Succeeding During NaNoWriMo by UCLA Extension writing instructor Ian Randall Wilson

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In about two weeks, for the fourth year in a row, I’ll begin facilitating a class at UCLA Extension as part of NaNoWriMo: National Novel Writing Month. Fifty participants have already signed up for the class, and many of them are no doubt wondering what’s in store for them. The goal is to write a draft of a 50,000 word novel (about 200 pages) in the 30 days of November. 200 pages is a short novel, about the same length as The Great Gatsby.

People come to class at many different levels of experience. Some are working writers, others are graduates of MFA programs, but many have never written much at all, and certainly not a complete novel. Some have been thinking about writing a novel for a long time and can’t seem to get started, others started and never finished. Some think they have nothing to write about, others have too much. The common linkage is that this time, they’re going to succeed.

My success rate has been excellent: I’ve managed to get over 80% of the group to finish their draft, and, last year, 86%. How do I do it? Maybe the better question is: How do they do it? On the surface the task seems daunting. All those words. What to write about? The goals is manageable. All you need to do is write 6 2/3 pages a day, a task that you can achieve in about 2 hours.

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Whether you take the class or not, here are some tips for making the most of your NaNoWriMo experience … and positioning yourself to succeed:

1. Find two hours a day to write for each of the 30 days. I’m sure if you look at your TV-watching or internet schedule, there’s two hours in there that can repurposed for writing. Change your Facebook status to “writing” and sign off. No Tweeting for a few weeks.

2. No judgments. You aren’t writing the Great American Novel, you’re writing a draft and a first draft at that. Don’t worry about whether or not it’s any “good.” In the creative moment, you’re in no position to decide. Keep writing. If you’re the kind of writer who agonizes over every word, every comma, for the next month, you must abandon those habits. You must write almost with a Zen mindset, putting down whatever word comes to mind without consideration of its value in any critical sense. I feel you already resisting me on this. Don’t. Because my completion rate is high, please, trust me. You’ll have plenty of time to worry over every word choice—in December when you start to revise.

3. Go forward, do not go back. I tell my class participants to literally tape over their backspace keys for the entire month. Do not erase anything. Do not revise anything. Do not go back. Do not start again. Each of those activities implies judgment and during the month of November, all critical judgments are suspended.

4. Write disruption. Think of a character and disrupt their normal everyday life. Write about the disruption and then write about the attempt to restore balance. Balance restored, introduce another disruption. These disruptions can be small: “My wife is mad at me because I was late from work.” Medium: “I’ve lost my job, what now?” Or galactic: “The world is coming to an end in three days and only I can stop this calamity.”

5. Stuck in the moment? Go to description. Write 2,000 words about the room your character is in.

NaNoWriMo founder Chris Baty has a lot more suggestions—as well as information on the challenge—on the website and in his book: No Plot? No Problem. But. if you start with my five, you will be on the road to successfully write that first draft of your novel in the month of November. Good luck!

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Ian Randall Wilson is the author of the novella, Great Things Are Coming, and the short story collections, Absolute Knowledge: Stories and Hunger and Other Stories.

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1 Comment
  1. […] check out Jane Friendman’s NaNo resources, as well as Ian Wilson’s Write On! post on “positioning yourself for success” from NaNo […]

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