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You Too Can Survive Nanowrimo
Written and compiled by Georgette Tan

50,000 words in 30 days is not as impossible as it sounds. It comes down to roughly 1,667 words per day, and 334 words per hour if you write, say 5 hours a day. That leaves you plenty of time to stare blankly at the screen between sentences.

Welcome to the National Novel Writing Month 2003. Some of us have been waiting for this since last December, and some of you probably just heard of it. It is essentially a writing marathon that will last all November. The official website has the details and Juliana Davila gives us a rundown of it somewhere else in this Woodworks issue.

I'm not here to tell you how to write your 50,000 words. I'm here to offer you practical tips on maintaining your time and sanity this November.

Tech Talk

The general well-being of your computer is the last thing you want to worry about when you are sweating over your word count. Give your machine a "health check". Run the virus scan. Clear out the junk. Free the memory. Reorganize your folders. Defrag.

SAVE OFTEN. I cannot stress this enough. Learn how to find the Ctrl-S without looking at the keyboard. I save the files I'm working on so often that I don't even have to remind myself anymore. In fact, I caught myself absently hitting Ctrl-S several times when I pause for thought. Neurotic? Not when you never lose as much as your last ten words to a computer-related Sudden Death. Those ten words can be something you can't remember and can't word the same way again.

Back up. A lot of us (including me) tend to neglect this because it seems like too much trouble. We should be doing this almost as neurotically as saving. Pick your poison - diskettes, rewritable CDs, memory sticks, hard copy (not recommended). Less obvious solutions include uploading it into an online storage area, or updating it into a website or online journal.

Pen and paper? Are you insane? Beg, steal or borrow a computer. See if you qualify to rent one from NaNoWriMo's Laptop Library.

Sound Check

I'm one of those people who need background music on when I'm pecking away at the keyboard. Keep your favourite tapes and CDs close at hand. Heck, make sure you know where all your music is.

Stock up on batteries for your portable player. You may not have time to run out when you run dry.

Make sure your headphones are working. If only one side makes any sound, it's on its last legs.

Create Winamp playlists for different moods. You can never put too many of them in one playlist. It's usually easier to delete songs than to hunt for them.

Music can either distract you or fuel your writing mood. If this has never worked for you, now is probably not a good time to change your habits. Instead, consider investing in a good pair of earplugs.

Body of Evidence

Stock up on the munchies. Healthy snacking is always good, but who am I to speak? Coffee and chocolate work wonders for me.

It's hard for me to tell you "sit up straight" because imitating a ramrod had never been very conducive to my writing. Find a comfortable position - if you spend a lot of time in front of the computer, you are likely to have one.

If possible, put your feet up. This will minimize foot swelling.

Get out of the chair and take a quick walk every now and then.


If your back hurts or you lose feeling in any limb, take a break. Lie down. Get someone to give you a massage.

If you have a problem with RSI or CTS, get some ACE bandages or braces ready. You'll need them. If you don't have a problem with it, you might by the time the finishing line comes into sight.

Remember, your health is more precious than any novel.

Support System

Make sure your family/roommates know what you are doing. This can make a world of difference and explain why you've turned into a hermit for 30 days. Parents and spouses are less likely to complain when you eat your meals in front of the computer. In fact, they may even bring your meals to you.

Tell everyone you know that you're writing a novel. Nothing gets you going faster than endless queries of how the story is faring.

At the end of the day, show your chapters to a selected audience or make it publicly available on the Internet. Enthusiastic readers clamoring for more are an incredible motivation. You're more likely to keep going when you know your work is being appreciated.

Find yourself some competition. Make a pact with a like-minded fellow participant to see who comes out with the highest word count that day. Mock mercilessly if they lose. Then, be prepared to write like the wind when they try to kick your butt the next day.

Go to your local NaNoWriMo meetings!

Fun with Fans & Friends

If you're publishing daily, get your readers involved. Last year, I came upon a scene that could swing any direction without really affecting my plot, I asking my regular readers what they think the characters should do next. It may lead to some interesting ideas.

Have your friends make cameos.

Make a Fantasy Cast. Ask your readers which actors they see in the role of various characters.

Time & Tide

Read everything you need to read - the novel you are in the middle of, books or articles on writing, the research material you've compiled. You won't have time in November. If you do, why on earth are you reading instead of writing?

If you're a student, finish all your homework as soon as possible. If you're working, don't bring work home.

Woodworks staff - hand in your columns, articles and reviews early.

The official forums are a great source of inspiration, envy and general rallying. It's easy to pop in "for a minute" but there's so much going on there that you can easily while away hours of writing time.

Uninstall games that are likely to distract you for "five minutes".

Aim higher. 1,667 is a minimum. Go for 2,000.

What you miss today goes into tomorrow's workload.

Stop going back to edit what you've written. You have plenty of time for that December onwards.

Unplug your Internet connection.

If you're one of those who sprint when the gun goes off, go as hard and fast as you can. Chalk up the word count now and you can afford to miss a day or two if an Unforeseen Circumstance pops up later in the month.

Settling into a routine is a lifesaver for some of us. For example, I write during every spare moment of my day but I always stop at midnight. Find your rhythm and use it.

If you don't need sleep, by all means, write!

Personal Space

If you don't have the perfect writing space, set one up. Lock people out of your writing room.

Home too distracting? If you have a laptop, take it to your nearest park, coffee outlet or any quiet place.

Can't go anywhere with your computer? Sleep early and get up at an ungodly hour when everyone else is asleep.

Hang "Danger: Writer at work" signs up.

Growl when people come near without food or shoulder massage offerings.

The author would like to thank the following individuals for their input on this article: Juliana Davila, Megan Larson, Navah Rosensweig, Kassandra Siegel & Rich Stewart.

Georgette Tan is subjecting herself to madness once again this November in favor of Nanowrimo.

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