10 Tips To Win At NaNoWriMo
Even if you don’t make it to 50,000 words
For the uninitiated among you, NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month and it happens in November. Writers are encouraged to write the draft of a novel in one month, with the winning goal set at 50,000 words.
That’s 1667 words, every day. For a month.
Full disclosure – I have never actually done NaNoWriMo though I did use its principals to bash out a rough draft of my 2nd Countess book in the summer of 2019. I wanted to get it done in the gap between submitting the first book to my editor and getting the edits back.
Initially the thought of writing a whole draft in that time period felt impossible but then I remembered that lots of people write 50,000 words in a month in November and maybe I could be open to the possibility. During June 2019, I did my own NaNoWriMo and I did indeed hit the 50,000 mark and got that extremely crappy, first draft done.
If there is a novel that you’ve been thinking about for ages and you need a nudge to actually get on with it, NaNoWriMo, and the community of fellow writers, might be just what you need.
Tip 1 – It doesn’t matter if you get to 50,000 words
If you hit 50,000 words during November, and you’ve been submitting your writing in the NaNoWriMo website, you get a winners certificate.
However, I don’t think it matters if you get to 50,000 words. If you manage 27,000 that you wouldn’t have done otherwise, this is a huge victory. Celebrate and keep working on your draft in the following weeks and months until it is complete.
Tip 2 – Don’t worry if you miss a day
To get to 50,000 words in a month you need to do 1,667 words a day. Just like the excitement for any new project, it is easy to begin with but gets harder as the days go by. Life happens, such as a sick child or a fire-fighting situation at work, which gets in the way of your writing.
It is easy to think that because you’ve missed a day you’ll never catch up and then you fall further behind. See tip 1 – it doesn’t matter if you hit the 50,000. Get back to your writing and do what you can.
I never work on a Saturday. When I did my own NaNoWriMo I initially forced myself to do some writing on the first Saturday but I hated it and wrote rubbish. From then on, I let myself observe my natural rhythm and have one day a week away from the computer and gave my head a rest from spewing out words.
Tip 3 – You don’t have to do 1,667 words a day
See tips one and two! If it’s not possible for you to do 1,667 words but you can manage 500 words – fantastic. You’ll have 15,000 words of writing by the end of the month that you wouldn’t otherwise have had.
Tip 4 – Don’t compare yourselves to other people
There are Facebook groups and other online communities for NaNoWriMo. In those forums you’ll see people bragging that they’ve done 5000 words today or that they’ve already hit the 50,000 mark with a week to go before the end of the month.
Don’t be put off by them. Stay in your lane, work at your pace. See tips 1, 2 and 3.
Tip 5 – Get buy-in from your family and friends that you’ll be writing a lot
Rope in those around you to support you to write more than normal. Negotiate with your family so that someone else does the cooking or helps out with the cleaning. Failing that, make sure they realise it’s pizzas and an untidy house for the next month.
Enlist support from your friends so they encourage you to write rather than tempt you out with the offer of drinks or dinner. Tell them that you love them but you’ll be head down for a month and then you’d love to meet up in early December for a chat and something to eat.
Tip 6 – You might have a book by the end of the month but not a good one
Every year, in early December, literary agents are deluged with unpolished, not-yet-ready-for-publication manuscripts.
Even if you ‘win’ NaNoWriMo you will still need to edit and polish your manuscript. You are unlikely, especially with the speed required for NaNoWriMo, to have beautifully written prose, all the plot points in the right place and consistency with your character traits.
You might need time away from the project for a few days or weeks before you go back and read what you have written and figure out the edits required.
Also, the average novel is 70,000 to 80,000 words. Even if you hit the 50,000 word milestone, you might not have reached the end of your story. Keep going through December and onwards until you get there.
Tip 7 – Don’t expect to write perfectly
The aim of a first draft is to get something down on the page that you can edit and shape later. You don’t need excellent word choices or exquisite descriptions.
My first drafts are almost exclusively dialogue. It takes subsequent rewrites to paint pictures with words and ensure that I’m showing not telling.
In your first draft you are recounting the story to yourself. In later drafts, you figure out the best way to tell someone else.
Tip 8 – You can start planning now
If you’re someone who likes to plan out your plot points, start doing that now. Then you can hit the ground running at the beginning of November.
Or maybe you need to make a family visit this weekend, or do a huge shop, or batch cook and fill your freezer with tasty meals so that you leave the decks clear for the coming month.
You could even start writing now. There’s no rule that says you have to wait until 1st November.
Tip 9 – Enjoy and have fun
Writing shouldn’t be a painful, high-pressure austerity. You can have fun while you do it.
Enjoy seeing your story grow.
Enjoy the fact that you are ignoring other facets of daily life for a month to write as much as possible.
Enjoy being part of a community of writers who are taking action on their long-held dreams of writing a book.
Tip 10 - Celebrate your achievements
At the end of November, even if you haven’t reached the 50,000 word goal, celebrate your achievement. You are likely to have written more than normal and this will be a fantastic accomplishment.
Maybe you can promise yourself a treat or a gift and use this to motivate yourself throughout the month.
You don’t have to do NaNoWriMo if you don’t want to
I’ve never formally done NaNoWriMo because I’ve always been working on other projects and mostly, the idea of writing 50,000 words in a month was an anathema to me.
Please don’t feel any pressure to knock out a novel in the coming month. If it’s not the way you like to work, or it’s not in your writing plan for this year, don’t do it.
But if you’ve been thinking about writing a novel for a while, and for one reason or another you haven’t started it – then it could be just the push that you need to get writing.
If you want to participate in NaNoWriMo on the official website you can sign up here: https://nanowrimo.org/sign-up
Now I’d love to hear from you
Have you ever done NaNoWriMo? How did it go? What are your top tips? Leave a comment now and share your wisdom with us.
P.S Will you help me get this advice to as many budding novelists as possible? Please share this article.
Gentle Creative is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.