National Novel Writing Month has begun!
November 1 is always cause for excitement, stress, and writing craftsmanship. For the entire month, people who want to write a novel are supported by other people with similar dreams. And right now, in just a few hours of it starting, more than four million words have been written according to the NaNoWriMo website, where writers catalogue their progress.
I will be partaking in this year’s NaNoWriMo, focusing on at least writing every day. Will I write enough words for it to be a success? I don’t know. But I’m going to try to keep up and, at the very least, finish a large portion of my current book.
Are you writing during NaNoWriMo? If so, find helpful advice below from professional writers!
“Be ambitious, be disciplined—but never lose sight of your own idiosyncratic, personal joy in a story well told. Nurture that, and share that. It’s the most precious tool in the box. We’re in this to sustain reader’s hearts, if we can. To have a shot at doing so we must sustain our own.”
—Robert V.S. Redick, author of The Red Wolf Conspiracy
“Don’t try to create and destroy at the same time. Either you are ‘creating’ draft – and your inner critic is turned totally OFF, anything goes, you just write without judgement, or you are ‘editing’ – destroying – this is a separate stage, it happens after you have a draft and after you know your idea – you are reshaping that draft and refining your words to convey that idea with more clarity. Then you have your inner critic turned on, and you cut what’s garbage. These are two, separate, distinct processes, and if you try to do both at once, you will totally shut down your intuition and stop that important first draft in its tracks. You can always change what you’ve got, the important thing is to get it down in the first place.
Secondly – don’t punish yourself if you are not a sprinter, and you ‘fall behind’ getting that word count down every single day. Creativity waxes and wanes, it follows a very personal rhythm, and the way yours works will be totally unique to you. If you happen to discover you are a slower, more deliberate writer, or that ‘burst’ of creativity doesn’t happen day after day, you are learning about how you work best, and that’s the most important thing about any endeavor. Don’t measure yourself against what others are doing, and instead, praise yourself for whatever you did get done. Baby steps will finish a book, where sometimes the whirlwind approach will not. And more: some books write easier than others, some are like pulling teeth, a bloodletting agony the entire way. The only thing that matters is that when all’s said and done, the reader cannot tell the difference. So take on the NaNoWriMo challenge, but out of it, learn to set realistic goals for yourself and take away what makes your own creative clock tick.”
—Janny Wurts, author of Wars of Light and Shadows series
“A big part of developing the lifelong writing habit is learning to write every day, at least a page. NaNoWriMo is a great bootcamp for that habit, as you have to average four pages a day to make your 30,000-word goal, and you have a support system with the other NaNo writers. Even if you think what you’re writing sucks, don’t stop — it doesn’t matter if it sucks. What matters is actually hitting the word count. As you develop the habit of writing every day, your quality will steadily improve.”
—Scott Sigler, author of Alive
“So many people today feel rushed. They’re rushed in their jobs, rushed in their family life, in a hurry to make it rich. Recently I’ve read ads from people who tell you that “You can write a bestselling novel in as little as five minutes a day in a single month!” That’s bullshit. You can write two chapters of a bestselling novel in that amount of time, in first draft. But you can’t write a bestseller in that time. In fact, I’m going to say this: Nanowrimo provides a great incentive to get a first draft out, but it too is bullshit. Real art, art that sells, art that you can be proud of, takes time. So do NaNoWriMo, then slow down and get your ass to work!”
—David Farland, author of the Runelords series
“My #1 advice always: Remove all judgment from your first draft. Don’t ask yourself if it’s good, if it’s bad, if it started in the wrong place, if you’re writing fast enough, if the hero’s eye color or name is perfect. Just look at a first draft as an inherently flawed part of the process. Once you’ve got the words on the paper, you can always revise and polish later, but you can’t fix a blank page. For me, the magic often comes in the third draft or even later. Judgment is the thief of progress.”
—Delilah S. Dawson/Lila Bowen, author of Star Wars: The Perfect Weapon
“My tiny bit of new advice this year is, if you are a fan of gamifying, try something like habitica and sign up for a NaNoWriMo challenge to help keep you on track! I’m finding it fun and wildly motivating myself. :)”
—Naomi Novik, author of Uprooted
“Remember to get up and move around once in a while. Sitting all the time is hard on the body and harmful (which I can personally attest to) and taking a walk or engaging in any kind of movement can get the creative juices flowing.”
—Kristen Britain, author of Green Rider
“Make sure that there is conflict in every chapter, every scene, every scrap of dialogue. Even descriptive passages should spring out of psychological tension.”
