Okay, so it’s almost that time again, and I’m getting super excited. For those of you who might not know what I’m talking about, go check out the NaNoWriMo website here. To give you a brief summary, it’s a writing challenge that happens every November in which people from all over the world aim to write 50,000 words of a novel between November 1st and 30th. Sound like a lot of work? That’s because it is.
Why would anyone want to write that much in such a short amount of time? Let’s put it this way: Say you have a book you’ve been toiling over for months, maybe years. A project you’ve been scared to start because you aren’t sure you quite have the details worked out, or maybe something you want to try that a bit outside of your wheelhouse. NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) is your chance to spend a whole month focusing on that project. If you can get through even half the total goal word count, you have still made a pretty good dent in your story, and you will have a better idea of how it’s working out. It’s also only one month of the year. If you are dying to write a book, but have trouble finding (making) time in your every day life, challenge yourself to take this challenge and stick it out for one month. Hitting that 50,000 word count is one of the most satisfying feelings you can imagine, and it even comes with prizes offered by sponsors.
Still not convinced? It’s not for everyone. Not everyone can handle it, and a lot don’t reach the 50k mark by the 30th. Some people can’t spare the time to do it, others simply don’t see the point. I understand both sides of that completely. There are months outside of November that I have written nearly 50,000 words, and it was simply because I had a lot on my mind that I wanted to get out before it was lost. Some writers regularly meet and exceed the NaNo word count on a monthly basis. But for those who don’t, November is a good time to get a lot accomplished, and there is plenty of help and encouragement from the NaNoWriMo community to help make that happen.
For anyone who hasn’t been scared away completely yet, I have compiled a list for you. Just little tips and tricks to help you survive NaNoWriMo, whether you meet your goal or not.
- Spend a few days prepping before November 1st. What I mean by this is jotting down notes pertaining to the story you’d like to write, as well as doing research and making a plan for how you will execute the month. Knowing what you want to get done will make it easier for near the end of the month when you start losing steam. Even if you are a pantser by nature, some sort of planning will likely still help you, even if it’s just writing down a list of potential character names and characteristics or setting ideas.
- Set smaller goals throughout the month. Aiming for the massive number of 50,000 words is a daunting task for anyone. One way to make it easier on yourself is to set goals so that you can do smaller amounts. You can even give yourself rewards when you reach those smaller goals. I set a goal for every 5,000 words up to the 50k mark, so that every few days, I’m reaching a goal.
- Plan your month. Do you have a trip coming before the 30th, or do you plan on taking certain days off from writing? Print off a one page calendar and plan your writing month specifically for NaNo. Write down whatever goals you decide to set on the day(s) you wish to reach them, mark off any days you plan to take off from the challenge, what have you. We’ve already had Thanksgiving here in Canada, so it won’t get in the way for us, but any of you in the US will have to contend with that holiday and whatever it may bring for you.
- Give yourself rest days. When you are planning out your month, be sure to schedule rest days when you think you’ll need them. While this may seem counterproductive, it’s not. You will begin to burn out very quickly after the first week if you are not accustomed to writing so much in a day, and you will need those days to recharge. Which leads me to my next tip.
- Binge write while you are still really excited to write. Some people seem to think that binge writing is a bad thing, and in some ways it can be. I found that when I did the challenge last year, I had great success in binge writing, especially when I did so on days when I had nothing else going on, and even more so at the beginning of the challenge. I wish I had done it more during the first week, but I managed to write 9,000 (ish) words in a single day because I had nothing better to do, and it put me so far ahead for the month that I finished and validated the novel on November 25th with 55,321 words total. This goes back to the third point on this list. If you plan your month, you can plan to write extra on certain days to make up for your rest days.
- Pace yourself. I know, I know, I just said binge write. How could I possibly ask you to binge write and pace yourself at the same time? It’s simple. Be aware of how much you can and can’t accomplish in any given day. Pacing yourself simply means stopping if it’s becoming too much, and knowing when you need those rest days, even if they are not on the scheduled dates. Take advantage of the days when you feel the urge to write, and write as much as you can possibly spill all at once, and try to force yourself to write on days when you don’t feel like it. Sometimes that can work very well once you get the juices flowing. But if something is just not working, and you can’t get the words out, walk away for a while. Grab a coffee or cup of tea, maybe a slice of pie or a glass of wine. Take a deep breath and decide if it’s worth fighting with it any more that day or if it’s best to put it off until the following day. Feel it out. Trying to do too much will burn you out faster, which will make you give up earlier in the month and prevent you from reaching the goal.
