How to succeed at NaNoWriMo

Just in case you don’t know what NaNoWriMo is, it’s an annual writing project that takes place every November, in which amateur writers (who knows, possibly some professional ones as well) attempt to write 50,000 in a single month. It stands for National Novel Writing Month – though it’s really international these days.

Just for clarification, this article is being written by somebody who has attempted NanoWriMo twice – and succeeded twice. Both times with several days to spare.

I’m not saying this is the be all and end all of NaNoWriMo, or that there aren’t other ways to handle it, but this is a method that works for me, and it’s eminently repeatable.

So, here is the guide to how to succeed at NaNoWriMo:

Break it down into manageable target chunks

There are 30 days in November (that’s right, they couldn’t even put it on one with an extra day) and you have 50,000 words to get written. That works out as 1,667 words per day. Why not make your target 2,000 words per day, that way you get a few days off? And inevitably you won’t manage to do every single day for 30 days running.

Get some idea of how long it takes you to write 2,000 words. It used to take me a couple of hours, but if I’m well prepared enough these days I can spin them out in around an hour. However long it takes you, you need to make sure that period of time is available every day.

Give some of your other hobbies a break for a month if you can bear to. Call in favours so you’re not responsible for cooking, dog walking, baby-sitting, or whatever.

If you normally spend a few hours a day watching TV, THEN STOP WATCHING TV YOU MANIAC IF YOU EVER WANT TO BE A NOVELIST. Ahem.

If you have a commitment you really can’t get out of, such as a wedding, then try to get your quota done in advance – playing catch-up is no fun and gradually gets more and more depressing.

Prepare well in advance

It’s no good doing nothing until the first day of November, the sitting down in front of a blank screen and expecting inspiration to come flooding out. No, by the day of November 1st, you should have a fairly comprehensive outline of your novel, including plot arc, major characters, plot development and finale.

If you’ve done that, then when you sit down on the first day, you just cast your eyes over the notes and discover that you have to write a scene: where Geraldine discovers her uncle has left her instructions to build a time machine. Or whatever. With that kind of outline already available, you won’t be wasting precious time thinking up basic concepts and ideas when you could be furiously increasing your word count.

I’ve always planned out my novel in advance by using the steps contained in The Novel Factory, and it’s always put me in good stead.

Keep your objective clear and present

There are many aspects to writing a novel: planning a thrilling plot, building characters that live and breathe, manipulating vocabulary and grammar into delicious combinations, writing poetic prose that delights and entertains and much, much more.

Nano is not the time for all that. Nano has one goal – 50,000 words. Tattoo that into your brain. You have the rest of the year to work on the rest of your writerly skills. The point of NaNoWriMo is to break the word barrier.

Never look back

Following on from the point above – there is a time and a place for editing. This is not it. Editing rarely increases your word count, in fact if you’re doing it right it will probably reduce it. You are not trying to right amazing prose – you’re just thrashing out a writing a first draft.

When you get to the end, you will know so much more about your story, that you may well end up slicing off the whole of the first three chapters in any case. So, if you write a sentence that’s cliché or runs on for almost a paragraph – don’t sweat it! Let it be and press on.

Have a Nano Buddy

If you’re at all competitive (as I am) then having a Nano buddy can be extremely motivational. You can simply make contact at the end of every day and update each other on your word count – if you’re behind, it will push you to beat them the next day. If you’re ahead, you know you’ll have to work even harder to maintain your lead tomorrow.

However, if you’re lucky enough to live together, make yourself a cheesy thermometer cardboard chart with one thermometer each and marks up to show progress. Work in the same room, and every now and then get up, and fill in a bit more of the thermometer with black marker pen. Don’t say anything – just watch your buddy tense and panic. Deeply satisfying.

It’s your NaNoWriMo

One final thing that shouldn’t be necessary to mention, but probably is – is that you should really use this motivational tool to your own ends. If you would benefit more from having the target to plan your entire novel in 30 days, then do that. What are they going to do – fire you?

Write some words

That’s about the gist of it, now all that you’ve got left to do is write down some words! How hard can it be?