It’s almost NaNoWriMo time, and if you’re a writer you may be considering trying it out this year. And if you’re not, maybe you should, because it’s pretty cool! I’ve finished National Novel Writing Month twice, and I thought I would share some tips and things that helped me have a successful time.
NaNoWriMo Tip #1: Write Every Day
In order to finish your 50,000 word project by the end of November, you need to write 1,667 words per day. Of course, some days are easier than others, and we all have lives that get in the way. But I really recommend finding a way to do the daily minimum. It can be in one burst (for me it was about an hour), or a few short sessions. What helped me find the time was thinking of NaNoWriMo as a contract between me and the work I wanted to create. If I didn’t write every day, it wouldn’t exist. Also, I found that as more days passed, the more used to it I became, and some days I would write way more than the minimum 1,667 words.
NaNoWriMo Tip #2: Don’t Rely on Good Days
In my chart from NaNoWriMo 2016, you can see that at the beginning I did quite well, at least meeting the daily word count, and often going over. Then, in the second half of the month there were days when I didn’t meet my word count – or even write at all. Some of this was due to being stuck or busy with other things, but I remember thinking, “Oh I have so much early progress, it’ll be fine.” But then as I lived through more days of not meeting the word count, it became harder to actually write – suddenly I had not only that day’s words to write, but yesterday’s as well. It started to feel hopeless.
I know it can sound easy enough to say “write every day,” but the first two tips combined were huge factors in me finishing (“winning,” as they say!) in 2016.
NaNoWriMo Tip #3: Don’t Overthink
There are writers who plot and writers who fly by the seat of their pants. I’m somewhere in between. Though I entered NaNoWriMo 2016 with a project I’d already started, in both 2010 and 2016 I started with rough outlines and character sketches. I wanted some structure to help me stay focused and avoid wandering off into researchland or pacing my office wondering who the hell a certain character was and what they were doing in my novel at all.
Another component of this for me was resisting the urge to edit as I wrote. I’ve always been bad for this, but with NaNo it was even more important to rein myself in. How could I write 1,667 words per day if I edited away 200 of them? Anyway, editing is what December is for!
NaNoWriMo Tip #4: Find Tools that Help You
I swear by Scrivener for my writing projects. I use it not only for the actual writing itself, but to organize my notes and research, create characters, visualize my outline, envision settings, and even create names. Having everything ready for me in one place, where I was already writing anyway, helped save me so much time and frustration in looking for things I needed.
Another app that I’ve discovered recently is Forest, which helps people stay productive. I wrote a little bit about it in a recent TinyLetter. You can also create a group of productivity buddies in the app – which leads on nicely to my next tip.
NaNoWriMo Tip #5: Get Support
Finding other writers who were doing NaNo was a big part of my success the first time I did it. The second time, I actually had a friend visiting from Finland, and she was a huge help too. She’s an artist, so she totally understood the need to isolate myself for an hour each day and write. In fact, if she noticed that I hadn’t written in a couple of days, she insisted that I did so right then and there!
I also liked that NaNo shows your daily word count progress on your profile. I’m not too proud to admit that the fear of public failure was a huge motivator for me, so those days when I didn’t write – I really felt the shame!
If you can tell some trusted people what you’re doing, I highly recommend it. Not only can they give you support and encouragement, but you will feel extra excited when you finish!
NaNoWriMo Tip #6: Take Care of Yourself
Writing every day can be hard. Writing every day to a minimum word count is that much harder. There’s pressure, there’s anxiety, there’s shaken confidence. NaNoWriMo is rewarding but it’s definitely not easy. In 2016 I wanted to really make sure I was mindful of these things, whether it was making sure to eat healthier or giving myself a break to go out into the forest for a while. My friend visiting also helped me a lot in this regard – she was a sounding board for me and was always there for a walk or a glass of wine or just a movie night. NaNo wasn’t always easy for me, and it helped immensely to have these breaks and little check-ins to make sure I was doing okay on those especially wobbly days.
NaNoWriMo Tip #7: Have Fun With the Writing
I’ve been writing for a long time and I definitely have my own style and way I like to express things. But I found that the time pressure of NaNo actually helped me enjoy writing in a different way. Because the ultimate goal is words on the page, I found myself trying new things and different ways of expression simply to get my word count met. I got to experiment with things like sentence structure and dialogue in ways I wasn’t used to. And once I realized that was happening, the whole process became more fun. I could let myself write in a different way without worrying if it fit or if it was “me.” I had to be there writing every day, so I thought I may as well have fun with all aspects of it!
Have you done NaNoWriMo in the past? What things worked for you?
I also made a video on this topic a couple of years ago – check it out here!