As NaNoWriMo is now less than a month away (!), I have been thinking back to how I approached the challenge last year. I hope that by doing so I can replicate my routine and the resulting success that it brought. Last time out, I made a few blog posts along the way about what I did, detailing writing routines and the mindset that I followed, but this article will group everything and more into one place. I do not claim to be an expert at NaNo, but these things helped for me last year, and 1/1 is a 100% record, however small it may be.
My 8 tips for a successful NaNoWriMo
1. Decide on your idea early.
I think I settled on the idea that I would write a Christmas book around the end of August last year. A very basic plot outline came to my mind, and I knew what I wanted the feel of the book to be. This gave it time to stew in my head before November came around, and I could jot down notes as particular ideas came to mind. Once you’ve got the main idea, you can then work in new inspiration to flesh it out a bit, so that hopefully by the time you start writing during NaNoWriMo, you have a decent idea of the tone, structure and style of the story.
2. Plan a writing routine.
I’m sure that you have already worked out that to write 50,000 words in a month, you need to average 1667 words each day. That isn’t an insignificant amount. But, with some small adjustments you can make it happen without making too much of a dent in your day.
My approach was to get a good chunk of it done first thing in the morning. That meant getting up an hour earlier each day, allowing myself time to crack out around 500 words. That was the aim; in reality, I tended to get into a groove and splurge a couple of hundred more. The advantage of this is that even before you’ve left for work in the morning, you have reduced the amount you need to complete in the remainder of the day to about 1000, perhaps even less. This gives a nice psychological boost in that it immediately seems more manageable. And you’ve got all the time that you would have had left in the day anyway with which to play. Just maybe have an extra coffee to keep you going.
3. Write-off November.
This was possibly one of the most important changes I made in my head going into NaNo month. I told myself, and the world via blog and social media, that NaNoWriMo is what I wanted to achieve in November, and that to do so it would take focus. I reasoned that there are 11 other months in the year in which to do other things, so even if I did not do them at all in November, there is still going to be plenty of time to dedicate to them later. So, do them later. Spend November writing. And win NaNoWriMo.
Afterwards, integrate writing around the other things in your life later to keep the momentum going. Announce to your friends that this is what you’re doing. Ultimately, you will probably have days where there is time for things other than writing, but with this mindset, you’re putting your book first, just for one month.
4. Keep going when the words are flowing. Accept when they’re not.
The routine in (2) is a good place to start. But some days you will find that you’re on too much of a roll to stop, so you get into what I like to think of as ‘word credit’. If you’re ahead of your word count target, then on those days when things don’t go so well, or you find every disaster imaginable gets in the way of you writing, then you don’t need to beat yourself up too much about it. You prepared for events such as these by sticking to a good routine. Now, make use of their benefits to accept that some days, 200 words is plenty. You’re probably tired, or maybe you just need a moment to step back and consider where your manuscript is going, in which case having a less intense day will be a big help.
5. Don’t lose your weekends.
I think if my plan had been to forget weekdays and just write as much as possible each weekend then I would have crumbled, quickly. In a way, this is a tempting approach as you can keep your weekly work schedule and hope to make up the words afterwards. But this leaves you with so much to write at the weekend, that you risk completely losing it. If you can (and I appreciate that for many people, the 1667 words each day isn’t feasible), spread the words out, treat the weekend days the same as the weekdays. Then use the remainder of the Saturday and Sunday time to do what you would normally do. Your life can go on, even if you’ve followed Tip 3 and written off November.
6. Consider using Scrivener.
My first use of Scrivener was for NaNoWriMo 2015. I haven’t used anything else for my writing since. Sure, any application where you can type text in is probably going to do it, but Scrivener’s way of organising chapters and scenes helps you keep everything neat and tidy. You don’t have to wait for a larger program to chug away each time you load your document, or struggle when it starts getting big. And when you finish, it is easy to export to all sorts of formats, such as eBook. Immediately you’re book is almost ready for publication online.
7. Don’t plan too much, but consider a general outline.
One of the things I found really helped last year was that I didn’t have much of a plan. Subsequently, I didn’t have much prior investment in the story I was writing or in what I wanted it to be. What little planning I did do came the day before the challenge started. I roughly mapped out how many chapters I wanted. I decided on 17, meaning that if my novel turned out at exactly the target of 50,000 words, each would be just under 3000. For a children’s book, this seemed a reasonable length, and it also made each chunk of the book seem manageable. Obviously some turned out shorter, and some ended up going on a bit more, but as an average to aim for this helped a lot.
For each of the 17 chapters I then noted down a one sentence description of the main thing that should happen at that point in the story, based on what I had conjured up in my head from (1). And that was it. Planning over. A few signposts to guide me, but otherwise I was free when writing to go wherever I wanted. With limited time available, I didn’t want to feel forced to stick to rigid plans that had been formulating for months. This would have slowed my progress a lot.
8. Ignore the rubbish.
50,000 words is a lot. Within that, there will be some parts that you absolutely love and think are the best things you’ve ever written. 10 pages later will be strings of words that you will be horrified to think ever emanated from your fingers. Ignore these. Let them be for now. They’ve served a purpose to get you, the writer, to the next stage. Carry on writing, keep moving forward. Then revise them afterwards once you’re a NaNo winner. For me, I found that I would draw out conversations when I wasn’t sure what was coming next. I knew that the talking should end, but I didn’t know what to move on to. I just carried on, wanting to write anything to hit my word target. Eventually I got to the next scene. There, I could ignore the excuses for writing that were now thankfully off my screen.
These are my 8 tips for a successful NaNoWriMo. If it’s your first time this year, then good luck and I hope these help! If you’re a seasoned pro at NaNo, what do you think is the best advice you could give someone starting out?