How To Win NaNoWriMo Even If You’re Behind (Without Cheating)

Okay, for you NaNoWriMo participants out there, we’re halfway through the challenge, and I hope you’re about halfway through your novel. If you’re not quite there, it’s okay, there’s time.

That being said, Hubby threw me for a loop after the first week. I told him I was scheduled to finish about the 18th or so at the rate I was going (things have happened since) and he said “Wow, I never thought I’d be ahead of you.”


Hubby doesn’t write. He started a novel about seventeen years ago with a friend, they got fifty pages in and haven’t touched it since. I’ve encouraged him, but to no avail. It’s helpful though, he knows a little something about writing so he’s supportive when I lock myself away in a typing frenzy. He’s also unusually understanding about the whole “don’t talk to me in November” thing.

Whatever, I tried to suppress the shock and vowed to be supportive of Hubby taking up the writing challenge. A few days go by and I mentioned my plot has strayed shockingly far from my admittedly simple outline. I told him about what I wrote so far, and he offered to let me see what he had. Hubby was surprisingly vague about his plot, but said he’d show me. Okay. If he’s good with it.

We were out at the time, but when we got home, Hubby started his computer, hesitated, and turned it around to show me his masterpiece in progress.

Now I want it known that I had no intention of critiquing it. I am the supportive wife. I’ve finished twelve novels and several short stories, this is his first so I’m all about being supportive. Okay, that was my disclaimer.

I looked at Hubby’s first paragraph and it took a moment for what I was seeing to sink in.

Have you seen that text graphic circling the web about varying sentence length? That was the first thing that crossed my mind.

Although it really didn’t apply, not really. Yes, every sentence was the same length, but it was because they were all the same sentence! That’s right, he had typed, over and over “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”

He had pages of it. Apparently he’d already hit 42,000 words. Yay? We had a little chat. This is not the way to win NaNoWriMo, although I have to tip my hat to Hubby for the prank.

Hubby’s distractions aside, let’s discuss how someone could win NaNoWriMo even if they were behind at this point. Some may even be critically behind.

The easiest thing to remember is Butt In Chair, Fingers On Keyboard. Seriously. Turn off the TV, close your internet browsers. Facebook and Twitter will live without you for two weeks. I promise the world will survive if you don’t +1 a picture of a cat or like some inspirational quote. Promise.

Next, once you type it, it’s set in stone. Don’t edit anything at this point. Typo? Deal with it on December 1st. Changing the name of a character? Do it on December 1st. Just realized your main character cannot possibly have been born the year you said because that would make her 982 and the story doesn’t allow for her to be a Time Lord? What did I say? That’s right, December 1st.

Now to be fair, some may not be in a predicament because of the inability to turn off their inner editor. This “Don’t edit anything” may seem a bit harsh. Correcting a simple typo doesn’t actually take that long. True, but “not that long” multiplied by a few times/page by over 100 pages adds up. (Those of us who’ve written 25,000 words, in theory have written 100 pages, with 100 to go. If you’re behind … you have over 100 to go. Get it?)

Big one here: outline as much as you can, as detailed as you can, as quickly as you can. Also preferably somewhere where you wouldn’t be writing anyway. I like to outline in the car when Hubby’s driving (until I threaten to get car-sick), or relaxing in a hot bath, or quietly while ‘watching’ a show with the kids when it would be too distracting to actually write. Outlining, for those who can do this, can dramatically increase your word count when you actually sit down to write in a couple of ways. First: you already know exactly what you’re going to write. There’s no ‘waiting for inspiration’ because it’s largely there on your notepad. Second: if you’re working with a basic outline and still need a little bit of inspiration, and just don’t have it on one scene, as long as you stay true to your outline, you can skip ahead to another scene and write that instead. There are no rules that say the book must be written in order. I frequently don’t write my novels from chapter one through twenty, one after the other. In fact, I’ve done it once. Outlines are wonderful, if you can use them effectively.

That being said, I recognize not everyone can. I try, I really do. I outlined this book, and I’ve deviated so far from that outline now that it was effectively a waste of time and effort. Sadly, it’s not the first time I’ve done this, and it probably won’t be the last. I recognize the value of outlines so I keep trying. Once I start writing, my characters get developed and take on a life of their own, and toss my carefully planned outline out the window. Without a safety harness. It’s cruel and painful.

Also, research later. Remember I mentioned in the weeks leading up to NaNoWriMo that I was doing my research in advance? It was because I didn’t want to take time to research while I could be writing. Plus I knew I did have to leave time for life to get in the way. Researching in advance didn’t help me. Did I do it? Yes. I researched what I would need based on the outline I constructed that ended up being tossed aside after the first week. So I’m in the same boat. No research allowed. If I come across something that I need to know, I mark it. (I use ‘@’ and a note so I can search for it later, a friend uses ** because it’s on her numberpad and she doesn’t have to shift.) Then, on December 1, you can go back, and fill in the blanks. If you absolutely need to know something for plot? Honestly? Take a guess and fix it later. Research is time consuming. I have written a chapter in less time than it’s taken to do enough research to decide on a location, or to look into the details of actual UV exposure and protection. It’s nuts.

Besides, the Internet is taboo. It’s not conducive to meeting your NaNoWriMo word count goals.

Sadly, you can’t control life. It happens. I spent the entire last week dealing with my daughter. She was sick, and we ended up taking her to the ER in the middle of the night. What’s wrong? Heaven only knows because the doctors sure don’t. The followup wasn’t any better. She’s feeling better, but it’s difficult to type when you’re holding the hand of a scared sixteen-year-old who’s hurting. (Although in truth, I will write on my phone, just not quickly.) While I’m glad she’s starting to feel better, I’m concerned they don’t know what’s wrong and she has a week’s worth of homework to make up. (She’s freaking out about missing her Latin II test and I’m wondering how I can incorporate that reaction into a novel, it’s great.) I’m happy to have my computer and Scrivener back, and tired of sitcoms. But I also went from being really ahead to behind. After a couple late-night sessions with grape Laffy Taffy, grape soda, and coffee (the latter doesn’t go with the former two if you’re wondering) I’m a shoulder-shrugging “Meh.” Sigh.

You can’t plan for these things. You can deal with it. How you deal with it says something about you as a writer. It says to the world how serious you are. At this point, there is time left. Focus, take a deep breath, and be a writer.

1 Comment

Filed under Writing

One response to “How To Win NaNoWriMo Even If You’re Behind (Without Cheating)

  1. racheld

    Reblogged this on My Blog.

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