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It’s November 1. Let’s do this: 25+ Tips for Surviving NaNoWriMo (and Being a Better Writer in General)

By JK Evanczuk on Tuesday, November 1, 2011 - View Comments

I’m kicking off my November by eating leftover Halloween candy for breakfast and getting a head start on NaNoWriMo. This year marks the fourth year I’ve participated (and, uh, failed), and I don’t plan on stopping any time soon.

So let’s do this together. Gather your candy, get out of the gutter, and don’t make any excuses to write this month.

To inspire you, here’s a roundup of writing tips to keep you going. Some of them are old, some of them are new, some of them are serious, and some of them are totally insane. I’ll let you decide which is which.

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Tip #1: Write slowly. NaNoWriMo is like running a marathon. Don’t sprint the first 2 miles and then spend the next 24 dragging your feet along and wheezing. That’s not fun. Most NaNoWriMo-ers aim for 1,667 words a day. Stick to that, even if you want to write more.

Tip #2: Do not place a photograph of your favorite author on your desk, especially if the author is one of the famous ones who committed suicide. (from author Roddy Doyle)

Tip #3: Stop writing when the going is good. Hemingway has said this, along with a whole slew of other authors I’m forgetting right now. Once you get to word 1,667, even if you’re pumped and want to keep going, stop. It’s much easier to pick things up when you’re already in the moment, rather than sit down to a blank screen and have no idea what you’re going to write next.

Tip #4: Listen to Mark Sample, put on some pants, and move out of your parents’ basement.

Tip #5: Have you considered writing a sex scene or giving your protagonist large breasts? And more insightful tips from Laura Ellen Scott.

Tip #6: Only bad writers think that their work is really good. And most good writers think their work is really bad. So don’t be so hard on yourself. Even if you think your writing is crap, keep going. The nature of NaNoWriMo is to create one big, sticky mess that you’ll need to clean up later, so don’t stress if everything is absolutely perfect. The point is to get words on the paper, and to edit, edit, edit starting December 1. And, besides, it’s rarely as bad as you think.

Tip #7: And following Tip #6, I can’t stress this enough: EDIT LATER. EDIT LATER. EDIT LATER.

Tip #8: Read all these tips by Janet Fitch.

Tip #9: Write in your underpants (I realize that this directly contradicts Tip #4, but I don’t care.)

Tip #10: Make stuff up. Go outside your comfort zone. Then keep going. You’ve got nothing to lose.

Tip #11: Good writers copy. Great writers steal. Remember that.

Tip #12: Writing is freedom. Remember that too.

Tip #13: If an irate reader should break into your home, tie you to a chair and terrorize you with selections from the cutlery drawer, think back to your most recent novel. Was its point of view inconsistent? Did you at any time make use of the second person, or urban slang, even ironically? Did you attempt to underscore the significance of an action by describing it as having been performed “to the max”? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, accept what you have coming.

Tip #14: Tell all your friends that you’re doing NaNoWriMo. Maybe they’ll shame you into finishing.

Tip #15: But don’t actually show anyone any part of your novel while you’re writing it. This is your story right now. Don’t let anyone in. Save the story until the new year, at which point you’ve presumably given it a thorough shake-down and editing, to get a fresh set of eyes on it.

Tip #16: If you get stuck in a rut, keep writing. Don’t stop. Take your character to the park. Write about your dog. It doesn’t matter. If you keep writing, you’ll find the story again eventually.

Tip #17: The Guardian put together a series of rules for writers a while back. Read these. These are really good. Seriously: Part One and Part Two.

Tip #18: Find your writing ritual quickly, and stick to it. Do you write best in the morning? Evening? In your pajamas? Outside? Whatever it is, make sure you spend less time on “preparing your space for writing” than actually writing. Time spent making coffee, cleaning your desk, and thinking about how literary you are does not count as writing time.

Tip #19: Don’t follow any of these tips.

Tip #20: Come up with a way to reward yourself on December 1. This is going to get hard and ugly, so at least give yourself some sort of light at the end of the tunnel.

Tip #21: Back up your novel every day. I CAN’T STRESS THIS ENOUGH SO I WILL WRITE THIS IN CAPS LOCK. Imagine how upset you’ll be when your 30,000+ word novel-in-progress disappears because of accidental deletion or because you spilled your writer-coffee all over your computer. Sucks, right? So back that business up: email it to yourself, save it on Google Docs, save it to a flash drive, whatever. Do all three.

