NaNoWriMo: Week One

A week-by-week guide through National Novel Writing Month. This essay covers the first week of November.

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Follows: Week Zero

You’re a week in, give-or-take, and hopefully you should have put down around 5,000 words already. You might be ahead, you may be behind; either way it doesn’t matter that much at this point. You’ve made a start! Congratulations on getting this far, as this is an achievement in of itself. Not everybody does. Before you start celebrating though, you’ve still got a long way to go. Unless you’re used to writing relatively large quantities regularly, this is going to be tough to stick to. That’s no reason to beat yourself up or have any guilt, however. This is—despite what you may think—a marathon and not a sprint. You have an entire month to do this, so if there are hiccups or bumps along the road, it doesn’t matter. Deal with them and move on.

The first week is a good, gentle introduction to this process. There are few things that I want you to remember, however. Firstly, it’s unlikely that you jumped the gun and got thousands of words down, and that’s a good thing. You shouldn’t do that without building your story up, otherwise you’re going to struggle later. This isn’t about getting any old 50,000 words down on a page, this is about writing a book. There’s a big difference. Secondly, don’t be worried if you didn’t get anywhere near as many words written as you wanted. Chasing the word-count is an incredibly unhealthy way to write, and doing so will inevitably result in extremely poor-quality work. Working on plot, characters or structure is as—if not more—important than words on a page. Do it properly. Finally, 50,000 words isn’t a lot. I don’t want to rain on anybody’s parade here, but that amount of words in a month is not especially hard, and it is definitely achievable, as otherwise NaNoWriMo wouldn’t exist. Once, I wrote about 50,000 words in a single day—in my youth when I had a lot more energy and time—but most of what I wrote was unsalvageable. Reaching the word-count properly, with something worth further attention, is where the challenge comes from. Take your time, do it properly; it doesn’t impact things very much, other than positively.

Create Your Plan

Don’t worry about where your word-count is right now. This first week was for you to set your foundations down. Now you’ve got something, however, you’ve got to flesh your idea out into something more coherent. Your plan for the coming week is simple: write a lot. That’s it.

Execute Your Plan

Take a day at the end of this first week to think about the different beats of your story and what they’re going to be. Look at things like the three-act structure and the five-act structure to help you work out how your story is going to flow. You need to flesh out your characters and get to know them at least moderately. Understanding the main characters’ personalities will help you know—and in turn write—how they react to different situations. Once you’ve done this, glance back on your opening. You don’t need to rewrite it, but make sure what you’ve written asks the questions that your book will answer, as this will serve you very well further down the line. Then don’t worry about anything else this next week. Write words. No editing as you go, or rewriting things that don’t quite work, or sentence structure, or voice, or authenticity of dialogue, or anything else; just write. This coming week you should push yourself a little harder while you still have the energy and enthusiasm to do so. If you can, aim to have four writing sessions where you write 5,000 words at each of them. I know that seems quite high, but there’s a reason for that target. It’s achievable. If you aim for 15,000 words and don’t make it, you’ll have to catch up somewhere else. Instead, 5,000 is a high but reachable target, and even if you miss it you still have scope to catch up.

Get everything that you need in place before you carry on.

At the end of next week, you should be aiming to hit 25,000 words, the majority of which will have been done after today. Remember, that’s not a particularly hard number to achieve. Focus on what you’re doing—2,000 words an hour isn’t an unreasonable goal if you know the material that you’re writing. That’s why you’re spending a day at the end of the first week not writing, but reviewing and planning instead. Doing this properly makes the word-count relatively trivial. Having said that, if you’re not achieving the numbers, don’t worry about it. Carry on and do your best. Even if, at this point, you’re only a few thousand words in, it doesn’t matter. Keep going, you’re doing great.


Next: Week Two

David Chitty was born and raised in Thanet in the 90s. He devotes most of his energies to writing fantasy fiction novels.

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