As a NaNoWriMo veteran, even I get freaked out as NaNoWriMo begins. The panic settles in alongside the excitement, my fingers tingling with anticipation, staring at the blank word document. Watching the clock as the minutes tick down until I can officially start writing.
As a beginner, I remember feeling incredibly nervous and questioning why on earth I was doing this. After all, I didn’t have the time and I was pretty sure I’d discard what I wrote anyway. But thankfully, I grew out of those thoughts and allowed NaNoWriMo to work its magic.
So, for anybody out there who is trying NaNoWriMo for the first time, here are some helpful tips I’m passing along, because these are the tips I’d liked to have heard when I first started as a naive beginner all those years ago.
1. Make time for NaNoWriMo.
I promise you, you will find time where you can write because you’re filling time anyway. If you replace watching that TV episode on your commute into work or idly scrolling through social media with writing, you’ll feel better when you arrive home and not have to write as much as you thought you did. Even if you only write for five minutes per day, that’s still contributing towards your writing goal. But if you can only do minimal amounts of writing per day, try to find time to catch up so you don’t fall behind. Because even though it’s possible to catch back up once you fall behind, it’s not an easy feat.
2. You don’t have to reach the 50k goal.
It might sound redundant since the whole point of NaNoWriMo is to reach the 50k goal. However, reaching any number of words towards your project is more words than those writers who only dream about writing a book and never do, or those writers who decide to write during NaNoWriMo but don’t for the rest of the year (to make you feel better, I used to be the second writer).
Please, don’t beat yourself up if you can’t reach the 50k goal. Real life exists and, unfortunately, it can mess up a lot. As much as writing during NaNoWriMo should be a priority, be realistic with what you can do, especially under the circumstances you’re in. Otherwise you risk exhausting yourself and burning out.
3. Join a writing community.
While it can be daunting to go to an actual write-in, or you can’t due to real life commitments, you can join a virtual writing community. NaNoWriMo encourages you to find a local writing community, which can be difficult if you live in a remote location, because other writers are in the same boat as you and can help you. If you can’t make it to an actual write-in, it’s okay. Forums on NaNoWriMo’s website helps, and if you tag NaNoWriMo on social media, you’re bound to find a fellow writer participating in the challenge. Check your local writing community’s social media accounts too and see if you can connect with them virtually.
I personally find joining a writing community one of the best pieces of advice because it’s the perfect time to ask those random and specific writing questions, knowing there will be a writer who’ll not only listen, but potentially provide you with an answer. Also, if you’re lacking the motivation, they can help give you a boost with word sprints or general positive affirmations you can do this.
However, if you can’t find a local writing community or it’s too intimidating to join one, find your own support system. That support system can be online via social media or by telling your loved ones what you’re setting out to do. Or that support system can just be yourself, although I personally wouldn’t do that if you’re a beginner to NaNoWriMo (unless you’ve been writing for a long time and figured you’d give yourself a writing challenge, in which case, carry on). It makes the whole experience so much easier if you have someone else to lean on and support you when it gets hard (and believe me, it will).
4. Let your story come naturally.
NaNoWriMo is all about getting those words out, not editing them. I know, the inner editor will creep out and tell you to tweak what you have, but don’t do it! It’s a challenge of putting down words just as much as it is resisting the temptation to edit your work as you’re working on it.
Additionally, if this is your first time ever writing a story, stories never go the way you want them to. The characters will decide not to do what you planned, or the plot will just decide to throw in a subplot for you. Go with it. During NaNoWriMo, weird stuff will happen. It’s inevitable. You’re so desperate to write down the words that a character deciding to go for a drive at 3am only to discover some life changing advice will happen. As will your character deciding staying inside all day is a perfectly good idea. Again, go with it. You’ll read it back later and probably question what on earth you were thinking, but you might also find a hidden gem you never would’ve discovered if you hadn’t let the story do what it wanted.
5. Reward yourself.
Reward yourself for writing each day. Reward yourself for giving your character something to do. Reward yourself for reaching the halfway mark. Reward yourself for actually hitting the 50k mark.
Writers love to reward themselves. Just make sure it’s justifiable. It’s incredibly easy to pat yourself on the back for writing down a single word and then proceeding to watch Youtube videos for 3 hours. We’ve all been there. Perhaps tell yourself to write 500 words, then you can reward yourself by watching an episode of your TV show. Perhaps tell yourself to plot out a scene, then reward yourself by going on a shopping spree. Whatever makes you happy, keep it as a reward for doing some good writing. Or for when you’re in a writing slump and you just wanna smile for a while.
Most importantly: enjoy yourself!
If NaNoWriMo becomes too stressful and you’re only writing to reach the 50k goal, don’t. Sure, it might seem like a competition, but it’s supposed to be a challenge for you to complete because you want to write this story. Not for bragging rights or to keep going no matter what. We all have limits, so please listen to them.
Good luck everyone!
Are there any tips you wished you knew when first starting out in NaNoWriMo?