Some of you may know that I participate in NaNoWriMo every year — a month-long test of writing endurance. It stands for National Novel Writing Month, and it happens every November. The fun of it is the camaraderie of writing your ass off with thousands of other storytellers around the world, who treat November with a special respect and fear. I love that feeling of community, of not being alone in your creativity or your struggles or your crazy childhood dreams of publication.
For me, NaNoWriMo always helps me get back into the habit of writing regularly. And I always get so much done! Whether or not I actually make it to the traditional goal of setting down 50,000 words in 30 days, I always end November with a renewed energy for writing, a passion for my current project, and a few new chapters towards a finished draft.
I wrote about my lessons learned from NaNoWriMo over the years here. This year, I’d like to write about what to do if you’re participating this year and, as the final week of November approaches, you’re starting to feel the fear of falling behind on your word count.
First off, it’s okay not to make it to 50,000 words. You can create your own goal. But if you do want the satisfaction of finishing all 50,000 words, get ready to revel in the mess of writing really, really badly.
Here are my tips for upping your word count in the last days of NaNoWriMo!
Don’t Delete Anything!
I don’t know what other people do, but I count every single word I write during the month of November, as long as it’s related to my book. If I decide halfway through a scene that I should be writing the scene in a totally different way, I start over — but I don’t delete my first attempt at the scene! Every word is valuable, and if you wrote it, it counts.
Outline Scenes First
Outlining scenes before I start writing them can really help me focus on what needs to happen next to keep the story clipping along at a decent pace. It also helps me avoid writing a lot of unnecessary scenes — like those meandering conversations that, halfway through, I realize are going nowhere and helping no one and really need to be cut.
What tends to help with my word count here is that I outline my scenes in my manuscript. I’ll write “Chapter One” and then proceed to write a summary of what’s going to happen. If I feel inspired to write bits of dialogue as I go, I do so. Sometimes I write descriptions as they come to me, too.
In time, I end up with something that almost looks like half of a scene — and that’s the whole point. Now that the half-scene is there, my word count is higher, and as I said before, I believe every word counts! Then, I can either beef up the scene as needed to complete it, or start from scratch and copy-paste the snippets of dialogue or description in where they fit. (I delete from the original summary as I go so I’m not doubling up on the same wording, though!)
Explore Your Character’s Thoughts
I tend to write scenes quickly, but when I slow down to explore what my characters are truly thinking and feeling, I understand the whole story so much better. That’s why spending the time to write down my characters’ thoughts and emotions during a scene is really helpful for me. Much of the time, it ends up strengthening the scene for readers too — and I’m increasing my word count in the process. I can always go back later and snip back what feels superfluous. But during NaNoWriMo, I don’t shy away from the extra words, especially if they’re aiding in my understanding of who I’m writing about and what’s happening to them in any given moment!
Revel in Description
Because I like to write action and dialogue best, I tend to skimp on descriptive text. That means that when I re-read my old work, I often have trouble placing exactly where my characters are. Even if it says they’re in a certain city, and as the author I know what that city looks like in my mind, more description can help aid in readers’ understanding.
That’s why I try to really visualize what’s happening in my story and where the action is taking place as I write my 50,000 words. I describe things in as much detail as I can, using all of my senses to imagine what it must be like to be there. Again, I can always trim back what feels like overkill later!
Don’t Be Afraid to Just Write
Not sure where to start? Just write. It could be a summary, a setting description, a letter from your protagonist to her nemesis. Just get words on a page, and pat yourself on the back for adding to your word count. You just wrote, and that means you’re a writer!
For me, this advice is a reminder not to try too hard to write perfectly the first time. Often the best writing is the most succinct, right? Which is why NaNoWriMo is not the time to try to write your best — it’s the time to just get words on a page. I enjoy scribbling any time I have an idea, and when I’m in the flow of a scene, I don’t avoid cliches or long-winded wording that I know is probably passive-tense. If it ups my word count, I don’t break to self-edit. I just keep writing.
Are any of you participating in NaNoWriMo this year, or have you in the past? What writing projects are you working on now?