This is a continuation of the list I posted last week. Today’s tips are more specific to the words and reaching the word count. This will (probably) be the last post I made about how to prepare for NaNoWriMo, or how to make it through the month. It will not be my last post this year about NaNo, though. Oh no…not even close.
So without further ado, the rest of my suggestions for how to survive (and thrive in) NaNoWriMo:
1. Do not edit.
I used to think this was an understood “rule” of NaNo, but last year, I found out how wrong I was. Not only do some people not follow this guideline, some don’t even know about it.
This works on multiple levels. If your plot starts to go awry and you don’t want to follow it (which is sometimes the thing to do), don’t delete anything. Figure out where you want to pick it up again and start there. The rest of the text that you don’t want to use, use strikethrough on it, make the text white, or just copy and paste it to the bottom of the document to get it out of the way.
But it’s not just big changes like this that fall under this tip. If you’re typing and you realize the last two sentences aren’t what you really wanted to say, or you simply started the sentence wrong, you can just ignore it and keep going. Fix it in editing, right? That may be the smarter way to go, but it drives me crazy to finish a sentence that I know I don’t like, or leave something in I know is going to be deleted. But I don’t get rid of them. I just flag them so that I can find them later. For this kind of thing, some people may use strikethrough again. I prefer to put a bracket on the end of it. To use strikethrough, I’d have to highlight what I want to flag and click the strikethrough button. In other words, I’d have to take my hands off the keyboard. It breaks the flow. To type a bracket, I just hit the key with my right pinky and keep going. It looks like this:
“The militia members warned Lex and Leahna to be careful, and to contact them if she showed up, or if they had any way of knowing what she] where they could possibly find her.
This might not work for everyone, because it doesn’t provide a flag for the beginning of what needs changed. So when it’s time to edit later, it does probably take me a bit more work than if I had just used strikethrough on the whole thing. But it saves time during NaNo, and that’s the key here. Oh, and since I do 95% of my writing with Write or Die, strikethrough isn’t an option during the writing anyway, so I’d have to remember to flag it after I’d copied and pasted the text into my word processor. Not really helpful overall.
One more thing for this first tip (which will be the longest one, I promise). Don’t fix typos like misspelled words, accidental capitals (or lack thereof) or whatever other things we usually quickly backspace and delete. Fixing those doesn’t lose you words, but it does lose you time. The time it takes to go back and fix, but also the lost flow of writing. It can be very difficult to train yourself not to fix these things, and I often will still do it out of habit, but as much as I can, I just ignore it and keep going.
I still love this error. MS Word yelled at me a lot near the end of NaNo. Not when I tried to use spell-check, even (because why would I do that during NaNo?), but just randomly on its own. It was too overwhelmed to even show all of the red squiggly underlines that my mistakes produced.
2. Don’t go back and read.
The temptation may be high to go back and read through some of what you’ve written on previous days, but fight it. If you can’t remember something you established earlier and you need to know it in today’s writing, do your best to bluff your way through it for now. If you can’t remember the name you gave a town or person who hasn’t shown up since then, put in a placeholder name for now (see next tip). If you just want to remember what you’ve written…don’t. If you start reading back, not only will you use up time you could be writing, you may find things you want to fix, and that’s just a bad path to start down before December.
3. Use placeholder words.
Don’t take time thinking of details, if they don’t come to you quickly. For example, names for unplanned characters, towns, organizations, whatever. Previous years, I often gave characters names like Bill or Steve, though they didn’t fit in the fantasy-esque world, just so I could keep going. Or for a town, I’ll write “TOWN NAME” to keep moving (yes, every time that town name comes up). The same idea applies to time elements. If you can’t remember for sure how long ago two characters met when they’re reminiscing later, don’t go back and look it up. Not yet. Instead do something like, “Do you remember when we first saw each other SO MANY MONTHS ago?” Or for distance, if you’re not sure how far away or far apart you want something to be–“The party was SO MANY MILES out of town, so…” The caps is so it’ll stick out when you’re editing and you’ll be sure to fix it later.
Anything like this that comes up, if you don’t have a plan or can’t come up with something you’re sure about on the fly, stick a placeholder in, make it clear you need to fix it still, and move on.
