Swoon Author Katy Upperman: 6 Tips from an Experienced NaNo-er
Hello Swoon friends, and happy NaNo-vember!
We’re halfway through the month and if you’re NaNo-ing, you’re probably starting to feel a little burnt out on the whole drafting thing. (I know I am!) But don’t despair—whether you’re ahead on your word count, right on track, or despairingly behind, your November WILL be a writing success.
This is the fourth year I’ve attempted to write 50K words during November (I won NaNoWriMo in 2012, 2014, and 2016), so I like to think I’ve gained enough experience to share a few tips that will hopefully help you see your project through to the end of the month.
The first time I participated in NaNo, I wanted the Scrivener discount offered to winners. Half off! That reward was enough to drag me through 50K words of an awful (now abandoned) manuscript. The second time I NaNo-ed, I wanted a book ready for submission by the following spring (that book turned out to be The Impossibility of Us 🤗). These are the “prizes” that have pushed me to win NaNoWriMo, but you do you. Dangle a new pair of boots, or banana split, or massage in front of your writerly self. If you’re starting to lose motivation, an incentive might be enough get you all the way to 50K.
2.) Hold yourself accountable.
Keep logging your daily words on the NaNoWriMo site. Even if you’ve had some off days (most of us do!) you’ve still got plenty of time to catch up. Watch the line on your graph climb. Tweet about your successes. Instagram your increasing word count. Blog about your experiences—the good and the bad. Celebrate and commiserate with other NaNo-ers. Seriously—when your fellow writers are rooting you on, it’s much harder to be lackadaisical about your goals.
3.) Stay active in the NaNo community.
This one goes alongside holding yourself accountable; the NaNo community is exactly the tool you need to stay on track (or get back on track). Seeing others pumped about their manuscripts, hearing success stories about NaNo projects gone on to become published books, participating in this amazing month of writing with thousands of like-minded people… It’s so inspiring.
4.) Skip around.
I usually write linearly, but during NaNoWriMo, I give myself permission to bounce ahead, to jump around, to write the fun stuff first. During NaNo 2014, when I worked on The Impossibility of Us, I wrote Elise and Mati’s first kiss within the first few days of November, even though I knew that kiss wasn’t going to happen until about halfway through the story. If you’re hung up on a scene or dreading a transition, skip it. Write what excites you. You’ll come back to fill in the missing bits later, or you might discover they were unnecessary after all.
5.) It’s okay to write crap.
What matters during NaNo is words. They don’t have to be pretty. They don’t have to be comprehensive. They don’t even have to be relevant, really, because sometimes a brain dump or page of drivel is exactly what it takes to spark your imagination, thus helping you move the story forward. Sometimes when I’m stuck, I’ll write a super detailed description of the setting or a character’s outfit, knowing I’ll cut most (or even all) of it after November. Doesn’t matter, though, because that warm-up often propels me toward the good stuff. The point is forward progress. Do what it takes. You’ll revise later.
6.) Remember—this will end, and you will triumph.
Whether you finish out November with 50K words or not, you’re a winner. You set a goal and worked toward it. You drafted new material. You’ve got the seed of a story on paper. You did something few others manage—you started writing a book!—and that’s something to celebrate.
I’d love to hear your best NaNoWriMo advice in the comments. <3