Whether you’re a first-timer or a veteran, National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) poses new challenges to its participants every year. Having won before or having never written something of novel-length has little bearing on whether or not you’ll win NaNo, given the uniqueness of each year. Fear not, though, because this article will let you in on a few secrets to ensure you cross the finish line in the last week of November!
Side note: These tips have been make-or-break for me in my NaNoWriMo experience and have worked for friends of mine, as well. However, all writers are different and motivations work differently. These tips may have varying mileage for you, but I suggest you try them out, nonetheless.
1. Prioritize writing every day over hitting your word count every day.
Everyone says it and it seems obvious enough, but I cannot emphasize this one enough: no matter if it’s just 30 words, one sentence or finishing a paragraph, write every day. Building a habit of sitting down to write is invaluable, even if you don’t win NaNo. Moreover, you’re less likely to get discouraged and stop writing for NaNo altogether, even if you’re behind on word count, if you can say that you have written for 10 days in a row.
2. Write out what happens next in the story at the end of every writing session.
End every session by writing a few brief notes about what will happen next in the story. This prevents you from having to read back the next day or getting lost if you miss a day or two between writing sessions. It also lessens the activation energy required to start writing each day, so you’re more likely to maintain a consistent schedule.
3. Update your word count consistently and constantly.
Pick 1-2 places to update your word count and only 1-2, but make sure to update them consistently. First, you don’t want to overwhelm yourself by using too many word counters. The NaNo website has a great word count tool that also provides analytics, but many writers also use tools like Pacemaker or WriteTrack. Whatever you use, make sure you’re keeping it to only one or two that you actively update during NaNo. The fewer administrative tasks you have to do, the better (this is along the same line of thinking as the tip about writing out what happens next during each writing session).
Also, decide early whether you’re going to update once a day or after each session. Either one is fine, but make sure to keep it consistent so you don’t forget to update or double-count writing sessions accidentally. At least for NaNo, don’t update less often than once a day if you can help it (this goes hand in hand with making sure you write every day).
4. Find a community of some kind.
Having someone to talk to about NaNo or to have a check-in with you about how it’s going can make a huge difference in your ability to complete the month. If you don’t want to enlist your family or IRL friends, there are many online communities that provide support during NaNo. There are the municipal groups run by NaNo, Discord servers, Facebook groups, even a sub-Reddit for NaNo. Reach out to one of these; you may never really talk in it or you may make lifelong friends, but make sure you feel like you are participating in NaNo with others. It’ll lessen the anxiety of writing AND provide some more pressure to be accountable.
5. Forget about inspiration, except for when you really need it.
NaNo is about writing every single day. It will be nigh impossible to win if you’re waiting for inspiration to strike you every day or waiting until you feel like writing. Though scrolling through Pinterest or Twitter for writing prompts and other sources of inspiration can be great for getting yourself excited to write, try not to rely on these too much. It is easy to get sucked into “doom-scrolling” and spend the time you allocated for writing just scrolling instead. Ultimately, NaNo is not about writing the perfect draft or even necessarily a full draft, so when you’re writing, don’t be afraid to write silly or inane chapters. Prioritize getting words on the page over logic or what you think you “should” be writing; you can edit after November ends and you have a full 50,000 words.
National Novel Writing Month can be challenging to writers of all expertise levels, but these tips should help you adjust to the challenge of writing a novel in a month. If you have other suggestions or tips that you’ve discovered help you succeed in NaNoWriMo, share them below. Otherwise, happy writing!