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NaNoWriMo: Winning Without Cheating

If you’re joining the insanity next month but you don’t want to resort to typing in song lyrics or throwing in an exploding elephant as a writing prompt, how do you get through the tough moments?  No matter how much you love a story and want to finish it, there are going to be stretches of the journey that are difficult to climb, bottomless gorges to traverse, and merciless heights to scale.

Here are a few techniques I’ve picked up over the years, many from writing a “Fast Draft” several years ago.

  1. Do as much prework as you can stomach. Don’t spoil the process for yourself.  e.g. if spreadsheets make you break out in hives, just jot a few notes.  Do whatever you can for character building, plot ideas, backstory, etc. that you can possibility do prior to Nov. 1st.
  2. If you do get stuck but don’t want to stop the word counts, try writing something from #1 above. It won’t help your overall ms length in the end, but it may very well help you FINISH the story, which is the ultimate goal.  (And the words will certainly help your NaNoWriMo counts.)  Pick a major event in the hero’s past and explore it in detail.  Write a character letter for the heroine and explore some of her core decisions — who she really is, what she fears, what she wants, what she needs to overcome.  None of this will be wasted if it helps you reach “The End.”
  3. Skip to scenes you already know.  There is no writing rulebook, and there’s no reason you have to write every scene in order.  From my experiences, I almost always have to rewrite these scenes in revision — enough changes in the intermediate scenes that I just can’t use the scenes that I skipped to, at least not cut-and-paste use.  However, figuring out those later scenes may very well give you exactly what you need to go back and write the middle, so don’t be afraid to skip around.
  4. Don’t get bogged down in the details.  This is not time to stop and research something, or look up something on a map.  It’s way too easy to lose an hour Googling just the right color to make the heroine’s gown or the perfect street to send the villain.  Make a note and move on, either with [notes to yourself inside the text] or…
  5. Keep a notebook handy.  The one benefit of writing faster than usual is that I tend to spend more time in the zone.  As I’m writing the current scene, my mind is zipping forward to the next, and the next, getting ideas, generating new elements.  Don’t think you’ll remember them later!  Take a few minutes and jot those ideas down.  You’ll be thankful the next day when you wake up groggy and can’t remember your hero’s name!
  6. Don’t backtrack. Now this one I do sometimes cheat on, but I try really hard not to backtrack too much.  I like to make sure I’m keeping the tone right and the characters true, so every 100 pages or so, I like to stop and reread everything.  Or I reread the previous chapter.  This becomes a problem if you’re constantly flipping back — because we love to revise.  Don’t fall into the trap of revising what you’ve already written — that’s for Dec. and Jan. after the book is finished!
  7. Don’t revise. If you do realize that a major revision is going to be required, make a note in the notebook and continue writing as though you’ve already made the change. This can be really hard, I know, and sometimes, quite frankly, I just can’t stand it.  The perfectionist in me cannot move on until I make that major plot change.  However, for NaNoWriMo purposes, you’ll have a much better chance of hitting your words if you keep your forward progress.
  8. Get your words, and THEN visit the forums. Part of the NaNoWriMo fun is the world-wide energy.  It’s a blast to know all these people are churning words out frantically with a common goal.  You definitely don’t want to miss sharing experiences and enjoying that energy on the forums and blogs.  However, get your words first!  It’s super easy to get pulled into the latest discussion, and before you know it, that precious hour of writing time is gone.
  9. Don’t get hung up in the “competition” aspect. While NaNoWriMo is fun, don’t let it control you.  Don’t start throwing crap together just to win.  Keep your eye on the prize — a finished PUBLISHABLE ms.  NaNoWriMo can be a fabulous tool to keep you motivated and help you write faster than you ever thought possible, but it can also be stressful.  You may think you’re doing great, and then you stop by the forums and some crazy person already has 100K and is still going strong.  Talk about taking the wind out your sails!  Somebody is always going to write faster and better.  It’s a fact.  Write the best you can and enjoy the process.  It’s your journey and nobody else’s.

A final caveat.  Don’t write fast just to hit that 50K.  I know that sounds contradictory to what I just wrote above, but I’m speaking from personal experience here.  I’ve done Fast Draft.  I wrote 50K+ in 11 days to finish a first draft of a story.  That was two years ago.  I’ve tried on two separate occasions to revise that story and submit it, and I’ve failed both times.  Was there value in the experience?  Definitely.  Did I come up with a publishable ms?  *falls out of chair laughing–or weeping*  No.

If your goal is a publishable manuscript, you may not be able to write 50K in one month.  I may not be able to write Victor’s story in the kind of shape it needs to be in to submit by January.  That’s okay.  I’d rather lose NaNoWriMo — even though I’ve won two years in a row — than miss my personal deadline I set to submit my story.  If Victor needs me to go back and revise, then I’m going to have to do it, challenge be damned.

Keep your eye on the prize.  Use NaNoWriMo as a tool to succeed, not to write another story that’s only going to sit in your files.

7 thoughts on “NaNoWriMo: Winning Without Cheating

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  3. All very good points. This type of attitude is what helped me win NaNo last year, and with a MSS that I will be submitting very soon. One of the biggest things I have to remember is that while writing is what I want for a career, NaNo is meant to be fun, not work.

    Though, I also have a long-standing tradition of rewarding myself for making my WC goal with mini-peppermint patties… 😉

  4. …Dadgummit. I totally had an exploding elephant all lined up and ready to go. Thanks a lot, Sis.


  5. Great advice, Joely! Thanks! 🙂

  6. Nicole, rewards are a GREAT incentive!

    Aw, Sis, you can keep your exploding elephant. I’m sure you can make it work!

    You’re welcome, Jenna!

    Let the insanity begin!

  7. Great advice. I don’t think I’ll ever win, but it will keep me going forward and not getting hung up on editing, which is my enemy. I think you touched on all the subjects needed in order to do the work and do it well. I am going to link. Good luck and I cannot wait to read your new story!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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