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November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo for the cool kids) and this is my first year participating. In fact, up until two months ago, I might have used Nano Wrimo as a character in a terrible cyberpunk story and been none the wiser. Fortunately I'm hip to the scene now, and I'm here to offer my perspective as a wide-eyed neophyte come to the altar of compulsory mass-productivity. My opinion may not count for much if you're a crusty veteran of the campaigns, but I hope the following motivational tips are helpful to those who are newish, like me. They actually apply year-round, but in the true spirit of NaNoWriMo, I'm temporarily hyper-focusing on them to the point of exhaustion. Yay!!
0. Know what NaNoWriMo is.
This isn't a tip...this is a prerequisite. Do this yesterday. If you don't know what this event is, casually slide back up and click that link. Then come back here and act all cool like you knew all along. I'll vouch for you.
1. Know your goal.
You don't have to "win" NaNoWriMo to have an outstanding month. Everyone writes at a different pace, but you should know what you want to achieve before you buckle down. Ideally, yes, you would have started planning this back in October. But we're here now, aren't we? Real writers deal with crazy deadlines all the time (or so I'm constantly told) so be like them. Decide today whether you want to finish an entire book this month, or if just want to finally starting writing something, ANYTHING, for real. Hitting the track at 50,000 miles per hour isn't for everyone. Maybe this is simply the month you start building up steam toward that dream you've been hoarding. Use the lofty goals if they're helpful. Otherwise, set your own goals and stick to them like pancake syrup on a toddler. This month is meant to be a catalyst, nothing more.
2. Stop being afraid to call yourself a writer.
Do you write? Cool. Hold on... Presto Change-O! *POOF!* ...You're a writer.
You may be shocked to learn that I don't have actual magic. It was all an illusion. The power was in you all along. Seriously, stop being afraid of making this hobby into something more. Maybe you do it completely for fun, or maybe you do it for the promise of fabulous riches, but for whatever reason, it's okay to be serious about it. It's okay to give it time and attention, and to make it a larger part of your life. You're allowed to participate in this month with the rest of us. I've come to learn that the biggest difference between striving and success is almost always persistence. Those who "make it" are those who stick around when it gets hard and stupid and terrible. But the second biggest is confidence. Just believe in yourself. Some authors are genuine geniuses, (*cough* Gaiman *cough cough* Pratchett *ahem*) but I think most are just talented people who weren't afraid to start and then keep going. Admitting to yourself that you ARE a writer, is the first step. Shout it from a mountaintop or whisper it to your cat; just admit it. Then act like a writer and get to work.
"Sit your a** down and write." - Patrick Rothfuss
3. Write what makes you happy...kind of.
You might already have an idea floating around in your head...maybe about a handful of genetically-enhanced adolescent reptiles who live underground and practice some kind of martial art--let's say ninjutsu. Good for you! If it's what you love, you should definitely see what you can do with it in 50,000 words. Just make sure you keep your expectations in mind before you start. If you're a pure hobbyist and don't care about selling, you can relax. Do your thing and be happy. But as someone who does want to sell my work, one of the hardest things I've run into so far is the way the market can change right underneath you. You might finally finish your YA trilogy about a family of talking garlic bulbs in a post-apocalyptic refrigerator, only to find out that your niche is already oversaturated. (Dibs on that idea, btw.) If you want to sell, be original. Do some research. Don't just copy others in your genre; emulate and excel. Use your individual voice and be unique. If you craft your plan with that in mind before you start, you're less likely to be left sitting on top of a sadness throne built of your unsold manuscripts. You may love what someone else does, but don't waste your time trying to be them. Find what made them successful and work until you can do it better.
4. Listen to the critiques, but don't let them slow you down.
As one of the newer members here, there was one piece of advice I recently took to heart. It's right on the Critique Circle FAQ page:
"Bear in mind that the crit is only one person's opinion. He isn't necessarily right, but his views are examples of how readers might see and interpret your story. That is useful to you, whether you agree with his opinions or not."
That's good advice, and I really don't need to tarnish it with my wisecrackery. Bad critiques don't mean you're a bad writer. Lord of the Rings is a flawless and ground-breaking masterpiece that took Tolkien at least 12 years to write, and still only 82% of the reviews on Amazon are a perfect 5-stars. Some people just can't pick up what you're laying down, and that's okay. Your goal as a writer is to use the criticism to win over as many of the fence-sitters as possible. Covet every single critique, because it probably has at least one fair point that you can use to better your work. Thank that person and don't let the negatives weigh you down. Keep going. You will fail far more than you will succeed, but your odds improve every time you consume a delicious advice nugget. Don't expect perfection, but aim for it anyway. If you manage to hit that 82%, you can call it a win. Leave the other 18% back with whatever on earth they think is better reading. Soup labels, I guess. JUST KEEP GOING.
That's what I've got. Maybe I'll have more in-depth advice after I've been through the trenches, but hopefully this was useful if you're starting out like me. Sometimes the biggest obstacles are those we place before ourselves, and overcoming them can be as simple as deciding to. Give yourself permission to do this thing, to do it right, and I doubt you'll regret the experience.
Now go read this great blog by Grace Tierney for some real advice about why you should participate. Unlike me, she actually seems to know what she's talking about.
Josh has been writing and editing for ten years while posing as a mild-mannered hotel manager. Now he's working on publishing his Modern Fantasy novel, A Hero Forged. He just started a blog about his quest at www.josherikson.com, and you can also find him on Twitter @josh_erikson where he posts occasional nonsense.