Yearly NaNoWriMo winner shares the 5 essentials for easily writing 50,000 words throughout the month of November!
NaNoWriMo, short for National Novel Writing Month, is a worldwide challenge in which writers attempt to write a whole novel in a month; traditionally, in the month of November.
While the challenge may seem to be for experts or professional writers, authors everywhere try their hand at it and end up developing and honing better skills with their everyday writing.
As someone who’s participated numerous times in NaNoWriMo, I can honestly say it’s one of the most thought-provoking and life-altering writing challenges out there. (Alongside six-word stories, that is. *cries*)
And with November quickly approaching, it’s time we get into how to truly win NaNoWriMo.
While the task may seem a bit daunting at first, the process will have you learning more about yourself- not just as a writer, but also as a person.
There are plenty of guides, tricks and even classes that teach how to succeed at NaNoWriMo, and I remember being horribly overwhelmed when I finally decided to try it.
But no worries! After 10 years of succeeding (and failing) at NaNoWriMo, I’ve come to believe the following to be my best 5 tips for anyone who wants to the challenge themselves.
So, take a deep breath, grab a pen and paper, and let’s get into the meat and potatoes of it all.
Here’s 5 essential tips for winning at NaNoWriMo...
1. Make sure you’re in the right mindset
The thought of writing an entire book in a single month can be downright terrifying. It may even seem impossible, considering it takes some authors years to write a book.
So, if it’s supposedly impossible, how did Rainbow Rowell write her first YA fiction book, Fangirl, as a NaNoWriMo
challenge and end up becoming a New York Times Bestselling Author?
Easy: she probably did it while feeling scared.
First thing’s first: you’re not publishing a book in a month. You aren’t even writing one in a month. The actual challenge here is creating a first draft for a novel in 30 days. Less daunting, right?
Once you get that through to yourself, more and more of this challenge will start seeming a little easier- like the realisation that your final result is not going to be pretty. It’s a first draft, and there’s no such thing as a perfect first draft.
Prepare yourself for plot holes, unknown characters who suddenly think they get to be a part of the story, and sudden inspiration for random scenes that don’t really fit anywhere.
It’s okay; it’s all part of the process.
While staying in the mindset that this is just your first draft, it’s also important to try not to
edit anything. And I mean ANYTHING.
After you’ve finished writing for the day, try making notes of what you want to write next so you’re not tempted to read over what you wrote the day prior and get tempted to edit while you go along.
Editing in itself takes a ton of time - and that time needs to be spent doing nothing but writing.
Speaking of time…
2. Create a schedule that works for you
Let’s do the maths quick: to qualify as a novel, your piece must contain a minimum of 50,000 words, so if we divide that by 30 days, that comes out to roughly 1,667 words each day.
(Though when I did it, I just rounded to 2,000 words daily. But you do you.)
Think back to the last time you needed to write 2,000 words. How long did it take you to write it? How much time
were you given to complete it? What kept you from getting distracted?
Everybody has different responsibilities and agendas to do in their day, which is why it’s so important to find a writing schedule that works specifically for you. Carving out time is important to write 2,000 words, but for something as demanding as NaNoWriMo, getting creative is a must to get through the entirety of November.
If you have a 9-5 job, can you make notes to yourself during your break time or lunch? If you cook at home, can you plan meals to cut time in the kitchen? If you know you’re addicted to social media, can you limit yourself by turning off your notifications or even deleting the apps completely?
One of the best boundaries I set for myself during NaNoWriMo was telling anyone and everyone who I contacted on a regular basis that I was disappearing for a month. I posted on all my social media platforms on October 31 that I was “planning something great” and would be back at the end of November. Then, I deleted everything. My phone couldn’t do anything except make calls and send text messages for the whole month.
Now a year later with a novel under my belt, I’ve grown to like not having any notifications on my phone to give myself space to complete what I need to do during the day.
I’m not saying you have to be as extreme as me, but how far are YOU willing to go to get your novel written? What sacrifices can be made, or boundaries can be set so you can stay focused?
That’s a question you’ll have to answer for yourself, my friend.
3. Find your niche
If you’re anything like me, you probably assumed that in order to partake in NaNoWriMo, you had to write some sort of contemporary romance YA fiction and be the next John Green.
Meh, not necessarily.
The first time I completed a full novel, I actually cheated a little with my genre and niche (which I’ll get more into later.)
In previous years, I found myself with half-written and half-hearted novels that weren’t exactly my style because I didn’t spend enough time mentally preparing myself for what it takes to write a book, and thus, every story I wrote suffered in the process.
