And here we are, mere hours into November. I hope you got to have a little Halloween fun, even if it was just watching some favorite movies or making creepy displays for your home. We had a socially-distant candy bowl but… didn’t get a lot of takers. Which means now I have a lot of candy.
But now it’s November, and we all know what that means…
(shouted like the opening to “Mortal Kombat”)
If that handful of syllables means nothing to you, we’re talking about National Novel Writing Month. Every November thousands of folks sit themselves down at the keyboard or microphone or notepad and try to get an entire book out—start to finish—in just thirty days.
This is probably going to be one of the most brutal years ever to try to do NaNoWriMo. Yeah, it’s just after Halloween and heading full speed into the holidays, but at least that part’s normal. We’re also dealing with a somewhat intense election cycle (already in progress) here in the states. Plus a pandemic that’s raging around the world at levels anywhere from “screaming woman in the grocery store” to “actual kaiju attack,” depending on where you are.
As I mentioned the other day, it’s understandable if you’ve had trouble focusing on your writing. Or if you just don’t feel up to this. NaNoWriMo can be fun and it can get your enthusiasm for writing really stoked again. But the truth is, it’s a huge, exhausting undertaking.
Anyway, here’s four quick things for all of us to keep in mind so we don’t get as intimidated or overwhelmed trying to do this, y’know, intimidating thing at this overwhelming point in time.
1) We Shouldn’t be Hard on Ourselves—NaNoWriMo is supposed to be fun. Technically we’re on a deadline, yeah, but it’s a self-imposed deadline with no consequences if it’s missed. Seriously, relax. Push yourself, but don’t pressureyourself. The real goal here is to improve, and any and every improvement counts. So have fun and try to enjoy all the little victories this month.
And don’t worry about “winning.” This is a time when coming in second or third is still a fantastic achievement. So don’t beat yourself up if you don’t make your daily or weekly word count. That’s the kind of thing that only makes you feel bad about yourself. It doesn’t help anything, it just makes you not enjoy writing as much.
2) Pace Ourselves—nobody wins a marathon by sprinting the entire way. Trying to fill every single waking moment with writing will burn any of us out quick. Seriously. And it’ll show in the work.
It’s tough, especially on projects like this, but we need to stay aware of diminishing returns. Personally, when I’m on a deadline, a lot of times I’ll work late into the night. Sometimes it goes great, but more often than not… I start to slow down. I get distracted. My productivity drops. Eventually it hits the point where I would’ve been better off going to bed two hours ago because I would’ve gotten just as much done in half an hour after a good night’s sleep.
Again, you can’t sprint for a month. And after too many sprints, you’re just going to crash. So find a good, steady pace that works for you and just keep it up. Remember, we’re not trying to write faster, we’re trying to write at a much more regular rate. It’s better to do a thousand word every day than two thousand every third or fourth day.
3) Rest and recharge—if the last two pieces of advice got together and had an advice baby, it’d be this. Don’t be scared to just step away for a little while. Have a meal at the table, maybe a drink out back. Curl up with somebody on the couch and watch an episode of The Mandalorian or
My point is, again, don’t feel bad about stepping away from the computer for an hour. We’re trying to get a lot done, yeah, but we also don’t want to overwork our brains to the point they overheat and seize up. Take time to cool down and refuel. I’m not saying take off two or three days, but don’t be scared to get up and stretch now and then. In the end, it’ll make everything run smoother and faster overall.
4) Nobody’s Going to Buy This— Seriously. They won’t. I don’t care what somebody said on that other website, it’s just not going to happen. As pressing concerns go, this is only slightly behind wondering if we can get Letitia Wright to play the lead in the movie adaptation. We’re just not there yet. Nowhere near it.
Y’see, Timmy, National Novel Writing Month isn’t really an accurate name, because we’re not writing a novel. We’re writing the first draft of a novel. Maybe even just the first draft of a novella. And there’s a huge difference between a first draft and a polished, completed manuscript. Most relevant to our discussion here—nobody’s going to buy a first draft. No agent’s going to look at it. No film studio will pre-emptively buy the rights after a prolonged bidding war.
This draft’s for us. It’s to do whatever we want with. Don’t wast time wondering about agents or editors or producers. They’re never going to see this. They may see the third or fourth draft later—and be interested in it—but what we’re doing right now? This is just the first steps. If we actually complete this draft, we’ll barely be halfway through the process.
So forget them. Right now, just crank up the music and let your imagination run wild. Do whatever you want. Tell your story. Drop all inhibitions and expectations and just write.
Try to keep these things in mind over the next couple days. Hopefully they’ll make things a little easier for you. Which’ll make the writing a little more enjoyable.
Jeeeez, let’s be honest. Who knows what things are going to be like next time we talk. Crap, not the best thing to say when I’m trying to psych you up. But let’s all take a deep breath (no matter what) and…
Yeah, next time, I’m going to beg you to stop telling me things.
Until then… go write.