I think this is the first November since I started NaNoWriMo in 2013 in which I didn’t update my novel’s progress at some point between its start and validation. I was so behind on my word count for so long that I didn’t dare do any other writing project—even a short blog to update my (lack of) progress—for fear of stealing precious time from 2018’s novel.
Just to give you a literal picture of how sad this situation was, take a look at my stats graph from nanowrimo.org:
I think the worst was the day when I only typed 298 words. And there were too many other days when I typed well under 1000. In case you’ve stumbled across my blog, and this is the first time you’ve ever heard of this NaNo business, to “win” at National Novel Writing Month, you need to write a 50,000-word novel that you don’t start until November 1st and that you finish on the 30th. (And by finish, I just mean write 50,000 words. I have not ever actually completed a novel in the month of November.) That means 1667 words per day, if you don’t want to drown in a sea of unwritten words.
I could point to plenty of reasons why I had a hard time keeping up. The day when I only wrote 298 words was a Monday, the day of the week when I have zero free time. After working a full day, I’m usually eating dinner while walking around the kitchen, making sure one kid does his homework and the other practices piano—and then I run out to a choir rehearsal that takes up the rest of the night, then straight to bed with my alarm set for 4:30 am. I’m the type of person who takes personal goals seriously, so unless I die, I’m not going to sign up for NaNoWriMo and then fizzle out. Fortunately, I knew that I would be off during Thanksgiving week, and guess what? That’s when my daily word count started to go up.
If you’re in the same boat, I’m sorry to say that you only have a couple days to catch up, but I do have three tips that I used this year that really helped me. (If I’d done these in previous years, maybe I would have finished sooner and with a lot less stress.)
1. Let it be messy.
Back during NaNoWriMo 2016, I was really excited about my novel because I’d had this story bouncing around my head since the previous NaNo (when I was already committed to writing the third book of a trilogy). I had scenes already planned and ready to pour from my fingers to the page. But then I got stuck on Day 1 because I didn’t know how to start the dang thing. I must have typed ten different beginnings, only to erase them (big mistake—see #3) and try again… and again… and…
Let’s get real for a minute. While publishing houses and marketing people care very much about the opening of your book—if it isn’t any good, the reader will just put it down and go for something else, right?—you’re nowhere near publication ready when you get done with NaNoWriMo. I mean, that would be like giving birth, changing a few diapers, saying, “I think he’s got this,” and shoving your newborn out into the world to fend for himself. Who does that? (Terrible people and bad writers, that’s who.)
There’s nothing wrong with a cold open. You can come back and make it Pulitzer-worthy later. (Say, after you have 50,000 words down.) Or maybe if you get stuck transitioning from one scene to another, just write a note in the manuscript (“Something amazing happens between flight school and when Jack saves Flight 132!”), and move on to the next part you do know. There’s this thing called the editing process, and I find that a lot of magic happens then. Which leads to point two…
2. Write everything, including the kitchen sink.
I’m a perfectionist. Point #1 is hard for me. And even harder is this one. I want my writing to be meaningful, certainly not fluff or garbage. But guess what, Mama ain’t got time to mess around with getting the story perfect when there are 10,000 words left to type, and the clock’s ticking!
I found myself writing absolute rubbish that I hope never sees the light of day just to keep the story moving—and to keep that word count moving up. Once I made the decision, sitting down to write became a whole lot less daunting because I knew that, come revision time, all this mess would be gone. And who knows? When you’re writing anything and everything semi-stream-of-consciousness style, something brilliant might just pop out, which might have been stifled if you’d been more careful, more discerning, with your output.
What do I mean by writing everything? Well, if your character is a baker, explain the entire process of baking a cake. Maybe tell about his favorite pans and where he bought them (on sale for 30% off). See all those extra words? They count! If you character is sick, explain every gory detail (you know, the ones your grandma tells you, and you wish you could be anywhere else). Explain the disgusting diaper, the allergic reaction, the thousand-step process to assembling the bed from IKEA. Do whatever you have to do to keep the story moving (and you might actually solve a transition scene problem while you’re at it).
3. DON’T DELETE!
Okay, if you see a typo that’s bugging you, fix it. What I’m talking about here is the big stuff, such as an entire scene that you realize, after it’s had time to marinate, is actually not at all the direction your story needs to take. So move on; start a new paragraph, and rewrite it.
That’s exactly what happened to me a few days ago. I realized that if I deleted the scene I’d been so careful to write (kitchen sink and all), I would lose about 1000 words that I desperately needed. I thought about ways I could salvage the scene. Maybe the character would start to do this but then change her mind… and when I tried that, I was able to save about a third of it. Still, that was too much writing to sacrifice. So I highlighted the paragraphs I no longer wanted, changed the font to red so that I would know this is the bad section, and I continued the scene down the new path. I never lost a single word, and now my story is going in the right direction again. I wish I’d thought of this back in 2016!
Bonus tip: don’t give up! You still have time (and the 30th is on a Friday this year, which I think will help a lot of people). Good luck, friends who are still in the trenches. I’ll see you after you’ve won your battle.