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NaNoWriMo Writing Tips

Write a 50,000 word novel in thirty days. Sounds pretty daunting, right? Well, every November, writers around the world attempt and succeed in the personal writing challenge known as NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). I’ve competed three years and won twice. I’ve also competed and won Camp NaNoWriMo twice, but that’s a slightly different beast. My debut novel, Blood of Fire, actually started as a 2015 NaNoWriMo project, which I proudly completed before the deadline and ended up finishing the thirty days around 64,000 words. Yes, I’m bragging, and I fully believe anyone who completes this challenge has a right to.

But, how exactly does one attempt such an endeavor? Are they crazy? Determined? Fueled by ridiculous amounts of caffeine? Yes. Yes, to all of that. If you want to try your hand at this challenge (and I believe every writer should give it a shot at least once) I’m here to give you some of my best NaNoWriMo writing tips to help you conquer your goal.

1) Plan ahead.

Outlining is crucial for many writers, and even having a vague idea of your plot can give you something to work towards every day. Besides knowing your plot, it helps to keep in mind any non-writerly plans you have in your personal life. Is your dad’s birthday on November 15th? Odds are, you might not be able to write at all that day. If that’s the case, be ready to make up for those lost words before or after the special day.

2) Tell friends and family.

Some people will understand why NaNoWriMo is important to you and be rooting for you every keyboard tap of the way. Others won’t get it at all and will think you’re crazy. Either way, letting your friends and family know you have a big goal that requires you to not be available much this November will make you feel less guilty about cancelling plans or saying, “I’m sorry, I need to work for an hour at this time. Can we reschedule?” Hopefully they will understand and be gracious about it. If not, remember that you’re doing this for you, and that doesn’t require anyone else’s understanding or permission.

3) Time management.

This is something every writer should get a handle on, but time is even more important during NaNoWriMo. Mostly because you don’t have much of it. The daily wordcount goal is about 1,667 words to finish in time, and it helps to have a specific writing time each day to bang that out. Choose the time that works best for your schedule and STICK TO IT.

4) Use writing prompts. Maybe you aren’t sure how to start your novel, maybe you’re stuck in the middle. Doing a quick online search for “writing prompts” will give you plenty of ideas to jumpstart your imagination and get you back on track. Even if the scene doesn’t make it to the final draft, you’ll have more words to work with, and that’s the point here.

5) Embrace the chaos.

Writing an entire novel in thirty days is a challenge, even to seasoned writers. Non-writers who struggled to write a three-page report in high school will think you’re out of your mind, and there will be times throughout the month that you’ll agree with them. Embrace this hectic feeling and use the minimal timeframe as motivation to keep you going. Wild wildly and without abandon, even if your grammar sucks and the plot doesn’t make complete sense. Write everything down because it’s the wordcount that matters right now, not the beauty of your prose.

6) Don’t write chronologically.

I generally don’t do this anyway, which can get a little confusing but is also strangely liberating. When inspiration presents itself, I strike like a cobra. A cobra hyped up on espresso with a pen tied to its tail. If the ending of the book pops into your head, write it down. If a random scene that might appear in the middle piques your interest, jot it down. Go back to the beginning and piece together the scenes you already have with the ones you need to get from point A to point B.

7) Participate in write-ins. Having the support of people who understand what this challenge is really like can motivate you to succeed. On the NaNoWriMo website, you can find your region and make friends with people who live in your area. Many will plan in-person writing groups in coffee shops or libraries. If you’re more introverted like me or find it too distracting to write in public, you can also participate in virtual write-ins hosted by the NaNoWriMo team or other writers via Facebook, Instagram, or YouTube.

8) Utilize the NaNo website and emails.

They frequently send emails filled with motivation, writing tips, and inspiration from famous writers and prior participants. The NaNoWriMo website is designed specifically to help you succeed in this challenge, so don’t forget to explore it before and during the month.

9) Throw someone off a cliff.

This is probably my favorite writing tip I learned from a college professor. Don’t like where the story is going? Have writer’s block? Throw in a drastic, random event that the characters must react to. An explosion happens, a space ship lands, someone shows up with a gun, the moon is pulled towards Earth and the tides start rising, an unforeseen breakup happens, etc. Whether you’re writing contemporary or fantasy, putting your characters in an unexpected situation does wonders for creative writing sprints.

10) Writing sprints.

The NaNoWriMo team will often do these on their Twitter and during live streams on YouTube. Likewise, many writers on Instagram will do live writing sprints, but you can easily do them alone. Set a timer and don’t stop writing until that timer goes off. Start with ten minutes, then try twenty or thirty minutes. This is where some of your worst writing might happen, but that’s fine! Don’t worry about editing, just keep putting words down until the timer ends.

11) Track your progress. Utilize the NaNoWriMo wordcount trackers to see how much progress you’ve made and how much you have left. They also show you how many words you write per day and how many days it will take you to finish at your current rate. Use this to adjust your daily wordcount accordingly.

12) Reward yourself for reaching milestones. It’s important to take care of yourself throughout this stressful writing challenge. Packing an entire novel into thirty days is difficult, so treat yourself to a notebook, a snack, or a movie for certain goals. Maybe you earn a notebook when you write 10,000 words. How about a special foodie-treat after a full week of daily writing? Give yourself small things to work towards to make the overall goal seem less out-of-reach.

13) Celebrate your victory! Yes, you will succeed if you really devote yourself to this challenge. Once you win, you deserve to celebrate even if no one else understands why this is such a big deal. Buy the winner’s T-shirt the NaNo folks redesign every year, buy yourself a beer, binge-watch Netflix, frame your winner’s certificate and put it in the living room so everyone can see your success. Do whatever it takes to properly celebrate your victory and know that you are a badass writer.

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