—Brian Staveley, author of The Emperor’s Blades
“Write What You Know
I love this statement. It’s so evocative, so insightful, and so damn easy to misconstrue.
Whoever came up with the idea might well have meant it literally, but you’d be a fool to take it that way. It doesn’t mean if you are a waitress or bus boy that you write about waitresses or bus boys. Or restaurants or bars; not specifically, at least.
The trick to writing what you know is to realize that it’s meant to be more emotional, more experience-driven than skill-driven. As humans, we all understand what it’s like to be happy, to be sad, to hurt, to be depressed, angry, tired, hungry, horny, excited, et al. These concepts are common to our existence. Even if you had a lousy home life or job or whatever, you’ve experienced these emotions to varying degrees over the course of your life. We all have.
That’s what write what you know means.
It means to embed those experiences inside your writing. Reach deep and tap into the emotions you’ve felt as you’re working on a scene and plug them into the piece. We all feel these emotions the same way, regardless of how we react to them. That reaction part doesn’t matter, though. It’s how you put them to paper that you need to concern yourself with.
If you’re writing a scene about a person falling in love, you know that feeling. Put it on the page. A story about losing someone you care for. Same thing. We’ve all been there. Now it becomes your job as the writer to capture those feelings and put them onto the page. Readers will connect with those feelings because they know and understand them. It isn’t about knowledge or intellect. It’s about the common connection we humans have with each other on an emotional level.
Draw upon your feelings and imbue your work with them to lend an emotional realism to your writing. That’s writing what you know.”
—Tim Marquitz, author of Demon Squad
“Since this is NaNoWriMo, I’m going forego generalized writing advice and pass along a few thoughts that might help in the rather arduous climb you have ahead of you.
The first thing I’d like to talk about is headspace. Headspace, I hear you say. What does that mean?
Well, the best way I can put it is: don’t allow your words become precious. I think sometimes we put too much importance on “getting it all right” on the first draft. We want the story to be perfect before we move on. We treat every page as some miraculous gift. Truth is, words are pretty easy to come by if you can strip away the stuff about “being an author” and worrying about what your audience will think and how the book is (or isn’t) going to blow up and simply write.
Let me be clear. We’re not talking about cutting corners here. Some of my best stuff has come when the words are flying. There’s no doubt in my mind that we can write quickly without sacrificing story. And that’s exactly what I’m getting at here. It’s a freeing realization for a lot of authors to experience—writing a short story in a week, or a chapter in a day. It tears down one of the more persistent barriers to progress: that we can’t write quickly and produce good stuff. We can. And once we’ve proven it to ourselves, it becomes a lot easier to do it again and again and again.
On a very slight tangent—and by way of warning—I’ve often found myself stopping right when I get in the zone. What the hell is that about? It happens to me a lot, and I’ll admit (here among friends) that I give in to it more than I should. I know it stems from an eagerness to be done, to reduce the mental pressure. It also comes from a feeling of satisfaction of what I’ve accomplished, the will to revel in it rather than keep pushing (which, let’s face it, is hard). But you have to power through that eagerness to be satisfied. Borrowing a few key phrases from Hamilton: Never be satisfied. Write like you’re running out of time. Demand more of yourself. Stop looking back. Keep your eye on the road ahead and push.
One of my favorite aphorisms on writing is: just get the clay on the table. There’ll be plenty of time to read over the draft and fix everything that needs fixing WHEN THE FIRST DRAFT IS DONE. Some tips for doing that? Set goals for every writing session. Have less time? Lower the goal. But do set them and work hard to reach them. Make them public if you need to. Tell someone else to make it a personal challenge. Or set up #1k1hr challenges (1,000 words in an hour) with other writers on Twitter or elsewhere.
Also, you probably know by now what works best for you. Whatever your writing routine is (be it militaristic consistency or changing things up to keep the creative juices flowing) follow them.
And lastly, when you reach the zone (and you will) let yourself stay in it for as long as possible. There’ll be time for patting yourself on the back in December!
The second bit of advice is to not forget about plotting. Sometimes I think we can get so lost in making word counts that we forget this little thing called plot. It can lead to some pretty gnarly dead ends and the dreaded writer’s block.
