NaNo or NoNo? How to Survive National Novel Writing Month

Nano logo

Is it that time of year again? Well not quite, but it comes upon you before you know it. Having spent the past few months on paid work, my fiction-typing fingers are tingling and the ideas are flowing. I need space to write and I can’t do it with clients and deadlines snapping at my heels.

But now the next deadline is looming – National Novel Writing Month (NaNo for short). A recent, and timely, conversation in a Facebook group made me think about it.

What is NaNo?

NaNo is a writing challenge that requires you to write at least 50,000 words of a novel during November: it doesn’t have to be finished. So you have to produce an average of 1,667 words per day. If you manage it you become a “winner”.

I took part in November 2012 and wrote about 75% of The House at Zaronza during that month.

I’m planning to do it again this year, since I find the discipline of writing a certain number of words per day essential. Left to my own devices, I would just fritter the time away (and we all know where – something beginning with “I”: see below).

It’s not too early to think about NaNo. A lot of advice about tackling it is around but you have to adapt it to suit you. So what worked for me the first time?

Beat-the-clock tactics

Planning in advance: this is essential for me, otherwise I would stare at a blank screen. A fellow member of Writers Abroad introduced me to the Snowflake Method for planning a novel, which I found very useful. It might not work for everyone but you can tailor it to your own needs.

Write whenever you can: people advise you to clear the decks beforehand and schedule a regular writing slot every day. If you work and have other commitments, this is difficult. However, I forced myself to write whenever I had an hour or so free, even if I didn’t feel like it.

Turn off the internet!: this is my biggest problem. Surfing the internet is displacement activity par excellence. Disconnect your computer from it or get one of those programmes that denies you access for a certain period.

Flexibility: when I wrote the first draft of The House at Zaronza, I found that it was better not to be too rigid about the details while working to an overall plan. I constantly changed aspects of the plot – but not the basic storyline – as I went along.

Don’t edit: the quality of the writing left something to be desired but that was for later drafts. You’d be surprised how well you can write under pressure. Don’t be tempted to go back and edit the next day. Focus on getting it down.

Communication and mutual support: I told everyone that I was doing NaNo. This was not to impress them but to provide an incentive to finish. Having writing friends who were doing NaNo helped, too, since it provided a mutual support network.

Winner or also-ran?

Result? I hit 50,000 words on 20th November 2012. You can validate your novel’s word count on the official site from 25th November.

I continued to write my novel up till 30th November and it was still not finished. I had a great deal of editing and research to do, and I flagged up those places in the text for further work. But the sense of achievement was wonderful.

So, if you decide to enter, good luck. Prepare well beforehand, but above all, enjoy it. I had a little tear in my eye when I said goodbye to my characters. But I typed “The End” with a flourish.

What’s my next one going to be about? A dead cert that it will be set on Corsica again. But I have two big ideas, so I will have to choose which one to prioritise.

You might also like:

My Biggest Lesson on My Book’s First Birthday
Seven Suggestions on How to Find Inspiration
Milestones or millstones? Or how to stop beating yourself up when your writing goals elude you

Copyright © Vanessa Couchman 2015. All rights reserved.

Published by Vanessa in France

We moved to an 18th-century farmhouse in SW France in 1997. I'm fascinated by French history, rural traditions and customs. I also write historical novels and short stories.

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