A few days ago I mentioned the theme of the latest instalment of our collaboration, “One Step at a Time Towards the Impossible”! Or seemingly impossible, because nothing is impossible, right? 😛
A lot of things in life can be seemingly impossible; getting a PhD in rocket science, finishing a 20km triathlon, or even winning an eating contest! If you’re an ordinary couch potato who eats 3.5 normal-sized meals a day like me, can you imagine doing all that? But really, are they all impossible? Nope, they’re all just something that anyone can achieve with a lot of passion, patience, persistence, perserverance!
(Of course, if you say you’d like to go swimming in the rings of Saturn without any space suit or oxygen mask on, then I’d say yes, that’s impossible and you’re crazy. Maybe next life when you have a chance to be reincarnated as space dust? 😛)
Writing a novel is one of these seemingly impossible things – like running a marathon, it requires passion, patience, persistence, perseverance and many more P-words you can think of! Many of us dream of the beautiful ending where our books are whole and bring happy tears to our eyes, some of us may dream of our books being on the “HOT BESTSELLERS” shelf of bookstores, or of us autographing our books for the long line of fans at huge shopping malls… but how many of us lasted through the many hours of getting words on paper while being sleep deprived? How many of us successfully mediated the explosive war between our beautiful creativy and our demonic inner editor?
And it’s worse during National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). This time the clock is ticking and counting down the days to D-day. Hundreds and thousands of other people are doing the same thing, taking over Starbucks with their laptops, trying to get words onto digital (or physical) paper, ramping up the silent competition. When writing a novel seems impossible, NaNoWriMo seems even more so! 😱
But I’m here to tell you: it’s not impossible. Writing a novel – and winning NaNoWriMo – isn’t impossible or even seemingly impossible! 💪🏻💪🏻💪🏻
Before we Continue, Here’s a Disclaimer
First off, I have to say I’m not an expert nor even a published novelist! I’m a humble hobby novelist who writes stories for fun, preferring to write novels rather than short stories, and this whole article is based on my own experience and information I gathered through various articles around the web. I write this to help others see that writing a novel as a dream isn’t impossible. 😀
I mentioned before that NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month. But what is it, really? Do Wrimos (NaNoWriMo participants) spend the whole month celebrating writing? (I wish. 😅)
Here’s the definition from the official website:
National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to creative writing. On November 1, participants begin working towards the goal of writing a 50,000-word novel by 11:59 PM on November 30. Valuing enthusiasm, determination, and a deadline, NaNoWriMo is for anyone who has ever thought about writing a novel.
~From National Novel Writing Month: About
NaNoWriMo is also a nonprofit that believes “your story matters”! All donations and profits from merchandise sales are used to fund their NaNoWriMo overheads plus their other programs such as the Young Writers Program (read more here).
If you’re as bad with numbers as I am, you probably can’t imagine how much that is. How much is 50,000 words, really? Maybe the following might help:
- I don’t know about your school essay homework, but for mine, my teachers usually asked for at least 300 words – with my scrawly handwriting, that’s about full A4 lined paper (we call them test pads). If you write 300 words per page, you need to write 167 pages a month, and that’s at least 5.5 pages a day.
- Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone has 76,944 words, so you’ll need to write 65% of that book.
- Charlie and the Chocolate Factory has 30,644 words, not quite NaNoWriMo’s target, so you’ll need to write 1.5 times that book.
- Eragon has around 157,000 words, so you need to write a third of it.
If you still can’t imagine, let me give you an example. To meet NaNoWriMo’s target of 50,000 words in November’s 30 days, one needs to write 1,667 words a day. According to this typing speed test, I can type 86 words per minute, which means I’ll need to write for 20 minutes at this speed per day. Of course I can spare 20 minutes a day writing for a month!
Well, if only it’s that easy… first off, that typing speed is only achieved by copying word for word on screen, basically without using the creative side of my brain. If I were to write a story while caring about the words I’m writing, my speed is usually 1000 words per hour on a good day, 300 words per hour on a bad day, around 600 words per hour on average. That means I need to write for at least 2.5 hours a day, and that’s not including the time I need to take to unwind and get into the writing mood! And to do that after a hard day at work or class…
So, are your heads spinning yet? “That’s one heck of a lot of words!” you might exclaim.
Sure it is, who says NaNoWriMo is at a walk in the park? 😛
Prize for Winning?
