Tackling NaNoWriMo, but feel as though you need all the help you can get? I’ve got 10 winning NaNoWriMo strategies that any writer can use to make it to their 50,000-word goal. Even if you’ve never even heard of NaNoWriMo until right at this moment, I’ve got you covered.
Every November, hundreds of thousands of people across the globe buckle down to write a 50,000-word novel in 30 days. What began as a writing contest between friends has grown into a huge non-profit organization that provides creative-writing materials to schools and libraries around the U.S. In addition to its flagship event, NaNoWriMo now hosts Camp NaNoWriMo in April and July, which offer participants more flexibility than the November session.
I’m not going to sugarcoat it: NaNoWriMo is not easy. Fifty-thousand words may not seem like a lot, but squeezing it into 30 days can be a nightmare if you’re not prepared to take on this particular beast. At the end of the month, your manuscript may look nothing like a bestseller, but you should at least have a firm foundation on which you can build your dream novel.
Here are 10 winning NaNoWriMo strategies to help you reach your target:
1. Accept That Your Manuscript Will Not Be Perfect
NaNoWriMo manuscripts have a lot of… potential. At 50,000 words, your novel will probably still need roughly 30,000 words, at the very least, to make it marketable to literary agents. It will be a whole lotta rough, with a few diamonds buried deep inside it, and you will still have weeks of editing and re-writing and re-editing ahead of you.
Don’t get discouraged by this. Just accept it as part of the process and keep moving forward. Your novel won’t be pretty when these 30 days are up, but that’s no reason to give up on it. Just remember that this is the worst your manuscript will ever be, and keep writing.
2. Block Out Your Time
You have more free time than you think you do! You just have to find your writing time and commit to it.
I like to use a calendar to block out my time for the week in 30-minute increments. Black out your work hours, mealtimes, and any other commitments you have, and you’ll see what kind of time you have left to work with.
Pro tip: Leave yourself a few hours of free time each day, so that you can veg out if you need to, and also so that you can work for longer on your NaNoWriMo manuscript on the days that you’re really feeling it.
3. Turn Off Your Internet
Believe me, I know how hard this is. Turning off your Internet makes about as much sense as shutting off your water or electricity. If you can’t turn off your Internet entirely, there are plenty of less extreme options that will have the same effect.
App-blockers, such as Freedom and SelfControl prevent you from accessing your favourite time-wasters during your writing periods. For $20, you can download Write or Die 2: a unique word processor that forces you to keep writing – or else.
For those of you who cannot be trusted with a computer or Internet-connected device at all, there are still distraction-free ways of getting your NaNoWriMo manuscript written. Lifehacker recommends purchasing an old word processor off the Internet, because its drawbacks, such as only displaying four lines at a time keep you focused on writing instead of editing (see Point No. 1 above). If you want a sleeker, more expensive experience, the Freewrite smart typewriter may be the word processor for you.
Of course, there’s also nothing wrong with good old fashioned pen and paper…
4. Take Your Manuscript With You Everywhere
I’m sure plenty of writers out there recognise this struggle: You sit down to work on your manuscript, but find yourself so easily distracted that you decide you cannot work until the dishes/laundry/dinner/taxes are done. But the next day, when you’re faced with an hour-long wait without your laptop, you’re chomping at the bit to get back to writing.
We’ll tackle the problem of environmental distractions in Point No. 9 below, but for now, let’s focus on ways that you can take your manuscript with you everywhere, so that an unexpected wait doesn’t derail your writing plans.
If you purchase a word processor or use pen and paper, you’re already good to go. Just make sure to take your novel-writing tools along with you wherever you may roam.
Don’t like those options? You should already be in the habit of backing up your novel on a flash drive that’s kept in a safe place, but having a duplicate drive that you carry on your person will allow you to work on your manuscript in any Internet cafés or computer labs you may pass. You might also consider using Google Docs or Dropbox instead of Microsoft Word, as Docs are accessible from any Internet-connected device, and can be exported as .PDFs and .DOC files.
