National Novel Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo for short [or Nano for even shorter]) is just around the corner. For anyone who’s unaware of what it is, people around the world challenge themselves to write a novel of at least 50,000 words during the month of November. That’s 50k in 30 days, or ~1,667 words per day on average.
I’m a NaNoWriMo veteran, having completed the challenge in the past seven years, and I’ll be going for my eighth win this year. I also set myself higher targets, my highest being 200k, although this year I’m “only” going for 150k.
So I thought I’d share my personal top 10 tips to help enable people to have a successful Nano:
1. Write every day. If you can get 1,667 words written every day, you’ll hit 50k by the end of the month. However, there may be days where you just don’t feel like writing, where you feel like taking a break. However, I would still advise you to write something every day, even if you only write 100 words. It will help to keep things moving, if only a little bit. If you choose not to write anything one day, then that one day may turn into two days, and then three, and then...
2. Tell everyone you know that you’re doing NaNoWriMo. Tell your parents, your brothers and sisters, your children, your entire extended family, everyone you work with/go to uni with/go to school with, random strangers in the street, random cats in the street... The more people you tell about what it is you are doing, the more questions you’ll get about it. And if you tell them about your wordcount, one of the things they’ll ask you about during the month is how your wordcount is going. Once you have a lot of people invested in your progress, it will help to spur you on, getting you closer to your goal.
3. If you can, break your day’s writing into chunks. Trying to write 1,667 words in one go can be quite difficult – even for Nano veterans like me! If you’re finding it difficult, break it into smaller chunks. 417 could be your new favourite number – that’s a quarter of what you need to write each day. Then find times in your day when you can write. Say, 30 mins in the morning before you leave the house, 30 mins at lunchtime, and two 30 mins periods in the evening, say, as soon as you get home, and shortly before you go to bed. If you can write 417 words in each of these periods, and you do that every day for 30 days, you’ll reach a total of 50k. And 417 is a much less scary number that 1,667.
4. Accept the fact that you’re only writing a first draft of a novel, and are therefore not expected to be producing you’re greatest writing. Yes, you may find that a lot of what you write is crap (this is certainly true for many of the first drafts of novels I’ve written!). But every novel goes through this process. Even well established writers like Stephen King and J. K. Rowling will struggle to produce solid gold in their first drafts. If you think that what you’re writing is bad, just keep going. By pushing on you may find yourself writing a few nuggets of gold, which you can polish up in future months as part of the editing process.
5. Don’t make life too easy for your characters. Say your characters are in town A, and they need to get to town B. They could just drive there. But a straightforward drive may not produce many words. So have something happen during the drive. Maybe the car breaks down. Maybe they encounter a hitchhiker. Maybe a storm brews up and they have to get off the road to stay safe. Make things happen. (And I’m sure you can come up with more creative ideas than these!) You may feel that such events may detract from your main plot, but you may feel that they reveal details of a subplot, or details about your characters which you weren’t aware of before. You may feel that such scenes aren’t helping to move your novel forward, but I advise writing them anyway. You may surprise yourself. Novels where everything is too easy for your characters can be boring. Set them challenges on the way to their goals. And, if you find that these scenes are genuinely not helping the structure of your novel, that’s fine. You can edit them out in future months. But November is for first drafts, so go ahead and experiment with such scenes – just don’t delete them before the end of the month.
6. Have an end point for your novel in mind. I always have a big twist towards the end of my novels, which I always look forward to writing. If you have an exciting end in mind for your novel, striving towards it can help spur you on during the tough middle part of the month.
7. Write with other people. Many regions (and I know this is certainly true for the London region which I’m a part of) will arrange numerous write-ins where many wrimos will gather and write together, often in silence. These can really help to push your wordcount on. I’ve heard several people say that they would never have won Nano if it weren’t for their attendance at write-ins. And if there are no write-ins where you are, why not set some up yourself?
8. Take part in Word Wars. This is where two or more people challenge themselves to write as many words as possible during a set period of time. These time periods can range from as little as 5 mins, to as long as the whole 30 day period of NaNoWriMo. There are usually no prizes for winning a Word War, other than the satisfaction of beating your opponents. However, everyone who takes part in a Word War will get more words of their novel written, getting them closer to their goal, and that’s the real prize.
9. Don’t worry about what everyone else is doing. We’re all taking part in the same challenge. In the latter part of the month, you may find yourself on around 30k, but then you may encounter someone who’s surpassed 100k already, and still going strong. Don’t let them put you off. Be proud of your 30k – that will still be 30k more than all of the people who haven’t chosen to take part in NaNoWriMo. Focus on your own goals. Everyone will have their own reasons for taking part in NaNoWriMo, and you will have yours. It doesn’t matter what everyone else is doing, just concentrate on what you want to do. Remember, just for taking on the NaNoWriMo challenge automatically means that you are awesome! (And, as we all know, anyone who has a six-figure wordcount target is clearly an idiot...)
10. Don’t forget to eat and sleep properly. This may sound obvious, but it’s important not to push yourself beyond your limits. In a previous year I wasn’t eating and sleeping properly, focussing on writing instead. This weakened my defences, and I contracted a cold, which made the last week of that NaNoWriMo especially difficult. If you’re hungry, eat. If you’re tired, sleep. Don’t make yourself ill over Nano – it’s not worth it. And in the long run it will be good for your wordcount. You can write much better when you’re well fed and fresh, than if you’re ill. Keep plenty of food in the house, especially meals you can prepare quickly. And make sure you get sufficient sleep each night, so that when you come to write again on the next day you’re fighting fit...
Well, there are my top 10 tips. They’re not exhaustive, or definitive, but they should help you along to your target. If anyone has any other tips they’d like to share, please do so in the comments.