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The NaNoWriMo Survival Kit by Peter Andrews

So we’re eight days into this crazy NaNoWriMo challenge, and I have to ask: how are you doing? Are you rocking the word count or lagging behind? Are you still getting to your story with energy and excitement or are you ready to toss the story and start anew? No matter how well your NaNoWriMo project is going, these tips from guest blogger, the prolific Peter Andrews, will give you a boost! Welcome, Peter and Happy NaNoWriMo to all of you! —Rochelle


The NaNoWriMo Survival Kit by Peter Andrews

NaNoWriMo is a challenge, a stunt, and an opportunity. I’ve written a few posts on having a successful NaNoWriMo through preparation, using fast-drafting methods, and more. (And Rochelle provided a helpful and charming guest post .  Here I’ll try to distill the lessons into five “must-haves.”

1.         Cooperation. Whether it takes cajoling or threats, you must get the uninterrupted blocks of time you need. If you write 500 words an hour, that means your friends and loved ones need to clear 100 hours for you. That is a big commitment, enough to qualify as a part-time job.

2.         A Plan. Yes, it would have been nice to spec out everything for each day. You can still do that, but it might be more distracting than helpful. Minimally, I would suggest that, at the end of the day, you write a promise to yourself for the next day’s work. “Tomorrow I will write the scene where Ginny learns the truth about how her father died.” Make sure the sentence is specific. And write out a full sentence so you don’t end up scratching your head, trying to figure out what you meant.

3.         A Timer. An egg timer or an alarm on your cell phone can push you to stop dithering and get to work. Setting it can be a shot of a starting gun. And a timer dedicates a block of time to your drafting and nothing else. Ready, Set, Go!

4.         Permission. First drafts are filled with bad phrasing, cheats, grammar mistakes, inconsistencies, and boring passages. All of this can be fixed in rewriting. Don’t worry about it now. As Nora Roberts said, “The most important thing in writing is to have written. I can always fix a bad page. I can’t fix a blank one.”

5.         An Audience. I don’t mean someone who will read what you are writing now. That would not be productive. I mean someone specific you can hold in your mind as a “Dearest Reader” as you write. (In fact, it may be good idea to write a chapter as if it is a letter to a good friend – especially if you get stuck.) When you are telling stories, it is invaluable to imagine what will catch and keep someone’s attention. Save the brilliant prose for later. For now, be enchanting. Vonnegut wrote every first draft to one of his sisters. He kept doing that decades after she had died.

Now, these “must-haves” might be more or less important to you, depending upon what you hope to achieve in November.  I DO believe in having a goal for this month. And in having fun. And in taking chances that help you develop as a writer. But, for me, the five elements above constitute the essentials for this challenging race.

Your turn: What do you see as essential for NaNoWriMo success? What helps you most? What gets in your way?

About the author. Peter Andrews is a full-time, independent writer of speeches, articles, and blogs who teaches how to write fast online and at conferences. He has also worked professionally in PR, and as a Web producer, speechwriter, and a radio producer. He has hundreds of nonfiction articles in print, and has written and produced 30-minute videos. Andrews co-wrote one non-fiction book that came out October 2009; another nonfiction book (ghosted) came out in December 2010. He wrote a one-act play that was selected for two festivals, with performances in both cases (once in a Manhattan theater). Andrews has sold dozens of short stories, from 300 words to 5000 words. Find him online.

6 Responses

  1. Helpful post, Peter. As for how I’m doing, I’m definitely lagging on my daily NaNo wordcount, but I’m making significant weekly gains on my WIP. I’ve never been a writer that writes every day. I need to process the story in my head and there’s a lot of ongoing research I have to do as I write each scene due to the genre. Dystopian world-building can be tricky:-) I went in to NaNo with the intention of finishing my first draft by month’s end, but I will be enormously happy to have made a big dent in it either way. Thanks for sharing your fabulous ideas!

    1. writenowcoach

      I do a lot of work in my head, too! Thanks for reminding me that thinking through scenes and researching ideas are valuable pieces of the work, too!

    2. Peter Andrews

      Hi, PJ
      I like your attitude toward NaNoWriMo. The real value comes from setting your own goals and meeting them. I write (nearly) every day, but I agree on researching and taking time to process information. In practice, this means that my drafting time (almost always in the morning) may be dedicated to another project so I am not forcing things to much. But even with this, I try not to let more than a couple of days go by without adding to my focus manuscript.
      Thanks for your comment.

  2. Thanks for sharing, Peter! My NaNo project is not going well… I haven’t thrown in the towel quite yet, though. Between being stuck in Seattle for several days last week because of the storm, and then dealing with the fallout once I returned home–yikes! The important thing, I guess, is to push through, and rather than getting depressed about it and moping. Time moping could be time writing!

    Good luck, everyone!

    1. writenowcoach

      Yes, keep going. I am also way behind with numbers–between the election drama and kid stuff and work–but am trying enjoy working on the writing when I can. Try not to beat up on yourself and keep at it, Melanie!

    2. Peter Andrews

      Hi, Melanie
      Rochelle’s reply is perfect. The only suggestion I’d add would be to do what you need to do to get rid of the negative emotions before you begin drafting. For me, that can be as simple as going for a walk or changing the place where I write (which seems to pick up the negative vibe). Or it can be as complex as going through an actor’s exercise to move to a different emotion.
      Good luck!

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