5 Tips for Surviving NaNoWriMo

For anyone who enjoys writing, NaNoWriMo stands as a potential highlight of the year. The term NaNoWriMo stands for: National Novel Writing Month. This is an annual internet-based project, wherein which participants are tasked with writing 50,000 words of a novel in the month of November each year.

Spread across the 30 days, this requires typing an average of 1,666 words each day.

This year marks my 5th attempt at this, however, I am somewhat ashamed to say I’ve only ‘won’ NaNoWriMo once before (way back in 2011 during my first year of university). In order to actually win, I had to write 9 thousand words on the very final day, so it is quite some miracle I achieved this.

This year I have even higher hopes. For the first time since I’ve started my attempts, I am successfully keeping on top, and even ahead, of my daily goals. Over my various attempts I have picked up a number of tricks and tips to help me survive the month, and this year they seem to be paying off for me.

So here are my 5 quick tips for surviving NaNoWriMo and (hopefully) winning!

1. Planning
We may be 2 weeks into the month, but it is never too late to set out a plan. All I’ve found I needed to do was have a single sentence per chapter, for example “this character meets this character”. Doing this has helps to avoid writer’s block, because even when you don’t feel as inspired, you still have an idea of what to write. Plenty of people prefer not to plan, and that is equally as fine. But at the very least, a little bit of an idea of where you want to go can go a long way.

2. Word Wars, Sprints and Crawls
This is my number one way of getting words down. Words wars involve challenging other people to see who can write the most in a certain amount of time. Sprints involve writing a set number of words in as short a time as possible. And Word Crawls combine the two, as well as other similar writing tasks, into a huge writing endeavour that can take up to several hours to complete. The competitive element of these, even if you are just competing with your own best scores, really helps to push the writing out. It helps to say that you are going to focus solely on writing for a few minutes, giving you that time without distraction, and helps you to avoid procrastination. The NaNoWriMo forums are the best place to find all three of these, as well as other writing challenges.


3. Snacks and Caffeine
These two things are absolute must-haves. I never crave tea more than I do when I’m trying to write for long periods of time, and thus need a constant supply being poured straight into my mug. Keeping well hydrated and well fed on a decent amount of food is the best way to stave off headaches that your plot bunnies might give you, or just from staring at a screen for too long. Snacking makes for the ideal break, and though I would love to say I always have the most healthy of snacks, that would be a complete lie. November is a rotten month, so comfort food is a must in order to help get you through the really dull parts of your story.

4. Talking to People
The years I have won, are also the years I have spent the most time actually talking to other people. However, it is worth noting that you have to be careful who you talk to. I can’t mention NaNoWriMo to my mum, for example, without her pestering me every second she gets and altogether putting me off. Instead, I spend far too much of my time rambling to my friends. Sometimes I need to ask for “what word means this” in a very brief memory lapse of common English words. Or sometimes I like to boast how many words I have gotten written in a day. Or sometimes it’s good to contact the outside world and see that other people have lives that aren’t centred around writing for a month. Contact with friends is always good, even if they don’t always know what you are talking about.

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5. Stop Caring
The most important tip of them all. Stop caring. This tip especially applies to those ‘pantsing’ their novels, i.e. those writing with no planning whatsoever. NaNoWriMo is not about writing a good novel. It’s not even about writing a necessarily cohesive novel. What it is about is getting 50 thousand words of something. December, and even next year, is all about editing your work and making it presentable. And even if you get to the end of the month, and all you want to do is burn your computer, memory stick, and any other evidence you ever participated, that’s fine. You’ll know you won, and you’ll know you can do it. And most importantly, even if the actual writing is awful, you can still gain so much just by completing NaNoWriMo. For a starters, there’s the confidence boost from winning; the knowledge you can write something substantial. You’ll also have developed a lot of your story. You may get to know your characters better, or may have even thought up some really wonderful ideas along the way. You can cherry pick what you liked about your NaNoWriMo novel and trash the rest. Some of my best ideas have come from me just wanting to get down a word count, and thinking of really desperate situations to make the plot more interesting.

And equally this: stop caring about winning. Even if you don’t win NaNoWriMo, you still will have written more than you have probably every other month this year. For me, a large part of the purpose of the month is to get into the habit of writing. To see how much you can write, and see how much you can accomplish. For something like NaNoWriMo, even attempting it, is something to be proud of.

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