Survival Tips for NaNoWriMo

It’s almost here!

Evening comes early, and the green summer shades of my village are overthrown by waves of red and gold. Children in dressed as ghosts and ghouls go trick-or-treating around the houses and fireworks light up the night skies. It must be time to write a novel.

I first tackled NaNoWriMo in 2005. I’d been writing for several years, and was a member of a great local critiquing group, but I had a problem, one that I call ‘First Five Chapters Syndrome’. I’d work on the early chapters of a novel, feel unhappy with them, rewrite them, change the idea, rewrite them… rinse and repeat, until I had multiple opening chapters of an otherwise unfinished book. In a drive to make things prefect before I moved forward, I made moving forward impossible.

So taking on the challenge to write 50,000 words in 30 days was a lifeline. To fit that much writing in around my job and other responsibilities meant that rewriting was impossible. In NaNoWriMo, moving forward is your only option. Once you jettison the fear that what you are writing isn’t perfect, and concentrate on simply getting the ideas down on paper, you can truly unleash your creativity.

This will be my 11th NaNoWriMo and I’ve won 5 times, with life getting in the way in some years, and other years the book just not working out. So as people all over the world gear up for 2017 I’ve put together 10 tips for anyone thinking of taking up the gauntlet this November.

1. Just Start!

Whether you’ve got an intricate idea for a book that has been rattling around in your brain for years, or are starting with no plan at all, the most important thing is to get started. To ‘win’ NaNoWriMo by completing 50k in 30 days means averaging 1,667 words every day, and it can be intimidating to look at that blank page or empty screen for the first time. So come out flying and just start typing.

2. Editing is for December

If you want to do something more with your 50k novel once it’s done, it’s going to need a lot of editing and rewriting. Remove these words from your vocabulary until December 1st. By the time you write your 49,999th word, your story and characters are likely to have evolved in ways you couldn’t have predicted. When the time comes for overhauling your novel you will be armed with so much new knowledge about the world you have created. Until then, every paragraph matters, so don’t be tempted to delete or overwrite. Get those words down and keep them.

3. Look after yourself

Writing for long spells can be a tiring and isolating experience, especially if you have to fit it in around other demands on your life. It may sound obvious but if you spend the month eating junk food and going without sleep, you’ll not only feel terrible, but you won’t enjoy the experience. NaNoWriMo is all about having fun through creative expression so take care of yourself while you do it.

4. Find a community to support you

Hundreds of thousands of people all over the world have a go at NaNoWriMo every year. The website forums will be buzzing with writers swapping help and ideas, giving encouragement and laying down challenges. And there are regional forums for you to connect with others nearby and find out about what’s happening in your region, like write-ins at coffee shops and social meet-ups. Regional ‘Municipal Liaisons’ (or MLs for short) are in charge of organising events and the most active regions have something happening every other day of the week. Talking to other people who are taking part is the best way to overcome any mid-novel doubts or writer’s block. The encouragement you’ll receive from other participants will warm your heart like a fire on a cold autumn evening.

5. Get some writing buddies

On your NaNoWriMo dashboard, as well as putting up details of your novel, you can add some ‘writing buddies’. This will let you see the progress of friends towards the 50k target as they update their word counts throughout the month. It also encourages you to update your own word count every day so that others can see how you’re doing. You can find me on the site under the name ‘PirateBecks’.

6. Don’t stress if you can’t hit 50k

There have been several years where I haven’t managed to win NaNoWriMo. Sometimes life just gets in the way. One year I managed 33k; another I abandoned ship after only a few hundred. But however many words you do manage to write, those are words that you otherwise wouldn’t have down on paper. I have friends who take part in an unofficial challenge called ‘PicoWriMo’ where they set themselves a smaller word count for November that they reckon they can push themselves to achieve. Whatever gets you being creative is the most important thing.

7. Get unstuck

If you’re part way into your book and completely blanking on what to do next, on the official forums there are tons of writing prompts, plot-doctoring suggestions and abandoned ideas looking for literary adoption. Sometimes all you need is a diversion to get you putting down words again. Entering a ‘word war’ – where people try to write as many words as possible in a specified amount of time – is also a great way to get yourself moving. Everyone doing NaNoWriMo is in the same boat and we will all need to get unstuck at some point this November.

8. Backup your novel

In 2015 I won NaNoWriMo by the skin of my teeth, having to write 18,000 words on November 30th to hit the 50k mark by midnight. This wasn’t just down to procrastination on my part, but also thanks to losing around 9,000 words from a backup failure and having to rewrite the lot. So backup, and then backup again, and then just when you think you’re safe, backup again.

9. Find your best way of writing

Whether it’s sitting in a certain place, being alone or with others, writing in the morning or late at night, find your own rhythm that helps you to sit down and write every day. Even if you don’t hit 50k in November, you’ve got yourself into the practice of writing regularly and you won’t want to stop on December 1st.

10. Have fun!

Many people take on NaNoWriMo just to see if they can do it, or to write for fun or practice. You don’t have to have a plan for what to do with your novel afterwards. Write fan fiction, a series of short stories, or even a memoir. Get involved in the NaNo community online or in real life. It’s a wonderful challenge that can leave you with a great sense of achievement and half a dozen new lifelong friends.

So those are my survival tips! If you’d like to learn more, we recently sat down with Cambridge ML Ian Rennie to talk all about NaNoWriMo, and you can listen to the podcast here.

Direct download: Episode 19

Throughout November we’ll be releasing more podcast episodes interviewing authors, editors and publishers about all aspects of writing. We’ll also be tweeting about NaNoWriMo throughout November so follow Time for Cakes and Ale for advice, encouragement and inspiration.

Happy writing!


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