It's November, and that means if you're attached to any writing community on social media, you've already seen at least three people shit-talk NaNoWriMo, and at least three people post word counts.
Several years ago, when I decided I really wanted to focus on my writing, I dedicated myself to NaNo. I had a few completed first drafts of novels, that even then I knew would never see the light of day. I also had a project I'd picked up and put down at least a hundred times over a period of time that's embarrassing in retrospect. The truth? I had no idea how to write novel. I'd done it, but the results didn't lie. I had never written a short story, and I'd only had one essay published.
My husband agreed to help me find the time to write, and I did it. I wrote fifty-thousand words that November, despite having a husband that worked long hours, a baby that refused sleep, and my father dying just days before Thanksgiving.
The project was a disaster.
But the next year, I did NaNo again.
Rather than getting into the debate about whether NaNo is good or bad, I'd rather talk about ways to make it work for you.
1. Set a goal
I know, the goal is fifty thousand words in one month. That's not what I mean. I mean, set a goal for what you hope to accomplish. My first year, I wanted to see if I could really do it. Sit down and write every day for a month. My second year, I wanted to let go of my destructive need to edit, rewrite, and edit again before I ever got to the end of a novel. I went through life with the Hemingway quote about shitty first drafts anywhere I could see it for almost a year, and then, in November, I plowed through a first draft. Another year, I wanted to see if I was cut out for romance (I am not).
So, what do you hope to accomplish by doing NaNo? You can use it to let go of obsessive editing, to form a writing habit (or reinvigorate habits you've let slide). It's useful for learning to write faster, or, if you're a real beginner, just sitting down and doing it, without any of the doubts or bullshit that keep so many writers from actually writing.
2. Know yourself
People who know me well know I can crank out a 3500 short story in an afternoon. The word counts required for NaNo aren't really a challenge for me. The challenge for me is doing the work every day (even the weekends). For some people, getting 500 words down is a great writing day. Neither is better than the other. To "win" NaNo and get the 50k, even people who write quickly will face days where that 1667 words is just too much.
If you write slow and steady, consider a different goal. A short story a week, revising 50k words, or allowing yourself to free write and do character sketches can be alternatives. NaNo is fully customizable, and you can bend it to your will. Getting wrapped around the axle over a word count won't do anything for you in the long term. Be realistic, but challenge yourself. The most important thing is to make the time to work every day.
3. Be realistic
Just about anyone can shit out a 50k word novella, especially if they aren't particularly worried about anything other than shitting out 50k words. If you want a novel, not a novella, you probably aren't going to get that done in 30 days. If you want something polished and ready to submit or self publish? You sure as hell aren't getting that in 30 days. The fastest writers I know still revise, rewrite, edit and rewrite again.
Some people think this is an argument against NaNo in and of itself, but the truth is, I don't want to read anyone's novel that hasn't gone through rewrites and edits. I don't care if you spent 30 days or 30 years on the thing, a first draft isn't enough.
And if you don't hit the magic number? Be realistic about that, too. It's a lot of writing, and it's not a "normal" writing pace.
4. Shut out the critics, embrace your supporters
You could spend all of November arguing with people who don't like NaNoWriMo, or don't like your genre, or who think you're favorite TV show is shit. But if you do, it's going to be a hell of a lot harder to reach your goals. If you've got to hit "hide post" on Facebook, or tell your friends to leave you alone until December 1st, do it. But don't shut out the people who are genuinely excited for you, or who are ready and willing to support you. You'll need them in November, and you'll need them in January when you're still in the writing slog, getting rejection notices and watching other people succeed. Writing is a long and lonely game, make it as easy as possible.
5. Take a fucking break!
Don't get so wrapped up in word count goals that you forget to be nice to your significant other, read books, or veg out in front of the TV every now and then. You need to recharge. Writing is a lot like working out - do it too little and it's nearly impossible, do it too much and you're going to hurt yourself.
6. Keep your coffee machine in good working order
7. Treat yourself on December 1st
Whether you hit the 50k or not - if you gave it your best shot, have a cocktail, eat a nice meal, binge watch something on Netflix. Enjoy Facebook now that it's free of both NaNo debates AND election coverage. Whatever you do, don't take what went down in November too seriously. If you hit the 50k, great! But the work has just begun. If you didn't? That's still fine - because the work has just begun.