Sunday 1 November 2015

Five Top Tips for NaNoWriMo

National Novel Writing MonthNational Novel Writing Month, for those of you who haven’t heard of it, is a worldwide event, in which writers attempt to write 50,000 words during November. It’s supposed to be a fun challenge but, for many writers, it turns into a nightmare.

I’ve participated in NaNoWriMo four times and won three, so I’ve experienced my share of panicked overnight writing sessions as November draws to an end.  But, I’m hoping to avoid that stress this year, so here are five of the most important things I’ve learnt about keeping it fun:

1. Just write

No Planning: Whether you have a detailed chapter breakdown, a scene by scene plan, a vague list of plot points or absolutely nothing, the time for planning is over. November has begun and the writing is what matters. Stopping to fine tune your plan is one of the easiest ways to waste time and lose momentum.

No Research either: Don’t start googling things in the middle of your writing session. Before you know it, three hours will have gone by and you’ll have fallen behind. For those things you absolutely must look up, at least wait until you’ve hit your target word count for the day.

I recommend keeping a notebook, or a second word document, open while you write. Use this to jot down any points you need to research later or any elements of your plan that desperately need revising. Go over these points and follow up on them once you’ve finished the day’s writing. Using this method allows you to actually get the words down, rather than worrying about that scene in chapter three that needs fixing, or whether your characters are employing the correct procedure for assembling a trebuchet...

2. Time yourself

 At the beginning of the month, check how long it takes you to reach your daily word target. Check the time, jot it down and start writing. Then, when you hit your word count, check the time again and see how long it took. Make sure you set aside at least this amount of time each day for writing. You’ll probably get faster as the month goes on, but it’s better to leave yourself extra time than to run out of it.

3. Write with friends

However understanding your friends and family are, if they aren’t NaNo-ing, they won’t understand your need to hide away in your study for hours, or why it’s so important that they stay away from your laptop all month.  

This is why you need ‘Writing Buddies’ to talk to - other participants, who understand the pressure, and the excitement, of NaNoWriMo. They’re also an excellent way to keep accountability. Adding your ‘buddies’ on the website allows you to easily see each other’s word count progress. For me, this really draws out my competitive side. 

Having active Writing Buddies means that someone is likely to notice if you fall behind – even if that doesn’t help motivate you, at least your friends know when to check in on you, and make sure you haven’t overdosed on coffee or forgotten to eat.

The social aspects of NaNoWriMo are great for motivation (as long as you avoid getting sucked into the forums). Central to the NaNo community are Word Sprints. Participating in these is a wonderful way to get words down quickly. You set a time with your friends, show up, (sometimes at a physical location, but more often on Skype or Facebook) and start writing solidly for a pre-determined length of time, at the end of which you check in with each other and see how much you got done. 

Word Sprints aren’t just limited to your closest circles or your Writing Buddies, though. If you follow @NaNoWordSprints on twitter, you can compete there and tweet your word count progress. So, even if you don’t know any other participants, please don’t feel you have to write alone; the NaNoWriMo community is huge and very friendly.

4. Update regularly

Update your word count after each writing session and, if you’re staying up to write, set an alarm for a few minutes before midnight and update then too. These days, it is possible to amend your word count for each day later on… but, if you don’t do it at the time, you probably won’t keep track of what you wrote when – and it’s much more satisfying to see your progress graph rising accurately, rather than flat-lining for days and shooting up whenever you remember to update.

5. Prioritise quantity over quality

This is the most important thing to remember with NaNoWriMo. You can’t afford to worry about what you are writing. You just have to keep going. Even if you are usually an edit-as-you-go kind of writer, that won’t work here. NaNoWriMo is about generating a first draft - and a first draft is supposed to be awful; its only job is to exist.

It’s actually incredibly liberating, not having to worry about the quality of your work. Once you accept that you are writing drivel and that you will fix it later, you can let go of the usual restraints and really get creative. NaNoWriMo is about following your characters and your stories, rather than rigidly controlling them.

National Novel Writing Month Kit-Kat-151If you remember to keep it fun (and you don’t leave the entire thing until the last week) NaNoWriMo can be an amazing experience and one I’d highly recommend.

If any of you are participating - add me as a Writing Buddy and we can Word Sprint!


  1. Replies
    1. Fixed. Thanks for pointing that out, Peter. I've no idea how it happened though - it was definitely a five when I uploaded it!