Monday, November 30, 2009

NaNoWriMo 09: Tools for Success

50,000 words in 30 days? Sounds hard right, but it's entirely possible, with the right story, a few good characters, some determination, and a few other things. NaNoWriMo is coming to a close for this year and I've just polled a few of the participants and winners about what they felt helped them the most to get the words out, keep the story going, concentrate, and keep at it all month long. Here's what we, the writers, have to say.

  • A Good Story - Don't go in unprepared. Sure, I winged half my novel and had no idea where it was going to end, but I did have a clear beginning and a general idea of what was going to happen. Some people outline their entire novel ahead of time and hey, if that works for you, go for it. That does not work for everyone, and even if it does, you may not stick to it. You don't need it all figured out, you just have to love it.

  • A Support System - NaNo is not for the weak, don't face it alone! It helps a lot if you have other people participating at the same time as you. I think that is a huge part of what got me to the finish line this year, was knowing that my friends were writing away and I would be letting them down. Knowing that they were all cheering me on. Other writers help, but so does a simple support system of friends and family. Be prepared for a lot of people thinking you are crazy, I know my family did/does, but they still asked me every now and again things were going. My mom even asked me about my word count in an attempt to get me working when I was sick as a dog on day 29.

  • A Sounding Board - In addition to support, find a friend, a fellow writer/nanoer perhaps, that you can bounce ideas off of. I know I would not have been able to work through a few rough patches in my novel (or start actually, starting was hard) without the help of Mike, Jesse, & Jordyn. Sometimes your friends have good suggestions, or maybe you just need to talk things out to see what needs to be done.

  • Snacks - You need sustenance, don't starve yourself just to finish your novel on time. Plus, I think the simple action of eating something stimulates your brain. A lot of writers turn to candy for this, for me it's tortilla chips. Or maybe gum is more your style, keeping with your diet too (you dedicated person, you).

  • Drinks - This is just as important as snacks, if not more. Don't let dehydration get you down! Also, most drinks--for writers anyway--involve caffeine. Caffeine is the writer's best friend. It keeps you going, it energizes you (albeit temporarily), and it keeps you up. Or if you are a morning person, it wakes you up. It has been said (I forget which author, forgive me) that writers are simply machines for turning coffee into novels. I don't drink coffee, so I think it's that we process caffeine and output word counts. Also, hot chocolate, iced tea, Gatorade, Diet Coke, and Coca-Cola are all very good alternatives to coffee that writers swear by.

  • Cough Medicine & Vitamin C - This is just me, I think, but if you are caught sick in the middle of NaNo (or at the very end like I was), trust me, these will be your best friends. Take them (within reason, I am not promoting drug abuse here) to get you through it. Your body will thank you for it.

  • Sleep - You will want to stay up really late on some nights, but if you are falling asleep at the keyboard, those lost hours sleeping will be worth it. When you are tired your brain doesn't function at its best and your novel will suck. You will write things that upon rereading in December will make you question your sanity. You will stop sentences in the middle. You will have random letters from when you literally fell asleep on your keyboard. Sleep is good, try it some time.

  • Set a time for writing - This doesn't work for everyone, sometimes you just have to write when the moment is right, but with NaNo, you don't always have time for that. Figure out when you write best, whether in the morning, just after lunch, or in the wee hours of the morning when the only other people awake are night guards and those poor souls who work the 24 hour drive thru at McDonald's*

  • Free Time - Essentially, going along with the previous point, write when you can. If you can fit a few words in on your lunch break, do it. Every word counts. Ray Freisen & I both write really well when traveling, in cars and on planes. Do not do this if you are the driver, of course, but other than that, take advantage of that time, make it worth your while.

  • No Distractions, No Internet - This is the hardest one for most writers, cutting out the distractions. The wonderful E. Lockhart turned me on to a program called MacFreedom which is cruel, but effective. Basically you turn it on & it locks your internet so that you can't access it until the time is up. You can press all the buttons you can find and scream as much as you want, but it will not let you online. And once you get over how crazymaking that is, it helps. I have also locked myself in Starbucks without internet and managed to knock out 3,000+ words in a single sitting**. But some people honestly cannot do this. I am usually one of those people, I have to admit, but they also need a certain degree of strength. So you can only write in short bursts & need to check your twitter every half hour, okay, but don't check it every half minute.

  • Music - Another tip that works for some, but not others. Sometimes it just depends on the day. I swear by Explosions in the Sky and whenever I am listening to them, I write really great stuff. Other days I need total silence and have been known to threaten people in order to get it. If it works, do it.

  • Insanity - It's something all writers throughout history have had: just a little bit of insanity. This is doubly important for NaNo, I believe, because you have to be just a little crazy to want to take on this project

  • All of that said, there are no clear "do's" and "don'ts" of writing, there is just you and your novel. You know what works for you, so do it. Do whatever it takes.

    Congrats to all of those who finished this year! We did it!

    *For the record, I appreciate you serving me ice cream, even at 3 AM.
    ** It helps that Starbucks is magic. They'd have to be, or why would so many writers go there?

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