It was the afternoon of Jan. 13, 2000, and I was waiting at Microsoft’s headquarters to be ushered into a press conference with my fellow media elites. We had no idea why Microsoft had summoned us, other than it was a big announcement. Initially, I was embarrassed that I didn’t know what was going on – I was the AP business writer covering the company, after all, and I had worked the phones to no avail that day.
Finally, they allowed us in to take our seats, then handed us a press release. “Bill Gates to step down as Microsoft CEO.”
By the time Bill took the stage, the four paragraphs I had dictated over my cell phone were already on the wire. I didn’t even bother writing them down. By that evening, I had written more than 3,000 words, including a mainbar, a feature on the relationship between Bill and his successor, Steve Ballmer, and a few other tidbits. Each piece was re-written at least twice by the time I was done.
The only reason I bring this up is to remind you that NaNoWriMo requires you to write with that same kind of immediacy. And if you plan on doing any kind of writing for a living, you’re going to have deadlines to meet. Best to start now, right?
I’m a long-time writer, first time NaNoWriMo’er. And seeing from the amount of angst and nerves I’ve seen from folks’ blogs and Twitterings, I feel like I’m nowhere near as geared up for it as I should be. Then again, my journalism background probably leaves me somewhat more prepared than most. Here are some strategies from my reporting days that I’m using and might help you out:
- Don’t second guess. It’s a first draft. It’s supposed to suck. When I was reporting, I had editors to edit and write-thrus to correct. Same here – you’ll catch it in the revision process later. My first novel, currently out on submission, was revised eight times. It started getting really good around the fifth revision. Perfection is the enemy of NaNoWriMo. Just get it down on the page.
- Don’t go backward. Halfway through your book, you’re going to realize that your protagonist should be nicer, or your plot twist needs more twisting. Just incorporate those elements as you go, then wait until you’re done with the full draft before you clean it up.
- Don’t be afraid of the TKs. When I’m writing on the fly, I’ll often throw in a TK (an old editing mark for “to come”) as a placeholder for a statistic or concept I need to research. That holds true for NaNoWriMo as well. Don’t pause to look up 18th century sailing-ship rigging or the state of Protestantism during the Counter-Reformation in Bavaria. Slap a TK on it and keep going.
- Mark where you’ve diverged from your outline. Take a moment to put a comment or note in the text where you’re TKing or changing something major, to ensure you’ll catch it on revision. It’s a corollary to not looking back at that very moment. Every time you feel the urge to go back and revise, mark it instead, then move on.
- Hit your word count. If you’re going to write 3,000 words a day, don’t stop until you’re done. That means you need to ensure you’re setting aside enough time to write, and that your outline (you DID create an outline, right?) allows you to chunk out the copy to meet that goal. Treat it like a job that you don’t get paid for. Not only will that attitude help you meet your goals, but it will prepare you for a lifetime of hard work and low pay. (Kidding!)
Above all, have fun. By the end of this month, you’ll have the start of something awesome in your hands. It won’t be ready for prime time, but you’ll be in far better shape than you were on Oct. 31!
Michael J. Martinez is a writer in the New York City area, with a number of non-fiction books, several dozen magazine pieces and a heap of newspaper articles to his credit. He blogs at michaeljmartinez.net and Tweets at mikemartinez72. Follow him on Twitter before Dec. 1 for a chance to win a critique of your NaNoWriMo work. Michael is represented by Sara Megibow of the Nelson Literary Agency.