NaNoWriMo Success Tips (have any to add?)

| Posted in NaNoWriMo, Writing |


It’s the beginning of November, and, for a lot of us, that means the first day of NaNoWriMo, a self-inflicted torture worthy project where we attempt to write the first draft of a novel (50,000 words of one anyway) by the end of the month. No, it doesn’t matter that this is a hectic time for many people. We are writers; we will conquer!

I did NaNo last year and knocked out the 50,000 words, and I usually write 1500 to 2000 words a day anyway when I’m working on a first draft, so I thought I’d throw together a few tips here for those who might be new or who’ve participated before but not met the goal. (If you have tips of your own, feel free to add them at the end.)

NaNoWriMo Success Tips:

Get ahead early

You’ll probably find the writing comes easiest in the first week, because you’ve been thinking about this novel for a while. You know how the first chapter goes and maybe the first few chapters. You’re excited about the project, and you’re excited about NaNoWriMo. This is the time to get ahead i the word count. It’ll be a little extra cushion for later, when life gets in the way or you just get stuck in the story (it happens to the best of us).

Write every day

Try not to blow off any days. If you write every day, you’ll need to pump out about 1667 words before bed each night. Perhaps not a “piece of cake,” but a manageable goal. If you miss a day, you’re suddenly looking at over 3200 words that need to be written the next day. That’s a lot. If you put things off and say you’ll catch up on the weekend, it’s even worse. You’ll start to hate the whole process, and maybe give up, if you’re looking at a Saturday where you have to write 7,000 words because you haven’t gotten any writing in since Monday.

Instead, try to write every day. You’d be amazed at how much you can write in 20 minutes if you’re focused. Even if you don’t make the 1667 words that day, at least you made some words, so catching up isn’t quite so difficult.

Don’t put off starting until the end of the day

I’m a night owl, so I know all about saving writing for the end of the day, but it’s easier to reach goals when you’re able to knock out a few hundred words before you get going in the morning, a few hundred more on your lunch break, a couple hundred before dinner, etc.

You may actually find that you’re more productive this way too. If you know you only have 15 minutes to spare before you leave for work, you’ll sit down and write without screwing around. If you start writing at 8pm, and know you have the rest of the night to work, you might check email, play a few rounds of Scrabble on Facebook, tweet with your buddies, etc. The length of time needed to complete a task tends to expand to fill the length of time allotted. This is why some of your best NaNo days might be on a hectic Thursday instead of a Saturday where you have nothing else planned.

Don’t obsess over having your entire novel outlined in advance

If you didn’t get your entire novel plotted out in October, don’t stress about it. A lot of us who write full outlines end up deviating from it by Chapter 3.

If you know where to start, and you know how it’s going to end, you can probably find a road to get you there. In fact, there’s a quotation about that. E.L. Doctorow: “It’s like driving a car at night. You never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”

Use your time away from the computer productively

Most of us can’t sit at the computer and write all day. We have work, family, and various obligations that keep us busy, but you probably do have some hours during the day where your brain doesn’t need to be 100% focused on its current task. Time where you’re exercising, dog walking, commuting, etc.

Use that time to work out the next scene in your story so that when you do get a chance to sit down at the computer, you’ve got the next thousand words or so all planned out, and there’s no need to dawdle.

Only write the good scenes

Most of us don’t enjoy writing exposition, the stuff where we explain the world, the setting, the characters’ histories, etc. And don’t forget the transition pages where we feel we have to show how the characters got from Destination A to Destination B (even though absolutely nothing integral to the plot happens during those pages…). Well, guess what? If it’s a slog to write, it’s probably not going to be that interesting to read either.

Elmore Leonard’s Ten Rules of Writing tells us to, “Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.” You’d be surprised at just how much exposition you can leave out without any sort of confusion on the reader’s part. And you’ll have an easier time staying excited by just writing “the good stuff.”