4. Take notes of things to fix later.
As I’ve already said at least once, though it’s not wise to delete or fix as you go, if you’re hoping to go back and fix your draft up some day, it might be a good idea to keep a list somewhere of things to fix later. I don’t mean things like typos or even the above things. I mean bigger things.
Last year there were several times that I would be days away from a certain scene, and it would hit me that I forgot to include something crucial. Or I forgot a character that actually needed to be in the scene. Now, if I’d gone back when I realized it, yeah, I probably would’ve added more words to the scene. I may have upped my word count. But since it would most likely involve some rewriting of what was there, and some thinking of how to make what I’d forgotten fit in, it wasn’t worth doing. I kept a list in a notebook of things I wanted to remember to address later.
The same can go for plot holes you find along the way, discrepancies in timeline, or if a character changes in your mind so much by the time you’re 15 days into NaNo that the way they acted at the beginning is just all wrong now (not referring to a character who changes within the context of the story).
5. Stop in the middle of a scene
Sitting down to start writing often takes a lot of willpower. There are a lot of things out there that beckon us, because they’re easier on the brain or because we’re tired or whatever other reason. Once you sit down, the best thing you can do is just start writing. But if you ended your last writing session at the end of a scene, it can be difficult to figure out where to start this one.
That’s why any time you can, end your writing session in the middle of a scene, even the middle of a paragraph. Some people say middle of a sentence or word, but I can’t do that. It would drive me nuts.
So, say you’re approaching your planned word count goal for the day, whether that be 500, 1667, 2000, or even 5000 words, don’t let yourself get to anything that feels like a stopping point. Stop short, and you can dive back in so much more easily the next time.
6. Don’t be afraid to go off-script.
This is where planners can take a cue from pantsers. No matter how detailed or sketchy your outline is, if the writing takes you in a new direction, it’s okay to follow it. If you really don’t care for that new direction, it doesn’t feel right, it’s too different from what you want, by all means, go back to the outline. But if the new direction intrigues you–whether it be a plot twist you’d never anticipated, a character throwing a wrench in your plans, or a plethora of other things–follow it. If you can get back to the outline, great. If not, don’t be afraid to throw it out. Or fix it to follow the new direction.
The outline is just a guideline. Don’t let it feel like a noose.
7. Don’t use contractions (or do).
Not using contractions during the entire month is just one of the dirty tricks that some Wrimos use. I will give you both sides of this tip, because it has its pros and cons. On the pro side, it can pad your word count; it’s not a whole lot, but it can be enough to be worth it when you’re struggling to make the daily goal. On the con side, it makes editing a chore.
I did this trick in 2013, and one of the first things I did when I started into revision was to do a find & replace on every contraction pairing I could think of–I am, I have, she is, he is, we are, they are, do not, have not…and on and on. It took a long time, and I still didn’t get them all. The rest I found and fixed manually in my first revision read-through. Not to mention the ones that had been changed by the replace function that shouldn’t have, like, “You may not be excited, but I’m.”
Anyway, hopefully you get the picture. Again, if you’re writing for fun and know for sure you’re not going to want to fix up the draft you end up with, the downside isn’t much of one. If you have any desire to go further with it, just keep this in mind.
This goes the same for any other dirty tricks out there–they may pad your word count for now, but be sure to consider if they’ll be difficult to clear out of your draft later.
I can’t believe NaNo starts in one week. I feel like I’ve been waiting months–maybe because I started posting about it in September! I’ve spent these last few months reading others’ posts about NaNo to bolster my own enthusiasm. And I’ve been doing my best to share as much advice for NaNoWriMo as I can think of.
Here’s one more I just thought of: Two years ago, I had a really detailed outline, but didn’t know how to open the novel. I sat for long enough thinking about it after midnight came that I finally started with the narrator giving sort of a pep talk to the other characters. It was ridiculous, really, and was only about a paragraph. It was enough to get my creative juices flowing, and I was ready to dive into the actual story!
In the end, the best advice I can give is that when November 1st comes, you just start writing. Whether you’re a planner, a pantser, or somewhere in between, make sure you know how the story will begin so that when you sit down for your first writing session you don’t freeze up.
Are you as excited for NaNo to start as I am? Are you prepared? Do you have any more tips or tricks to add that I’ve forgotten?