What you get for winning NaNoWriMo are a sense of achievement and a sizeable draft of your novel! And if you registered at the official website, you’ll get the badge to go with it! Oh, and a digital certificate that you can fill in with your name. 😆
…what? No actual prize?
Yep, no actual prize, because NaNoWriMo is a self-challenge rather than a competition against others; your greatest enemy would be yourself and your inner demons. There’s nothing stopping you from opening a text file and typing the same word 50,000 times; but what would you achieve from doing that?
But there’s nothing like a big sense of achievement at the end of the month. After weeks of slogging through writing, weeks of fighting temptation for company and fun… finally you reach the light at the end of the tunnel with your novel in our hands! YOUR NOVEL!! Your blood, sweat and tears, all in one novel! ✨📒✨
And I’m sure you’ll appreciate other novels differently after that. 😆
I Wanna Win NaNoWriMo! (A.k.a. Tips Section)
Feeling pumped? Wanna try a shot at writing that first draft of your novel that you never did get to finish? Wanna get that sense of achivement at the end of the tunnel? Then hopefully this section will help you!
Here are a bunch of tips from my last 5 years of NaNoWriMo experience, and a bit of what to expect. 😀
They always say preparation is the key to success; even if you’re a pantser (as in, writing by the seat of your pants without an outline) rather than a planner, well, a little preparation still goes a long way!
Do note that these are merely suggestions, not mandatory precursor to winning. 😀
- Sign up at NaNoWriMo’s official website: Without doing this, you won’t get that nifty WINNER badge or the digital certificate when you win! Plus you could use it to connect with friends and compare word counts on the actual month. 😆
- Prepare your favourite writing medium: Like writing by hand? Get a notebook! Like writing on the computer? See which writing software you like! This is a good time to test out the various writing software like Microsoft Word, Scrievener, Write or Die, or just plain old Notepad / Notepad++. Personally I use Microsoft Word / LibreOffice Writer. 😀
- Prepare your backup location: NaNoWriMo’s official website doesn’t backup your novel automatically; you’ll have to find your own backup location in the event that your computer acts up (I’ve read horror stories of Wrimos losing part / all of their writing because of computer problems). Personally I use Google Drive, because I have it syncronised across all my devices. 🙂
- Connect with other Wrimos: Having a friend / rival / competitor during NaNoWriMo could keep you both motivated! NaNoWriMo also have offician write-in sessions at various places of the world,
- Create your characters and world: This is the time to create your characters, worlds, etc properly before starting NaNoWriMo, because you’ll need to know how they interact before you can make them interact! I find when I do this well, the characters move on their own in my mind. 😆
- Draft your plot outline: This might or might not apply to you if you’re a pantser, but you might never know when you might get stuck, and when you do get stuck, having a direction to go to helps!
- Get a bunch of plot ideas: Or use a random plot generator! This is for when you get stuck writing and need something to spur the characters into action. Or when all fails, throw ninjas / cowboys into the fray!
- Prepare a second novel: Super optional! It has never happened to me yet, but what some Wrimos encountered is that they lose interest in their novel partway through NaNoWriMo and couldn’t get going once more. If this happens to you, you can still continue if you turn into a NaNo rebel and whip out that second new novel. Can you tell I like to to have a lot of insurance? 😆
- Find your best writing condition: If this is your first time on a word marathon, this is a good time to find out exactly what makes your writing productivity tick. Can you write whenever you have a minute, like while waiting for the bus? Or do you need a specific environmental condition? Do you need to follow a specific “ritual” to get into the writing mood? Do you prefer typing on a laptop or writing in a notebook by hand? (Note that the latter still requires you to type it out in order to use the word count tool.) Personally I write best when I’m alone at home on my computer, with my music on, preferably after jamming on the piano as it gets my heart pumping. 😆
- Plan a few days off work in November: For the working crowd! I find that having a few days off work – especially in the last few days – really helps me when I’m behind on word count and need to catch up. True story: during NaNoWriMo 2016, I had a weekly class and exam at my office (on data analytics, in case you’re curious!), so I really struggled to write during class days (with my fried brain) and work days (I had extra workload to compensate for the days I was having class). Not to mention I usually just want to rest on weekends. I was only at 25,000 words by November 25, but I managed to catch up by writing 5,000 a day for 5 days because I had these days off work!