Now I know a lot of people try to plot everything they’re going to write before they start the month. Others plot as they go. Whatever the case for you, don’t feel bad about taking short breaks to adjust course. When I plot, I plot both forward and backward. (And so do plenty of authors; this certainly isn’t unique to me.) I know where I am now (wherever “now” is in my current draft) and I know where I’m headed (some major turning point and/or the end of the novel). By constantly comparing those two points in the story’s continuum, it creates narrative tension, or perhaps narrative attraction is a better term here. By doing this, I’m able to see one of two things: either (a) how I can progress forward, thereby coming closer (narratively speaking) to the end, or (b) how I can step backward, crafting events that must occur for me to reach the end of the tale, which allows me to plot toward that point instead of the climax (which is sometimes too far for me to effectively plot toward).
To simplify this a bit, these are really just two ways of outlining; they’re just approaching the process from two different angles. Sometimes I’m favoring one technique over the other. I may, for example, be steeped heavily in the trajectory of the current scene or chapter. I know I’m headed in a good direction, and so I’m able to power forward fairly easily. I’m more “in the present” than not. I’m plotting forward. At other times, I may feel like I’m lost, so I concentrate heavily on where the story needs to end up. Doing so advises me on what has to happen before that. Which implies more events from earlier. And so on. Thus, I’m plotting backward from the ending toward the beginning.
That said, you’re never really doing just one or the other. Plotting forward requires you to know where you’re headed, just as plotting backward requires that you know where you currently are. But do recognize which one of these you’re using primarily. If you’re stuck, try working from the other end of things. Doing so can often advise you on what you need to do to get unstuck.
That’s all I have for now, brave adventurers! Now fly! Be free! And may the words be ever in your favor.”
—Bradley P. Beaulieu, author of The Song of the Shattered Sands series
“Write! Let your writer brain ramble, let it play, and don’t worry about perfection–you’ll have time to edit later. The exercise is called “National Novel Writing Month” but, in fact, you don’t have to complete the story, or have it all make sense, or keep your story contained in exactly 50K words, you just have to write.”
—Kat Richardson, author of Greywalker
“You should fail NaNoWriMo.
I’m not saying failure should be your goal, or that you shouldn’t try to hit that 50K word count. Succeeding is great.
But if you’ve never made the NaNoWriMo goal before despite several tries, or if you have a hectic November ahead of you, or if you’re not sure if your current story concept will support a work at that length, try anyway. Try knowing you might fail. In fact, accept failure as a worthy goal in itself. Even if you only write forty thousand words, or thirty thousand, or just five thousand for the whole month, you will still have made art.
And that’s not really failure at all.”
—Harry Connolly, author of Child of Fire
“Theme is an important element to consider when conceiving your story. The concept of ‘theme’ in fiction has been the subject of a great deal of academic discussion over the years, and opinions vary, but for me theme is what the story is about. By this I don’t mean a summation of the plot. If someone asked you what the classic western “High Noon” was about you might say, ‘a sheriff in small town has to face a bunch of varmints on his own because the townsfolk all crap their pants and refuse to help.’ That’s the plot, but it’s not the theme. The theme of “High Noon,” at least in my opinion, is the isolating and paralysing effect of group fear on a society. The film has often been read as an allegory for the McArthy witch-hunts that beset Hollywood in the 1950s, with Gary Cooper the heroic embodiment of all those blacklisted actors, directors and screenwriters abandoned by their peers through fear of association with the commie menace. Turning to the most well-known fantasy novel of all time, The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien, the underlying themes of this book have been endlessly discussed, some opining that it’s a grand allegory for World War II, a notion Tolkien himself explicitly rejected. Others argue it’s about heroism or friendship or loyalty. For me, however, it’s always been about unwanted but inescapable responsibility. Tolkien himself was part of that unfortunate generation of young men who found themselves suffering privation and danger on a daily basis in the trenches of World War One. Given his early path in life it seems highly unlikely that Tolkien would have been a military man in any other circumstance, meaning he knew full well the burden of unasked for responsibility. In The Lord of the Rings this burden falls mainly on the shoulders of Frodo the ring-bearer, although it’s worth noting that Aragorn is also in many ways a reluctant bearer of responsibility as the long lost heir to the throne of Gondor.
Writing Exercise: make a list of your ten favourite books and / or movies then write down what you think the theme of each story is. You may find that your opinion differs from your friends, critics or even the avowed intentions of the author or screenwriter, but that doesn’t really matter. The point of the exercise is to get your mind attuned to considering theme as the underpinning of your story.”
—Anthony Ryan, author of The Waking Fire
There you have it! NaNoWriMo advice from professional authors who know a thing or two about writing. But it goes beyond that. You now have the power to create your own advice.
But it requires you sitting down this month and writing. Of conquering insecurity. Of discovering great time management skills. And being excited every day to write. Make the time. And have fun.
You can do this.