November is creeping up on us which, for a writer, means only one thing: it’s NaNo season! So, here are some tips and advice on how you can win NaNoWriMo if you’re planning on taking part this year.
Get a NaNoWriMo printable tracker and desktop wallpaper for extra motivation!
The aim of NaNoWriMo (which stands for National Novel Writing Month) is to write a 50,000-word novel (or the first 50,000 words of a novel) throughout the month of November. This equates to 1,667 a day, everyday.
Maybe you’re already a writer, regularly writing around 2k words a day – what’s the big deal? you might be thinking. But it’s the everyday part that really hits you. Maybe you think you’re writing 2k words a day, but is that really every single day (weekends included)? You’d be surprised how easy it is to fall behind if you miss even just one.
And if you’re not a writer, throwing 1,667 words into your already packed schedule each day will likely pose a HUGE challenge.
But never fear! I’ve completed NaNo four (possibly five?) times before, and in my experience, here’s how you can win:
Have at least a rough plan before you start
Not knowing what to write was always my biggest obstacle during NaNo.
The first few days are usually fresh and exciting, and you can write straight from your initial inspiration. But when you reach the point where don’t know where your story’s going or what should happen next, the day’s ticking by, and you’ve still got that 0/1,667 word count staring you in the face, it’s stressful.
NaNo is a unique beast in that it doesn’t allow you any time to think. Ordinarily when I’m writing, if I hit a difficult plot point I’ll give myself some time and space for my subconscious writing brain to think it through.
You can’t afford that in NaNo. You have to get your 1,667 words that day (or risk it rolling over and needing to do 3,334 tomorrow); for some reason, the pressure of knowing that tends to stunt your imagination!
So, if you can, my biggest recommendation is to have some kind of map before you start. I know there’s a big NaNo debate between plotters vs pantsers, and some writers thrive in that exploration of not knowing where their story is going.
But personally, and if there’s one thing you take away from this article, I think it’s beneficial to jot some plot notes. Maybe a character arc or two. Because NaNo can get stressful, and you just don’t have time to get writer’s block.
You don’t have to write linearly
Different writers write in different ways. Some write straight from the beginning all the way through to the end. Some write individual scenes as the inspiration takes them and then join everything up at the end.
When in NaNo, you may not be sure exactly what follows your last scene. In this case, I recommend you skip it!
As discussed above, time is your enemy during November: you don’t have the luxury of mulling things over. If you’re struggling with what happens to get your characters from point A to point B, jump straight to point B and fill in the middle later – once your subconscious has had time to figure it out.
You may find you don’t even need the middle bit!
Schedule in when you’re going to write
1,667 words aren’t that many, you might be thinking. I’ll find time. I’ll write a bit in the morning, maybe finish it at lunch. I’ll have time before I go to bed.
Trust me, those 1,667 words turn into little daily ninjas during November. You’ll be going about your life, feeling productive, getting loads done. And then it’s 11pm, you’re tucked up in bed, just about to drift off– BAM. Those 1,667 words jump out of the shadows and hit you like a freezing cold shower.
I’m betting your life is already pretty full. If it wasn’t, you’d already be writing several thousands words every day.
NaNo is a challenge because it forces you to find time to write that you otherwise wouldn’t have. Which means you actually have to find the time.
The best (and least stressful) way to do this, is to plan your days beforehand. You may have to move stuff around. But schedule your writing time in and treat it with the same importance as a meeting with your boss or an appointment.
You’ll probably realise how little time you do have to write – which means it probably wouldn’t have happened unless you’d carved out dedicated time for it in your schedule.
Tell friends and family
This piece of advice is a unicorn tip, because it works to your advantage in more than one way!
Straight off the bat, telling your friends and family you’re doing NaNoWriMo instantly gives you accountability and cements your decision to do it. You are officially doing this now because you’ve told people, and so your pride will likely want you to see it through.
But this also means that, during November, when life gets crazy and you’re spending every free moment trying to keep up with your word count, your friends and family are likely to forgive the occasional missed message or cancelled plan because they know you’ve committed to this big challenge (because you told them).
Additional to that, I recommend you try not to make any plans over the last couple of weekends in November. Because if you’ve fallen behind, you will want that time to catch up. Trust me. Those empty weekends will feel like safety nets.