I normally write haiku poetry revolving around mental health and romance, so when I tried to write a gothic style mystery with no prior experience or direction, it made sense why I didn’t get past about 10 pages of work. (Rest in peace, NaNoWriMo 2014…)
While NaNoWriMo is supposed to push you as a writer, don’t forget that this is still your story. It can be about you, someone you know, a world you created, a cookbook, a self-help book, etc.
After telling a good friend of mine about NaNoWriMo and what it was, he had the brilliant idea to finally complete his comic book he had been working on.
While it might not be a novel, for him it was the start of something greater, and just the challenge he needed to finally complete his comic book. In other words, make sure you recognize your comfort zone and push yourself accordingly.
4. Create character lists as your initial outline
That being said, should you find that the fiction genre is what you’d like for your novel, I HIGHLY recommend building your characters first. Planning your novel’s plot is arguably one of the most difficult parts of creating a novel.
However, it was my youngest sister (who I’m still trying to persuade to try NaNoWriMo herself) who taught me that if you know your characters, the story will blossom as they do. And if you don’t know what your character would have for lunch on a rainy Wednesday in the middle of December, then you really don’t know them at all.
Now, when I say build a character list, I obviously mean knowing information down to their body weight, best friends and birthplace. But what about what their greatest fear is? What’s their life goal? What’s keeping them from achieving said goal? What is their main problem and what would make it worse?
Related Resource: 200 Questions to Ask About Your Characters
Once I started asking myself these questions for every character I could think to add to my novel before November 1st, the plot nearly wrote itself. I could think of a number of scenarios, plot points and even additional side characters all from just building my main characters in proper fashion.
And get this: because I was passionate about my story, it took me a mere 20 minutes or so of just answering basic questions about them.
So, remember I told you earlier that I cheated during one of my NaNoWriMo challenges?
Here’s what I did:
As a poet, the thought of staying fixated on a single plot for more than a couple lines made my skin itch and my head hurt. But after the encouragement of other writer friends regarding my use of dialogue in my writing and the idea for an alternate universe I found on Tumblr, I came up with an idea: Why not have my novel consist of several short stories all residing within the same universe?
While the overall idea seemed simple enough and allowed me to try numerous stories, I ultimately had to come to terms with creating multiple different plotlines, characters, etc. This, to me, wasn’t that big of a deal since again, I hated the thought of being confined to a single idea.
With this new way of tackling NaNoWriMo, just when I believed that my story was coming to an end, I got another huge burst of inspiration, remembering that I have another story with its own plot to finish.
At the end of November, I had a novel with 50,050 words. consisting of various love stories within the same universe and timeline. And get this - one of the stories hadn’t even been finished yet. I was on a roll!
So, what’s the takeaway?
As writers, creativity is already a natural process in what we do, so there’s no reason why you can’t try new things within the NaNoWriMo community as well!
I use the word “cheat” because I obviously didn’t write out a single story as most would assume you should, but a novel is still a novel, right?
While I do plan to focus on a single story this year, I’m going to cheat again: I’m using characters and a plot that my sister and I planned to use for a webcomic we wanted to create together. We both agreed it might be easier to animate a story that had already been written, so NaNoWriMo 2022 will see the bare bones of a graphic novel.
This way, October won’t be filled with intense planning since I already have my characters, main plot, and even the time travel all planned out.
A couple of other ways you can “cheat” could be skipping a scene when you have writer’s block, writing past the word count on a day you feel more inspired (leaving you with breaks for when you aren’t so inspired), jotting down ideas and scenes as they come and using them later, etc.
NaNoWriMo is supposed to push you, so let it push you to think outside the box as well. Honestly, as someone who has spent the past 10 years or so competing in NaNoWriMo, I can confidently say this challenge is nowhere near as difficult as you might think (as long as you plan accordingly and keep the above tips in mind).
You may find that your first time doing NaNoWriMo won’t pan out as you would’ve hoped, and that’s perfectly okay.
As cliché as it may sound, it really is more about the journey than the destination, especially considering your best destination is still going to need a boatload of editing after only getting there in a month’s time.
That being said, make sure to give yourself grace, and be open to what NaNoWriMo has to teach you.
Hey! I'm Chelsea and I'm a professional book editor at Stand Corrected Editing, my independent editorial business in the UK. If you would like to have your manuscript thoroughly edited by myself, please get in touch!
With my book editing and proofreading services, I hope to spread my knowledge and expertise on how to make your novel a success, and be a mentor to others who desperately want to pursue a fruitful career as an author!