Thursday, December 1, 2011

In the Aftermath of NaNoWriMo

NaNoWriMo, an abbreviation of national novel writing month, is a fast-paced challenge that attracts thousands of aspiring novelists each year. All through November--national novel writing month--writers across the globe scribble and type madly, trying to reach the ever-distant goal of 50,000 words by the end of the month.

This year was my first time to participate in the--to put it politely--insanity. I loved it. However, I had no clue how to go about the process. Now, having learned (painfully) from my mistakes, I am better prepared to answer the question, "How on earth do you write a novel in a month? (And have a life?)"

The answer, believe it or not, is rather simple. Two steps: first, have a plan; second, write consistently every day.

As it happens, those two steps are keys for any writing. I know that writing is a controversial art; each writer passionately defends his or her favored methods and means of writing. However, for most writers, following these two steps can ease the transition from NaNoWriMo to normal life plus writing, and from normal life into normal life plus writing.

First, plan the plot of your story. Plan hard and plan well. Plan a brilliant, surprising, and paradigm-shifting story. Easier said than done, right? Well, think of it this way: would you rather try to insert random bits of intelligent plot while writing off the top of your head? (That, by the way, was my attempt this year. Not recommended.)

What, then? By planning out at least a rough outline of your story--especially as regards plot, climax, and characters--you can write more easily. Think of it this way: as you write, would you rather have your attention divided between planning the story and writing the story, or would it be simpler to plan separately (beforehand) and write afterward?

Okay, glad you're with me there. (If not, tell me why, please!) Now that we've decided to plan, though, how to go about the task? Rough outlines? Bubble chart? The Dreaded Formal Outline of Doom?

Every writer has his or her own special secret tricks for planning. Personally, I've found Randy Ingermannson's Snowflake Method to be quite helpful. However, other people like to free write and still others use post-its and tissues for notes. The methods are only as wide as your imagination! Do some research, practice, and figure out your favorite methods.

Next is the second step in the process: writing consistently. Here, I must be quite severe. No matter your preferred writing style, you will never write a novel if you never write. It's as simple as that.

During November, my goal was to write 1,500 words a day (more than I'd ever written consistently in my life, to be perfectly honest). That really pushed my limits. I needed to find very creative methods to write--such as, for example, waking up early on Thanksgiving day to write for an hour before going over to relatives' to celebrate.

I would encourage you to set your goal so that it's a little bit out of your reach. By straining and working hard to reach that goal, you push yourself and develop writing muscles. Set a promise to yourself--a few paragraphs, a page. Then follow through. You will always have some extra time each day. So be proactive. Grab that time by the ears and write!

If you think, "But I could never write that much every single day!", then challenge yourself to do it for a week. Be extremely severe with yourself. Find the time to write somewhere--it is possible. Then reward yourself when you accomplish your goal. Once you've proven to yourself that it's possible to write, even in your busy life, then you have no excuse.

So go! Plan! Write!


  1. Excellent advice, Sienna. Like you, I had only a very vague idea of a premise (not even a plot!) in my head the first time I attempted NaNo. It was fun, but at the end of the month I ended up with only 17,000 words of a ridiculous story. Since then I've devoted time to outlining prior to November 1. While writing this current novel I discovered FreeMind, and I like using that; I've never tried the Snowflake Method.

    NaNoWriMo is a wonderful thing. I'm so glad somebody was crazy enough to come up with the idea!

  2. I can really relate to you in the pains of writing unplanned NaNoWriMos! This year, actually, I'd done a lot of drafting and planning beforehand. However, when I began to write, I pretty much changed the course of the story and ignored my notes (not recommended). Next year, I'll be sure to be more plan-sensitive!

    FreeMind sounds like a good tool! I'll have to look it up.


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