Nanowrimo begins in just five hours in my time zone. Across the world, writers have already begun their 2011 novels. 50,000 words in 30 days is by no means an impossible task. You only need to make 1,667 words a day at a steady pace of daily writing to achieve the official Winner's Certificate.
It's nice to be able to keep going and finish the book. It's good to get a bit ahead. One of the easy ways to make the pace is to just round up.
Plan for 2,000 words a day. Then you'll have 60,000 words on November 30th. That's a start in itself - one that may get you a Green Bar before validation starts. For those who've never participated, your user name on the Nanowrimo forums will have a green progress bar for your word count. You fill that in manually for most of the month, updating it with a click.
Around five days from the end of the month, the Validator will come online. Copy and paste your entire manuscript into one text file, upload it and two things happen automatically. That manuscript gets word counted and deleted. They do not store the novel texts that get validated. They would need a lot more storage to do that.
But if you're afraid, just search and replace all the vowels with X's, or half the alphabet. Or all of the alphabet. Then you've got a shadow manuscript that has the same word count XXX XXX XXX XXXXX XXX X. (But all the words are X.)
Trust me, the organization gets its money from your donations instead. It does help to donate, they spend a lot of work all year round to set it up and Chris Baty worked full time there for years. So do many of the staff. It's so big they need to do it full time to get it into functioning condition when every year Nanowrimo is larger and swamps the new servers they bought to handle the overload.
I've been over to the site. It's running well for the day before Nanowrimo. I can't access "Writing Buddies" to add my newest friend to that list but the forums load quick, I stayed logged in, life's good.
You may want to download this year's badge to use as an avatar on your personal blog. This is one more way to create a level of social responsibility to finish the big project. Once it's up on your blog, your readers will all expect to see rising word counts in all your November entries.
Another good tip. Write first thing in the day if you can. Late night and super early in the morning are times of the day when other people you live with are probably sleeping in. So they won't interrupt you or distract you. This gives you a chance to start the day with a small achievement. Nothing builds confidence like repeated daily success.
You might be too tired at the end of a stressful day to put in the day's scene or chapter. That happens to everyone, there are good days and bad days. But if you get up and do an hour or two of writing before you get dressed, eat breakfast and head out to work or school, you will be more alert and confident about facing the rest of your day. Even people who get up easily without feeling groggy will have better morale if the first thing they do is an accomplishment.
First things get done.
Last things drop off if other priorities took longer than planned. So that's a big advantage to the Early Bird writer. If you're a natural night owl, try getting up earlier than that - like two or three in the morning could be your happy time. You might have to go to bed at eight or nine like a little kid to manage it, but you will have peace and quiet for a long creative session.
Part Two of Rounding Up. Do not stop on the 1,668th word with the sentence unfinished. For one thing, you can scratch your head a day later trying to guess what "She stared" at. For another, you will gain extra word count with "And Change."
I got ahead from my very first Nanowrimo because I always finished the scene or chapter I had started. That added between 200 and 600 words to every day's words. Sometimes it carried me so far over the day's words that I decided to keep going and do two days worth of writing.
That does wonders for getting the Purple Bar (validated 50,000 word count) the day the Validator gets launched. It also saves your sanity if you have a day when you had to work 15 hours and then the lights went out at home or your laptop crashed and you were up till 2AM de-virusing and fixing it. It helps solve the problem if you have a heart attack or give birth during November.
Though for giving birth, bring your laptop to the hospital. From my daughter's account, there were hours and hours of waiting involved including after the baby came, so you might as well get in some words. Besides, you can impress the nurses by telling them you're working on your Novel.
Chris Baty mentioned in the very first Nanowrimo literature I ever got, that it's fun to swank around and tell people you're a Novelist. He mentions it every year. It is absolutely true. Most people have no idea where novels come from and many will be impressed. Even more impressed if you've done this before and have a finished book to show them, whether it's indie or pro-published.
This is the literary equivalent of the Boston Marathon. You're embarking on a huge, momentous challenge, one that takes training, discipline, will power and creativity. You will hurt. You will work hard. You will fly and have fun with it. You may wind up crying over it. You may wind up crying over it in a good way when a character you love bites the dust or sinks into the La Brea Tar Pits.
