This week we’re talking about how to smash your NaNoWriMo goals this year! We’re talking about what it takes to win NaNoWriMo.
SUMMARY: NaNoWriMo is easy, right? Wrong! As many can attest, writing an entire 50,000 manuscript in a month can be a daunting task. Many professional, full-time writers haven’t even done it. Many others have. Whatever side of the spectrum you’re on, starting with a solid plan (no, that does not necessarily mean outline) and making the time to write are the two most critical components in win NaNoWriMo.
Quick tips to win NaNoWriMo:
- Writing what you love.
- Trying word sprints to boost productivity.
- If you’re stuck, move on.
- And realizing that it’s okay not to reach your goals—just reevaluate and move forward.
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How to Win NaNoWriMo
Step One: Start with a plan in mind.
This doesn’t have to mean you start with an outline, so pantsers, don’t run from me yet!Starting with a plan will mean something different for every person who reads this, but these are some ways you can start the month strong, with a plan.
Prepare your outline.
Whether it be hyper-detailed or just a short rundown of what’s happening in each chapter, an outline can help guide you through the writing process and help keep you unstuck. Don’t get me wrong. You’ll probably still experience the mid-way slowdown. But, what would a novel be without that?
An outline can help you get back into the groove since you already know what you’ll write. When I pantsed my first novel, I wrote an average of 1,000-1,500 words per day. With my most current WIP, I can write 3,000+ words per writing session no problem; and while we can contribute this to overall writer growth, I highly attribute this to my outlining processes.
Create a schedule for the upcoming month of November.
We all have family affairs, during and after school responsibilities, part or full-time jobs, and other priorities. And we can’t just set those aside because it’s NaNoWriMo. I mean, I’m sure some people can… but I can’t. And few of you will be able to either. That’s why I schedule my entire month.
I keep a custom spread of how much I’m supposed to write and have a follow-up section for how much I write. Write out all your appointments, get-togethers, vacations, events, or other responsibilities, and you can then go back and design your custom writing schedule around what you already have to get done.
Create character cheat sheets.
It’s not outlining, per se, but knowing your characters is crucial to knowing how they’ll respond within the plot of your story. It’s easy to write this off and say you’ll figure it out later, and while that’s technically 100% true, you might just end up rewriting your entire novel if you change your characters later. Or find out you have too many. Or too few.
Or if someone’s personality doesn’t mesh with what you want them to do. Instead of making them do something out of character… just know your characters before you make them do things.
Step Two: World-build like you already live there.
While this can totally be in the start with a plan phase, I like to give world-building its own bubble. Because that’s just how massive world-building is.
Even if you’re writing a novel with a world similar to our own, that doesn’t mean you’ve escaped world-building. Sometimes, building your own world inside our own is more difficult than building one from scratch.
But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t need doing.
The world is what makes your story spark with life. It’s one of the many things that draws your readers in… and keeps them there. It’s what will make your novel a page turner.
Step Three: Build discipline and practice your systems.
The point of NaNoWriMo isn’t just to write 50,000 words. It’s about using the systems you’ve outlined throughout the year to create a novel—not just a 50,000 word stream of consciousness you’ll later revise the crap out of in order to create a tangible story arch.
Don’t ditch the quality of your prose to hit a target word count. NaNoWriMo should never be about hitting 50,000 words, but more about building your writing discipline and practicing the systems you’ll continue to use to create more. To write more.
While no one will read your novel (unless you let them), you also don’t want to wake up in December and have such a mountain of a revision project that you sideline the entire novel. That’s totally the opposite of productive writing.
Step Four: Drafting your novel.
The biggest thing I realized when I did my first NaNoWriMo was that… I was driving the car. Profound… I know. But it’s true.
Whether I succeeded or failed in my endeavor was up to me.
Now, I’ve never been very competitive. Sure, I enjoy a little competition, but it alone often hasn’t crazed or motivated me enough. At least not competition with others. Competition with myself is completely different story. And I think that’s the way it should be.
When you draft your novel, think about your systems and how much you’re achieving. Did you write 500 words yesterday? Aim for 550 words today and work your way up until you’re writing at the level you want to be writing at.
Step Five: Writing THE END.
These words are some of the best ones you’ll write when you’re hammering out a first draft. They come after a long stretch of late nights, early mornings, and too much caffeine.
And even though we relish writing them, the sentiment is often bittersweet, because we enjoyed peeking into the world and know that heavy revisions are right around the corner.
Writing “the end” rarely means the end, but a new beginning to a new phase.
Remember, even if you don’t hit the 50,000 word count goal by the end of NaNoWriMo—the end of November—the fact you started means you’ve already accomplished half the goal. Keep moving. Keep writing. The End is never too far away.
Tips to Win NaNoWriMo
Tip #1 Writing what you love.
To write an entire 50,000-word novel in a month, especially a month already packed with work and school and life commitments, you have to really love the book you’re writing. It’s a common adage to write for yourself, edit for your reader, and NaNoWriMo is no exception.
Since National Novel Writing Month is about the craft, about putting words to paper, there’s no reason you shouldn’t write the novel you think is missing from your local Barnes & Noble bookshelves.
Why is writing what you love better?
Writing what you love helps keep you motivated and inspired to persevere when you get stuck on a scene or chapter and don’t know whether to continue. It’s an added layer atop your passion’s foundation.
Tip #2 Try word writing sprints.
Writing sprints are great for writers who have difficulty concentrating, because they force you to sit down and write, or fear the wrath of whatever consequence the program offers (i.e. Loud screaming or beeping or the killing of a precious, digital tree you’ve been growing.)
For some, writing sprints might be something you need to grow accustomed to.
Start with two 15-minute sprints and work your way up from there. You might not get a ton of words down your first few tries, but soon your creativity should flow and you’ll have little jolts of writing productivity.
Tip #3 If you’re stuck, move on.
We all want to write the scene… but if you’re having trouble and getting stuck, just move on. Make a note or bookmark it and move onto the next scene. Sometimes, just the act of progress will spark new creativity and open the floodgates once more.
You know that thing writers say about mixing up your writing space for a change of scenery? It can be the same thing with scenes. Sometimes you’re just all talked-out of a scene (even if the scene isn’t finished) and you need just a little scene shift to get back in the flow of things.
You can always go back and finish the scene later.
Tip #4 It’s okay not to win NaNoWriMo.
Come December, you’ll see everyone’s certificates and congratulatory posts about how they smashed NaNoWriMo. The thing is, it’s not about finishing, it’s about starting, because starting is often the hardest part.
NaNoWriMo isn’t about writing a pristine first draft or about finishing your novel. In fact, many YA novels are in the 70,000-90,000 word range, while 50,000 is barely inside the novel-length threshold.
Focus on yourself, and what you’re writing. Let other people worry about themselves.
If you haven’t hit 50,000 words by the time December 1st comes around, keep going. You’ll reach your goals if you persevere. It doesn’t matter when, and it doesn’t matter where, all that matters is progress. You don’t have to win NaNoWriMo to win NaNoWriMo. It’s all about perspective.
Though writing a novel in a month might seem impossible, it isn’t. And you’re capable to accomplish such a momentous feat.
ACTION STEP: Sign up for NaNoWriMo on their website and join/create a cabin. Then remember to login daily to let them know how you’re writing!