5. Plot, or Not
NaNoWriMo divides writers into two categories, Plotters and Pantsers, but there’s a wide spectrum between the two. Plotters plan out as much of their novel as possible before NaNoWriMo begins, in the hopes that all their planning will prevent writer’s block and keep them motivated to finish.
Pantsers, on the other hand, fly into NaNoWriMo by the seat of their pants. They might have some idea of what they intend to write about, such a genre they wish to write, the specter of a main character, a vibrant snapshot of a particular scene, or even a loose concept of what will happen over the course of their story, but they haven’t outlined their novel or written extensive character profiles.
First-time Wrimos, you may not know which of the two you are, and that’s OK. Neither of these approaches is wrong. Every writer works differently, and some authors straddle the line between plotting and pantsing.
If you have some time before NaNoWriMo begins, it never hurts to come up with at least a general concept for your novel, but please don’t let time constraints or pre-writing block prevent you from participating. The NaNoWriMo message boards have lots of resources and support for Pantser success, so there’s no harm in simply diving in headfirst.
6. Try to Hit Higher Than Your Daily Word Count Goal
In order to reach your 50,000-word goal in 30 days, you need to write 1,667 words per day, or about seven pages. This may or may not sound like a daunting task, depending on your past writing experiences, but I will tell you that it’s quite difficult to keep up your 1,667-word habit every single day for 30 days straight. Things happen: people get sick, cats need to be fed, work days run long. Most NaNoWriMo participants will find themselves falling behind their daily targets at some point during the month.
The easiest way to fight back against that word-count behemoth is to try to write more than your daily goal as often as possible. Some people like to crank out 10,000 words on their first day, just to get ahead of the curve. If you can keep up that pace, you can defeat the NaNoWriMo behemoth in a week or less. Even if you can’t, those extra words will come in handy when something inevitably disrupts your writing flow later in the month.
7. Try New Things
You already know that your NaNoWriMo draft is going to be crappy, so why not try new things this month? You could throw in an experimental chapter, write meta-fiction, even construct your entire novel based on suggestions from writing prompt Twitter bots or TV Tropes’ “Random Trope” button. Seriously, spend a month playing in the big writing sandbox, and tell me you don’t feel better about your skills as a writer.
8. Participate in Every NaNoWriMo Event You Can
The next 30 days will be stuffed full of fun writing events to keep you on-track and entertained. NaNoWriMo hosts virtual write-ins and writing sprints for its worldwide community of writers, and you can also connect with liaisons in your area to find IRL meetups. Participate in any and all of these that you can. You’ll make new writing friends to keep you accountable, and you’ll have an incentive to write hard for the duration of every event.
9. Make Your Writing Space Livable … or Livewithable
There’s nothing worse than sitting down to write and realising that something, anything, isn’t right in your environment. Even the most laid-back writers find their sessions derailed by little nuisances.
Make your writing space comfortable ASAP, but don’t let the pursuit of the perfect writing space prevent you from churning out your 50,000 words! The goal is to make your dedicated writing area livewithable. If you can live – and write – without vacuuming/organising/refinishing, then do so!
So clean out the cobwebs, dust the shelves, set your light levels and speaker volume, and for the love of all that is decent and holy, make sure your coffee mug is clean, because you need to be writing, not keeping house, for the next 30 days.
10. When All Else Fails, Use Chandler’s Law
Raymond Chandler, the author of The Big Sleep, famously said of writing: “When in doubt, have a man come through a door with a gun in his hand.” That’s Chandler’s Law, and you should never forget it.
These days, it might seem a little corny to have someone randomly appear, brandishing a firearm, especially if you’re writing high fantasy, or historical fiction of a certain age. But here’s the thing: There’s no way to get stuck when you’ve pulled out this card; having a man rush in with a gun forces you to keep writing. Use it as often as you like, because this is NaNoWriMo, and it should be fun.
Best of luck!