Hooray! It’s that time of year again! November is fast approaching, and so millions of writers across the world will be preparing for the month-long writing sprint that is National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo for short.
I’ve now done NaNoWriMo twice – firstly in 2014 where I wrote 42,000 words, and last year when I completed the full 50,000 words (plus I did Camp NaNoWriMo in July!) – and so I can personally vouch for just how fun, and rewarding it can be. I love the sense of community it gives, and it has definitely helped me get more writing done than anything else – something about having a specific goal really spurs me on, and I know it’s the same for a lot of writers.
However fun it may be though, NaNoWriMo is hard. Writing 1,667 words a day may sound relatively simple, but when you have to fit that into a busy life, not to mention force yourself to write on days when you really aren’t feeling it, it can get super tough.
So here are a few of my best NaNoWriMo survival tips from my two attempts, and I’d love it if you’d share some of your own in the comments!
- Outline, outline, outline.
Sorry pantsers, but for me, outlining is a must for NaNoWriMo. I tried to ‘pants’ it the first time and quickly lost the plot (both in my novel, and brain-wise!), writing myself into a corner that I just couldn’t get myself out of. By contrast, my one and only successful attempt at NaNoWriMo (and my successful Camp NaNoWriMo!) was meticulously planned out, and this helped me know what I was going to be writing every day, so I could get to it.
That’s not to say that you need to know every single detail: if you’re not really into outlining you could just figure out what your ending will be, then you at least know what you’re working towards.
- Jot down notes about the scene you’re going to write before each session.
Writing 1,667 words a day is tough, and can mean having to set aside a pretty big chunk of your day. However, one way I’ve found to speed up the process of getting down your daily words is to spend five minutes before each writing session quickly jotting down an outline of the scene you’re going to be writing.
This allows me to figure out the details in advance, so that once I get into the writing I can keep writing, without needing to stop and think about what will happen next. This tip probably isn’t for everyone, but I know it has helped me speed up my own writing process massively.
- Seize every available moment.
One way of getting in your daily word count is by using those odd little moments of time you have throughout the day that are so often wasted. For example, I often use my breaks at work to fit in a bit of writing, as this is time I would otherwise spend just hanging around in the staff room. I can get down a few hundred words in a half hour break, which means my task is much smaller when I get home and have to finish my daily word count.
I work on my novel at work on my phone using the Scrivener app, which I can sync with my computer, but you could use numerous other apps, or even go old school with a notebook and pen, and then type up it later.
It may not seem worth it to use odd ten minutes here and there, but the words add up, and it can really ease the pressure of NaNoWriMo.
- Write extra on your most inspired days.
As writers, we all have days when we don’t feel like writing at all, and just putting your butt down on that chair seems like the hardest thing ever. Then there are those wonderful days when you can’t seem to type fast enough and the words are just flowing out of you in an endless stream…
Well, my advice for NaNoWriMo is to take advantage of those inspired days! If you’re having a great writing day, don’t just stop when you hit your word count, happy that you’ve done it so much quicker than normal – start stockpiling some extra words for those days when you just don’t want to write. The further ahead you get the better, as that allows for you to take breaks if you need them, or preempts any unexpected things that come up that could prevent you from writing.
I think most people tend to feel most inspired at the beginning of NaNoWriMo before it becomes too much of a drag, so that can be a great time to get ahead!
- No editing!
Something that always used to hold up my writing process was my inner editor, and it’s refusal to let me move on until I had perfected what I had already written. The constraints of NaNoWriMo, in particular, don’t allow for much going back and making adjustments, so my advice is to simply spend November writing: no editing.
In fact, it’s probably best to not look back at anything you’ve written until NaNoWriMo is over. Your first draft may be scrappy and all over the place, but it’s better to have the story down in its entirety, ready to be worked on and fixed, than to just have a few thousand words that have been crafted to perfection. Editing as you go along is a major form of procrastination and is best resigned until you’ve finished your first draft.
- Don’t beat yourself up if you get behind.
I may be giving out a load of tips in this post on how to win NaNoWriMo, but it’s important to remember that if you get behind, it’s not the end of the world. Stuff happens, and sometimes you can slip behind: maybe you’ll get ill, or you’ll be rushed off your feet… You can’t foretell the future, and so if you can’t write one day, don’t worry. You can catch it up, and if not, does it really matter? Any progress you make on your novel during NaNoWriMo is still progress, even if it isn’t the full 50,000 words.
- Reward yourself.
As I’ve said, NaNoWriMo is super hard, so it’s important to reward yourself and really think about what you’re achieving. It can be so easy to get caught up in the slog of doing your words every day, and forget that you’re doing an incredible thing: you’re writing 50,000 words in 30 days!
That’s why it can be good to reward yourself when you hit different milestones, or even just celebrate having written much more than normal. I often reward myself in small ways for great writing sessions, by allowing myself to indulge in some of my favorite time-wasting pastimes (obsessive Twitter scrolling for example) that I don’t allow myself to do until after I have written each day. As a bigger reward for having achieved certain milestones, you could take a break for a day, and get out and do something nice, or have some cake or something! Whatever makes you feel good, and gives you that extra bit of incentive to keep going.
So are you taking part in NaNoWriMo 2017? Do you have any tips for fellow NaNoWriMoers?