This is the last in my series on NaNoWriMo! I hope this has been helpful and inspirational. I strongly encourage anyone considering participating in National Novel Writing Month this November to read Chris Baty’s excellent book, No Plot? No Problem! for even more helpful tips.
10. When the clock strikes midnight on December 1st, you’re done, whether you finished your 50,000 words or not and whether your story ended at that 50,000 word mark or not. Congratulations, no matter how you did! And realize that what you produced, I’m sorry to say, is not good. It’s not a finished product. It’s a hurried exercise is quantity over quality, and that’s okay. It’s all about the process, after all, and it’s all about establishing a writing discipline. A professionally written, edited, purchased and further edited and published novel takes far, far longer than thirty days to create, regardless of the author, the publisher, and the editing team. It’s just a fact of the business and the art form. No matter how tempted you may be by today’s technology, do not hit “submit” on a self-publishing platform with this first draft of this first book that you wrote in thirty days. It isn’t even the best version of this particular work you could produce. Set your manuscript aside for another month at the very least and return to it in January or February with clearer eyes and a healthy supply of red pens. Show the draft to multiple people. And then once you and all your beta readers have had a go at it, fix it. Fix it lots. If you still want to seek publication, go for it, but it should be your second, third, fourth draft, and it should probably be longer by at least ten or twenty thousand more words, minimum. It’s also okay if this first effort never gets farther than your own computer. The point is the work itself, the practice, the exercise. The point is that now you can say the following: you wrote a novel in thirty days, or you made the attempt. You know that about yourself now. What are you going to do with that knowledge? How will you let this shape your writing life going forward? And are you going to give it another shot next year?
Check through my other writing advice tags for the entire series and other pointers for making your fiction better.
9. Visualize your scene. Don’t skimp on detail. Some of the most beautiful prose is that which sets the stage so well that the reader feels like they’re watching a film. Do this in your own mind. Give us all five senses. What do you see, smell, taste, hear, touch? How does the season affect the weather? Is it autumn? Is there the subtle scent of wood burning in the air? Is that something you can almost taste as you move through the space? What is the light doing? If you’re feeling really stuck here, go outside (or go to an interior space that’s similar to the one you’re describing), and do a freewrite on every detail around you. How do shadows play against the walls? What is the exact color of the sky at the horizon? At the uppermost part of the sky? What is the sun or moon doing? Are there animals anywhere? How does the carpet feel under your hands or your feet? Is the room dusty? What if you were describing the room as part of a police investigation? What does the room tell you about its inhabitants and their lives? Don’t be stingy. Let it all flow and continue to be in this habit of noticing everything so that when it comes time to inventing these details in fiction, you’ll have a wealth of things to draw from.
8. Reread. This may seem like a waste of time, but if you’re feeling spectacularly stuck, reread previous pages and consider adding detail. This is not “padding,” which I find such an ugly term anyway. I prefer to think of it as “fleshing things out.” Don’t always resort to this and don’t always spend hours and hours looking backward, as the whole point of NNWM is to plunge bravely ahead no matter what. But if you really feel like your plot needs help, adding things in earlier can give you more places to go later.
Two tips today, as a little bonus since I haven’t updated this list in a while!
6. Write a poem in a very formal style from the perspective of each of your main characters at the moment you’ve left off with them. Something short, like a haiku or a sonnet. Sometimes working in a different genre can get you out of the rut of prose and force your perspective to shift, even if only temporarily.
7. Engage in ritual behavior. I’ve seen this suggested in countless other places as a cure for writer’s block in general, but this could be especially helpful when you’re engaged in an already overly routinized writing exercise, which is ultimately all NNWM really is. If you’ve already set aside a specific time of day for writing, as I suggested in earlier entries, then divide that writing time even further by setting little alarms and doing a specific action at the end of that smaller period of time. Write for 20 minutes, do 5 pushups. Write for 20 minutes, eat an M&M. Write for 20 minutes, walk up and down your stairs twice. Whatever it is, this little micro-break will serve a couple of purposes. First, it makes your writing time seem even less intimidating. You think an hour sounds tough? Well, 30 minutes is way easier, and 15 is even easier still. The physical action or activity will also allow you a second to breathe, to stretch, to clear yourself out of your intensity space and come back with just a tiny bit fresher perspective. Also, you may find that some days your ideas are flowing so well that you hear the alarm sound and you opt not to take that micro break, that you’re too invested in what’s going on with your plot, and you just plunge ahead. It’s kind of like getting awakened ten minutes before your morning alarm goes off. Some days, you’ll decide to just go ahead and start your day ahead of the game, and some days you’ll decide you’re glad you woke up because you’ll appreciate that extra bit of sleep. Either way, you’ve been jostled a little and can make that decision on your own based on your specific needs. Personally, my back and neck usually need a second every so often to move and shift, and I’ll grab a yoga pose or a drink of water or just do some mindful breathing. Whatever I do, I return a minute or so later feeling just a little refreshed.