Editor’s Note: We are encouraging Deputy Editor Aimee Jodoin’s literary ambitions while using her as a guinea pig. We ordered her to write for her food and participate in this year’s NaNoWriMo, but do it on her own time outside the office just like everybody else. We are just mean like that. Aimee is writing weekly updates. Read week one, week two, week three, and week four.
Now that it’s December, the pressure to write 1,600+ words every single day has eased, and I am very much relieved that NaNoWriMo is finally over. But, since I no longer have the mind-numbing task of writing with little thought on my plate, new questions have arisen. Namely, what’s next?
At the beginning of November, I, like most NaNoers, was filled with excitement, motivation, and confidence. At the beginning of December, this sense of looking forward to writing is much different. Instead of joyous expectation, the drive to write now comes with the realization that outside of November, we have to take writing more seriously. There’s less external pressure, fewer immediate rewards, and the necessity to be more self-disciplined. But this should be the exciting beginning of an adventure in itself.
If you plan to continue with your NaNo project, here are some tips from someone in the trenches (i.e. me) who is doing the same:
Set reasonable goals
For those dejected about not winning NaNo: I feel that my 30K is quite an achievement. It’s more than I’ve ever written in a month (which goes to show why I didn’t reach 50K). I know now that NaNo doesn’t really work for me. I have a tendency to cheat a little (avoiding contractions, giving characters two-word names, using long chapter titles, etc.) when there’s a word count expectation I can’t quite reach. There aren’t many glorious, eloquent sentences in this manuscript that I’m proud of, but I think the quick pace of NaNo helped me make the writing more suspenseful. Chapter-ending cliffhangers, anyone?
What I need is to set my own goal that I can reach in a reasonable amount of time and that fits my own writing pace. This way I’ll be able to pay better attention to the quality rather than the quantity. I edit as I go rather than write from the seat of my pants, so slow and steady fits better for me. If I can squeeze out 20,000 words a month, I’ll be lucky. And if I don’t reach that, well, it’s still progress.
Maintain your writing habit
If NaNo taught me anything, it’s that writing doesn’t happen unless you sit your butt down in front of the computer and start typing words. And, to make matters worse, it has to be on a regular basis. If I hadn’t forced myself to write, I would never have discovered how my character’s moral principles are changing over the course of her story (from strictly following the rules to urging people to stand up for themselves when they feel their freedom is threatened) or her strongest motivation (the tenacity of her love interest, of course). I wouldn’t have seen all the different ways my plot could go (war, another plague, peaceful resolution, uproarious social revolution) or been able to decide which direction would work best for my story (revolution, here we come!).
Even if it’s just two or three evenings a week for an hour, I plan to carve out a designated writing time in my schedule to get the ball rolling. Waiting until I feel like it means it’ll rarely happen. As Thomas Mann said, “A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” I take that as a compliment.
Learn about the publishing industry
Taking writing seriously outside of NaNo fun means stepping up your game—if you plan on publishing, that is. No matter what conduit to publication you plan to take, be it traditional or self or even serials on your blog, knowing what you’re doing boosts your confidence and your excitement. It may sound stressful or even boring, but educating yourself on what literary agents are looking for, how to market your book, and what you can do to revise and edit better will make you a better writer. Luckily, I have a decent head start on this due to working at Foreword. Also, following writers, agents, and publishers on Twitter has been supremely educational (and entertaining).
Remember the love you have for your story
Remember the start of NaNo? When you couldn’t wait to get those words out? When you thought your story was going to be the next big thing? Trap that feeling in your mind. Don’t let it drift away. If you believe that your novel is the most awesome novel that you could ever write (until your next one, of course), then it will eventually come into being.
My story, for instance, is set in 2107 New York. After a plague wiped out nearly half of the population, the nation was divided into two sections: the Immune, who can go about their daily lives much as they did before the pandemic, except there’s more poverty; and the Susceptible, who are treated like upper class citizens and largely protected in compounds at the center of cities, because a cure for the virus was never found. When eighteen-year-old Immune Krane, a fortress guard in training, gets lost in the labyrinthine storage area, she encounters Susceptible Amma. They are both determined to bring peace back to their country, but are also terrified that they could be the spark that sets a war—or worse, another plague—in motion. Amma and Krane set out on a dangerous mission to repair a broken world—and maybe to start a revolution.
I think my idea is spectacular, if I do say so myself. No, I don’t. It sucks. Well, maybe it’s alright. All writers doubt themselves, but doubt is good. It means you think you can improve. Just turn that into positive action instead of giving up. Write more. Write a lot. Write every day (well, every day you can). Write like you mean it. You got this, writer. Yeah, you.
Aimee Jodoin is deputy editor at Foreword Reviews. You can follow her on Twitter @aimeebeajo.