National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, encourages writers to pen 50,000 words in 30 days. It’s a challenging task, but one that people all around the world complete each year.
Winning doesn’t result in a physical prize, but it will give you a great sense of accomplishment (and bragging rights, of course).
NaNoWriMo can be an overwhelming journey, though, both for first-timers and those who have tried (and perhaps failed) before.
Wondering if you have what it takes to tackle NaNoWriMo? As a three-time winner, I’m here to let you know you can do it. I believe in you.
The following tips have helped me and will help you to smash your way through NaNoWriMo too.
Tip #1: Plan Before You Start
Whether you consider yourself a plotter or a pantser, it’s a good idea to have some kind of plan in place before November rolls around.
If you’re a plotter, you’ll probably enjoy this process. You can get started as early in the year as you want.
If you’re a pantser, all is not lost. You only need to use a short amount of time to plan, and you don’t even have to commit it to paper.
Have at least a rough idea of where your story might go before you get to writing. Daydream about your plot and chat about it with fellow writers, friends and family.
Once November 1 arrives, you’ll be too busy getting words on the page to research, plan or think too much about where your story is going.
Make sure you’ve given yourself at least a rough roadmap to follow.
Tip #2: Do the Math and Use the Tools
In order to win NaNoWriMo, you need to do the math.
You’ll need to write 50,000 words in the month, so if you’re planning on writing every day, that’s 1,667 words per day.
That doesn’t mean you can’t change things up to suit your needs, though. Take a look at your plans for November and work out your own daily target.
Maybe you’ll only write on weekdays, or you’ll need to take a weekend off for a special occasion. Run the numbers and give yourself a daily or weekly word count to meet.
It’s also helpful to use the tools on the NaNoWriMo website for keeping track of your progress. There’s nothing more satisfying than seeing the growth of your little graph as you write.
It’ll help keep you on task and allow you to see where you need to catch up. You can also check in on the progress of your friends as an extra bit of motivation.
Tip #3: Build a Writing Routine
The best way to get your daily words done is by creating a writing routine and sticking to it.
Setting aside a time for your writing when you won’t be interrupted makes it easier for you to reach your daily word target. It also makes NaNoWriMo a much more pleasant experience.
Maybe you can spare half an hour in the morning before you go to work and an hour in the evening once you’re home. Perhaps you’ll wake up early and write before the regular day begins.
A writing routine helps give structure to your day and ensures you’ll fit in that all-important writing time.
Once you’ve decided on your routine, tell your family and friends as well, so they know not to interrupt you during writing time.
Some writers find comfort in setting up a type of ritual they perform before each writing session. You might listen to the same music, for example, or start out by performing a few stretches.
It’s a good way to shake off the rest of the day and get in the right headspace for writing.
Tip #4: Write Everywhere
Use every available spare moment to write. The easiest way to do this is to download the same writing app or program across all your devices so you can sync your work and write from wherever.
You don’t have to do it this way, though. You can write in the Notes section of your phone when you’re out and about and copy into your regular writing program when you get home again.
If technology is not your thing at all, a trusty pen and notebook can do the trick. Don’t leave the house without it.
Now that you’ve got your tools, you need to use your time wisely.
Utilise those ten minutes in the car at school pick-up to type out a quick scene, or those few minutes in the elevator after your lunch break to jot down a few words.
Use any small chunk of time you’d usually spend scrolling on your phone to write instead. These pockets of time can add up to a lot of words over the course of the month.
It will also help you to realise you don’t have to be sitting at home in front of the computer to write. You can do it anywhere.
Tip #5: Silence Your Inner Editor
Writing 50,000 words in a month will be much easier if you can learn to silence your inner editor. There isn’t enough time to both write and edit at the volume required to win NaNoWriMo.
In order to keep your word count climbing, you need to focus solely on the task of writing and leave the editing for later.
Many people find this difficult, wanting to go back and change scenes or chapters as they go. A major reason not to do this is that it changes your word count.
If you go back and edit your work from yesterday, you might delete 500 words in the process, putting you behind your target.
The focus of NaNoWriMo is writing. Let go of the need for that writing to be flawless and just get your ideas on paper.
Remember, you can’t edit a blank page.
Tip #6: Don’t Focus on Winning
Most people go into NaNoWriMo with the goal of winning – that is, writing 50,000 words. But while winning is great, it isn’t everything.
Focusing solely on the goal of winning might work for some people, but for others it can do more harm than good.
