Tips for Surviving the Agony and Ecstasy of NaNoWriMo

NanoWriMo 2013-Participant-Vertical-BannerNaNoWriMo is my birthday present to myself each year. Every year, I love it. And every year, I hate it…there’s simply too much to do in the tiny little month of November.

Even without my birthday falling at the beginning of the month and Thanksgiving at the end, there always seems to be unexpected craziness. Last year it was shingles; this year it’s a family vacation.

I tend to arrive at December 1st a little bit out of breath.

And still, I love NaNoWriMo.

I love the community, the late-night writing sprints, the before and after parties my local team throws. I love the write-ins, the pep talks, the excitement and uploading my word count. I adore getting the chance to encourage my peeps and watch everyone chase their goals.

Whether you’re gearing up for NaNoWriMo or not, I wish you luck in your writing goals this month.

I’d like to address the dreaded phenomenon of the Week Two Wall in the NaNo challenge where the initial endorphins have faded and the grind of a crazy writing schedule sets in.

Words like “can’t,” “shouldn’t,” and “haven’t” begin to rear their ugly heads.

We all hate those words, whether we’re doing a writing challenge or not. So before NaNo starts, I’d like to chat about what I consider to be a NaNo “win”:

  • Your very best = a NaNo win
  • Achieving your goal numbers = a NaNo win (ex: my goal this month is 25K, not 50K)
  • Finishing a project = a NaNo win
  • Forming new and amazing writing habits = a NaNo win

I think people get twitchy about some things that don’t matter during the month of November. You remember this cartoon from last year, right?

NaNo should be fun.

The only word count that matters is YOURS.

However, if you’re still feeling the push to “Go 50K or Bust”… Behold the NaNo Team’s 2012 Tips for Successful WriMos…

Overview of the things we wish we had known for our first NaNoWriMo:

1. It’s okay to not know what you’re doing. Really. You’ve read a lot of novels, so you’re completely up to the challenge of writing one.

2. If you feel more comfortable outlining your story ahead of time, do it! But it’s also fine to just wing it.

3. Write every day, and a book-worthy story will appear, even if you’re not sure what that story might be right now.

4. Do not edit as you go. Editing is for December and beyond. Think of November as an experiment in pure output.

5. Even if it’s hard at first, leave ugly prose and poorly written passages on the page to be cleaned up later. Your inner editor will be very grumpy about this, but your inner editor is a nitpicky jerk who foolishly believes that it is possible to write a brilliant first draft if you write it slowly enough. It isn’t.

6. Every book you’ve ever loved started out as a beautifully flawed first draft. In November, embrace imperfection and see where it takes you.

7. Tell everyone you know that you’re writing a novel in November. This will pay big dividends in Week Two, when the only thing keeping you from quitting is the fear of looking pathetic in front of all the people who’ve had to hear about your novel for the past month.

8. Seriously. The looming specter of personal humiliation is a very reliable muse.

9. There will be times you’ll want to quit during November. This is okay. Everyone who wins NaNoWriMo wanted to quit at some point in November. Stick it out. See it through.

Above are the NaNo team’s words. They have them squinched together into just a few tips, but I spread it out. All this wisdom needs to be heard. (There’s 6 years of pep talks here.)

Now, for my #10. (I lifted this from one of my posts at Writers In The Storm.)

10. Wherever you are on your writing journey, DON’T STOP.

The best is always yet to come because we keep improving the more we do it. I heard Linda Howard speak at a writer’s conference in San Diego some years back and I’ve never forgotten her words, which meant so much to me.

“Everybody dreams,” she said. “But writers are special because they write down their dreams.

“As writers, we can do anything and be anyone. You can be astronauts or spies or time travelers. Writers can go to amazing places and build imaginary worlds for others to visit.

“The sad fact is that no matter how hard you try, the music and the magic of your dreams will never be equaled by the words you put on a page.

“Do it anyway.”

My hope is that, even on those days when you feel that all is lost, when you wonder why you ever believed that YOUR words were important, you keep at it.

