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Want to be a novelist? Seven tips for certain success

Kim Rooney

Senior Reena John, who's a one-year veteran for the contest, works on outlining her ideas for her novel for National Novel Writing Month.

By Kim Rooney, Production Editor

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NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, is an international challenge for people to write a novel of at least 50,000 words in the month of November. If successful, writers are rewarded with free copies of their books, as well as access to online writing resources. It may seem daunting, but never fear! Here are five ways to make your journey easier.

  1. Figure out if you’re a planner or a pantser.

Do you require outlines and extensive planning or can you fly by the seat of your pants? If you prefer planning, try starting with the end of your novel and working back until you reach the beginning. It will save you from floundering mid-November with half a story and nowhere to go with the plot, and it’ll help you avoid confusing subplots and plot holes.

“I’m using October to plan,” junior Nancy McNelly said. “Last year, I didn’t plan, and I think that was the main reason why I didn’t win.”

  1. Don’t be a perfectionist.

Save that for the months after November, when you have time to edit, revise and rewrite. For now, focus on getting your first draft onto paper. Trying to get every page to be perfect in November will only slow you down and keep you from reaching your goal.

“It’s not the final copy, so it doesn’t have to be perfect,” senior Reena John said. “You can draft it a bit and edit later.”

  1. Keep up with your word count.

Updating your word count on your NaNoWriMo profile will help you keep track of how much you need to write each day. It can be difficult to find time to write, but you’re going to have to make it. Carve out an hour or two each night to write, and on days when you have less work, write a little extra. It may have to replace time watching television or surfing the Internet, but it’ll only be for a month, and you’ll have a novel to show for it.

“Even though you only need 1,667 words per day, at the beginning, try to do 2,000 so you get ahead and have a safety net,” junior Rosemarie Fettig said.

  1. Save. Then save again.

The last thing you want is to reach 49,999 words only to lose it because you forgot to save. If not at the end of every page, you should at least save at the end of every chapter. While we’re on the subject, make sure to back it up somewhere. Whether it’s a flash drive, on Google Docs or on iCloud, back up your story.

“I save every five seconds,” senior Erin McClelland said.

  1. Stay motivated.

The second week slump can be detrimental to your novel. Homework, extracurricular activities, and, for seniors, college apps begin to weigh down on you. You will become tempted to put off writing. Stay strong! There are tons of forum discussions on the NaNoWriMo website concerning the dreaded second week slump, and you receive motivational emails every day.

“Because it’s so ambitious, you feel even more accomplished when you finish,” Fettig said. “And because it’s such an enormous amount of work, you feel accomplished even if you get half of it done.”

  1. Find inspiration.

Writers block is detrimental to any writer, but for one under a one month deadline, it’s horrifying. When your mind goes blank, you can either wait for inspiration to find you, or out and search for it. In this case, you should get your search party ready. Listen to music, read a few chapters from a book or watch an episode of a show—but just one. If you’d rather have inspiration find you, set up a routine so it knows exactly when and where to find you.

“It’s weird, but music helps,” John said. “Sometimes I’ll hear a song, and I’ll have an idea.”

  1. It’s O.K. to fail.

Just make sure to start. 50,000 words is longer than classics such as The Great Gatsby, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and Fahrenheit 451. As long as you’ve given an honest effort, you’ll have a fledgling novel and an experience to tuck under your belt for next year. Know your limits, but always remember your goals.

“I really just want to complete my goal,” McNelly said. “I’ve never completed a novel before, and I’d really like to do that.”

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Want to be a novelist? Seven tips for certain success