So… I participated in #NaNoWriMo this month! If you don’t know what that weird mash of letters means, it stands for National Novel Writing Month – a month where writers across the globe get together (well, online, but the feeling of unity is real) and aim to write 50k during the month! It’s fun and hectic and we all need approximately 328 gallons of coffee to make it to December alive, but it’s totally worth it.
While I didn’t get to the full 50k this month (why do they plan this during the busiest month of the year, I demand to speak to the manager), I did make a really good start on a new WIP and I had a lot of fun doing so! I’ve been working on a crime / sci-fi YA novel for the past month, and yes, it’s as weird as that mashup of genres sounds. It has sociopaths and vigilantes and monsters and stabbing and scones! What more could anyone want in a novel?!
This is the third time I’ve participated in #NaNoWriMo, and still I learned new things from taking part again. So whether or not you were involved this year, I think these tips are applicable to all writing experiences. I hope you can take something away from this post!
1. Don’t force a story that isn’t ready.
Perhaps my biggest mistake when I started doing NaNoWriMo this year was that my story idea wasn’t done yet. Sure, I had the main idea of the story and the themes I wanted to explore, but I still had so many unanswered questions about it. With the beginning of NaNo around the corner, I chose to shove those questions aside and tell myself I’d figure it out later. But not having a clear idea of what I wanted this story to be meant that I wasn’t as passionate about this project as I could have been.
It wasn’t a story I was desperate to spend every waking moment working on. It wasn’t like last NaNo, where I couldn’t wait for my alarm to go off in the early hours of the morning so I could go back to spending time with my characters. I felt like I hardly knew these people I was writing about, and that’s because I only thought of them a couple of days before NaNo began. I felt like I was forcing this story, and because of that, I wasn’t enjoying it as much.
Don’t try to force yourself to write something that doesn’t feel done yet. If you’re a complete pantser, maybe that works for you – but I’m a different kind of writer. I want to feel like I know my characters before I try to tell their story. I feel like sometimes it takes time for characters to trust me enough to let me into their heads completely, and that’s understandable. When I sat back and thought about what was and wasn’t working, that’s when I could better understand what I wanted to achieve during NaNo.
2. Keep your eyes on your own paper.
One of the hardest things about NaNo is how focussed it is on word goals and time limits – and public celebration of these things. I love the community that NaNo creates and how it brings writers together, but it’s impossible to not feel the crushing element of competition and the expectations you feel are placed on you for the entire month. Don’t get me wrong, I love competing against myself. But it’s when I start comparing myself to others that I know I’ve already lost.
There’s always going to be faster writers than you, just as there will be slower writers. There will be writers who can write perfect prose in draft one, and others who just do something that vaguely resembles a keyboard-smash. But what’s most important to remember is to keep your eyes on your own paper. Stay focussed on the things you’re writing and try not to compare yourself to others.
Easier said than done, right? Especially when everyone’s constantly sharing their word counts and writing sprints. It’s hard not to feel bad about not writing as much, or writing as often, or not appearing as dedicated. Everyone’s lives are different and no one is showing you the full picture. NaNo should be about writing because you want to, not to beat that random person on Twitter who’s already a thousand words ahead of you.
3. Don’t turn writing into something you despise.
Ever since I started taking writing more seriously in high school, one of the things I’ve always made a priority is remembering not to turn writing into something I hate. Yes, it’s easy to sit down and smash out a few thousand words in a sitting. We could all probably sit down and write a book in a week if we wanted to. But the thing is, writing is something I want to enjoy. If you’re going to spend upwards of 100 hours on a project, don’t you want to like the time that you’re utilising?
A lot of the time during NaNo, I was working full time – and that’s on top of blogging and doing The YA Room stuff. It was so hard at times to find the time to write and keep on top of my word goals. Sometimes I’d sit down at midnight with a cup of coffee and literally want to cry just looking at my laptop – but I’d have to remind myself that I didn’t have to write if I don’t want to.
I never want to turn writing into something I hate. Right now, I love writing more than anything in the world. I love creating stories and getting to know different characters and exploring new worlds, and that’s a magic I never want to lose. But something that’s helped me keep that same passion since I was a kid was understanding that I didn’t have to push myself to write when I don’t want to. That’s one of the joys of being an unpublished writer with no deadlines, right? At the moment, I’m just writing for me. And that’s a pretty great thing to be doing.
4. Write the story that you want to read.
Partway into NaNo, I discovered something devastating – I wasn’t as in love with this story as I was with my previous WIP. I couldn’t help thinking about my old story and wondering what my characters were up to, and I just couldn’t fall into what I was trying to work on. And I realised that’s because I wasn’t writing what I really wanted to read. I was writing what I thought would make a good book.
It’s important to remember that your first reader is yourself. If you’re not enjoying what you’re writing, chances are that no one else will enjoy it either. Writing should be a thing of love, a thing of passion. Without that passion, a story often just falls flat. So I went back to the drawing board to find out how I could reinvigorate my passion for this story I’d fallen out of love with. And a little tweaking made all the difference.
5. Find a group of writers to support you.
It’s tough being a writer – don’t ever let anyone tell you otherwise. It can often be a very lonely activity, and one that you don’t see results from for years (and that’s if you’re lucky). One of the most important things to a writer is a person’s friends they make along the way. Having people who are as passionate about writing as you are make all the difference in the world. They can motivate you on a bad day, share what they’re currently inspired by, and convince you to do a little writing sprint just to break through that pesky writers’ block.
What is the point of writing (besides writing for yourself) if not to create a community? Books bring people together, and the writing of such things should bring people together too. Writers are nothing without the people lifting them up and supporting them, and so it’s necessary to find yourself a group where you feel like you fit in and where you can support your fellow artists and feel welcomed and supported in return.
It’s often easy to lose track of why you started writing in the first place if you don’t have other writer friends to talk to. Aspiring authors are met with seemingly insurmountable work ahead of them, and rejection, and self-doubt, and sometimes having someone there who’s experienced all those same things and more makes all the difference. I’d be lost without my writer friends – you know who you are.
Did you do NaNoWriMo this year? What’s something you’ve learnt from your own writing experiences? What are you currently working on? I’d love to hear your thoughts!