Some of you may already be committed to doing NaNo this year. Others may be feeling a little more tentative and not quite ready to take the plunge. I say–do it. Dip a toe in, or jump headlong into the deep end. Even if you don’t get to the end, it’s a really fun and challenging experience!

Many people plunge into NaNo with no intention of ever showing people what they’ve written. It’s for themselves, to be able to say they did it. Or it might be to experience the joy and exhilaration of the creative flow that comes when everything starts coming together. This range of motivations is part of what makes NaNoWriMo so great.

As for me, I like to look at NaNo, not just as an opportunity to write frenziedly and try to get as many words in as possible–I like to see it as a way to get a workable, preliminary draft of something that I can develop at some future point into a finished product. Last year, I got up to about 65K, and then had to stop because school was getting too busy.

There are, of course, all the usual tips for those who fear they won’t make it (spelling out numbers, etc.). I’m ambivalent about a lot of those, as I have to just go back and standardize them later or change them as needed to make the mss usable. I generally ignore those “word count plumping” strategies. Make use of them if you feel you need to, but if you’re thinking you might someday edit what you’ve written into something for wider consumption, then remember that they will ultimately be one more barrier to the process of getting the work cleaned up. And since I hate cleaning up (*sigh* I really do. Just ask my husband!), I’d rather minimize the initial untidiness wherever possible.

So, what are some tips that have worked in helping me to reach 50K?

  • plan ahead. Pantsers of course can have a great time too–and can also reach the end (a couple of years ago, I pants-ed it, to the extent that on November 1st, I didn’t know what I was writing about, found an idea midday, and started frome there. I still reached 50K and ended up with a really neat, jumble of a story that needs extensive revision. I have yet to get to it, but hope to, someday). So while pants-ing can still get you there and can produce some extraordinarily creative yields, planning has generally gotten me there a lot faster, and with more focus.
  • Try using yWriter or other scene-based writing software (I used yWriter because I did it on my pc netbook rather than on my mac, where I use Scrivener. There’s now a pc version of Scrivener as well–I tried the beta last year, but ended up going back to yWriter. It is probably much further along in its development by now. But it’s worth bearing in mind that yWriter is also free, which is nice, and while it’s pretty basic looking, it worked very well indeed for my novelling needs). I plotted out the overarching story on it, but also worked out the individual scenes. This made it so much easier to just sit and write a couple of them as I had time. It took me about 1-1.5 weeks to do the planning and get a general, skeletal scene structure, at a fairly easygoing pace. So, you know, for those of you who haven’t started, there’s still time.
  • Timed writing sessions are helpful in maintaining or establishing focus, on those days when you just can’t get your mind into the mode. I usually go with 10-15 minute sessions, as those are about the limit for sustainable, intensely focussed writing for me. Experiment and see what works for you. Write or die is a great app that times the session for you. I love it, and actually have it installed on my computer, as the offline version. I would read over my scene description, then sit with my netbook on the streetcar heading into school each morning and do multiple sessions of write or die. It was great–such fun, and the 40 minute+ streetcar ride just whizzed by.
  • find a group of friends to write with who are interested in the same level of writing versus chat and commiseration as you are. The meet-ups are great–and you can do this in that context too, by finding a table of like-minded folk. I love the meet-ups for the encouragement, but also for the energy of them. Writing is usually a solitary process, and so it’s a nice change to experience it as a communal one instead.
  • have fun!

This year, I’m also trying Roger C. Parker‘s suggestions for mind mapping a book, using some mind map software for my iPad (I’ve been using the Total Recall mind mapping app for a few years, first on my phone, and now on my iPad, and have liked its intuitive interface and general workability). So far, it has been really helpful in getting things flowing and “out onto the page” in the tiny little pockets of time that I’ve had for planning.

Feel free to post in the comments if you have any tips that worked well for you in reaching your 50K, during NaNoWriMos of years past!

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