Do it because you have to. Do it because you need to. Do it because the act of sharing those words is more than most people will ever attempt.

DON’T STOP. Your story is calling you.

Do you participate in writing challenges? Do you do NaNoWriMo? For my WriMo pals, what do you do in advance of November to get ready? Enquiring minds always want to know these things here at More Cowbell!

Jenny

About Jenny Hansen

Avid seeker of "more"...More words, more creativity, More Cowbell! An extrovert who's terribly fond of silliness. Founding blogger at Writers In The Storm (http://writersinthestormblog.com). Write on!
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82 Responses to Tips for Surviving the Agony and Ecstasy of NaNoWriMo

  1. I kinda/sorta remember those tips from last year, but I did something in excess of 80k in November, so I was pretty much a zombie by the end of the month. But it’s good advice. The hardest one for me will always be #5. I’ve always tried to write as closed to a finished draft for the first draft as possible…so the whole vomit draft thing took some getting used to. And I still don’t like it, but it’s worth it because of another piece of advice I really like. You can’t fix what isn’t written. (or something like that)

    What did I do last year to get ready? Character list, general idea what I wanted to write. This year? I lucked out. The fifth book in my series is seriously plotted out. Almost like a mini version of what I hope to wind up with. Since I already have a couple of chapters, and hope to add one or two more before November 1st, when (almost said if…but it’s WHEN) I finish it, I’ll just start working on the next book on my list. My goal is 50k new words. 🙂

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    • Jenny Hansen says:

      LOL. As late as you were up reading this, you’re lucky you “kinda/sorta” remember anything. Hope you got some sleep!

      And BRAVO on having the 5th book ready to rock. I see great things for you this NaNo…

      Like

  2. Laura Drake says:

    Hey Jenny, you borrowed my cheerleading skirt! It looks great on you, Hon!

    Good luck to all the intrepid souls who will sally forth!

    Like

  3. Although I’m not officially signing up, Jenny, my goal is to write every day, after I’ve locked Ms. RedPencil, my infernal, ah, internal critic in the closet. No editing until December. It will be a new experience for me, so I am cautiously excited.🙂

    Like

    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Elizabeth, you’re definitely going to want to both chain and gag Ms. RedPencil in that closet. She’s a stone bitch, that girl. Hate her.

      Let us all know if you need any help, whether it be via word sprints or encouragement. You can always find a sprinting partner on Twitter at #wordmongering, #ROW80, or #NaNoWriMo. I promise.🙂

      Like

  4. K.B. Owen says:

    These are great tips, Jenny! Good luck with NaNo…I’m still working on my WIP, so not ready for a new project, but I’ll be thinking of y’all and cheering you on!

    Like

    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Go look down at my comment to Carrie. If you’re not revising, which is a whole different animal, I’m a huge fan of using NaNo to finish a book. Let me know if you want to sprint from the WEDS Funhouse…cause I’m game!

      Like

  5. Jane Sadek says:

    Good luck with Nanowrimo. I haven’t joined in that craziness yet. This year I’m trying to finish things, not start new ones, but 2014 is coming and I’m hoping for a VERY different year..

    Like

    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Jane, you deserve a VERY different year in 2014. I imagine you’ll be delighted to close the book on this one. I’m rooting for you to have a wonderful holiday season, and I commend you for not starting anything new.

      {{Hugs}}

      Like

  6. Jenny, you are a NaNoWriMo Goddess! One of these years I will give it a try. I’m in the middle of another MS and all of your tips in this post are so helpful for writers no matter what they are working on. Even though NaNo isn’t on my agenda, your posts will be urging me on just as well! Thanks!

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  7. I’m dealing with the “I’m sort of fried from Camp NaNoWriMo”. I did 70007 words and I’m just… well… still fried. Plus I have one in rewrite from that.

