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  • Writer's pictureMatilda Reyes

It's NaNoWriMo Time! Sharpen Those Pencils!

November has become one of my favorite and most dreaded months of the year because it's NaNoWriMo - or National Novel Writing Month. For those of you unfamiliar with NaNo, it's an online challenge to write the first draft of your novel in one month. That's a minimum of 50,000 words, the equivalent of Catcher in the Rye, in thirty days. In past years, I've written up to 100,000 in a month, at least a quarter of which I chucked during the editing phase. I'm a five-time NaNo winner, which means I've met or exceeded my goal in five separate years. I'm a NaNo Ambassador, which means I spread the good word, and I do presentations based on NaNo at conventions throughout South Florida, and I'm hoping to expand my radius in the next few years.

So NaNo. Here's how it works: you sign up on the website, You'll set up your profile page with some information about you - a location so you can be paired with an IRL writing group, and whatever else you feel like sharing. Then you create a project profile. You'll list your project name, write a summary of what you plan to write, and your desired word count. On November 1st, you start writing. Every day, after you've finished, you'll enter your most recent total word count into the NaNo word counter. This will help you track not only how much you have left to go, but also how much you'll have to write per day in order to reach your goal.

But Matilda, 50,000 words sounds insane! No human can pull that off!

Yes, yes you can. I believe in you. NaNo has worked the numbers and that comes out to 1,667 words per day. That's the equivalent of one to two hours of writing if you type at a decent speed. I can pull that off in forty-five minutes when i'm on a roll, but I doubt I'll fly through my word count this time around. My goal is 100,000 words for my project, so my word count will be substantially higher.

Matilda, I don't have time! I have a life!

So do I and ninety percent of NaNo participants. Here are a few quick tricks.

1. Find the hour that works for you and stick to it. If it means you have to get up an hour early to get your words in, or stay up a little later after the family has made their way to bed, that's what you should do.

2. Word sprints are your friends: You can follow @Nanowordsprints on Twitter, or you can do your own. Word sprints are simple. You decide on a time - 5, 10, 30 minutes - set a timer, and write as much as you possibly can in that time period. It's a good way to crunch in the words when you can't find a huge chunk of time to write.

3. Commercials are your friends. Do you like watching television? Have a favorite show? Use the commercials as word sprints. Fit in as many words before your show starts again.

4. Don't edit. This is by far the hardest thing any of us do (or don't do). It's natural to want to go back and perfect that sentence or rewrite the paragraph. NaNo is about word vomit. Your goal is to get the words on the page, not to have a final product.

Actually I have more to say on editing. DON'T DO IT IN NOVEMBER. NaNo is about writing a first draft. I have a few rules when it comes to drafts. Don't take any of these personally. They come from experience and talking to a number of traditionally and indie published authors.

- never show anyone that first draft. It's likely garbage, no matter how good of a writer you are. Your tenses won't match, your descriptions will suck, and your dialog will be stiff and boring. It's garbage, but it's your garbage.

- don' t judge your potential by your first draft. If we, and by that, I mean anyone writing for pleasure or profit, focused on the quality of the first draft, we'd never write again. It's not meant to be good. It's meant to get the ideas on the page.

- don't cry. Actually, feel free to cry. We all do. NaNo is TOUGH. It's not a competition, but it is a challenge. You should be pushing yourself to your limits in terms of creativity. It may exhaust and frustrate you, so feel free to treat yourself to some Ben and Jerry's and have a sob.

- don't edit. You won't get anywhere if you constantly change what you're working on. Get your words on a page. That's what Camp NaNo and the rest of the year is for.

- don't constantly reread your work while you're writing. It's tempting to start each session by reading what you wrote, but you'll just kill minutes and you'll get frustrated and want to edit. I suggest reading the last page of what you wrote just so you can get back into the right headspace. That's it.

My last point, and I'm going to do a separate post on this, outline ahead of time. If you're new at this, and even if you're not, you probably need a road map. It's okay if you don't. Pantsers get the job done, too. There are a million outlining templates on the internet. Use whatever works for you, even if it's just bullet points.

LONG story short, will I see you in November? What's your story going to be about? Are you nervous?

So am I. Let's do this together.

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