Five Tips for Surviving NaNo 2016

Confession time, here's what I got: I've never completed NaNo.

In fact, my lifetime word count for three NaNos is 37,000. That's...pathetic. So, I'm probably not the best person to be giving out tips on how to survive NaNo, am I?

No, and yes. The "no" is obvious, but why the "yes?"

Over the last two years, I've learned at thing or two about writing full time, under deadline, and pushing through even when you have absolutely no confidence you can do the thing you've set out to do. That has pretty much been my life since last January, and I predict it will be my life for the foreseeable future. I seem to keep setting ridiculous goals for myself, and ridiculous goals keep getting set for me.

But, here's the thing: I'm hitting them. 

You know why that's awesome, besides the obvious? 

Every time I hit a goal, it gives me confidence that I'll hit the next one.

It can all be traced back to the book deal I signed in December '14. The publisher wanted the second book in the series by June 15, the third by December 15. I laughed. I'd never in my life gone from zero to finished MS in six months. They wanted two in a year? LOLOLOLOL There was absolutely no way I could do that. I asked my agent to get more time.

The publisher offered an extra month for the first, three extra for the second.

Cue freakout.


I had nothing besides two characters and a setting. No plot. No framing device. No new characters. But, the deal was signed, the money deposited. This was it. My chance. I'd been writing for over twelve years, working to get to this point. Thousands of other writers would kill to sign a three book deal with a major publisher. Failure wasn't an option. But, fear of failure was very real.

Fear is a great motivator, at least for me.

So, I did it. I figured out the main story beats (in my head; I hate outlining) and started writing. Every day I sat down at the computer and asked myself, "Now what?" I'm not sure how long it took me to finish the first draft, but it couldn't have been that long. I sent it to my first reader as a first draft for the first time ever and waited, a sick feeling in my stomach. I knew he was going to find a Mack truck sized plot hole and tell me, "Melissa, this sucks." It couldn't suck. I didn't have time for it to suck! 

He sent it back and said, "This doesn't read like a first draft. Good job."

I contribute the success of that draft to two things: I didn't over think, and I didn't over write. I didn't have the luxury.

So, here I am, nearly two years later, going into NaNo with three acts, 15 story beats, and a couple of characters. Am I nervous? Sure. A little. But, worrying doesn't get words down on the page, it just keeps you up at night and makes me eat everything in sight and gain ten pounds (something else I learned last year). Tomorrow, I'm going to sit down at my computer and say, "Let's go." Every day in November I'm going to ask, "Now what?" until I've finished NaNo. And, every day, I'm going to remind myself of these five things:


Five Tips for Surviving NaNo

Don't put too much pressure on yourself

The world won't end if you don't write 1666 words on Thanksgiving Day. Trust me. Life gets in the way of writing ALL THE TIME. That's why having NaNo in November is so perfect (for Americans, at least). A major holiday smack dab in the middle of the month, your kids have a week off of school, and you're stressed either about hosting Thanksgiving Dinner, traveling across the country or about the horrible opinion Uncle Harvey will spout off across the dinner table. All that will wreak havoc on your word count. You have to deal with all of that AND write 1666 words a day? Yes. But, don't let the failure to hit your goal one day ruin the second. Brush if off and move on.

But don't let yourself off easy, either

You're doing NaNo for a reason. Me, I have a book to deliver to my editor next August. Seems like a lot of time, right? Not really. I have four books being released next April, May and June, and i have no idea what kind of time commitment that will require. My son graduates from high school in June, goes to college in August (sobs, DON'T LEAVE ME!!!), we go on Spring Break in March and vacation in July. And, in between all of that is life. Time contracts more often than it expands, and it's never going to get better. Keep whatever your reason for doing NaNo at the front of your mind for those days when you just don't feel like writing, or you think you don't have the time. You'll never get time back. Use it wisely.

The point is to put words on the page

Not to be Hemingway or McCarthy or Piccoult or Weiner or Austen or Dickens. Writing is rewriting. (You knew I couldn't get out of writing a post about writing without at least one trite saying.) Get the story out on the page, show yourself you can write every day despite all of the distractions November throws at you. Worry about making it good in the next draft.

Remember: 50,000 words is not a novel...

For some genres, 50K would be acceptable - middle grade, category romance, some YA. But, most standard word counts for adult novels start at 70K and go up from there.  Lit Rejections offers a good guide to word counts.


...It's the beginning of the process

You'll never get published unless you write. That's the secret to writing. If you don't start, you will never finish. So stop making excuses, open your word processing program and get writing.

Find me on the NaNo website and prod me to keep going, and I'll do the same for you!