You owe it to your friends to do this.
Your real life online friends - online is connecting with real people, if you've forgotten that - are all counting on you to have a book finished on December 1st. They're ready to cheer and be glad you did it. Cheer them on too if any of them are doing it, this is a time when a lot of people gang together against massive social pressure not to excel in the arts and roar each other across the finish line.
Your imaginary friends are counting on you to spend a month with them so they can get out into the real world. So they can be read about by more than just you. So they can keep someone else company on a dark lonely night they can't sleep or when they're stuck in the hospital after visiting hours or stuck on the bus for a long commute to a dull job.
If you have trouble writing anything longer than a short story, consider a "Mosaic Novel" made up of successive short stories. It is a valid, beautiful form of novel. It too can reach 50,000 words. For a good example, read any of Fritz Leiber's "Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser" fantasy books. They're collections of stories about the same two guys in a sword and sorcery world, set in chronological order. They read well as a book even if they weren't plotted as a single long story.
My biggest tip for Nanowrimo is this one.
Just Don't Stop.
That's right. Don't quit. Don't give up on it if your word count goes behind. Don't give up on it if you sweated through the first session and didn't get one word past the title down in the file. Come back, sweat some more and put in a lousy first line. Get yourself started by writing an introduction or a prologue.
At every point you are tempted to stop, ask yourself what the worst thing that could happen to that character is, or the most interesting thing. Killing him off may not be the answer. But it might - you can always turn it into a book about a zombie or a vampire. Everything is possible in the world of your novel.
Throw in everything you like in books. Don't worry about whether your heroine is a Mary Sue - that only happens if her super powers don't have anything to counter them. Just build the villains bigger and tear her up with challenges that push her to the edge of sanity and the edge of survival. Don't worry about whether your prose is lousy. Get it down in words where you can look back at leisure and edit it.
Go ahead and put in long descriptive passages. If you can't think of a snappy line, put in whatever the character would say, even if it's just "I don't know what to say." A lot of people say that when confronted with a shock.
Don't hesitate to load on the trouble! If you want it to be a good book, give your main character a hard time right from the first page. Shoot her parents. Burn his house down. Get her fired that morning. Send the bank over to repossess the land and demand mortgage payments on the smoking ruin. Have a dragon land on the house and burn it to cinders, then eat the neighbors, then someone accuses your character of summoning the dragon.
If you like it in other people's novels, chances are it's a cool thing to put in your novel. If it comes from another genre, that will help give it originality. Some of the best novels are hard to categorize. It doesn't matter either, because "mainstream" includes all the genres and pays better.
You're not trying to write a good novel this month. You're writing a rough draft this month to find out what the story's about and give you something to edit. Good novels aren't written, they're rewritten. Here's a paraphrased quote from one of the classic masters - James Michener said he didn't know how to write well, he knew how to rewrite well.
The very first novel you write could become a bestseller. You'll probably write more novels in between its beginning and its success. You will have a lot of rewrites ahead of you. But it has as good a chance to sell and become a bestseller as anyone else's - provided it exists.
For that, you have Nanowrimo to cheer you on. It gives accountabiility - your friends do know you're doing this and they'll know you're a quitter if you drop it. It gives much needed emotional support against a host of discouraging people who take out their broken dreams on anyone who dares to achieve anything - even if that's only the personal achievement of a leisure novelist who puts his or her finished work on Kindle or Smashwords for a free read.
That's one of your options too. You don't have to take this seriously and do it for money. You can do it for fun and get a kick out of being a novelist without expecting to earn a lot of money for the work. Money's good but it's not everything. If you go in doing it because you love it and don't worry about whether it's salable, you won't choke on those dismal fears that "nobody is going to buy this."
Trust me, whoever you are, whatever you think about life, the universe and everything, odds are that thousands of readers agree with you and think you're cool. They'll read your book and go "Wow, she understands, everything, she's so good." You will get that feedback from some readers. So write it to please yourself.
Do it your way because you're going to be spending some time every day with it this month. It might as well be in your favorite style and genre.
You've done all the prep you have time to do. Gather your courage, watch the clock and jump in when it's time. A midnight start is always good for getting ahead and getting some momentum.
It's ten to eight right now in my time zone. I can't wait.