Tip #22: Keep yourself inspired. Look at the world through writers’ eyes: everything is material. You can also use writing prompts to keep you going. (Shameless plug: we’ve got a whole series of amazing, daily creative writing prompts that you might find useful.)

Tip #23: Following Tip #22: keep reading. Don’t be afraid about accidentally copying the writing style of the author you’re currently reading. You learn about writing from reading, so don’t stop learning.

Tip #24: Think of writing as you would surviving a zombie apocalypse. The two are more similar that you’d think. (via Erin Feldman)

Tip #25: Use this NaNoWriMo report card to measure the progress of your novel (or the progress of your procrastination. Whatever.)

Tip #26: For the love of God, have fun at least most of the time.

Let’s add to this list. Share your writing tips in the comments below, and follow us on Twitter (@litdrift) for more writing tips throughout the month.

More: Writing

From One Young Writer to Another: Being Your Own Editor

By Andrew Boryga on Thursday, June 17, 2010 - View Comments
Learning how to edit your own work is crucial for a writer.

Learning how to edit your own work is crucial for a writer.

When it comes to my own writing, I crush easy. I fall in love with sentences, placing them on pedestals like God himself penned them rather than little ol’ me. I feel like they’re etched in stone, like I can’t hit backspace a few times and make them disappear. It’s a problem a lot of beginning writers have. In a perfect world, we’d have editors to send our stuff to and kick back while they go nuts with red ink and spit it back spick and span. But this ain’t a perfect world, and we’re not nearly successful enough to afford those dudes, so the next best option is ourselves. Being a good self-editor is important for a young writer. It allows us to screen our writing and weed out a good chunk of the faultiness in it. I’m no expert, but in the last year I’ve improved my editing abilities a lot with a few steps I’ve learned through experimentation and experience. Read more »

From One Young Writer to Another: Finding an Attractive Prose

By Andrew Boryga on Wednesday, April 21, 2010 - Comments Off
Developing your own style: Like searching for that right shirt at the store.

Developing your own style: Like searching for that perfect shirt.

I started really getting into girls in middle school. Like most boys my age, I was clueless. Had no idea what they wanted or what they were looking for.

This improved a bit in high school –– after countless mishaps making for great stories between my friends –– where I came to a better understanding of what it takes to attract a female. The best lesson I learned during that trial and error period is the importance of a unique personal style.

This isn’t a fashion blog and I’m definitely not a fashion blogger, but I think my lesson in personal style transgresses quite well into the literary world.

Style is just as important in writing as it is in getting that special lady –– or guy –– friend. If you think about it, what are you really trying to do with that manuscript you’ve slaved over for x amount of months or years? Sell it right? And how do you go about doing that? Make it attractive. Give it a style that’ll stand out from the rest. Developing a unique style of prose is a key ingredient to becoming a good writer. It makes you recognizable to readers, and helps you develop a following. Read more »

Vonnegut Interviews Himself, Silly (But Still Good) Tips for Writers

By JK Evanczuk on Wednesday, March 3, 2010 - Comments Off

vonnegut needlepoint

Vonnegut-inspired needlepoint.

Speaking of, here is an interesting interview with Kurt Vonnegut, which The Paris Review composited from four interviews done with the author over the past decade, so it’s more like an interview “conducted with himself, by himself.” Via The Rumpus.

Here is a question I would like an answer to: why is there no Jewish Narnia?

I hope you enjoyed all those great writing tips from The Guardian over the past few weeks. Now the parodies (sort of) have arrived:

From Probably just a story, via HTMLGIANT:

3. If your plot is too exciting or moving too fast, enhance realism by making your characters stop for a meal at an ethnic restaurant. Describe each course and allow your characters to re-cap the plot so far.

13. Write what you know, especially you white people out there.

From The Measure:

1. All of humanity’s power and complexity can be found in season two of Star Trek: Next Generation.

3. Write in your underpants.

From The Globe and Mail, via Bookninja:

1. Never snack while writing; consume only complete meals – a starch, two vegetables and one serving lean protein (remember that one serving is about the size of a pack of playing cards.)

2. Marry somebody who will cook this.

9. If an irate reader should break into your home, tie you to a chair and terrorize you with selections from the cutlery drawer, think back to your most recent novel. Was its point of view inconsistent? Did you at any time make use of the second person, or urban slang, even ironically? Did you attempt to underscore the significance of an action by describing it as having been performed “to the max”? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, accept what you have coming.

Aaaaand because I love you, here is a video of a reinterpretation of Hamlet, which demonstrates how the play would have ended much differently if Ophelia had a sassy gay friend: Read more »