You’re writing a novel, but you decided to skip NaNoWrimo this year. Or you started NaNoWrimo with huge enthusiasm, and stopped. Please don’t feel guilty. If you’re new to writing fiction, it’s almost certainly better for you to practice on short stories, rather than trying to complete even a short novel in a month.
Over the past week, I’ve received messages from writers who feel like failures. A couple wanted to do NaNoWrimo, but something came up. Several other writers started NaNoWrimo, and wrote steadily, but then stopped “just for today”. They didn’t start writing again.
Please don’t feel guilty. You’re not a failure as a novelist or anything else if you didn’t start NaNoWrimo, or if you started and quit. If you started, be glad of the experience, and cheer up. All the writing you do teaches you, and you’ve learned a lot, even if you think you’ve “failed.”
NaNoWrimo is a challenge for new novelists, because…
1. Novels are hard to control, even if you’re written one or more novels
Novels are very hard to control. Even if you’re someone who loves outlining, a novel takes off in directions you didn’t expect. Alternatively, if it doesn’t take off, and you hew closely to your outline, your characters never come alive. You begin to resent them, and stop caring about them.
Once you’ve gained a little experience, you’ll be thrilled when a novel takes off in unexpected ways, and you’ll know how to get it back on track. It’s almost impossible to do that without a few novels under your belt, however.
2. If you don’t write have a writing habit, writing 1,700 words a day is too much pressure
Here’s my goal for fiction every day: a thousand words. That’s all. Of course, I hope to write 3,000 words a day, or more, if I can. If I can’t, then 1,000 words is fine.
I’ve been writing for many more years than I care to think about, and I still keep my daily fiction word count goal low. Here’s why — pressure.
Fiction’s easy, as long as you can get yourself into a fictive dream while you’re writing. You can’t get yourself into this mind state when you’re feeling pressured, it’s impossible.
Setting yourself a word count goal of 1,700 words a day for NaNoWrimo is huge pressure.
Relax, give yourself time to build your writing muscles
Writing 50,000 words is hard. Turning those 50K words into a novel is even harder. If you’ve yet to complete your first novel, give yourself time. You have plenty of time, all the time in the world.
Here are two ways to prepare yourself to write your first novel.
1. Write ten short stories — take as long as you like
Yes, ten short stories. Take as long as you like to write those ten short stories. Writing short stories has one huge benefit: you get into the habit of completing your stories.
Some writers get into the habit of starting novels, and never completing them. Writing short stories is a great way to get into the habit of finishing what you start.
Every story hits a wall at some stage. When you have a little experience, you expect this. In fact, you realize that hitting the wall is a good thing. You’ve just got to find a way under, over, or through the wall. When you do this, you’ll complete your story.
2. Write for five minutes a day for a month
Writing fiction is very different from writing nonfiction. You need to pretend to be someone else, and write as someone else. You experience what your story person experiences, and you write about it.
Rather than scaring yourself to death by saying: “I’m writing a novel!” sneak up on it. Write fiction for five minutes a day, for 30 days. You don’t have to write more than a few sentences. Anything you get onto the computer screen is fine. You’re teaching yourself a new mindset.
Initially, you’ll feel uncomfortable. Soon, you’ll realize that imagining is fun. Then you’ll be well on your way.
You may even write a wonderful novel for NaNoWrimo next year.
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