. There are no consequences to not getting out the full fifty-thousand words, so your health shouldn’t be a consequence of trying to. Get plenty of sleep each night, eat healthy meals, and get some exercise too if you can, even if it’s just going for a walk. You’ll find you’ll have more energy for writing if you do, believe me.

It’s also healthy to take an occasional break. We all need time to recharge and let our brains focus. So if you feel approaching burnout or writer’s block, or if you can’t figure out where your story should go next, or if you’re just so tired of writing about a princess trying to cover up her father’s murder so she doesn’t have to marry against her will, then maybe a trip out to the movies or to the bar with your friends or some fun family time or an all-night Mario Kart tournament with your roommates might be what you need. Studies actually show that ideas come more easily to you if you’re distracted, so there’s even more reason to take a break right there.

And if you need a little motivation to keep you going, reward yourself for certain milestones. For every five-thousand words or so you put out, reward yourself with something fun. This could be a favorite dessert, watching Netflix for a little while, whatever you want. Give yourself something extra special when you reach fifty-thousand words and/or finish the book (I suggest some wine, some celebration music, and later a good movie with a friend). You’ll find it much easier to write if you have something to look forward to after all your hard work.

And let’s not forget to build a support network around yourself. The NaNoWriMo organization attempts to do this by putting you in touch with other participants in your area and with community events, but whether or not you decide to participate in these events, you should still have people around you encouraging and cheering you on. Friends, family, lovers, authors you’re friends with online or offline, they should all be there for you. I can’t tell you how much it means to me to have people cheering me on and willing to read my work every time I publish during the rest of the year. Imagine how motivating it’ll be when you know there’s a group of people standing behind you when you do the writing equivalent of a 5K.

Finally, take a long break when you’re done. Not just from writing so you can get your creative juices to recharge, but also take a break from whatever novel you were working on once you’re done. I always feel that a month or more between drafts allows for writers to come back to their first drafts with fresh eyes so they can see where they made mistakes in the first draft and correct them. If you start editing immediately after finishing the first draft, you can only see it as the baby you just poured so much time and energy into and miss quite a lot. Better to take a break and let it lie until you’re ready to look again.

I’d like to wrap it up here and wish everyone participating next month good luck. Whatever you do to make the month of November one of the most productive and crazy of the year, I hope you found these tips helpful and that you have fun trying to get a full novel out in thirty days.

Are you participating in NaNoWriMo this year?

What tips do you have for getting through the month and writing as much as you can in so little time?

*That’s if you write like I do, which is Times New Roman, 12 point font, and double spaced on 8.5” x 11” paper. Otherwise it varies.

Categories: General Writing, Psychology of Writing & Publishing, Rough Draft, Schedules & Routines | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

A Trip in a Police Cruiser, Got me Thinking

Last week my husband and I trekked to Grand Island, Neb., to attend the state fair. Little did we know that day would end with a ride inside a police cruiser.

No, we did not do anything wrong. In fact, the policeman took pity on us. Let me explain.

Every year my husband and I travel to Grand Island so I can sell my novels at the Nebraska Writers Guild booth. Authors take turns selling their books and in exchange we tell attendees (interested in writing) of the benefits of joining the guild.

I always park at a certain place when we attend. However, when you sell your wares, you have to bring your own books. My husband and I had two luggage bags. I pulled one and he the other. As we were making our long walk to the 4-H/FFA building, a fair volunteer, who drove a golf cart, approached us. “Would you like a ride?”

“Yes,” we answered. We both gave a large sigh of relief. It was a long ways to that building and her assistance was a Godsend. However, who would know that this action would later cause us a lot of grief.

How you ask? The simple answer is one word, b e a r i n g s.

I lost my bearings. If we had walked, I would have remembered landmarks to get us to the right entrance/exit gates. But since I did not, we ended up at the wrong exit.

A group of policemen were directing drivers into a parking lot. I yelled at one of the officers, asking if the road in front of us was Stollely Street. He came over to us and pointed toward a street at least a mile from where we stood. He looked us over, seeing our luggage. “That’s a long walk,” he finally said.

I could not believe we had walked around a host of fair exhibits and buildings only to travel in the wrong direction. I was dumbfounded. I could not even come up with the side street where we parked until the officer uttered the name, Roush Street. “That’s where we parked.”

