The iconic NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) challenge has many of you rolling up your sleeves to pound out a novel. Becca and I love this event because it is a great time to become explore deep level ideas, experiment, and show ourselves we are absolutely capable of putting a novel-length story on the page.
NaNoWriMo is something you should make your own. Want to try a new genre? Go for it. Are you a plotter who would like to try pantsing (or the opposite)? Go for it! Maybe you want to channel an alter ego author voice, have an out-of-the box story premise you want to write, or you just need to get that next book done. Whatever it is, NaNo is a great time to blast out words and have fun doing it.
Writing a novel in a month also means telling your inner editor to take a holiday. He or she can go bug Elon Musk for a month – lots to criticize on the X front, after all. November is for you and your creativity alone, a pressure-free time to not worry about getting every word right as you draft.
We want this to be a terrific experience for everyone, so we’ve put together tips to help you smash out the words during NaNoWriMo:
1) Set yourself up for success before you write.
This is such an important step no matter what time of year it is, we’ve written an entire post about this! But there’s added pressure when it comes to NaNoWriMo because you’re attempting a draft a novel in a single month. If you haven’t yet done so, set up your space so you have what you need, talk to family members on how to respect your writing time, and click the link above to put yourself in a great place to draft.
2) Find an accountability partner.
NaNoWriMo is easier (and more fun) with friends, so find other writers who will be taking the challenge. Stay in touch so you can cheer each other on, have someone to turn to when you need help, and even meet up for writing sprints (in the real world, through Zoom, or over social media). NaNoWriMo makes this super easy–you can set up a group, join a group, find locals in your area who are doing the challenge, etc. If you belong to a writer’s organization, see who is taking the challenge and set up a group for you. If you participate on a writing forum, Facebook group, or something else, see who is doing NaNo and suggest you all exchange info to stay connected. Stay in touch, share your progress, support each other so everyone finishes November on a high note!
3) Know enough about your story to feel comfortable writing it.
This may look different for everyone, depending on your planning preferences, but planning a bit is essential. Whatever makes you comfortable, do. If you like to full-out outline and do character profiles, do! If you only need a few ideas to run with, great. But know what you need to be comfortable to start and keep writing. It can also be helpful to know your first scene well, so you have a strong first writing session. Highly recommended: the Storyteller’s Roadmap, and downloading the Story Planning Checklist. (Then, after planning, move on to the Writing Track of the Roadmap. You’ll find the Code Red section invaluable.)
4) End each session with an incomplete sentence.
This one sounds strange, but starting a new line with that damned blinking cursor can be paralyzing for some. If you know what the sentence is in full, but you leave it half-finished when you stop for the day, you immediately have something to write the next time you sit down, and muscle memory takes over. It can also be good to think on the next scene you want to write in between sessions so you have an easier time picking up again.
5) Keep sources of inspiration on speed dial.
There may be times you hit a lull and need ideas. (Totally okay, this happens.) Taking a bit of a break instead of trying to force words might help, so know what tends to make you feel creative and excited to write. Would you like to doodle a bit as you listen to music? Re-watch an old favorite Netflix movie that always leaves you with a rush to create? Bake something, or go for a walk? Maybe for you, inspiration hits in the shower. Whatever activity will help you work through story problems and recharge your creativity, give that a try.
6) If you don’t know what to write next, skip ahead.
Sometimes we hit a wall and feel pressure because the next scene is a big blank. We don’t know how the protagonist is going to get the magic dagger from their enemy, or what circumstances will ensure our romantic couple end up at the same ski resort. Guess what? It’s okay. Just think ahead to when that story problem is solved: the protagonist has the dagger. The couple run into each other at a ski lesson. Whatever “next scene” you can see clearly in your mind, start writing that scene.
Leave a note before you start reminding yourself what is missing <Jeff has to trick Lida into giving up the knife> or <Brand and Deena somehow both end up at the same ski resort>. Your brain will work on the skipped portion of the story in the background, and let you know how a leads to b. When it happens, you can go back and fill in the blanks.
7) Don’t be afraid to go off script.
A challenge like NaNoWriMo is meant to free your imagination, so even if you tend to plot and write to an outline, if your characters are taking things in a different direction, or your gut is telling you to deviate from the plan, you might want to give the story room to change. Add a mark you can find again using search like <<>> to note where you are deviating from the plan. Let the story unfold, and see where it goes. There is no wasted effort here, and you may find the new direction has you excited to write forward. Or you might decide the tangent isn’t for you. No worries! Add another <<>> and restart the story from where you deviated. The words still count toward the total and you can delete them later in revisions.
8) Don’t let doubt creep in.
It’s not easy to turn off the part of our mind that worries about quality, and sometimes our Internal Editor shows up despite our efforts to banish him. If he starts tsking over what you’re writing, do not listen. Every first draft is clay we must begin to shape if it is to evolve into the beautiful story we know it can become.
So, if the Internal Editor shows up, banish him to a room where this guy is waiting:
Imagine the resulting screams, smile, and keep writing.
9) Reward yourself.
Writing so many words while managing everything else in your life isn’t easy, and will require sacrifice. So make sure to reward yourself along the way, not just at the end of the challenge. Think about small things you love that you can promise yourself at certain points. You could set milestones to your word count, but maybe for you, writing 5 days in a row is a victory, or sticking to an internal promise of starting and finishing that rough chapter is the goal. Reward yourself in ways that motivate you to keep going.
10) Remember, you can’t really “fail” NaNoWriMo.
Even if you don’t hit 50K, or you decide to quit at a certain point because something comes up or you aren’t feeling the story, you had the courage to start, and to try! That’s a win, as is every word you did write!
No effort is ever a waste. Taking on this challenge is also a way to learn more about yourself and what does and doesn’t work for you. These are all lessons that will help you moving forward.
Becca and I are cheering you on! If you need any help at all, check out these three links
Go forth and be awesome–you’ve got this!
Angela is a writing coach, international speaker, and bestselling author who loves to travel, teach, empower writers, and pay-it-forward. She also is a founder of One Stop For Writers, a portal to powerful, innovative tools to help writers elevate their storytelling.