November is nearly upon us, and there are thousands of people all over this planet who have decided to dedicate 30 days of their autumn to writing 50,000 for NaNoWriMo (that's National Novel Writing Month to those of us who don't like tongue twisters). It's been something that I've wanted to do for a while, but always talked myself out of it. There's no way anyone can possibly write a whole novel in a month. And yet I managed to do a lot more than that earlier this year. I hadn't intended to write a novel in a month, but once I started writing, I couldn't stop, and after 37 days I had 120,000 words under my belt. So what is stopping me from doing something similar in November? Nothing.
Over the past couple of weeks or so, people have been posting up advice on Twitter (and various other places around t'internet) on how to get through the next month, and I'd like to pass on my own pearls of wisdom.
- Set yourself realistic targets - In order to write 50,000 words in 30 days, you need to scribble down an average of 1,667 words per day. This might seem scary, so take baby steps. Bite size chunks are easier to digest. And you'll normally write more if your targets are low to start with. If you set yourself to write 10 words, you'll find that easy and write 100 words. So start off small, build your confidence, and work up to 1,667 words per day. After the first few days, your targets will increase and you'll start to find reaching these targets easier. When I was writing my first book I set myself a target of 1,000 words per day, and it got to the point where I was writing up to 4,000.
- Clear your workspace - Wherever you write; be it a desk, the kitchen table, the bathroom floor, the boot of your car, make sure it's uncluttered. As a writer, you will also be a procrastinator, so you don't need unnecessary distractions from, well, anything.
- Invest in post-it notes - If you're sitting at your computer, typing a scene at the beginning of your story, you'll no doubt get ideas for things that will happen later on in the book. If you're anything like me, you'll have to get your snippets of inspiration down on paper as soon as possible, but you won't want to lose them in your typed text. Get all of your spur of the moment thoughts down on post-it notes, stick them around the edge of your computer screen, and throw them away once you've typed them up in the appropriate place.
- Take breaks - Get up and move away from your computer at various points throughout your writing day. Don't take a break by browsing facebook, or watching videos on YouTube. Leave your computer and forget about it for a while. Go for a walk, get the heart beating and the blood pumping, breathe in some fresh air. You'll feel refreshed and ready to attack the keyboard again. When I was writing, I'd always take a break at 12:30 to take my dog for a walk. Sometimes it would be frustrating as I'd be in 'the zone' and wouldn't want to stop writing. But I did always feel better after the walk. I know November isn't the most pleasant of times to go walking, with the rain and wind attacking, so perhaps go to the gym or go swimming or go for a drive or do some housework. Do anything that will give your eyes and your mind a rest.
- Drink water - I know this isn't advice for running a marathon, but even though you aren't giving your body a workout, you are giving your mind a workout. Avoid coffee or generic energy drinks made from the juice found in bull's testicles. You'll get a perk and feel like you could write forever, then you'll drop, so you'll drink some more caffeine which will perk you up, and then you'll drop, and this vicious circle will keep going until you feel absolutely shattered. Instead, keep yourself hydrated with water or juice, and get your energy perks from snack foods, such as fruit (apples, bananas, blueberries, strawberries), raw vegetables (carrots, celery, cucumber, red peppers), and nuts (almonds, cashews, pecans). You can chow down on these snacks while you're typing away.
- Don't compete - I understand that this is a challenge undertaken by thousands of people, and there are forums to join on the NaNoWriMo website where you can chat to other writers and get support. If you happen to notice someone on 2nd November saying that they've already written 10,000 words, don't let it get you down or make you feel inadequate. We set our own targets for our own lifestyle. Just because someone has written a lot, doesn't mean that they're better than you or that they're going to finish. Concentrate on your own words.
- Sleep - This probably sounds silly, as we all need to sleep, regardless of what we're doing, but it's important to get a sufficient amount of rest to keep our minds active. If, for whatever reason, you've been unable to reach your word count target for the day, don't sit up until 4am staring at your computer in the hope that the words will come. When you have to get up at 7am to get the kids ready for school or to take the dog for a walk or to get yourself to work, you'll wish that you'd gone to bed earlier. If you really don't feel like you can write any more, close it down and leave it be. You can't force words if words won't come. There's always tomorrow to get more words down (unless it's 30th November!).
- Save, save, save - I have got into the habit of saving anything I write after I've typed a few words. An easy way to do this is to hold down the control ('ctrl') key on your keyboard and then press the 's' key. This may sound a bit extreme, but I don't ever want to lose anything, even if it is only a few words. Normally I save my work to my hard drive first. When I've come to the end of my writing day, I'll save my work to my memory stick, and I'll also e-mail the work to myself. You're going to be working so hard at getting this done, you don't want to lose anything because of a freak power cut or the dreaded blue screen of death.
- Don't give up - It may seem like you're climbing a mountain with no view of the top in which to plant your flag, but you will get there. And the feeling of having a completed manuscript is amazing. Holding those pages of paper is physical proof that you've written a book. It won't be a brilliant book. It will need a lot of editing. But it will be a book, and you can feel pleased that you've done it. So even when you get to the middle of the month and you feel like giving up, don't. Plod at it. If you feel your story is getting boring, add a few plot twists, or bring in a crazy character. It's your book. You can do whatever you want with it, so whatever you do do, keep doing it, and only give up once your story is finished.
- Enjoy yourself - Either you write as a hobby or you write professionally. No-one is forcing you to be a writer, so you've chosen this art form because you like doing it. Don't let it seem like work. It's just a longer version of your writing group homework, or a writing prompt that has taken on a life of its own. If you find that you're not enjoying it, perhaps writing isn't for you.
There are probably hundreds of other pieces of advice that could be given with regards to writing a novel, so I won't pretend that this is an exhaustive list. I just hope it gives you a little bit of light at the end of a long tunnel.