It’s been a while since my first NaNoWriMo journal for the year, so it’s about time to write my second. This is going to be a bit different though. I’m going to try my hand at writing some tips for overachiever hopefuls.
I have yet to not at least triple win NaNoWriMo, and some of those years (like last year), work got in the way and I still out performed my previous two NaNoWriMos. Even this year, my first as an official ML, I’ve already quadruple won. That means I wrote at least 200,000 words in less than 30 days. But this post isn’t about me, it’s about you overachiever hopefuls. And I know this is a little late considering there are only 5 and a half days left of NaNoWriMo (in my time zone), but you know.
Some of these tips can apply to those who are struggling to win in the first place, so feel free to take these tips that way if you prefer.
Tip 1: Exercise
One of the most important things about being an overachiever is you need to remember to take care of yourself. Take physical breaks between word sprints, whether that’s taking a dog for a walk, jogging for a bit, going lane swimming or whatever is available to you. Not only is it physically good for you, but getting the blood pumping can help you think faster too.
I always feel more focused and write faster after a 30 minute session on my elliptical, or after lifting weights for a few minutes. That focus and energy helps words flow faster. That and going to Kung-Fu on Thursday evenings is the perfect way to get myself in the mood for a fight scene.
Tip 2: Plan ahead
I’m sure pantsing a novel can be exciting (writing a book without a plan, not pulling people’s pants down you pervert), but it can really slow your progress down. You don’t necessarily need to stick strictly to your plan – sometimes you just got to let the characters and story tell themselves. That said, the better planned a scene is, the faster it tends to flow.
For a personal example, I’ve been planning this month’s main project’s climactic battle for 4 years now, and I pumped out almost 8,000 words in an hour and a half. Compare that to my usual writing speed of between 2,000 and 3,000 words an hour and you get the picture. Some of my lesser planned scenes in the same book only came out at less than 2,000 words an hour.
Tip 3: Research ahead
This goes hand and hand with planning ahead and it’s no less important. If there’s a scene taking place in a real town, city or forest, research the basics ahead of time. Only focus on what you need to know of course – you can easily fill in the blanks in later drafts. Spontaneous research will not only slow down your writing, but sometimes the internet ends up distracting you further. Before you know it, you’ll end up looking at pictures of puppies or kittens when you’re supposed to be learning about why almost 300,000 people live in one of the harshest environments in the world. Or you’ll be shopping for computer parts online when you should be writing one of the more technical scenes in your science fiction story.
An example of me failing on this part is when I studied Yakutsk in Russia. It’s a city high up in the mountains and far away from any large bodies of water, in Northern Russia. The city has never recorded temperatures above 0 Celsius (the temperature where water freezes) between the middle of November and toward the end of March. Yet somehow, more than 200,000 people live there. Why? It’s silver rich. Of course I only learned that through spontaneous research while writing a scene that took place there, and I ended up looking up random facts about silver when I got distracted. Even I fall prey to this trap more often than I should.
Tip 4: Plan your world ahead
This goes hand in hand with the “research ahead” tip above, but it’s more for high fantasy or high concept science fiction. Basically, plan your world ahead as much as possible before you start writing the story. Thankfully, you’re less likely to fall into the trap of wasting time on the internet if you fail to plan your world ahead, but it can slow you down just as much when you realize the rules of your alternate reality are increasingly inconsistent as you move forward.
Tip 5: Don’t experiment with genres you’re not used to writing
I’m not saying you should never try writing a different genre than you’re used to, but don’t do it during NaNoWriMo. For all you know, your words will crawl or your story simply won’t end long enough.
My personal example of this failing came last year, when I tried to write a retail comedy for my second novel project. I had working retail for 10 years at that point (too long), so I had plenty of material. Even so, what I hoped to be around 50,000 words ended up closer to 12,000, and I struggled to write even 1,000 words an hour or more than two chapters a day. Compare that to my first project of the same month, where I finished a 100,000+ word novel in 10 days. In short, stick with what you know during NaNoWriMo, and experiment with other genres some other time in the year.
Tip 6: When you’re finished, write short stories
If you finish all of your major projects ahead of time, try your hand at short stories that take place in the same universe. Write a short story that takes place before the book, after the book, or even at the same time but through the eyes of a minor character or an antagonist. You might not ever try to do anything with the short story itself, but not only will this require minimal planning at best, but it might deepen your novel when you get around to editing it. That and writing short stories like this can be a lot of fun.
My favourite thing that I wrote this year, from an enjoyment standpoint, was a short story taking place in the same universe I’ve been working on for 4 years now. Long story short, vampires and werewolves were revealed to humanity in 2007. The two books immediately following that deal with the fallout, one on a world-wide scale, and the other one taking a closer look at werewolves in England as they’re fighting for reasonable rights. The short story I wrote takes place in 2012, when the London Olympics decide to add a couple supernatural events to experiment with them. The short story is about a werewolf competitive swimmer from the United States. He thinks of himself as the Michael Phelps of supernatural swimming. He’s not, and he realizes that by the end of the short story.
I perhaps got more detailed about the werewolf swimming than I needed to, but the story just popped into my head one day at work and I had a lot of fun writing it.
For all you know, you might write a short story that ends up being your favourite thing that you wrote this month. That alone is its own reward.
Tip 7: Don’t forget to celebrate
So you’ve successfully overachieved in NaNoWriMo. Now it’s time to reward yourself with something nice. Maybe it’s re-reading one of your favourite books. Maybe it’s a really nice meal or drink. Maybe it’s just relaxing for a day or two so you can start thinking straight again, because a month of intensive writing tends to take a toll on people’s thinking skills. Sometimes after a long, epic day of writing I can’t even speak properly. But most importantly, take some pride in your accomplishment. Not everyone can write 50,000 words in one month, so doubling that or more is worth at least a little bit of pride.
I hope you enjoyed these tips, and if you have any more, feel free to comment with them below.