Tips from National Novel Writing Month

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  • November 30, 2016
  • Mya Wilkes

As much I want to, making time to sit down and write is an ongoing struggle for me. I have always loved to write, but I have documents full of ideas for blogs, short stories, and novels that never actually get written. And I know I am not alone. For whatever reason, it’s a widespread problem among aspiring writers that our ideas just never get off the ground. It seems that we can never find the time, or we get discouraged and leave half a dozen projects unfinished.

If you didn’t know, there is an entire month of the year dedicated to people like us. Each November, thousands of writers throw their excuses out the door and buckle down for National Novel Writing Month. The challenge: write a 50,000-word novel by 11:59 PM on November 30. The novel doesn’t have to be very good (in fact it probably won’t be) and it may never see the light of day. It’s an exercise about getting the words on the page, and for once in your life actually being a writer. November 2016 has come to an end, and I am proud to say that I buckled down and completed the challenge. I crossed the finish line on November 26, and right now I stand at over 51K words.

I recommend the experience to everyone who has ever thought about writing. Trust me, I know it sounds incredibly daunting. I’ve known about NaNoWriMo for years but have been too afraid to try it until 2016. But the reward is incredibly worth it. How many people can say that they have written an entire novel? And I think it’s especially worthwhile if you’re someone like me who writes professionally. Pushing through made me develop an ingrained set of skills and coping mechanisms that I can apply to the writing I do at work and during my free time.

My biggest takeaways:

  1. Whatever it takes, get words on the page every day. Make yourself write every day, whether you can only muster a few words or a thousand. If you can manage to do that, writing will become as integral to your daily routine as your morning cup of coffee. I have heard a lot of fantastic advice from the NaNoWriMo community on how to keep yourself motivated, but you really have to find what works best for you. The idea of planners v. pantsers is the most helpful idea that I learned this month to help me get shit done. Sometimes it works better to be a planner, someone who carefully plans out, researches, and prepares their ideas. That way, the words come more easily once you actually start typing. But other times it’s better to be a pantser, or someone who flies by the seat of their pants and lets the story guide itself. It’s a great method to encourage creativity, and it allows you the freedom to write whatever you find most compelling on any given day.
  2. There’s no such thing as writer’s block. Waiting on that mythical creature called “inspiration” will just slow you down. The idea that the right words will appear in a divine flash totally misses the point that writing takes work. You have to find the mental fortitude to keep going even on days where the ideas aren’t flowing. I also think “writer’s block” is a symptom of being unhappy with the quality of the work you are creating. Accept that it’s okay if an idea isn’t solid gold. You can always shine it up later, or maybe come to realize that an idea is more compelling than you first thought.

If you’re interested, you can check out an excerpt from my novel here! I also encourage everyone to donate to National Novel Writing Month, which you can do here. They’re a non-profit, and in addition to hosting this wonderful event every November they work throughout the year to promote literacy and writing for K-12 students.