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How To Win NaNoWriMo

Hands typing with a typewriter

We’re mere days away from the beginning of National Novel Writing Month or NaNoWriMo. As someone who’s completed the challenge of writing 50,000 words in a single month, I thought now would be a good time to share some NaNoWriMo tips to help you get through the month.

Make Writing A Priority

a calendar spread in an planner

Aside from actually finishing a story, the main goal of NaNoWriMo is the same as other creative challenges like Inktober or the 100 Day Project: to make time for creative pursuits. So, to really win at NaNoWriMo, you need to make time for writing. Here are a few ideas for doing that.

Start Right Away

Start at the beginning of the month. Obviously, that’ll give you the most time. I also thinking starting your day with writing, before other tasks can get in the way (perhaps wake up early), is effective. It also prevents you from getting too in your head and coming up with reasons to procrastinate.

Set A Schedule

Block out some time to for a writing routine. During NaNoWriMo, I think a daily writing schedule is helpful, but if you’ve got a fluctuating schedule already just slot in your writing time where it fits. So long as you dedicate yourself to writing in the time slot you choose, you’re fine.

Write in the Empty Spaces

If you can’t find a solid hour, then make a point of writing in those smaller gaps of time throughout the day. Five minutes here, five minutes there, and so on. It’ll add up quickly, I promise. Leave your NaNoWriMo document open or your notebook handy so that you can jot down a few lines between projects or during bits of waiting time.

Go Mobile

Writing doesn’t have to be done while sitting at a desk. Nowadays, there are lots of ways to access writing tools while on the go. Of course, there’s pen and paper. But there’s also Google Docs, Dropbox, and mobile versions of Microsoft Word and other word processors. Having some kind of cloud storage set up and a way to write on your phone or tablet means that you can write anywhere. This gives you fewer excuses for letting writing fall to the side.

Stay Productive

a hand checks off a box on a to do list

Once you’ve committed to writing time, you want to make sure you’re making the most of that time. You want to be productive and make sure you’re working toward your goal. Here are some productivity tips.

Track Your Progress

It’s easy to keep track of your word count in an Excel sheet or notebook, but you can also record you words through the NaNoWriMo website (my favourite option). Seeing how your efforts add up can be motivating in itself. It can also reveal patterns that can help you develop better writing practices. Maybe the days you write after eating breakfast are more productive than the days that you skip your morning meal. Maybe the days you write at your desk yield more words than writing from the couch. You can plan your writing better when you know what works for you.

Find A buddy

One of the cool things about NaNo is that you’re not alone. There are thousands of other people participating and you can connect with them through the NaNoWriMo website and local NaNoWriMo groups. You can also ask your existing friends if they’re participating. Once you find a buddy, you can plan writing dates, share word counts, and track each other’s progress (the NaNoWriMo website makes these last two easy). This is a form of accountability and friendly competition that can help drive you to keep going.

Set Incentives

The official NaNoWriMo website gives prizes to winners (usually a winner’s certificate and discounts on software). This might be enough of an incentive for you, but if it’s not, you can add rewards for meeting milestones along the way. For example, you could plan a self-care night with your favourite treats and a movie for when you reach your halfway point.

Imagine Reaching Your Goal

Completing NaNoWriMo is a feat. It takes perseverance and skill. So when you’re feeling disheartened or challenged, think about how you’ll feel when you make it to the end. Whether you successfully manage to hit 50,000, finish your novel, or just write more than you do regularly, you’ll have accomplished something. And accomplishment feels good. Sometimes imagining the glow of success is all you need to keep going.

Skip Around When You Get Stuck

There’s no rule that says you have to write scenes in order. If you get stuck, you can always skip ahead. Then when you feel like it or when you figure out the problem, just go back and fill in the missing scenes. Just make sure you mark or flag where you’re skipping so that you can easily find the section again. I like to write in a short description in square brackets, like [fight scene here], so that I can easily search for the brackets using Control + F later. You could also highlight or use Word’s Comment feature.

Stay Positive

a bundle of smiley face balloons

 50,000 words in 30 days is intimidating. And if you don’t hit your daily word count, it’s easy to get disheartened. So if you intend to make it through the month, you’ve got to stay positive. Remember:

Writing Should Be Fun

Perhaps too often we think of writing as a task or chore, the means to the end. We forget that writing, the act of crafting a story, should be at least a little fun. Yes, it can be a slog sometimes, but try thinking about your characters and the fun plot points you get to put to paper rather than the words themselves.

Comparison Is The Thief Of Joy

Teddy Roosevelt’s assertion is important to remember during NaNoWriMo. There are plenty of other people participating, so it can be easy to see where you are in comparison. This can be motivating, as I said when I recommended a buddy, but when you seem like you’re falling behind, it can get disheartening.

Just remember that their progress has nothing to do with yours. Another person might have more time, or might have been working on their story for ages outside of NaNoWriMo, or might just be faster. But none of that matters to your story and your efforts. Just focus on your own work.

There’s Time

When you’re just starting out or when you get behind in NaNoWriMo, thinking about the amount of words you’ve got left can get overwhelming. But that doesn’t mean you can’t make it. There’s time to catch up or finish.

One year I got so behind (about 10,000 words behind with only six days before the end of the month!) that I almost gave up. But I kept at it and found the time in the last week to crank out the missing words and exceed my goal. Catching up isn’t impossible.

And even if you don’t think you’ll catch up, remember that there’s no magic cut off at the end of November. You can always keep working away at your story.

Trying Is More Important Than Succeeding

If you focus on just writing every day rather than the word count (which, let’s be honest, is really more of a guideline than a rule for novel length), you may find yourself at your goal before you realize it. Or you won’t, but you’ll have succeeded in writing anyway. Either is better than not having written at all. It’s the journey, not the destination.

Good Luck!

This is by no means an exhaustive list of NaNoWriMo tips. People handle this challenge in all kinds of ways and produce all kinds of writing as a result. Again, set your own goal and remember that working toward it is the actual point of NaNoWriMo—not necessarily completing the challenge. The work matters more than the end product. So good luck and have fun!

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