How to Keep Your Momentum and Avoid Burnout During NaNoWriMo

zNaNoWriMo Participant 2014It’s National Novel Writing Month! Which means that millions of people worldwide, myself among them, are scurrying to draft an entire novel (or at least the first 50,000 words of one) within the month of November. If that sounds like a daunting task, that’s because it is, even for seasoned novelists and ‘WriMos like myself.

This post is dedicated to all of those brave souls who are daring to venture forth on this kooky month-long adventure. Here, just for you, is my advice on how to stay the course, keep the momentum going, and avoid fizzling out by the end of week 2.

Have fun.

Yes, writing a novel is serious business, especially if you want to end the month with something that at least has the hope of one day becoming publishable. But it helps not to take it too seriously. NaNoWriMo is the one time when writers all over the world are In This Together, cheering one another on. Take time to enjoy the camaraderie. If you can’t attend local write-ins and events in person, find a group on the official forums, or join in on one of the many Twitter hashtags dedicated to the event. Don’t be afraid to incorporate the occasional prompt or dare, even if your story is tightly plotted (you can always toss that scene out later, but sometimes those dares result in pure gold). However you find your fun this month, just know that taking this too seriously is a surefire way to lead to burnout and not finishing that novel.

Pace yourself.

If it’s easy for you to write 1,667 words (the daily quota you need to meet to get in 50K by the end of the month) in a single sitting, then by all means, go for it. For the rest of us, it’s easier to fit in sprints–short, quick bursts of writing–throughout the day. I especially recommend this method for people who think they MUST HAVE at least a solid hour or two of uninterrupted writing time to “get their head in the zone” before they can even start writing. NaNoWriMo–and especially NaNo sprints–are an excellent boot camp for getting you over that notion and training you to stop waiting around on your muse and fit writing into the small cracks of your day, which is an absolutely necessary skill if you ever want to earn a living writing.

Strike while the iron’s hot.

Related to the above tip, you’ll want to use all that enthusiasm during the first week or two to build up a buffer in your word count so that you can afford to take a break when you need to. Do you really want to have to worry about making your daily word count on Thanksgiving when you’re stuffed full of carbs and tryptophan and your family’s wanting to pile in the car and go see the latest Hunger Games movie? If you build up enough of a buffer, you won’t have to. Alternatively, you can just schedule your days off and re-calculate your daily quota accordingly.

Don’t read over what you’ve written…

…until you go to bed. Resist the urge to read your prior output when you sit down to write. Instead, print it off (so you can’t edit it) and read it right before you go to sleep. More likely than not, your subconscious will work on what comes next while you sleep, and when you sit down to write the next morning, you’ll know just where to start.

But if not, don’t be afraid to write crap.

If you get stuck, engage in free writing for several sentences–or several paragraphs–to loosen up the gears (you can absolutely count those parts toward your final word count, although you might want to highlight them or put them in brackets so you can remember to delete them later). And once you figure out where you’re going, just focus on getting the story down. Don’t worry about choosing the perfect words to tell it. You can worry about being artful on the second draft. For now, just get the ideas down.

Keep going.

If you find that you need to look something up, fact-check something, see how a word is spelled, etc., make a note in brackets and MOVE ON. Save research for the revision phase. Similarly, if there’s a type of scene that’s daunting or tends to slow you down and take a lot of effort, insert a place-holder note and skip to the next easy part.

Here’s an example. I used to write a lot of Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan fiction. As such, I had to write a lot of fight scenes, which I always found difficult. So my early drafts were often littered with this note: “[And there was fighty-fighting!]”

Do just a little more.

When you end a sprint, or reach your goal for the day, challenge yourself to keep going and do just a little more, even if it’s just one more sentence.

Channel Hemingway.

Ernest Hemingway famously ended his writing sessions in the middle of a scene at a point where he knew exactly what came next. That way the next time he sat down to write he could pick right up where he left off instead of spending time trying to figure out what came next. I’ve employed this method for years, and it works like a charm.

Ignore the haters.

It’s bad enough that you’re likely to run into skepticism, if not straight-up opposition, within your own circle of family, friends and co-workers. Even worse, every year–and I mean Every. Year.–some elitist gasbag adds fuel to their fire by writing some condescending link-bait article about how NaNoWriMo is the end of civilization as we know it and how nothing good ever comes from it (I beg to differ). Ignore them. They’re wrong. Period.

Remember you’re already a winner.

50,000 words is kind of an arbitrary number. Sure, it gets you the coveted winner’s badge and “purple bar” and entitles you to some extra swag, but really, if you put aside your fears to tackle that novel this month, and if you make any progress at all, you can consider yourself a winner in my book.

Now carry on, fellow WriMos. You’ve got this.

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