Finally, some of you may descend into a glazed-eyed, keyboard-obsessed hermit who spends days at a time huddled under a blanket in front of a laptop screen. You may need people to bring you support packages and check in every once in a while, you know, to make sure you’re still alive.
In this case, telling people is not just an accountability thing – it could be a survival thing.
Connect with other writers
Possibly the best part of NaNo is the feeling of community and support. I was so surprised by what a difference this made to the writing process and how it made me feel throughout the entire month of November.
People crazy enough to take on NaNoWriMo share something (I’m not sure what, but we really don’t want to peer too far under that hood). Whatever it is though, you share it too. These are your people. You’ve found your tribe. You are home.
Everyone undertaking NaNo understands the challenge, because everyone’s in the same boat. These are the only people who truly understand. And sometimes, especially at 2am around November 20th, you need to talk to someone else who understands.
And, not only do other NaNo-ers understand, but they want everyone else to succeed. It’s a community of writers trying to help each other, however they can. I’m always amazed by just how lovely other NaNo-ers are. It’s worth any of the NaNo stress just to experience that.
So do your best to connect with other writers. This can be online, via the NaNoWriMo forums, or in your local area, through write-ins or meet ups. The NaNoWriMo site lets you sign up to your local area, and not only do they post info about local events, they often have their own Facebook groups you can join.
Join everything. As much as you can. Surround yourself with these people, and don’t be shy – remember, these are your people.
That saying it takes a village to raise a child? I reckon it takes a writing community to birth a novel.
Utilise sprints and write-ins
The NaNo community also brings with it the added bonuses of sprints and write-ins.
If you’re already a writer, regularly writing every day, you might wonder why even bother doing NaNoWriMo.
The sprints and write-ins are why.
Throughout NaNo, your local area (which you can join via your NaNo profile) will likely have write ins – places such as coffee shops or libraries – where NaNoers can meet up and write together. It adds to the community and fun, and lets you socialise with other writers while still being productive with your word count goal.
If you can, write-ins are really worth going to. I met a bunch of writers through NaNo, and we continued to meet up regularly even after November had ended.
There’s nothing like talking to another writer. Someone who just gets it.
Covid threw a spanner into write-ins during 2020, and I know some areas are keeping those restrictions in place for 2021. However, there’s still the option of virtual write ins, where you log onto a social site at the same time (such as Facebook or Zoom or Discord) and chat online while writing.
At write ins (either in person or virtually) you’re likely to come across sprints. A sprint is where someone sets a timer (usually around twenty minutes, but it can be more or less) and everyone tries to write as many words as possible before the time ends. It adds a bit more of a game or challenge to your writing, but it’s also incredibly motivating and productive – joining in with sprints seriously helped me catch up when my word count was struggling one year.
So make an effort to join in with any social activity going on. You might be shy or unsure the first time, but everyone’s very friendly and you’ll pick stuff up fast.
Don’t worry if you don’t hit 50k
I get it – the point of NaNoWriMo is to hit 50,000 words. That is literally the goal and result everyone is working towards.
But here’s the thing (and it may be unconventional) but, in my book, if you write anything during November as a result of NaNoWriMo, you win.
So many people (and you may be one of them) want to write a novel, but most struggle to actually find the time or the discipline or even the courage. NaNoWriMo is a catalyst in that it forces you to commit to getting words out and finding time to actually write them.
If anything, it’s a promise to yourself that you’re actually going to try, and that is arguably one of (if not the) biggest hurdle when writing a novel.
So don’t stress about the 50k. If you end the month with any words – words that, without NaNo, probably wouldn’t have existed – you’ve done something amazing.
Take that as a win. The 50k is almost arbitrary – an end post just to get you started on the path.
Besides, NaNo is meant to be fun, and if you’re too busy stressing about falling behind and not making it to 50k, it’s not living up to its purpose.
Those are my tips on how to win NaNoWriMo. If you’re taking part this year, I’d love to hear about your plans and project – please tell me in the comments!
Have you done NaNo before? Are there any pieces of wisdom you’d offer that I’ve missed? Please share below to help someone else out!