Worried that you’re leaving out something important? You can always add it on the next pass. You’re writing 50,000 words and most novels are in the 70-90,000 word range (SF & F are often over 100,000!), so you’ll probably want to go back and flesh things out later anyway.

Worried that you’ll get confused if you leave gaps in the narrative? Using a program like Scrivener (there’s a free trial for NaNoWriMo participants) lets you name all your chapters and scenes and see them over in the sidebar, so it’s easy to jump around and find things. (If you decide not to buy Scrivener, don’t worry about losing access to your work; you can compile it into a Word file before the trial runs out.)

All right, that’s enough of a list from me! Are you an experienced author or NaNoWriMo veteran with tips of your own? Please share them below!

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Comments (20)

Don’t obsess over having your entire novel outlined in advance

heh.. Thanks for the reminder. I have a good portion of it done but at least I have a direction!

Yeah, your last point is pretty much what made it possible for me to win last year. (And having an idea where to end. 100% pantsing doesn’t work so well.)

Also a major timesaver: Not waffling for an hour or so about making up fantasy names, but just naming that mage Burt, with the idea to replace the name later.

Another tip: Don’t go back and polish.

If you used the same word 5 times in a paragraph, just let it stand rather than rephrasing it. If you know there’s a more fitting word than the not-wrong-but-more-general one, you just can’t think of it at the moment, just use the general one. Don’t worry about dangling participles or other unclear references.

If you change your mind about a plot point, don’t go back and edit the previous chapter with the first version, just make a note and continue.

Fixing these things is for edits, after you’ve got your 50,000 words.

Definitely. I know some writers do like to go over what they did the day before to get the juices going for the new day, but I like to wait until the whole story is down on paper (since how things end can often change the earlier scenes) before wasting time polishing things that might need to be cut later.

I agree that there’s no need to outline every single scene in advance, but I think you should have some sort of roadmap to guide your way. At the very least you should have: a Protagonist with a goal, an overarching conflict, antagonists to stand in the protagonist’s way, and an inciting event to kickstart the plot.

It’s also helpful to have an arsenal of quick and easy tools in case you get lost–character sheets to delve deeper into the characters’ psyches, mindmaps to figure out what’s going on, random name generators so you don’t spend hours picking out the perfect name…

Oh. And sometimes? You just have to have your significant other change the password on the wireless network, boot you off, and don’t let you back on until you’ve gotten your words. πŸ˜€

Haha, there are software programs you can get that will keep you from using Twitter, Facebook, etc. until such-and-such time. I’ve definitely found writing in a spiral notebook at the coffee shop to be helpful, since it’s hard to connect to wifi from a sheet of paper. πŸ˜‰

I have to admit having a wifi connected iPad does nothing but hinder my productivity. Sometimes I stop and wonder where the last hour went, then realize I wasted it entirely reading articles on or Wikipedia. Damn the Internet!

Great set of tips. I’ll add:

If you find yourself stuck on a scene (a bit of writer’s block), skip it. Take some quick notes on what you’d like to happen during the scene then move on to the next which captures your attention.

I’ll play! If you get stuck on something, put a note about it in angle brackets, or something that you don’t usually use, and then move on. Makes it easy to go back and search for <> in January. πŸ˜›

Thanks for sharing these writing tips. I’m a NaNoWrimo participant too and this is my first. But I’m writing an ebook. Last night, I had created my outline which will serve as a guide so I would know when to stop doing the research. Sometimes, I put too much time researching instead of writing! I agree with you about not to be obsessed with outlining. As you go on writing, the content expands so I treat outline as a guide. I’d like to share a tip on writing method: I hope this blog post helps esp for those who are wanting to make an ebook.

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Additional tips: Make sure your larder is full and your freezer stocked in advance, so that you can spend more time writing.