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  8. There’s no way I can do a normal NaNo this year. I’m currently editing two of my drafted novels and I don’t want to stop to write something new. That said, I think what I might try is a mini-NaNo. I’ve been toying with the idea of aiming for a short story a week. I’m not entirely sure yet, but I still have two days to decide!

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    • Jenny Hansen says:

      I’m a huge fan of mini-NaNo’s and will likely be doing some of that with a family vaca in the month. I can write on the road via my Alphasmart, but I can’t upload from the road. So I’ll be “nothing, nothing, nothing, BOOM” on the word front this time. I think it’s going to be motivating.🙂

      Like

  9. Lara McGill says:

    I plan on having an entire beat sheet finished within the next two days, so I can jump out of the gate and rock this thing out!

    Like

    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Very, very smart, Lara! And good for you. You’re gonna rock it. I can tell.

      My NaNo name is “jennyhansen”…I think we’re already hooked up, but if not, FIND ME.🙂

      Like

  10. Ready, and wishing tomorrow was November 1! Hubby is totally on board for the first time in three years. I think he is more excited than I am, if that’s even possible.🙂

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    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Woo-hoooooooooooo, Shellie! When Hubby’s on board, the sky is the limit. As the NaNo team says, there’s nothing like the threat of public embarrassment to make you plop your butt into the chair.🙂

      Like

  11. Carrie says:

    I’m still debating NaNo. I have an idea for a story peculating BUT I also have a WIP that has been glaring at me for 3 years and really should be the focus. Plus my husband will probably be more supportive if i finish that WIP not start something new :p

    Like

    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Carrie, what I do in that situation is open a new document just for NaNo and keep working on that glaring WIP. It allows you to do both — complete a manuscript and get our NaNo words in. There’s nothing that says you have to start a fresh BOOK. Just fresh new words.🙂

      Like

  12. Nagzilla says:

    I been shamed into doing NaNo again this year, and I have yet to win one. This post was a helpful reminder that crappy output is okay. It’s just about getting the words on the page. Quantity, not quality at this point. Game on.

    Like

    • Jenny Hansen says:

      AND who doesn’t want to get a bunch of cool words down? Even if you get 10K or 20K…that’s a good chunk of a book. At least that’s the way I look at it.🙂

      Like

  13. Amy Shojai says:

    This is my first year for NannyNonnyBooBoo fun. I’d planned to have my thriller sequel already done, and use Nov to write the 3rd in the series…still plan to, although this week is kicking my butt to get the sequel done AND prepare for the weekend’s writer con. So…guess I need to go sign up or something, huh?

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  14. John Holton says:

    I’m doing it again this year after last year’s abortive attempt. I might have two 25K projects rather than one 50K project, because that’s just the way I roll….

    Like

    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Good for you, John! I think 2 projects is a great idea because when one stalls, you can just go to the other. (Do you see my critique partners rolling their eyes??)

      Like

  15. filbio says:

    Good luck on the writing challenge. I barely have enough time to post on my blog and follow up on all the comments so I don’t do these. One day I will start that book…….

    Like

  16. Amber West says:

    I did Nano two years ago. I went into it with a lot of the same tips you have here in mind. I went into it as a writing exercise.

    In the end, I wrote 30k words that I later returned to and turned into my first published novel.

    You never know what will come of a Nano attempt!

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  17. I had to finish a contract novel in three weeks and couldn’t write for months after, I was so hosed. So I don’t do this, but I’m thinking about doing NaBloPoMo (doing a blog post every day) and worried about that. I am lucky to get 3x a week….

    Like

    • Jenny Hansen says:

      LOL. It will be like my A-Z Aprils…only you won’t have to limit yourself to a letter. Fun!! I can’t wait to see what you get up to over on the Perils of Pauline…

      Like

  18. I’m not doing NaNo — although I am hoping to really hunker down and finish the edits on a mss I’ve had sitting around for a while. I thought Marcy and I were going to start working on the sequel to our cowritten novel, but from the looks of the comment above that’s not going to happen in November.:/ lol

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  19. Okay, Doc, pull out the couch and the tissues.

