For writers, November is about a lot more than turkey and hot apple cider. It’s National Novel Writing Month, affectionately known as NaNoWriMo, a time when writers challenge themselves to write an entire manuscript in a mere 30 days. It’s a bold endeavour and we want to provide writers with the tools they need to succeed. That’s why we’ve put together this roundup of advice from seven published authors, covering everything from plotting to learning to write anywhere and everywhere. Good luck, and write on.
“If you’ve committed to NaNoWriMo, you’re already ahead of the rest. Here’s a little wisdom I’ve learned in this wonderful writing life: There are so many people who have an idea for a book, and those people will tell you their ideas without much prompting. And that’s where the book stays: an idea. But not you. Nope. You’ve committed to sitting down and writing that story. So no matter how frustrating the actual doing becomes, no matter how many or how few words you get on the page today or tomorrow, know this: You’re ahead. You’re a writer because you are actually writing. That is the work of putting the dream (‘I have an idea for a great book’) into action. It is the only way your passion project will become a reality. So, take a moment and tell yourself good job. Now, get back to writing.” —Kaira Rouda, author of Best Day Ever
“Hell and high waters have a way of turning up, time and again, with no warning. To successfully navigate a challenge, the number one trait that will pull us through is simple: adaptability. With these crazy challenges we set for ourselves, especially writing, when words can be so elusive, we absolutely must find ways to adapt to the situations our lives present us with, or else failure is not only an option: It’s an inevitability… I think of the struggles because it’s the way we adapt to them that defines our discipline, that draws the lines in the sand—the borders and boundaries we refuse to cross, if only for ourselves.” —Tyler Knott Gregson, “The One Thing You Need to Survive NaNoWriMo”
“My experience with NaNoWriMo was wonderful, but I’ll keep it short because I know you’re all busy writing! I’d been working on the initial draft of my debut novel, Running from the Devil, for almost 18 months and the rewrite loomed before me. I found myself having all of those doubts a writer has about what should stay and what should go. I’d recently joined a writers group at my local library branch and they encouraged me to keep going and gave me great feedback. A couple of those in the group were going to give NaNoWriMo a try in order to jump-start their word count, and I decided to use it to jump-start the rewrite. Little did I know that not only would it energize the rewrite, but that it would instill in me writing habits that hold me in good stead today. For the first time, a I committed to writing daily despite a heavy schedule that included work and raising two children. I plunged in, keeping to the schedule and fine tuning the manuscript. That month taught me that writing begets more and better writing, and that no matter how busy you are, it pays to carve out just a little time for yourself and something you love. At the end of the month I had a completed second draft and a great sense of accomplishment. What I didn’t know then was that by breaking through my fears about rewriting I was also on my way to becoming a published author. So, if you’re in the midst of NaNoWriMo now, hang in there. Enjoy every minute, because writing is a wonderful way to spend your time and when you look back on the month you’ll be glad you did it and proud of your accomplishment. Good luck, and may the writing muse be upon you!” —Jamie Freveletti, author of Blood Run
“[T]here came a time when I decided to ignore all the advice I had read and do the only thing I know how to do, which is write. I wrote what I felt like writing, when I felt like writing, how I felt like writing. I jumped all over the place. None of my chapters had numbers. I didn’t take notes, or create a timeline, or plot anything out… Like most writers, I was able to write a novel without explicit instruction, and that’s probably for the best. There are some things we should figure out for ourselves. As you embark on NaNoWriMo this year, know that even though it is a challenge to write a novel in a month, you can do this. You will figure this out for yourself and the choices you make will be the right choices. This is your novel and only you know how to write it.” —Roxane Gay, NaNoWriMo Pep Talk
“One of the most important skills that I’ve acquired as a writer was learning how to write anywhere, anytime, and with whatever tools are available. As I’ve developed an an author, I’ve taught myself to be less precious about my environment or what’s going on around me. I’ve written entire chapters on my phone sitting in noisy casinos and even waiting in line for the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland. That’s not to say you can’t have a preferred way to write. I love using my noise-canceling headphones to listen to a movie soundtrack as I sit in my comfy chair. But this isn’t the only way I can write. When my writing career became an actual career I realized that I had to write faster and more frequently to keep up with all of my obligations (chief among them was continuing the path of becoming a better writer). I was forced to write wherever and whenever I could. My novel, Name of the Devil (a Thriller Award finalist) was written mostly sitting in the bed of a borrowed Hollywood apartment in between preproduction for a television series I was starring in for A&E (admittedly, not exactly the harshest conditions to have to write compared to what Oscar Wilde or Miguel de Cervantes endured). This wasn’t my ideal writing environment, but it was what I had to work with. By giving up my cozy little writing nook I learned a powerful lesson: Once I’m in the writing zone, I could be anywhere and it wouldn’t bother me. My advice is become more flexible as you progress and not less. Don’t burden yourself with superstitions about ‘how you have to write.’ Be a pro. Write anywhere. Write any chance you get.” —Andrew Mayne, author of The Naturalist
“Writing begins with forgiveness. Let go of the shame about how long it’s been since you last wrote, the clenching fear that you’re not a good enough writer, the doubts over whether or not you can get it done. Sure, the nagging demons will come creeping back, but set them aside anyway, and then set them aside again when they do. Concoct a hot beverage, play a beautiful song, look inward, and then begin.” —Daniel José Older, NaNoWriMo Pep Talk
“Start with a very simple, one-paragraph map that answers three questions:
1) What is it that your character really wants to have, feel, or be?
2) What does the character have to learn about herself before she can understand how to get that thing, or that feeling, or whatever?
3) And finally, what are three ways to keep that thing out of your character’s reach that will teach what she needs to know without her or the audience being aware they are being taught?
Keep your answers as simple and concise as you can at the start. Make them as blunt and clear as possible. Once you’ve got them down in this short form, you can flesh them out as much as you want, but it helps to be as tight as you can at first. Of course, it’s possible to write a book without knowing the answers to these three questions before you start, but it will save you a lot of time and prevent a lot of wandering and floundering during the month if you address them up front.” —Jim Hardison, author of Demon Freaks