October is a great month! Autumn really sets in and brings with it an incredible array of colours in the trees. It brings crisp, cold mornings and short days. Cosy jumpers, warm gloves, and hot drinks spiced with cinnamon.
And for many writers, October brings with it one very important question:
To NaNo, or not to NaNo?
National Novel Writing Month (really, at this point, shouldn’t it be International Novel Writing Month?) has been running for close to two decades now. Every November, the challenge to writers is to write a novel in 30 days. This doesn’t have to be a finished novel, but means that you write something that is novel-length. 50,000 words to be exact (10,000 words over the official minimum requirement for a piece of writing to be considered a novel).
I mentioned a few weeks ago that I won’t be participating in NaNoWriMo this year. This is due to me putting in place a writing plan that I can sustain for longer than 30 days in order to concentrate on finishing the first draft of my novel (more on that in a couple of weeks’ time). But that doesn’t mean I can’t lend encouragement to those who are taking part.
Last year, when I took part, I discovered something really wonderful about the Writing Community, and that is that it is filled with people who not only have a shared love for writing, but also a shared passion for seeing other writers do well. There were several times last November when I seriously wanted to give up. That 50,000-word milestone seemed absolutely unattainable, and it would have been so easy just to stop.
It was the encouragement of other writers that got me through these moments. These writers may not even have realised that they were such an amazing source of encouragement. They were simply sharing their own hardships and triumphs along with everyone else.
Paradoxically, I think that is what NaNoWriMo is all about: We collectively share the experience of writing 50,000 words (each) in the month of November, and yet at the end of the day we are still writing our own individual stories with no-one to help with the actual writing of it.
If that even makes sense!
Either way, it is a great month and, for me last year’s NaNo was invaluable to me for providing the focus and framework I needed to start taking my novel seriously; something that I am continuing now with a framework of my own.
For anyone who is taking part in NaNoWriMo this year, I wish you the best of luck and hope that you have as much fun as I did last year! If it is your first time setting off on this adventure, here are my top tips for getting through:
NaNoWriMo 2018 Survival Kit
1: Tell your friends and family what you are doing
This isn’t just about accountability (which is important – it was a great motivator having a group of people around you to ask you the uncomfortable question of “How’s the writing going?” to actually keep you writing). But aside from that, it is likely that you will become a hermit for a month. If, like me, you have a full-time job, or any kind of demands on your time, the time you can dedicate to writing will be limited. If you’re going to commit to NaNoWriMo, it may be that there are a few social engagements that fall by the wayside for a few weeks. Explaining to your friends and family why this is, and that it is temporary, will help smooth things over no end.
2: Get comfortable!
I don’t know about you, but I find it much easier to write when I am not distracted by the fact that my back hurts, or my bum has gone numb from sitting in one position for too long. It takes time to write 1,667 words (or whatever your daily target is), so make sure you are literally in a position that will sustain you. I am most comfortable in either pyjamas or leggings, and when I can stretch out on my bed. I can be sat up if I want to be, propped up with pillows, or even lying full stretch on my stomach with pen in hand. Find out what works for you comfort-wise, and feel free to be a little indulgent in it for 30 days!
3: Pre-Writing Rituals
This was my daily routine during NaNoWriMo last year: I would be in work from 8:30am until 5:00pm. I would then walk home, getting in around 5:30pm. Between 6:00pm and 6:30pm, I had my dinner, and by 7:00pm I would get myself ready to write. This meant gathering the following items: my laptop for music, pen and paper (I work best when I write by hand), a cup of strong, milky coffee with one sugar, some sort of snack (usually biscuits/cookies or chocolate), and my Rubiks Cube to keep my hands busy while I think. Gathering all of those together each evening helped put me in the right frame of mind to write (and still does to this day).
4: Feed your body as well as your brain
Snacks are great. Meals are better! When you really getting into a writing rhythm, the last thing you want to do is to stop. But remember that no matter how well you are writing, it will likely go a lot better on a full stomach. The temptation during NaNoWriMo (I found) was to opt for junk food. Things that were ready made, or quick to prepare meant less time away from the page. But if you manage to resist this temptation and stick to a more balanced diet, you will feel better for it all around. I am no dietician, but I know how sluggish and irritable I can feel after pigging out for a day. Clocking up 30 days like that is not a good idea!
5: Also, COFFEE!!!!!!!
Let’s get real for a sec. When the Ancient Greeks talked about Ambrosia, the food of the gods, what they actually meant was coffee. And this is coming from someone who is usually a Tea Drinker! I feel I am betraying my Britishness to say it, but coffee is actually magical when it comes to writing. I’m sure there is some highly logical and scientific explanation as to why the caffeine in coffee seems to be so much more potent than it is in any other beverage, but really all you need to know is:
Coffee = GOOD!
DISCLAIMER: Please drink coffee responsibly! Any caffeine consumed after 8:00pm can and will keep you awake for the majority of the night. Do not over-indulge if you have a nervous disposition.
6: Don’t do it alone
OK, so writing is a solitary pursuit. This is why it is important to connect with others, particularly during NaNoWriMo. Fortunately, the Powers That Be who organise NaNo make it SUPER EASY for writers to connect with each other. Check out their website for details of writing groups that meet in your area. If, like me, you struggle to get to the meet-ups, then go for the next-best thing: Social Media. Usually, the thought of technology being used as a substitute for actual human contact is a frightful one, but during NaNoWriMo, the writing community is out in force online (as mentioned above). Twitter is particularly good for this. Look up #NaNoWriMo2018 and you’ll find hundreds of people sharing what they’re going through, and plenty more who are simply cheering you on from the sidelines (that’s where I’ll be this year). It really is extremely encouraging.
Those tips pretty much saw me through the whole of November last year. The only other thing to keep in mind is that there will be times when your body and your brain will tell you they have had enough, and you should stop. You will quickly learn the difference between everyday tiredness and full-on exhaustion. The former can be worked with. The latter cannot. When this happens, listen to what your body is telling you, and stop. There is no point in burning yourself out entirely. If you miss your target one day, remember you can catch up on another day.
There is also no shame in getting to the end of the month without having written 50,000 words. The point is that you put your best effort in and for that you should be proud!
All that is left for me to say for now is:
GOOD LUCK, EVERYONE!
I, together with many others, am rooting for you! I look forward to hearing all about your adventure soon.