"Make yourself sit down and write everyday."
That is the advice Harmony Gibbs would give people participating in National Novel Writing Month, which starts Nov. 1. She should know — after all, she has participated in it for 10 years.
The goal is an ambitious one: to finish a 50,000-word novel in one month. The point is to get anyone who ever thought fleetingly about writing a novel to just do it. That is the challenge posed by the nonprofit with the same name, also known by its nickname NaNoWriMo, to aspiring novelists around the world.
"When you get home every night after work you sit down in front of the TV," said Gibbs, who has actually completed the novel-writing challenge the past three years. "The point with NaNo is to sit down in front of your computer and turn on your imagination."
Last year over 300,000 people finished the challenge, and this year, the organization expects half a million people around the world to enroll. To avoid getting derailed by those distractions like the television, local author Chris Kuhn, who has never participated in the challenge but just published her first novel, The Muse Unlocked, suggests a tip that helped her along the way.
"Have someone hold you accountable," she said. "Schedule time to write and make sure someone checks on you and makes sure you did it."
For New York Times bestselling author Ridley Pearson, author of the hugely popular young adult Starcatchers and Kingdom Keepers series, the key to succeeding is in the planning of the novel, before the author even starts to type the first pages.
"Early novelists have to understand that every story has a beginning, a middle and an end," he said, suggesting Christopher Vogler's The Writer's Journey as a good resource for participants. "Slow down and figure out those three acts. Most writers get through the first act and give up because they're overwhelmed."
To avoid getting stumped by that frustration and overflow of ideas, University of South Florida alum and author Guy Cote's advice is to just keep going no matter what.
"Don't get frustrated," said the author of Long Live the King. "Even if you think what you're writing is not that great, push through it because you can always go back and edit."
And on that editing phase, bestselling mystery novelist Lisa Unger suggests following in the footsteps of one of the best-known writers of all time, Stephen King, and "write with the door closed and edit with the door open."
That thought was echoed at last week's Times Festival of Reading in St. Petersburg by award-winning crime author Mark Billingham, who frequently incorporates readers' questions and feedback into his editing, once even adding a paragraph to the paperback edition of one of his novels after repeatedly hearing that a point wasn't clear enough.
To help with that and other pitfalls, Gibbs started a meet-up group for aspiring writers through the NaNoWriMo website (nanowrimo.org). Local participants can access her page for a calendar of events throughout the month and meet to share frustrations, ideas and just sit down and write. Similar groups are also active for the Tampa and Sarasota areas.