11 tips to surviving nanowrimo

well, it's nearing november, which means it's almost time for nanowrimo [national novel writing month]. the premise of nanowrimo is to craft a 50,000+ word novel in 30 days or less. seemingly impossible to some, but it can be done. my sweet spot for novel writing is 3 weeks, and that includes squeezing a full-time job into the mix. so as someone who's done it time and again [and not just in november], here are some survival tips:

1. taking your laptop to starbucks doesn't make you a writer, writing does
any time i walk into a coffee shop and see some kid with a laptop, i just roll my eyes and think: facebook. i've got a friend who claims she's most productive in coffee shops, but i don't understand it. if you're too distracted to write with the tv on, then how do you expect to write in a place of business with people constantly walking in and out? reality is [unless you're a seasoned writer] you're going to be the most productive in a familiar environment with as few distractions as possible. after all, the whole point is to write, isn't it? not to make people think that's what you're doing...

2. avoid social networking sites [and probably the internet in general] at all costs
nothing is a bigger time-suck than facebook, so don't allow yourself the distraction. i understand you think it's imperative that the world knows you are "driving with the tunes cranked to 11" or "trying on boots with Kimmy", but trust me, no one cares. seriously. so if you really want people to know what you're up to, at 11:59 pm on october 31st change your status to "writing" and leave it at that for the next 30 days. they'll get the idea. i also find it helpful to turn off the airport [internet connection] on my laptop when i'm working. that way it's not so convenient to open a web page and get distracted.

3. writing is more than just sitting at a keyboard
the physical act of writing is [obviously] imperative to getting any work done, but you can't leave the story just because you step away from your computer. the plot to your novel should be on your mind 24/7 until the book is complete. i often wake up with my characters in my head, or go to sleep trying to figure out what to do with them next. if you spend the time you're away from your computer working out your story, then you will always have something to write when you sit down to work. it's really that simple.

4. do not reread your entire novel from the beginning every time you sit down to write
if you do this, you most certainly will not finish your novel in 30 days, or maybe not even 30 months. i know this is very tempting, but if you are 40,000 words in you just don't have the time. keep the story in your head, and you won't need to go more than a couple pages back to pick up where you left off. best case scenario is you are writing for several hours at a time, or several periods throughout the day, so going back to refresh your memory won't be an issue.

5. think in terms of word count instead of page numbers
i was baffled several weeks ago when i was trying to explain the concept of word count to my very close friend who is working on her mfa in creative writing. do they not teach this in grad school? try to get anything published, and you will soon learn that no one cares if your novel is 400 pages long - you have to site the number of words, not the number of pages. anyone who's written a college paper knows that if you use currier new font your paper's going to be longer than if you use times new roman. publishers know this too. here's a simple breakdown of common piece lengths:

1,000 words max - flash fiction
5,000 words max - short story
40,000 - 60,000 words - young adult novel
100,000 words - novel

[as an indicator, to get to 400 pages using 12 point times new roman font, you're going to need to put in about 95,000 words or so, give or take a few thousand. good luck.]

6. write a story you want to read
i generally write young adult supernatural novels, and short stories are always horror. why? because when i actually take a break from writing to read something, those are the genres i'm going to invest my time in. i write the kinds of books i would have devoured as a teenager, which means i not only love them, but i want to read them again and again. i understand that i'm not a literary writer, so there's no way i'm going to attempt a piece of literary fiction. write what you love to read, and other people will probably want to read it too.

7. never make anything easy for your characters
sure it would be great if carly met gabe, didn't have an issue with the fact that he was a shapeshifter, totally accepted that she was too, fell in love with him, and they lived happily ever after. but how do you get 4 books out of that and leave enough loose ends for a 5th? you don't. everything has to be a struggle, leaving just enough hope for your reader to keep fighting for your main character. need some tips on the art of creating constant drama? watch a few episodes of gossip girl, and you'll have it down in no time.

8. if you don't know your voice, don't waste these 30 days trying to find it
figuring out your voice in writing is like figuring out the female orgasm: you don't know it until you're there [that's really the best analogy i could come up with, so i hope i didn't leave you blushing]. every writer has a signature voice, his or her own way of telling the story. and the only real way to establish voice is by writing A LOT. in the beginning most writers copy other writers, because what else are they going to do? in junior high all i read was christopher pike and stephen king, and that's who i tried to write like. now, after years and years of writing, i have my own distinct voice. i'm still not quite sure how i got there, but i'm there. and trust me, it's not something that happened with the first novel. if you need to emulate someone else to get words on paper, then do it. because the whole point of nanowrimo isn't to pen the great american novel, it's to finish what you started.

9. find a muse
there are certain things that i know will always inspire me. i can put on any bright eyes album [because they're pretty must the greatest band ever] and i'm instantly ready to write for hours and hours. last november i listened to nothing but radiohead's "hail to the thief" for 30 days straight. and the film fight club for some reason, with its enchanting prose, always puts me in a creative mood. find something that brings out your creative side, whether it's a band, or a movie, or a person, and go with it.

10. edit, but not until december 1st
if you can write a perfect first draft that requires zero editing, then congratulations: you're fucking awesome. for the rest of us, however, editing is an imperative [and sometimes torturous] process. somehow emotion gets tied to every single word, and deleting just one of them is a challenge. believe me, i have been there. what you have to realize is that taking something out, or rewriting a scene entirely, can completely change the direction of your story. and for the better. chances are, once you've finished, you still have a lot of work ahead of you. but if you've written a story that you can't wait to read again, then giving it a second look won't be an issue.

11. trust your instincts
even if you've never penned a novel before, you've probably read hundreds if not thousands of stories in your lifetime. which means the instincts to write a story are already there. if you've got some big, dramatic event that you want to write, don't sit on it until the end of your story. why? because another big, dramatic event will come to you. if you want your reader to finish your novel, you've got to keep them interested along the way. that means trusting yourself as a writer, even if what you're thinking seems crazy. because sometimes crazy is just the thing you need to pen a terrific story.