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Start (and Win) this Year’s National Novel Writing Month Challenge

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November’s here, and with it, the chance to end 2014 with a huge personal accomplishment. In November, you can write a novel – in a month. Last year, National Novel Writing Month made winning novelists out of more than 310,000 of its 700,000+ participants. (Winning requires writing 50,000 fresh words between November 1 and 30.)

I won in 2004, with my first attempt at chick-lit. I participated again in 2005 and 2013, after ghostwriting several young-adult novels and publishing one in my own name.

So, if you’ve ever told yourself you’d definitely write that novel if you could only find the time, now is your time. Here are 11 tips to get you started on your November novel.

1. Determine if you’re a Planner or a Pantser (this is sort of important).
You’re a planner if you aim to start NaNoWriMo with a clear picture of your novel’s characters, world, and plot points. You probably have an outline,or, at the very least, detailed notes. You’re a pantser if you have some vague ideas in mind, but come November 1, you’re starting with nothing more than a blank document and some fun-sized Halloween candy.

2. Create a writing ritual and find your novel’s inspiration.
Force yourself to consistently write your novel every day. Part of this project is to kick-start the creative writing part of your brain. Tim Kim (NaNoWriMo editorial director) says, “Whether you’re a compulsive planner, or someone who loves to fly by the seat of your pants, we think it’s important to do two things: 1) Get in the habit of writing, and 2) Load up on inspiration.”

3. Go on field trips and research expeditions around town.
In addition to the official NaNo Prep page, you should also conduct some field trips related to your future novel. Go to places where your characters might work, scan a thrift store for a weird object to declare your novel-writing totem, go to a used bookstore and buy a bag of books in your chosen genre. Whether you’re an uber-planner or a pantser, you’ll want to gather ideas for the characters and world you’re creating. Planners can use apps like Evernote to make structured lists. Pantsers might want to at least jot some notes throughout the day.

4. Determine whether or not you’ll use a story outline.
Personally, I never entered NaNo with more than a few jottings on index cards and in notebooks, but I am a pantser. Other contestants swear by various outlining methods like the Snowflake Method. (The Hailstorm Method is a stripped-down version of this one) You can also carry around a pack of index cards to make note of your novel’s characters and events. Nabokov swore by index cards, and they’re one of my faves, too.

5. Don’t rehash an old story idea you’ve been holding on to.
Don’t look to NaNo as the solution for that busted novel you started six years ago. “Chris Baty [NaNoWriMo’s founder] feels strongly that you should start a brand-new novel in November. “If you come in with a story you’ve already invested time and love into, it can be hard to let go and write freely without hearing relentlessly from that critical voice in your head,” Kim says.

6. Write more than 1,667 words per day during week one.
NaNo’s 50,000-word-count goal is reachable if you can get down 1,667 words per day. That said, write more than 1,667 words per day early in the month when your energy is high because your output will lessen in the final week of the month.

7. Beware of the difficult second week when the first week enthusiasm wears off.
November 1 is to NaNoWriMo what January 2 is to the New Year’s resolutions. Week 2 rolls around, real life creeps in, and this is when your daily writing schedule can crash.

“At this point, the rush of energy has begun to subside, and you become sorely tempted to go back and read what you’ve already written. Don’t do it!” Kim continues. “All you’ll find is despair. Writers talk about writer’s block a lot, but one of our interns mentioned that writer’s block often isn’t knowing that you can’t write at all, it’s thinking you can’t write something good at the moment.”

8. Kill your inner editor, don’t review your work, and plow through the inevitable writer’s block.
To Kim’s point in tip #7, when I’m writing for work, I sometimes go back over what I wrote, grooming it as I go. But for NaNoWriMo, that’s not a workable strategy. You must plow through. Silence your inner editor, phone a friend if you have to, but just write and worry about finessing your words later.

9. Find other NaNo writers in your area as your support system.
When you need compassion from someone who understands what you’re going through, get thee to the NaNoWriMo boards or write-ins. If you can’t find a write-in in your area, hit the boards and look for other writers hosting “sprints” on social media — (a sprint is a planned burst of writing over a set amount of time). Follow @NaNoWordSprints on Twitter to participate in the group’s officially sanctioned word sprints.

10. With one important exception, say good-bye to your social media time suck.
You might want to warn your friends that you’ll be posting a few less photos of your cat and what your had for lunch, but don’t abandon social media altogether. Twitter is a great place to connect with fellow Wrimos for inspiration, to vent frustrations, or to find the aforementioned writer sprints. Starting now, search for #NaNoPrep to join official and unofficial chats about getting ready. During the month, search by the #NaNoWriMo hashtag to find writers to follow and relate to.

11. Remember, you don’t have to let anyone read this novel.
What, you think just because you won, you’re done? No, no, no, no. It doesn’t matter if you’ve written a complete 100,000-word magnum opus, your novel will need work. My 2004 winner (The Chronicles of Marnie: Lyin’, a B*tch and My Wardrobe)? It’s still in a file on my computer and it hasn’t gone much further. I polished some of it, revised pieces but as I had other things to write, I never did quite finish it. Maybe someday I will. But hear this, agents and publishers do not want to hear from you on December 1, with the line, “Hey, I just finished my NaNoWriMo novel.”

Take a little break, sleep, shower, buy your holiday gifts. Then, return to the fold during NaNo’s “Now What?” months of January and February to give your book the love it needs.

Photo credit: Jseliger2 via Flickr

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