How To Survive the NaNoWriMo Quicksand

NaNoWriMo is the acronym for National Novel Writing Month. It’s a 30-day write-fest in which you write 50,000 words of a novel in 30 days. It happens every November. Breaking this down, you have to nail 1667 words a day, on average, for each day of the month. Weeks one and two are mostly great. You have loads of material and you power through your project like a freight train until you run out of plot and story. It may need fleshing out, more detail, more subtext, but this is second-draft stuff. So how do you survive the NaNoWriMo quicksand of week three?

Plotters, Pantsers and In-Betweeners

You’re a thoughtful writer, a plotter, even, proudly waving your outline when you stepped up to the plate, or you’re a pantser, that is a person who writes barely stopping at the full stops until you fall down a plot hole and have to climb your way out. I ask you, why would any writer – plotter or pantser – put himself through it?

It’s all about quantity not quality, okay, and maybe for some, ‘because it’s there’. Approach it in the right frame of mind and it can be the ultimate weapon against writer’s block. I use it as a way of getting a first draft out. It’s much easier to shape and develop content that exists than to plough your way through, trying to make progress on the blank page for a novel that is still mostly in your head. If you did your NaNoWriMo prep and started the month with your outline (those pesky plotters get a head start) you’ll have found the process easier, however, the free-writing explorations have their value too.

Fifty Thou is No Great Shakes

This is my third NaNoWrimo. I’ve hit the target twice and I should do it a third time. It “feels” easy, but actually, the third week of the month is the most dangerous. In the first fortnight the ideas are fresh, you have plenty of material and the words flow. The early badges, the low-hanging fruit, 5k words, 10k words, 15k words, drops easily enough, but 25k to 40k is quite a stretch. After 40k it doesn’t seem so bad, a 10k sprint to get to wrap it up. It’s a bit late to start now, but it can (and has) been done.

Hitting The Dirt

At the time of writing, I’m at 35k words, only 15 thousand to go. It should be reasonably easy but I have, in fact, “run out of story”. I know I have loads of detail to fill in on the early chapters, but I don’t want to drill down to that level before I have the broad brushstrokes down and the main through-lines. The NaNoWriMo web site is super-user-friendly and filled with loads of information, help and resources. Regular pep talks are posted, written by superstar writers whose fairy dust you hope will rub onto you. They call this stage “the quicksand”, and it does feel like that. So what to do? The number one take-away is to keep up.

How To survive The NaNoWriMo Quicksand

  • Don’t panic. You still have 8 days (now I’m panicking.) Your novel statistics are super-handy for monitoring where you are and showing you the daily input you need to make to reach the goal.
  • Don’t be too ambitious. Reach your goal on the day, every day, and you’ll get there. If you have to miss a day, you don’t have to catch up in one go, you can divide it over the remaining days.
  • Dig deeper into your story. Step into the mind of your main characters and free write with them. Discover their motivations, thought processes and logical actions and reactions. Prepare to be surprised. If you have been dictating your character’s actions, pushing him through your story concept like a puppet, you may discover you actually don’t know your character at all and he gives you a richer story.
  • Explore the what-ifs? Don’t settle for the first idea, the first plot twist, or the easy solution. Take a key turning point of your novel and ask, “What if that happened instead of this?” and write it out. It may be more original and surprising than what you have already.
  • Above all, keep going. You can survive the NaNoWriMo quicksand. Look on the bright side; it only lasts a week, and it flies by.

Conquer The Blank Page

Remember, you’re going for quantity, not quality. That’s the whole point of NaNoWriMo. You can take all the time in the world procrastinating over editing from 1st December. Until then, your only goal is to hit fifty thousand words.

It’s a great feeling to collect your winner’s badge, and you’ve got another novel under your belt, or maybe your first. Okay, it needs a little polishing, but you’ve done it.

Validate the Word Count

Remember to upload your text file to validate the word count in order to release the badge. The instructions are easy and your text is scrambled in case you’re worried someone might pinch it.

Happy writing!

Find NaNoWriMo 2017 here.

Credits: Honey Buns Diner Sign, Waycross, Georgia.  Photo by my friend who travels with words and bikes (not necessarily together), John Hunter.

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