He left and in a few minutes returned with his police cruiser. We got in. He joked, “You won’t be able to kiss in here.” He was right as my husband slide into the tiny space between the plastic glass and the door. If you never have been inside a police vehicle (which we had not), do not itch to do so if you are overweight because you will be squashed. The policeman opened the door for me. I sat down beside my husband, and yes there was no way to kiss with Plexiglas dividing us. However, who would be in the mood when you were riding in a police car?

The officer drove us to our car and helped unload our bags and place them into my vehicle. We shook his hand in gratitude for taking pity on a couple of stupid idiots.

However, this got me thinking about writers, and how we too can lose our bearings. We forget to focus on our next undertaking and not fret about a past mistake or pet project, which did not do as well as expected.

As literary agents will tell you, what is the next hottest story type in publishing? Is it a paranormal, a graphic romance trilogy or what? Answer is no one knows. If they cannot figure it out, how can you? Thus, the best thing to do is to move on with your next idea, leave the past behind you and do not give up.

Experts say the worst mistake many authors make is to give up after weeks or months of disappointing sales. What about the movie, “Wizard of Oz?” Did you know it flopped in theaters at the time? What revived this enduring classic? When it ran on television screens years later so your work also could be that sleeper. My hope, though, it does not take decades for you to achieve that success.

So keep your powder dry, get involved in your next venture and do not worry about the past. And as always I will end with a God bless.

Categories: General Writing | Tags: , ,

So You Want to Publish a Book (Post 1): Is Your Book Ready to be Published?

Over the last two months, a couple people have asked me the same thing:  “I wrote a book.  Now what do I do?”  To answer each person separately would take a lot of time, and given that I was in the process of moving, I didn’t have time to sit down and write a series of blog posts to address this question.

Today, I’ll start the series.  That way when I get this question again, I can provide people with a series of links to help address the issue.  This is intended for people who have never published a book.

ID 37475863 © Iqoncept |

ID 37475863 © Iqoncept |

The first thing you need to consider is this: is your book ready to be published?

Self-publishing and even traditional publishing isn’t what it once was.  Regardless of the way you choose to  publish, you need to have a product that is worth publishing.  The bar has been raised on what you can publish.  With writers fine tuning their skills and taking editing seriously, you need to make sure your book is on par with theirs.

If you want to land a book deal with a publishing house, you will need a polished version to hand in to the acquisitions editor.  If you want to publish it yourself, the savvy self-published authors are seeking to have their books compete with the publishers, meaning they want their books to look like it came from a publishing house.  This is about putting a professional step forward.

So before you decide to publish, you need to consider two main things: editing and the storytelling craft.

So don’t skimp on the edits.

This doesn’t mean you spend years editing.  That’s too long.  But I would say a month or two of working through edits is minimum.  You don’t want to make the process so long you never get anything published, but you also don’t want to rush through it.  The best technique is to pace yourself.  I edit 1-2 chapters a day.  That way my mind is fresh when I get to it, and I don’t have time to get exhausted.  I also use a system of checks and balances where I have two to three others go over my book.  After taking in all the edits and making all the changes, I recommend a final read through.

I know in this instant gratification world we live in where things are usually given to us as soon as we want it, it’s easy to get impatient and want the book up today.  But taking the extra time to edit will be worth it.

Do you have a compelling story?

This is a harder one to pin down and explain since the definition of what makes for a compelling read varies from person to person.  But let’s just put it this way: are you so engrossed in your own book you get lost in it?  Or do you find yourself skimming?  If you’re skimming, chances are those parts are slowing your book down.  A compelling story is one in which you want to read everything.  It doesn’t have fillers that get glossed over.

The average reader will forgive an occasional typo, but they won’t forgive a story that bores them.


Until you have the two things above settled, you can’t move forward.  But for the sake of this blog, we’ll say you have a compelling and properly edited story.   That would bring me to my next post which I’ll put up next week.  In it, I’ll discuss whether finding a publisher or self-publishing is the best fit for you because there is no one-size-fits-all approach in this business.


Categories: Editing & Rewriting, General Writing | Tags:

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