- Push most (if not all) social acitivities to October or December: So that you have more time to write! Though do leave some in November if you’re an extrovert, or you’d run out of gas very quickly. I’m an introvert, so I can go on without socialising with people other than my husband for the whole month. 😆
- Plan easier meals to cook / take away / have someone else cook / etc: So that it takes less time to cook and you have more time to write! If someone protests, ask them to cook instead. 😛
- Prepare some “carrots”: Let’s face it, we have a very high chance of encounting some down days and become demotivated during NaNoWriMo. Having some “carrots” (mini-rewards) for certain milestones (such as every 10,000 words) helps to boost motivation!
Writing habits during NaNoWriMo:
- Only look forward, lock your inner editor in the cupboard: No editing allowed during NaNoWriMo! Because if you start editing, you’ll eventually start second-guessing yourself every time you write, and every second guess takes up precious writing time, plus it brings down your confidence level. Editing can wait until December!
- Don’t delete anything: Nothing, ever! At least not in November. Even if you end up re-writing the sentence / paragraph, toss the old one into the “deleted scenes” section of the document and include it in the final word count. Because you did write it, after all. 😀
- Don’t get hung up on the right word: Can’t seem to find that right word to describe this part? Mark it for later and move on, or you’ll waste time!
- No research allowed: Does it matter now whether or not the knight’s weapon is a broadsword, a rapier, a scimitar, a falchion or a katana? Mark it for later and move on, or you’ll waste time!
What NaNoWriMo is Like for Me (and Maybe for You Too)
Week 1: RAWR, IT’S THE FIRST OF NOVEMBER!! IT’S NANOWRIMOOOOO!! The enthusiasm! The flames of determination! The energetic clicks of keyboard or furious scraping of pencil against paper! This is the time I feel at the top of the world, as if I could move rocks by the sheer power of my creativity!
Oh, a social outing tonight? Nope, gotta write! Video games? Nope, gotta write! Family and friends? See you in December!
- Tip: Write as much as your excitement gets you to write! But be careful not to burn out in the first week. 😛
Week 2: Yes, I’m still writing! Nope, the fire isn’t extinguished yet! I’m a little behind but that’s fine because I’ll eventually catch up! I… think?
Oh, a social outing? Um… nah, gotta write. Video games? Um… nah, gotta write.
- Tip: The excitement has dwindled somewhat and it’s a little harder to write, but persevere!
Week 3: What? We’re only halfway through November? But… but I’m burnt out. I don’t wanna write… but I have to. Carrot? No, I don’t want a carrot! I just wanna sleep and play video games. 🙁
- Tip: If you’re like me, you’re going to burn out just about now. Better now than the final week, though, because if you rest enough now, you’ll have more energy to catch up next week. Take it easy, save some energy, give yourself some reward, but keep writing!
Week 4: Yes, this is the final week! The word count validation tool is up, but I’m xxxxx words behind! It’s okay, I have x days off work, and I’m gonna write my pants off! 50,000 WORDS HERE I COOOOME!!
- Tip: Hope you took that last few days off work, because if you’re like me, you’re going to need it to catch up on word count! Plan a big, shiny reward for 1st December and write your pants off until 30th November!
We Have a Winner / Not-Quite-Winner! Now What?
If you’ve hit 50,000 words, congrats! 🎊🎉🎈🎊🎉🎈
Now bask in the glow of your achievement – YOU WROTE 50,000 WORDS IN A MONTH – and print the certificate!
If you didn’t quite hit 50,000 for whatever reason, congrats for taking the first step and plowing through as much as you can; that counts too! 🎊🎉🎈🎊🎉🎈
Now, have some much needed sleep and hobbies, you’ll definitely need it! 🎮
Give yourself the big, shiny reward you promised yourself in the last few days of NaNoWriMo! 🍰
Go meet up your family and friends, especially if you’ve been brushing them off the whole November! 👨👩👧👦
When you’ve finally settled down and suddenly remember your novel, it’s time to edit your draft novel! You might find a lot of junk writing or that the story went in a not-so-great direction, but at least you have a draft to work on and you should be proud of that! 😀
Interested to know more? Here are some links:
Hope you enjoyed reading that, and do let me know what you think in the comments below! If you have any questions, feel free to ask. 😀
A Short Self-Compassionate Letter
What a wonderfully long post! It’s incredible how you stuck to writing this despite distractions, one step at a time. 💪🏻
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