A few words from Cali Keys

This post originally appeared in the Kobo Writing Life France newsletter and has been translated into English.

I’ve learned something about my writing practice during each NaNoWriMo. I’ve had moments of intense joy and moments where I wanted to throw my computer into my bathtub full of water to see how fast it overflowed. To be honest with you, I’ve missed completing this literary challenge a good number of times. Why? Because I made mistakes, of course! To help you avoid making these same mistakes, I’ve written down the most common ones in this article. I hope you’ll find it useful and that it will allow you to approach the challenge a little more peacefully.

Falling behind in the first few days

I usually look forward to the first day of NaNoWriMo. I’m on my toes, ready to jump into the race like a horse in the starting blocks before the starting bell rings. I always look at what day November 1st falls on in an effort to anticipate my day. If it’s a weekend day, I breathe easier because I know I’ll have more time to start the challenge. If it’s a weekday, I try to plan my day as best I can so that I have as much time as possible to start writing my novel.

One of the mistakes I’ve made most often? Falling behind in the first few days of NaNo. This is horrible for me. Plus, the backlog adds up very quickly. Three days without writing is 5,001 words. And even though I’m used to writing novels, that’s a lot (and that’s not counting the 1,667 words I have to write each day in November anyway).

I would almost say that the first day of NaNoWriMo sets up the rest of the challenge. On day one, put everything in place to write as much as possible. Write 2,000 words if you can, even 3,000! Getting a head start from the beginning is a guarantee of motivation for the rest. In several countries around the world, writers organize sessions as early as midnight on October 31st. Don’t hesitate to sign up and bring plenty of coffee!

Rereading or editing your novel

During the month of November, Chris Baty advises you to silence your inner critic and to aim for quantity rather than quality (rest assured, he says, by focusing on the former, you will probably be surprised by the latter). Indeed, by trying to chisel out your text by constantly going back to your previous chapters, you will waste precious time. Save the proofreading and rewriting phase for after November.

“Re-reading parts of your first draft while writing is the equivalent of turning around and running marathon miles a second time when you’re halfway through. The best race plan is to keep moving forward by allowing yourself to look back at your story only to orient yourself when you begin your daily writing assignment.”

Also, don’t use beta readers during your writing phase. Your friends or family will have plenty of time to read your novel later. If you get feedback while writing, you’ll be tempted to change parts of your manuscript.

Abandoning your manuscript for too long

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from writing, it’s that the longer I leave my novel untouched, the longer it takes me to get back into it. If I leave my writing for several days in a row, I’ll have to reread my last few pages to get back on track and get back into the mood of my novel. So, even if you have very busy days, I suggest you take a few minutes (even five or ten minutes) to go through your final paragraphs. There will be days when you can’t write, and that’s okay, but don’t give up on your story completely. Staying immersed in your world will help you minimize the impact of the break and you’ll be able to get back on track much more quickly.

Deleting parts of your text

During the writing process, you will inevitably feel like deleting paragraphs, passages, or entire pages of your novel. Don’t do it! At least not right away. You’ll lose words that you’ve worked hard on. As mentioned earlier, you’ll get to the editing phase later. Chris Baty recommends italicizing or coloring these passages so they don’t interfere with your draft. Once NaNo is over, you can turn everything back to black and start the editing phase.

An extra tip: keep your notes, they contain precious words for your daily count (and yes, you can obviously count them)! I often write a few sentences about the plot after each writing session to better prepare for future sessions. I also jot down any ideas for jokes or plot twists that I might use in my manuscript at some point.

Working alone

As you know, NaNoWriMo is a wonderful challenge. The reason it’s so popular is that it makes you feel like you’re not in this alone. Yes, writing a novel in a month is not a walk in the park! Take advantage of everything the site has to offer: forums and groups to keep in touch with your writing friends. There’s nothing more motivating than being able to talk to like-minded people who share the same goal.

Schedule meetings and writing sprints, and go write in coffee shops with other authors! Sure, it takes time to share and respond to messages, but you’ll come out motivated and energized.

The last word

This year, the first of November falls on a Monday! Try to prepare in advance and ask yourself when you will start writing. Half an hour in the morning before you go to work? An hour in the evening when you get home? Wishing you the best of luck with your preparation!

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