Instead of focusing on that magic 50,000 word goal, go into the month with the idea that any number of words you write is a success.
Remember that it’s great to win, but that there’s no actual prize at the end of the month. You won’t be hand-delivered a trophy or showered in cash.
You’ll get bragging rights, a few discounts, and an image to display on your social media accounts, but otherwise life will stay pretty much the same.
The goal of NaNoWriMo is to progress your novel and help you to create a solid writing habit. If you’ve done that, you’re a winner, even if you only managed half the word count.
Tip #7: Write Buffer Words
Life will inevitably get in the way of your writing plans.
No matter how much planning you do, you can’t help getting sick, having your car break down, your computer malfunctioning or relatives coming to stay.
For this reason, it’s always handy to have some extra ‘buffer’ words in the bag. So when you have the time, write MORE than your target word count for the day.
You can do this in a couple of ways. The first is to write some extra words in each session. Even if you can only manage an extra 100 words, it all adds up.
The other way to do it is to have a few days in the month where you write well beyond the usual daily target. Attending write-ins is a great way to do this.
Perhaps you can manage 3,000 words on a rainy Sunday early in the month. Maybe you pen 5,000 one night while you’re feeling particularly inspired.
All of this creates a nice buffer for your overall word count. That way, if you find you’re unable to write for a day or two due to illness or life getting in the way, you won’t have to worry.
The buffer gives you space and means you won’t have as much to make up when you come back to it.
Tip #8: Don’t Write in Order
If you try to write 50,000 words in chronological order, you might find you get stuck or blocked in certain places. It’s particularly common for people to struggle around the 20,000-word mark.
But if you let go of the idea that you have to write in a linear fashion, you can help break those writing droughts and get yourself unstuck.
If you find yourself uninspired or blocked at a particular part of your story, skip ahead and write a later scene.
Excited about that final scene you’ve been dreaming up for a while? Write it first.
There are no rules that say you have to write in order. Once you’ve gotten back into the flow, chances are you’ll find you’re ready to return to the earlier section you were working on.
Tip #9: Connect With Others
Writing can be lonely, but you don’t have to do it alone.
Chances are you’ll be able to head along to some local write-ins or complete some writing sprints via social media to keep you going.
Connecting with fellow writers is a great motivator and can really help when you’re having doubts. Knowing that other people are having the same thoughts helps you find your way through those tough writing days.
You might even create some writing connections that extend beyond November.
You’re not on your own, and that’s one of the most inspiring parts of being involved with NaNoWriMo.
Tip #10: Pomodoro It
It’s really easy to get distracted while writing – particularly if you’re working on a computer with an internet connection.
A good way to avoid procrastination is to use the Pomodoro method. This involves setting a 25-minute timer and focusing on nothing but writing for this time. It’s only for 25 minutes, right?
For just this small amount of time, focus on writing without getting distracted – that means no checking social media, taking a bathroom break or sneaking off to the kitchen for a snack.
At the end of the 25 minutes, you can give yourself a pat on the back and take a five-minute break. At the end of that break, start another session.
You can work like this all day, taking a longer break at the completion of four Pomodoro sessions or at a predetermined time.
Don’t have a whole day for writing? Just complete a single Pomodoro session if that’s all you have time for.
You’ll be surprised how many words you’ll be able to get written in such a short amount of time.
Tip #11: Know the End is Just the Beginning
Winning NaNoWriMo is a spectacular feeling. You did it. You wrote 50,000 words! Wouldn’t it be nice if that was the end of the novel-writing process?
Unfortunately it isn’t – but it can actually help to remember this as you’re writing your words throughout the month.
At the end of NaNoWriMo you should have a large chunk of writing completed, but it’s just the beginning for your novel.
You’ll likely need to write thousands more words before you have a complete manuscript – but now you’ve proven to yourself that you can do it.
Even if you don’t need to increase your word count, you’ll need to edit and rewrite over and over again to polish your manuscript before submission.
What you write in November is just the start, and that’s a beautiful thing. It means you don’t have to worry about how polished and perfect every word is right now.
That’s a job for future you.
NaNoWriMo isn’t easy, but it is possible. Winning will give you a great sense of accomplishment and result in 50,000 words you can edit and refine into something beautiful.
The above tips will help get you started and keep you on track right through November. With a little focus and planning (and a strong dose of self-belief), you can write 50,000 words in a month.
What’s the harm in giving it a go?