(NaNoWriMo logo in header courtesy of National Novel Writing Month).
NaNoWriMo approacheth, and if this is your first year tackling the challenge, it can seem pretty daunting. Fifty thousand words? In 30 days?
But there are a few ways to make it easier on yourself and to improve your chances of success. There are a few standard basics like “quantity over quality” and “shut off the inner editor” that are almost like NaNoWriMo mantras. But here I’m about to drop a few real dirty tricks and a little bit of serious advice that you can use to your full benefit.
1) TK and/or square brackets are your friend.
Did you get halfway through this scene only to realize you’re not sure if they used grenadine in mixed drinks in the 1920s? Or that you don’t actually know what the word is for that specific clockwork thingamabob? Or even whether your protagonist already locked the window in the last scene?
Resist the urge to Google. Don’t leave your document. Don’t even scroll back to check on details from a previous scene. Instead leave a note to yourself using square brackets and/or “TK”, both of which are easily searchable later.
I poured a generous dash of grenadine into the mix [[TK: DID THEY HAVE GRENADINE THEN?]] and slid the glass toward Mason.
Stephen crossed to the window and threw the latch. [[TK: DID THEY DO THIS ALREADY?]]
You can go back and fix these later on with a quick search for brackets or the letters “TK” and clean up your research in revision. The only exception I allow myself for this is during NaNo is if the information is completely plot-crucial.
Why TK? It’s used in journalism, and believed that it was chosen because so few English words feature this letter combination, making it easier to search.
2) Skip a scene if you don’t want to write it.
I mean it. Just make a brief note what happens using those brackets I mentioned above, and move on. If you’re stuck on some minute detail like “but HOW do they open the magical portal?” or it’s the type of scene you hate writing (hello fight scenes), you don’t have to write it yet. You can leave that for Future December You.
Tanya grinned. “Prove it.” [[INSERT FIGHT SCENE HERE. TANYA LOSES BUT ESCAPES]].
The alley was dark but quiet. I think I’ve lost them, Tanya thought.
Then you’re on to the scene you really do want to write and can keep up that momentum.
3) Double-barreled names and titles are free words.
Are you writing fantasy? Kyrie is now Lady Kyrie of Delara. That’s three extra words every time you mention her name. Does it read awkwardly? Yeah. Will you fix that in edits? Definitely. But for NaNoWriMo, every word is precious. Turning Anna into Anna Rose could add a few thousand words to your story.
4) Create at least one character who uses three words where one would do.
Make one of your characters exhaustively long-winded. Do they hem and haw and use a lot of “Um, er, if you don’t mind, perhaps” language? Or are they a Moira Rose type who uses way excessive long words and formal phrasing?
Either way, that dialogue adds bonus words that build to your word count. It might be excessive in your first draft, but just roll with it and you can trim later in revision.
5) Follow those rabbit trails.
If you find yourself veering from your original concept or outline, go with it. Type that fun, fluffy scene where your characters attend a carnival but no plot happens. Get lush and full-on purple prose with those descriptions, if you love describing sensory details. Try out that really bizarre idea that might be a tad nonsensical.
Indulge yourself. NaNoWriMo is for you alone, not some far-off reader. You can always take a closer, more critical look earlier. But for now, let your mind and those typing (or writing) fingers run wild. Set your imagination lose and follow it. If the writing is fun, you’re more likely to keep at it and finish the draft.
Bonus Tip: Get an accountability buddy/cheerleader.
This works best for me if it’s someone who isn’t also doing NaNoWriMo. Other Wrimos will be going through their own struggles. While commiserating with them is a great way to help your mental health throughout the month, having someone who’s willing to check in on you and cheerlead can be that extra boost you need. (And let’s be real, a bit of a guilt trip too, if you have to fess up to not meeting your goals).
This can be a partner, a friend, a sibling. Just ask someone you trust and care about if they’ll check in on you regularly and make you report your progress. Sometimes knowing that someone else is invested and will be asking for a report can help you squeeze out those last couple hundred words for the day.
In the end, NaNoWriMo isn’t for anyone else but yourself. If you’ve always wanted to write a book and need a kick in the pants, maybe NaNo can be that for you. Or if you’re someone who habitually abandons projects in the messy middle, this might be the drive you need to finish one.
It’s not for everybody, but for those entering the fray this November, good luck!