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How to kick ass at Nanowrimo – 9 rules for success

I’ve completed nanorimo more times than I can count now, and these days I finish with days to spare, with a kind of "Oh, was that it?"

I’ve done it while working full time, walking a dog twice a day, running a writing group, and I haven’t even given up yoga.

The idea of writing 50,000 words in 30 days doesn't give me the fear anymore - it doesn't even feel like a strain.

So, what’s my secret?

Following a few simple rules...

  1. Your target is 2,000 words per day

Forget about 50,000 words. It’s an unmanageable number to mentally process. From now on I want you only to think about 2,000 words per day. 2,000 words a day. That should be your mantra. If you average about 2,000 words per day, you even get to have a few days off.

  1. Put everything else on the backburner

When you have a newborn baby, you will often be advised to let the housework slide, get more takeaway, don’t worry about keeping up appearances. Well, nano is now your baby. These days I don’t have to give up any of my day to day things to get nano in the bag, but the first time I did it, I gave myself permission to ignore everything else – as far as possible. You probably ought to still feed the kids.

  1. Have an outline ready

This is the most important part. The only way you can be sure of getting through Nanowrimo without having any panic moments of staring at a blank page or feeling the fear as the minutes pass by and no words appear in front of you – is to already have a pretty clear outline.

There are various ways to prepare an outline for a novel. You could use genre templates, follow the Roadmap steps, or by inspired by these 25 ideas from the inimitable Chuck Wendig. Do what works for you, but ideally, before you sit down on the 1st November, you will have a list of scenes, with at least a few sentences describing the gist of each one.

  1. Spend the entire month drunk

I don’t mean that.

I’m referring to the (supposed) Ernest Hemingway quote: 'Write drunk, edit sober', but actually alcohol is entirely beside the point.

The potential advantage of drinking is the reduction or removal of inhibitions - or in the case of writing: your inner critic.

There is plenty of time in writing a novel for editing, checking over, being a perfectionist, but - and I can't state this strongly enough - the first draft is NOT that time.

Trying to get everything right is probably the biggest reason people never finish their first novel, and if it's not finished, then it's definitely not perfect.

It's imperative you just steam on through, and never look back. Don't edit, don't even read it. Don’t worry about elegant metaphors, sensible sentence structure or even – dare I say it – accurate grammar.

Anything that is not writing words is wasting precious time that could be spent writing more words.

This is probably the most valuable piece of advice regarding writing your first draft in a month.

  1. Just one more sentence

Write this on a post it note (or something that’s actually sticky) and stick it up above your desk. When you’re about to stop writing, read it and do it. Just one more sentence. Go on. Just one more.

  1. Compare and get competitive

The first time I did Nanowrimo, I didn’t actually sign up to the website. But my partner (who was also doing it) and I drew two thermometers on a piece of A3 paper and stuck it up on the wall. Whenever we wrote some words, we would take a black marker pen and fill in the bottom of the thermometer up to a mark that corresponded with how much we’d written. When the thermometer was completely filled in, it meant we’d written 50,000 words.

You could feel the tension rise in the room every time one of us got up to fill in a bit of the thermometer, and the sweat on the brow of the other person as they furiously increased their tapping.

The desire to be slightly ahead of another person is far more powerful than the desire to reach a given number.

If you don’t have someone in your house also doing the challenge, then touch base every day with a writing friend who is, or sign up to the official site.

  1. Get up 20 minutes early

I’m not a morning person, trust me, I wouldn’t recommend this if I didn’t really think it was worth it. But if you can get 500 words done before you even have breakfast – hey, before you even brush your teeth – then you’ll be off to a buzzing start to every day.

  1. Disconnect

From the Internet, from your phone, from all social media. The only exception is the few minutes to check in with your Nanowrimo buddy, if that’s what you’re doing. This is non-negotiable. The Internet is the novel writer’s friend, but not when you’ve got a first draft to get out.

  1. Book in a binge writing weekend towards the end of the month

If possible, get a cottage in the middle of nowhere and bring a giant spaghetti bolognese so you don’t even have to cook (or even have the chance to waste time selecting a pizza). Having two or three days to get your head down and thrash out the last five thousand words could be the difference between success and failure.

Do you have rules you follow that help you win nanowrimo? Share your tips and tricks in the comments!

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