- Set aside time each day specifically for writing. This may be harder for some of you than for others. I’m lucky in that my boyfriend works the same hours every weekday, and it happens to be the same time I am the most productive with my art and writing. If that wasn’t the case, this would be very hard for me. If you already know what time works best for you, stick with it. Make sure to set aside enough time to hit your goal for the day, whether it be the typical 1,667 words most people go by (writing every day of the month to reach 50,000), or a different number you have chosen that will still get you to the goal. Tell whoever might share your home with you that you will be busy for X amount of time (however long it might take you to write that much), and then stick with it until you hit that word count.
- Write in intervals. What I mean by this is writing for only fifteen minutes at a time until you reach your daily word count. Sometimes finding an hour or two (or however long it might take) in a day to get to your goal is almost impossible. One way around this is to write in short bursts. Write as much as you possibly can for that limited amount of time and then stop. You can even set a timer. While this isn’t a method I practice myself, I can see the benefits for those people who have demanding jobs and lives at home with children.
- Stick with it! No one said this would be easy. This is actually quite hard. But you will never reach the goal unless you stick it out and keep writing until you see that magic number show up in your word counter.
- Count down the days. This may seem like a strange one, but hear me out. If you go into the month and tear through the first week no nobody’s business, that’s amazing. You’ll probably be excited about seeing the meter going up on your progress chart, and watching how much you’re getting done each day accumulating into something epic. But as you start to lose momentum, and pretty much everyone does, you’ll start feeling less motivated and it will feel like a huge job to open up your computer or notebook and write the words for the day. When you get closer to the end of the month, start counting down the days instead of counting up. Count down the days until you will be done. Once you’re halfway through, that’s already a huge accomplishment. But then the number of days you’ve been doing it seems to become a huge burden. If the number of days starts shrinking instead, it gives you that much more hope that it will all be over soon.
- Be proud of your progress – even if you don’t win! This is a huge one. Not everyone wins every year, and some people have tried for years and not made it through. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. Sometimes it turns out to be a lot more work than a person bargained for, and he stress of having to write so much every day becomes overwhelming to the point of giving up entirely. If you only get 10,000 words done, that’s still 10,000 words more than when you started. If you get 47,000 words in and have to stop, that’s almost an entire book! Be proud of whatever you do accomplish, because there are other people out there who have stories they want to tell and are too scared to even try.
- Remind yourself why you’re doing it. When there is nothing keeping you going, you will surely fail. By reminding yourself constantly why you chose to go through with NaNo, it will give you more drive to keep going. Reasons are personal, but the big one is obviously to make some progress on a project you would like to see come to life.
No matter how excited you get to start writing, DO NOT start writing out random scenes that come to mind while you are brainstorming at the end of October. No matter how much that scene might be eating at you, refrain from writing it. That scene could be the difference between a win and a flop in November.
To keep from writing anything from your actual book, just think about it a lot until that day comes. Psych yourself up so much in October that when November hits, you practically explode with words and sentences and paragraphs and chapters flowing out so freely they seem like they may never stop. Seriously. I have hit that point already, and as soon as I can possibly start writing for NaNo this year, I will sit and write for hours, if not days, just to get a head start and finally get some of the scenes plaguing my mind out and onto the screen in front of me. I have been seeing those same scenes in my mind for days already, and I will continue seeing them until I can finally get them out. But no matter how badly I want to write them all down, I am waiting until it is officially November so that the words will count toward my total goal for the month. Until then, I will write blog posts and work on other stories to get my writing fix.
Another thing that will help keep you on top is staying just a bit above the goal word count for the day. If you can get a good head start at the beginning of the month, and potentially get a few days ahead, do your best to stay ahead. It will give you more rest days and more leeway when you just get get the words flowing.
One last thing to keep in mind: You chose this. No one is forcing you to do it. Enjoy it. This is not some necessary thing, only something that you yourself have elected to do. It’s meant to be a fun challenge to get your juices flowing, your projects moving, and your writing routine a little more set in place. It’s there for people to challenge themselves, to see what they are capable of if given a goal and a time limit, with a nice host of sponsor prizes for anyone who reaches that goal.