Monday, November 14, 2011

NaNoWriMo Writing Tips

by Clare Langley-Hawthorne

So it's that time of year again - National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) - and I've been looking over some of the tips and advice metered out to those willing to give it a go. I thought today I would highlight five of the more useful ones I've seen and get feedback on what advice other people have found helpful - because most of this is just as applicable to writers surging ahead with NaNoWriMo as to those of us plodding along at our own pace:)

1. Remove all distractions that clutter both your mind and your desk.

I think one of the hardest things for most aspiring writers to do is to make time to write - and once you have committed to doing this you really have to remove all the things that provide the temptation to procrastinate, get distracted or avoid writing. During NaNoWriMo I notice lots of tips that focus on preparation and inspiration but I think it's also important not to get caught up in mind maps, name generators, role playing or brainstorming to the point where you aren't actually writing!

2. Learn from your mistakes (and you'll make them)

Everyone writes crappy first drafts, includes a few cliches and loses the plot at some time or other. Give yourself permission to make mistakes and turn off that 'inner editor' until the first draft is done. I like one of last year's tips by author Elif Batuman who said 'everyone has a certain amount of bad writing to get out of their system' - so get it out!

3. Raise questions early, resolve later on

One of the dullest things you can do is inundate your readers with too much information/answers too early on. You need to entice and intrigue and the best way to do this is by raising questions early on in the book so readers have to keep reading to find out the answers. Of course, this has to be balanced with a well grounded narrative structure, voice, characters and sense of place otherwise readers will merely wonder what the hell is going on:)

3. Constantly raise the stakes

I've heard Donald Maas talk about this at writing conferences in terms of making a 'bigger' book in which the stakes are the highest they can possibly be for the characters you have developed. A good writer constantly raises the stakes -in each scene and each chapter - to really create a scenario that truly grips the reader. It also helps provide great opportunities for character development - there's nothing like seeing a character react to a life and death situation to reveal what really makes them tick!

4. Keep the momentum going

Everyone gets stuck at some point in the writing process - whether it be finding inspiration, nutting out a tricky plot question or just trying to find words that don't totally suck! NaNoWriMo strikes me as the perfect laboratory for exploring all the techniques you need to overcome writer's inertia. For me inspiration usually comes from rereading the last few chapters so I can get back into the flow or, failing that, take the dog for a walk and free up my imagination. The key is not to spend so much time reinvigorating yourself that you don't actually sit back down again and write!

5. Don't Finish

I saw this on GalleyCat's list from last year and thought this was great advice - "Don't finish, make it the start of something."

NaNoWriMo is a great jumping off point for people to make great headway on their novel but then the real hard work of editing and polishing begins. I like to think that for many aspiring writers NaNoWriMo is the start of a beautiful long term relationship with writing rather than just a mere fling:)

So are you doing NaNoWriMo this month? If so, how is it going? What piece of advice has worked best for you?


  1. Great stuff! The best advice I've gotten/continued to share would be

    1. Don't reread what you wrote (tho I also do read through the last few chapters when I'm starting to write again!)

    2. Don't use writer's block as an excuse. Keep writing and you get back into telling the story. Sometimes, it even starts to write itself.


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  3. The hardest thing is to it down and write. If we could learn how to bottle that and sell it with a guarantee, we'd have it made.

    If we just wrote a few words each day, those words would add up over the course of time. But so often, we take the easy way out and say "oh, at most I'll only be able to write a sentence today, so I'll just wait until tomorrow," and on it goes.

    Not that writing is easy when you have to wedge it in among a million other responsibilities. But no one can read what you don't write.

  4. Good tips, Clare. NaNo is a great month long exercise, a workout, a strengthening of the writing muscles. Its greatest benefit may be in what happens after November -- the revising of the material, the ongoing discipline of getting words on the page.

  5. No novels this month for me. I've got a non-fiction book I'm working on. It is done to some of the more tedious work and I'm afraid that if I were to put it aside right now I might never finish it. But I added something like 150 pages to it this weekend and I'm expecting about 200 more.

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  7. I am doing NaNoWriMo this month, thanks for asking. I am finding that I can't stop thinking about the story, but that taking an hour or two to play video games helps me mull over the story, decide what direction to take it, etc. and then I can write again. I have to feel like the monkey is my baby, not on my back, and I can take a break. If you feel chained to it, you will have a hard time writing it. I try to have this aloof relationship with my stories where everyone is in the car, and things are ok, but no one is being overly friendly. Seems to work for me.

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  9. I think the best advice is always to actually sit down and write! That remains the hardest thing of all - but as you said, BK, no one can read what you don't write! Keep writing even when things start getting difficult I the story - I agree with rrett that writer'b block is no excuse. Anonymous, it is also true though that if you get too chained or wedded to the story you can't necessarily see what editing needs to be done - you have to be careful not to fall so in love with your story that it clouds your judgement.

  10. I loved your post, Clare.
    I've been using marketing of my novel Careful as an excuse for not sitting in the chair and doing what I like best - writing.
    After I read your post this morning I thought, you know, I know it's already the 14th, but I'm going to do it. I signed up for NaNoWriMo, and I'm going to use it to defeat whatever obstacles I've put in my own way of writing.
    Thanks for the inspiration, Clare.

    BTW, read Fresh Kills this weekend.
    I loved Angel In The Garden.

  11. Locking away your internal editor was a good one for me. Helped me to keep writing. And I also discovered don't have to write linearly. If get bogged down on a scene, move to the next one, go back to the other one later. Last years nano started in the middle, because I had the character and a scene in mind but no idea how she got there. Worked my way backwards to the beginning. Weird way to do a story, but it worked.

  12. Paula, good for you! I'm so pleased You have reaffirmed your commitment to write - it is so easy to let marketing and other stuff get in the way. Robin, I think this is a great strategy. If I get bogged down I often brainstorm and write a scene from a completely different part of the book. It really helps get me unstuck.

  13. Really good. I'm not in NaNoWriMo this year, but several years ago, it got me back to nonfiction after a long break. I second rrrett. Write ahead and don't look back. You can clean it up later.

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