    I’m going to enter The Golden Heart this year. There is no want to, plan to, hope to.

    The first 50 are so polished they shine brighter than the white teeth on a Colgate Commercial. If they had sound effects, they’d have that “ping!” accent at the end of them. Those are the pages that will be judged.

    The synopsiphobia has not yet quieted, but I no longer get nauseous when I think about it.

    What I need is word count push to the end.

    I’ll be NaNo’ing even though I don’t plan to officially join.. The reason I’m choosing to go it (sort of!) alone is because I have a tendency to throw myself into the party and forget the reason we were there in the first place.

    Like

    • Oh! I may officially join the December rewrite aftermath.

      When I final, I’ll be notified in March. <=== Power of Expectation

      I have the opportunity to upload a revised manuscript before it's sent on the final judges.

      Like

    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Gloria, you’ve already done more than half the battle by sending in the first 50. I’m SO proud of you!!! What’s the worst thing that happens? You FINAL. In the Golden Freaking Heart? If you NaNo and it goes nowhere but done, at least you’ve got All Inn behind you.

      How about this: If you finish it, I’ll let you keep the Cowbell FOREVER. I will buy a new one. What say you?

      Like

  20. The best of luck to you and your readers who are participating! Next year I will give it a go!🙂

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  21. Diana Beebe says:

    Good luck with your project! I’m braving it again. I think I have everything plotted (so unlike me!) and ready to go.

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  23. haha this is brilliant to find right after writing my NaNoWriMo Panic Post (http://rightinkonthewall.wordpress.com/2013/10/30/finding-my-muse-rather-than-finding-excuses/) – thanks for some great advice. I’m taking a long day of prep and advice-on-boarding before tomorrow – excited now! Sara

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  24. S.J. Maylee says:

    Thank you, Jenny. I’ve said no to NaNoWriMo about a dozen times this year, but I keep rethinking it. I’m trying to polish a book for submission. I’m expecting edit’s from my editor on a short story I have coming out soon. I have two other shorts I need to finish. BUT I have this one story that I want to write. I think I’m crazy. I’m a writer, lol, I am crazy.😉 I’m going to do it. OMG!

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  25. Leslie R. says:

    Thanks for these tips, Jenny – especially #10. My writing journey has been really hard lately, and I keep thinking maybe I’m just not cut out to be a writer – but I’ve wanted to be one my whole life. Things are looking up though. I’m super-psyched for NaNo – and also a little terrified. I don’t have as much planning done as I did last year (this is my second year), and I’m going to be a rebel and write short stories. At least, that was the plan – the story I’m currently brainstorming on now looks like it could be a novel, so I really have no idea what’s going to happen in November. I’m just going to start writing and see!

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    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Short stories are hot right now, Leslie. You’re in great company out there on the web. Enjoy yourself, and let your words dance. It’s a wonderful feeling to do that with friends.🙂

      Like

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  27. Marcia says:

    NaNo is scary, for sure, but I’m giving it a go this year for the first time. I wasn’t fully plotted before the start but am plotting as I go and plan on hitting 50k easily. Looking forward to the thrill of finishing a novel! Thanks for the pep talk, Jenny!

    Like

  28. 1WriteWay says:

    Reblogged this on 1WriteWay and commented:
    All my NaNo writing buddies, you must read this! Tip #6 is my favorite: “Every book you’ve ever loved started out as a beautifully flawed first draft. In November, embrace imperfection and see where it takes you.”

    Like

  29. tommiaw says:

    Reblogged this on TamBorgia's NaNoWriMo and commented:
    Jenny Hansen offers some wonderfully wise words about writing. (smile)

    Like

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  31. C J Krysztof says:

    Reblogged this on I Am NaNo and commented:
    I linked to this in the previous post about approaching Week Two, but I think it’s interesting, so I’m doubly linking to it so you guys can’t miss it. Read these rules, memorise them (I will be!) and live by them next week.

    Like

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