By which I mean advice for NaNoWriMo, not advice x 10^-9.
I’ve done NaNo five times, personally, and “won” it all five times, which is to say I’ve managed to produce 50k words in a month. Of those five times, twice I’ve gotten completed novels. Of those two novels, I’ve deemed one good enough that I’ve been willing to plunge into query letter Hell for it.
NaNo is a good experience if you want to practice writing, and writing at length. As was said at the How to Get Your Work Rejected Worldcon panel, a lot of people want to have written a novel. Most of them don’t want to actually write one. Because writing one, particularly the first time you do it, can be kind of hard.
So from me to you, a little advice:
Find what works for you. Everyone ultimately has a different writing process, and what works for me is not necessarily going to work for you. I know some people who find NaNo meetups and write-ins are incredibly useful. I’ve never had any luck with them because I can’t concentrate when there are people around. But if they work for you? Great! This means you need to experiment and figure out how to set up conditions so that you can actually get writing done. Which may sound unhelpful at its face – what do you mean, I can’t tell you how to do this? – but this is also permission to ignore advice from other people if it just doesn’t work for you. Experiment!
There is nowhere this is highlighted more than the great Pantsers vs. Outliners debate. Some people can write a novel without an outline. I have no idea how they do this – my first NaNo was a seat of my pants affair, and it was a 50K train wreck by the time I limped to the finish. (I would not recommend padding your wordcount by overdescribing everything, by the way, unless you want to end up hating your story. Or unless you really like waxing poetic about tatami mats.) Of course, on the other end of the spectrum you have Kevin J. Anderson and his terrifying novella-length outlines. (Not making this up.) Personally, I like writing about a page of bullet points, which I then don’t actually hold the story to. Which means that I will sometimes redraft an outline four or five times as things develop and then ending looks like it’ll be somewhere else.
Figure out what works for you. If you get lost easily and can’t figure out where you’re going, outline. If knowing how the story will end means you’re bored with it before you start, don’t. And don’t let anyone tell you that you’re doing it wrong so long as it works for you.
That said, here are four more pieces of advice that I think are universally useful.
Don’t look back. When you’re doing this thing for the first time, you should feel like you’re throwing yourself down a mountain, and the only way to keep from dying is to just keep running as fast as you can or risk losing your footing. Trust me. If you go back and let yourself edit particularly, you’ve lost the battle already. You’re distracted from getting words on the page. Just keep writing. And if you realize that you need to change something you already wrote, just write yourself a big note in the middle of your page and keep going. Edit later. Write now.
By the way, you also don’t have to write in chronological order.
Unplug the internet. The internet not-so-secretly wants to keep you from getting anything done. Trust me. When you are writing, you should be writing and that means not checking your e-mail. Turn off wifi on your laptop, put your droid or iPhone on silent, and let the world go for a couple of hours. It’ll be fine without you.
Write the interesting parts. If you are struggling to write because you’re bored by what you’re writing, skip it and go write something interesting. Come back to it later, and maybe you won’t find that part so boring. (Or, if it is boring, you should probably ask yourself if it’s necessary, and if so, how can you make it not boring. Because if you’re bored writing it, a reader is probably not going to find it more interesting than you did.)
Write every day. It’s a point for debate if you should worry about word goals strictly. I met some people at the Mile Hi Con NaNo panel that had success with binge writing. Well, more power to them. But writing every day is still non-negotiable. Even if it’s just ten minutes on your lunch break where you add two lines of dialog, that’s good enough. The point is that you need to make this a habit. You need to feel like something is deeply wrong with the world if you haven’t sat down and put some words on the page today. And once you skip one day, it’s easier to skip another, and then next thing you know it’s December and your characters are still sitting in a tavern and trying to decide if they actually want to bother saving the world or not.
Happy NaNo-ing, guys! I’m looking forward to rejoining the ranks next year, once the specter of grad school has released me from its icy clutches. Good writing, and remember – don’t look back! There are zombies!
(Oh yeah, and happy Halloween, too!)