OTOH, when stuck, rather than brood over your notebook or screen, take your characters with you while you’re doing brainless tasks (vacuuming, washing the dishes, etc) and try to ask them the questions that have been bothering you… Off screen they may reveal the most amazing secrets…

Yes, the brainless stuff works wonders. I have to walk the dog every day, several times a day and I always come up with some really productive stuff then. The other time for me is when I am just laying in bed, not quite asleep, either at night, or in the morning before I have to get up. Nothing to do yet, no pressure, just laying half asleep and let my mind go. Unfortunately I often forget the important parts when I finally do get up.

My nanowrimo id:

Tuesday 12 Nov 2013. It’s been a cold day, never got above 27 degrees F (-3 C), but pup had to be walked, or maybe I did. Anyway it was fun, as it always is, every time.

I was up late and writing my nanowrimo piece, and the words flowed. I got a little more done today and am now a little ahead for Tomorrow, a big deal for me. I hope to get a good day or three and get way ahead.

Well, it’s getting dark and I need to figure out what to start for dinner, my wife should be getting home soon.

My nanowrimo page:

Saturday 16 November 2013. I’ve been lazy all day. I’m being a bachelor today, my far better half is on a business trip, I dropped her off at the airport Friday morning and will pick her up on Sunday evening. Instead of writing all morning I slept in, then kind of vegged out between walks with the dog.

I finally got writing after dark, having to make up for not writing anything yesterday. So now I’m up to pretty much the average for today, but I want to get ahead again so I’ll probably make stabs at it all night while running TCM in the background.

It’s hard for me to get motivated in overcast cold rainy weather. I find myself thinking of bed, or warm sleeping bags in a leak proof tent.

Stay calm and keep writing Greg.


My nanowrimo page:

Tuesday 19 Nov 2012. I got a lot done today, but it was all stuff around the house that needed doing. When I got to write this evening after supper I was really having a problem. Just couldn’t get the words to come. Then I went back to a part that I had left unfinished some time ago and started to work on it. Yikes, ideas, words, sentences, paragraphs, all manner of stuff happened. I’m not ahead of the game by any means, but at least today I made the daily average. And for a lazy guy like me that’s something.

My nanowrimo:

I missed a day this week, mostly because I started writing late yesterday and didn’t get it posted until after midnight. But I’ve finished today’s. I think I like not getting too far ahead. A day or so at most. With me, if I’m too far ahead I’ll just skip a day. I like the discipline of just writing every day.

And I’ve tried several of the tips given here and there. For me, it comes down to just sitting in front of my typewriter, uh. Laptop, and starting at the blank paper/screen and starting to move my fingers. At some point I’m not forcing myself, usually within a paragraph or two, certainly within a page. And then I can go on, stopping for water or to check some reference or other or to snack or whatever, but basically it comes down to me only stopping when it’s bed time, which is usually when my eyes are too tired to make sense of what these small tiny things on the screen are. Did I mention that I’m an old codger with bad eyes? I hate to admit it to myself but I am old enough to draw social security. AND draw a pension from the company I worked for since, well a long time ago.

So my tip is just to bull through it. Get used to writing every day and just do it. If you can keep going, then that’s great. But every day just do it.

And dog walking is a great way to think up new ideas. I’ve been doing that for years and have had many flights of fancy.

’nuff said.

I have completed my book it is 51,000+ It has been validated and I have been declared a winner. I have no idea what that means. But the book is now with an editor and then I will publish it as an e-book. I have started on book 2 and am at 4,434 Just starting.

I’ve never been one to count my chicks before they’re hatched, but I think I’m going to finish this on time. At least get 50,000 words, what I’ve written so far is going to take a lot more than that many words to finish, Then I need to go back and repair some of the things that no longer jibe with later actions. It’s Thanksgiving day, well evening, and I’m only about 2200 words short. I’m going to try to keep writing tonight and get as close as I can. This is fun. And I’m really really glad Lindsay Buroker gave the encouragement and incentive for me to do this I first heard of nanowrimo last year, but just didn’t do it. This year I did and win lose or draw i’m glad I did.
Me nanowrmo page:

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