Writing a novel? Don’t do NanoWriMo

November is coming and that means NanoWriMo is closing in fast. If you are interested in writing a novel and have never tried, you probably think NaNoWriMo is just the ticket to give you the jumpstart you need.

Don’t do it.

Writing requires steady, consistent effort. Blasting through a novel at over 1000 words a day means that you will get a lot of crap and at the end of the experiment you will have 50,000 words, far too short for any market today. 

Some writers liked the sense of cameraderie they can get from NaNoWriMo. Most cities host writing events and there’s plenty of fanfare as people kick off their novels in coffee shops and bookstores.

Don’t get sucked in. Writing is a solitary effort that pays off when you pay close attention to what you are doing. Guaranteed that a lot of those attendees busily typing away for the cameras are not concentrating on the words but rather are thinking, “hey wow! I’m doing it! I’m really writing a novel!”

So you want to write a novel? Bag NaNoWriMo. Instead, use the Jim Van Pelt method:

250 words a day.

That’s it. If you write 250 words a day, at the end of a year you will have over 90,000 words. In other words, you will have a full-length novel. Now, if you are a beginner, that novel might not be any good. But you will have thought about those 250 words and done your best to make them count. Those 250 words will, if you are consistent about writing every day or on a regular schedule, out-do any day’s work on a NaNoWriMo binge.

250 words a day gives you room to do research. It gives you time to read the authors you love so you can look at how they line words up and get to the root of what you love about their work. 250 words a day will give you breathing room and let your writing improve.

250 words a days is all you need. NaNoWriMo? Just hype.

Writing Lessons — Taming the muse

I’m sure this has happened to you. You get all fired up about a new writing project and you write like blazes for an hour, or two. The words flow on the page. You feel like you are channeling the story, not creating it. It’s so easy. Ah, you say, this is fun! This is easy. This is what it means to be a writer.

So you save your work, and when you come back to it a day or two later, you sit at your keyboard with high hopes and expectations.

 And … nothing.

You try a few sentences, delete them, try again, and give up. Maybe you don’t write for another several weeks or even months.

So what happened? You have all these great starts written in a fit of glory. How come you can’t finish anything?

The problem is you have a wild muse that needs to be tamed. And the only way to do that is with regular, consistent writing sessions. The key to taming the muse is to write when you don’t feel like it. The muse is a shy, woodland creature. She (or he, we’re equal opportunity here in Gordath Wood) only comes to us when we make a safe place.

A safe place means a regular writing schedule, even one as short as half an hour a day, or if you use the Jim Van Pelt method, 250 words per day. You write even if you don’t feel like it. You eke out a sentence or two, tearing at your hair, sweating, resisting distraction or giving in to it, hating the whole process.

Then you save and you come back and do it again. And again. And then — something whispers in your ear, and you write something you didn’t expect. Maybe your character speaks true, instead of following the plot you have laid out. And you think, “hmmm…I kind of like that.”

And you save, and you come back, and the next time your 30 minutes flies by.

Now you are taming your muse. It’s not glamorous. In fact (lowers voice), it’s kind of like starting an exercise program, full of blood sweat, and tears. But if writing were easy, anyone could do it, and we know how that is.

Next time: Writing rituals vs. procrastination. Making the most of the first and avoiding the latter.