Geek Girl Tutorials

The last catch up post!

How to Survive (and Win) National Novel Writing Month

So last week I told you about prep you can do before November starts.

But, we’re really here about November, right?

As close to November 1st as possible, turn off your inner editor.

  • This is a first draft (unless you are a rebel and are adding to/editing a draft). No one writes 50,000 beautiful words in November. You might get lucky and write 25,000 you want to keep. The point isn’t to write a novel that you will publish on December 1st. The point is to get 50,000 words on the page, so you can edit them in December. Your inner editor will only cause you to freeze up.
  • Some quick and dirty tricks:
    • Turn off spell/grammar check. All those little squiggles will drive you crazy, and you will spend more time hitting that backspace button than you do writing. (more on that later…)
    • Turn your font color to white (on a white screen). If you can’t see the mistakes, you won’t be tempted to fix them.
    • If you need to be able to see your words appearing on the screen, reduce your font size to 4 pt or less.
    • Don’t look at the screen while you write. It’s ok to look a little crazy by staring at the ceiling while you type frantically. You’re in your own house.
  • You may only need this for the first three or four days, or you may need it for longer. If your inner English teacher is still screaming, then you still need the tricks.

Now we come to the actual writing.

  • Word sprints! (remember that from part one?)
    • A word sprint is a sustained block of time, usually 10-30 minutes, where you (and whoever you are writing with) will do nothing but write. Often you will declare how many words you’ve written in that time, and someone will be the winner. Sometimes there’s a prize, but mostly this is just to celebrate. If you’ve joined some of those online events, that’s most likely what you will be doing at them.
  • Pomodoro Timers
    • If you are not a social butterfly, and haven’t joined any write-ins, I highly recommend at least a Pomodoro Timer. I have one as an app on my phone, but there is also online versions, such as Cuckoo. These timers will give you a work session of 5 minutes to 1 hour or more, then a set break period. I like sprinting 20 minutes, then resting for 10, just cause it fits into an hour so nicely.
      • I use the 10 minutes to keep myself on track or to take notes on any particularly clever thing I’ve written in that time. Character names, worldbuilding, decisions, etc. That way it is all contained for reference 10 days and 16,670 words later.
  • The Backspace Button
    • Don’t. Just don’t. Well, do backspace if you find you can’t read the word you’ve just written, or you look down and see that you’ve put your fingers on the wrong keys, but don’t if you are actually starting to edit. (See above.)
    • If you have to, tape a piece of paper over the button, so you will think twice before hitting it.
    • But what if you have to erase, because you have written yourself into a plot hole, or the words you are typing are not coming out in your character’s voice?
  • The Dump File
    • This is where you can put all those awful paragraphs. The bits that go nowhere, when you reach that awful place when you realize that you need to get rid of the previous two chapters and start over.
    • Cut and paste those bits onto a separate document so you are not cluttering up your draft with stuff you know you’ll cut. You never know, you might need those words or scenes later!
    • If it’s something small, just a sentence or two, type QT (Quit This) before and after the bits you want to cut. Not only will that add a couple of words to your count, but you will be able to search and delete those small bits easily once Nano is over.
  • Research
    • We’ve all been there. We are drafting merrily along, racking up all those words, when we suddenly need to know what color the epaulets were on the British navy uniform in 1605. We trot merrily over to Wikipedia, and emerge 4 hours later from an article about pearl diving in Korea in the 1930s. That can’t happen during Nano. You need those 4 hours for writing!
    • If it’s something small, and you can find it on the Google search page (not clicking through to any links, just the search page!), then go ahead and look it up.
    • If it’s larger, or Google doesn’t save you type FQ (Fact Question) and continue writing. Then, once November is over, you can spend all the time you want searching out that letter combo and doing your research. And you can also make up words and paragraphs to get approximately the same amount of words you would need for the bit you don’t know. I’ve written Nano manuscripts that have passages like these:
      • FQ And now he’s gotten poisoned, but I haven’t chosen the poison yet, so I don’t know what symptoms he’ll display. Probably foaming at the mouth, maybe a bit of rolling on the floor. You know, the usual. That’s probably enough words for that. FQ
  • Write whenever and wherever you can.
    • I am lucky enough to have a tablet that I can take on the school bus with me. So I do. I type in front of schools waiting for kids to get out. I type on the floors of gyms while the basketball game is happening around me. I type in the parking lots of museums and on park benches outside the zoo.
    • You’d be amazed at how much writing time you are not utilizing. It’s 2020 and we are all working from home, right? Keep your work in progress up while you are working. Type a few words while you are waiting for the zoom meeting to start. Type on your breaks and during lunch. Type while you are waiting on someone to respond to your email. (Just don’t type so much that you get fired…)
    • If you are an essential worker (first of all, thank you!), maybe you don’t have a laptop or trust your work security enough to bring it to work, bring a journal or type on your phone. You get 15 minute breaks and 30 minute lunches. Challenge yourself to see how many words you can get done in that time.
  • Don’t write all the time
    • Yes, I know. Another contradiction.
    • But unless you do keep time to cuddle your cats or say hello to your significant other, you will soon burn out. Schedule time to eat and sleep and massage your hands from the massive amount of typing you will be doing.
    • Did I mention sleep? Please remember to get some sleep. This is a marathon, not a sprint. You will need that energy later, I promise.
  • Reward yourself!
    • Make sure you are taking the time to reward yourself during the month of November. The Nano site has badges that you earn for various tasks, like word count goals and writing more days in a row. Use these and give yourself rewards.
    • And don’t get discouraged. If you find yourself on the 20th with only 10,000 words, that’s 10,000 words you didn’t have before!

The Quick and Dirty Tricks

These are not cheating, per se, but they are a little bit harder to edit out once November is over. However, if you are desperate to up your word count, here are some ideas. Also, these are epically bad writing tips. But if your Nano goal is to get the 50% off Scrivner coupon and you need 20,000 words in three days…

  • Don’t (Or do not) use contractions. If you’re already 30,000 words in, to a search for “n’t” and replace it with ” not”. Then try it with ‘re and ‘ve. You’ll be amazed. (Ooo! ‘ll!)
  • Copy all of your notes, beat sheet, character lists, and add them to your document (as long as you wrote them in November!)
  • All that time you are taking thinking about how your in-novel robbery/heist/ballroom scene will go? Type it out in stream of consciousness. Have two characters debate a love triangle and who the MC should love for four pages. Go back and add in all those As-you-know-Bob scenes and back story and worldbuilding. You never know, you might find more creative solutions than you had originally planned!
  • Describe everything, down to the last stone on the last courtyard on the last part of the castle. It won’t end up in your novel, but you need to know it, at least.
  • If you are getting desperate, give all of your characters two-name names. Sarah Jo, Billy Bob, Jo Betsy. Or even three or four name titles. Chief Petty Officer Joe Bob Morton. Her Royal Highness Princess Leticia Amy Morganstern, Duchess of Eastern Anglophobia. And then search and replace every instance of the original name.
  • On that note, your towns shouldn’t be London or Paris when they could be Higgly on the Walk or Greater North Eastern Fandlington.
  • Give each of your chapters really descriptive titles, like: Chapter 23: Having Been Cruelly Rejected, Our Dejected Heroine Wanders Out Onto the Moor, Intent on Doing Herself Harm, But, Instead, Encounters the Dread Werewolf, Where Upon She Screams, and Our Dashing Hero Rides Valiantly to Her Rescue.

Most important tip of all:

Ignore all of the tips that don’t work for you. If you end up adding your grocery list to your novel, then it’s not about words, but numbers. So, what’s your goal? Write for that.

And Celebrate on December 1st!

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