If you’ve ever done NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) before, you know that throughout the month you’ll get encouraging emails from published authors with inspirational messages and advice. Though I am far from a published author, I’m going to attempt my own version of that.
What are my qualifications, you ask? Well…
- I’ve done NaNoWriMo four times before and won three times.
- I have several unfinished and one or two finished (but messy) novels on my computer.
- I’m a creative writing student.
And yeah, that’s it.
National Novel Writing Month, for those of you who don’t know, is an international (despite what the name would tell you) event in which writers everywhere attempt to write 50,000 words in the month of November. You might be thinking: easy peasy. (Okay, maybe you’re not thinking that. I’m certainly not.) But NaNoWriMo turns November into a month of sleeplessness, obsessing over word count, unhealthy coffee consumption, and sore fingers. It also becomes a month of incredible creation and inspiration and support among writers, which makes it all worth it in the end. You can go learn more at nanowrimo.org, and you still have a little time to prepare before the craziness begins!
And if you’re planning on participating in the event, here is my unsolicited advice:
1. Tell your friends and family
People are going to get a tiny bit suspicious if you suddenly disappear for a month without warning. Tell the people around you that you aren’t going to be as available during November, so they don’t think you’re suddenly avoiding them for no reason. Plus, they can act as your cheerleaders and support squad, and maybe learn when to drag you away from your laptop when your eyes start to glaze over!
2. Use the tools and community on nanowrimo.org
NaNoWriMo’s website has a handy word counter that lets you keep track of how much you’ve written and how far there is to go. To reach 50k words in 30 days, you’ve got to write about 1,667 words per day, and using the word counter helps you stay on top of that. Also, there is a whole community of people there in the exact same boat as you! The website has forums where you can talk to people and find friends and writing buddies to encourage you along the way.
3. Do word sprints and word crawls
Both of these are great ways to challenge yourself and up your word count! Word sprints: writing as many words as possible in a designated period of time, usually along with others (to fuel your spirit of competition). Word crawls: a collection of themed challenges and sprints gathered together. (I found a Hamilton-themed word crawl, with a challenge for each of the songs, and it was hugely inspiring.) You can find tons of these on this forum!
4. Create a designated writing time (but also write outside it!)
Having a routine is the easiest way to make yourself write every day. When it hits that certain time, everything else is set aside and it’s writing only. For me, since I’m in school, I’ll try to finish all my homework for the day by 9pm and then the rest of the night will be for writing.
But don’t feel fenced in by that time! If you’re inspired at another point in the day, or have an extra pocket of free time, take advantage of it. Routine is great, but learning to fit writing in wherever you can will be a huge asset.
5. Sort out your priorities
Yes, this probably means sacrificing your evenings of watching The Office or Bake Off (direct callout @ me). To fit in writing 50k words in 30 days, you have to prioritize your activities. What can you do without? Probably not sleep or work or school, but maybe some social media or reading time. You’d be surprised by how much you can accomplish if you spend that time writing instead.
6. Plan ahead
If you know you’re going to be busy on an upcoming day, write more beforehand to make up for it. If your weekends are always booked up, write a little extra on the weekdays. Getting behind on your word count can be discouraging, but if you have a plan, you’ll instantly feel more on top of things. For example, I know that I’m going to have less time around Thanksgiving (as will many Americans, probably), so I’m going to try to write more on the week preceding that so I don’t get behind!
7. Create goals and rewards for yourself
Example: Your goal is to hit 30k words by November 15. You reach the goal and you let yourself buy that book you’ve been eyeing. (Not that you’ll probably get a chance to read it before the end of the month…) One year, I bought a couple of fancy chocolate bars and let myself eat them when I hit 10k, 30k, and 50k words. Rewards are a great incentive to keep going, at least for me, and a reminder that, hey, you’re writing a freaking novel, you deserve a reward! Whether it’s books or chocolate or something else (though I don’t know what else would be better than those), rewards can keep you going.
8. Don’t feel guilty for taking time off
Writing is work, and it can lead to a real mental or emotional drain. At the end of the day, what’s most important is taking care of yourself, and if you need a day or two off from writing, don’t beat yourself up about it. If you have to stop writing in the middle of the month to do something more important, that’s okay. You’re allowed to give yourself time to rest and recuperate, and it’s important not too push yourself past your limits.
However, if you’re still up for pushing yourself…
9. Just. Keep. Writing.
This last point might seem like the most obvious and easy to follow, but it’s really the most difficult. There will definitely be days when you’re staring at your blinking cursor and wanting to close your document and watch Netflix. But watching Netflix isn’t going to add to your word count. You just have to keep writing, even when it feels like your head is empty. Writing a grocery list. Write out your character’s favorite Disney movies. Write anything, and more words will come. The goal of NaNoWriMo is to write 50,000 words, but they don’t have to be a masterpiece; as long as you’re writing, you’re winning.
I hope this has been helpful to any aspiring NaNoWriMoers! If you’re participating this year, feel free to add me as a reading buddy (magzi h). And good luck to you all!
Have you done NaNoWriMo in the past? What are your tips and advice for fellow writers? What are you excited or nervous about for this year?