-Original post published May of 2015-
NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month, and for some, it can be the most stressful time of the year. It is every November, with “camp” sessions in April and July. Last year I completed The Blast during the July session of Camp NaNoWriMo, which was the most amazing and valuable experience I have had so far as a writer. Because I am a teacher, the November session usually doesn’t work for me, but this year, I tried to make the time for crazy amounts of writing during the school year. This year I completed and won the April 2015 session of Camp NaNoWriMo as well as the November 2015 session.
From my last three wins, I picked up a few tricks and tips for how to survive this grueling month of creative endurance, and now for your viewing pleasure…
How to Win NaNoWriMo
1. Have a plan!
Make an outline. Write some of the first chapters. Create character plans. Know what you’re going to write before you write it. This is key. If you don’t know where you’re going, you may become overwhelmed or distraught during the month of writing, and that’s no good.
2. Participate in NaNoWriMo Sprints on Twitter!
Follow @NaNoWordSprints and @CampNaNoSprint on Twitter for sprint challenges, and to get motivation.
Besides, when you participate in the community of NaNoWriMo on Twitter or the site, you can find new friends, writers, and motivational buddies. Last July I met the incredible indie author S. L. Saboviec. She’s awesome and so are her books. But I guess this is more for my next tip…
3. Participate in the NaNoWriMo Community.
There are SO many awesome people who do NaNoWriMo, and you never know! One of your Camp NaNoWriMo cabin members or one of the authors with whom you talk about the hellish torture of comma usage could be the next best-selling star! And even if they don’t, they know exactly what you’re going through, and they will help get you to your goal. Get to know these people. They have talent, they have experience, they have advice. Soak it all in.
4. Start a routine.
Once you’re in a routine, it will be easy to sit down and type, even just if it’s out of habit. I have a full time job that does not allow me to write at work (I am a teacher), so writing during the day is only ever an option for me during the summer. So my routine this past April developed as follows:
Step 1: Go to work. Teach my students. Change lives. 😛
Step 2: Come home, change into something more comfortable, and transition into home work mode by doing a household chore. Usually this means washing the dishes from the night before or making the bed. (This also allows me to still be a functioning adult while doing NaNoWriMo.)
Step 3: Check my social networks. Ugh, I know, this is horrible, but I gotta. Plus, getting it out of the way before writing allows me to focus more on writing later.
Step 4: Finally sit down to write. Turn off the TV, log off of Facebook, put in my headphones, and write.
Write until you have completed NaNoWriMo’s suggested word count for the day (the worst thing to do is let yourself get too far behind and then become overwhelmed later. I did that my first time).
Take breaks for basic human necessities. If I would get stuck, I’d wash more dishes. For whatever reason, that always gets my creative juices flowing.
Step 5: Read.
Step 6: Night time rituals, and then… bed time. Sleep is so crucial!
Then, I would wake up and begin my whole routine again. It made me feel energized and complete. I am seriously thinking of adopting this routine year round.
5. Like I said before, read.
During last April’s NaNoWriMo I read Legend by Marie Lu. It really helps to read something while you’re writing. It reminds you of words and phrasing you might have forgotten about, it helps you gauge pacing, and it helps you realize what you like and dislike about certain narratives. That way you can either avoid something in your own writing, or experiment with translating it into your own work.
For example, Legend is written as a dual narrative. My books (so far) have been focused on one character’s narration; however, hearing the dual perspectives made me think a lot harder about my main character’s love interest, and I tried to imagine what his narrative might sound like. This helped me so much in developing his character!
Besides, reading is awesome, and it helps to break up all the writing. You can slip into another author’s world, and just relax there for a while.
6. If your purpose is to work on a story you’ve already begun (as in you’re writing the prequel to the story as I did last July, or you’re writing the 3rd book in your trilogy as I did last April), then get a head start.
Alright, alright, I confess: I got a head start both times I won NaNoWriMo. But I had good reasons!
First: I had already put a lot of pressure on myself to get the story right both times, so I wanted to have some wiggle room for those days all authors are familiar with… you know, the ones where you just sit in front of your computer, staring blankly at the screen with your face in your hands, wondering what the hell you’re doing. Yeah, those days.
I didn’t want times like that to put so much stress on me and the story that whatever I wrote would either be completely edited away later or just unrecoverable garbage.
Second: I use NaNoWriMo a little differently than some other people. I use the month as a push, a nudge toward my end goal. For the prequel, I was really unmotivated to complete the work, because I was already busy writing the second book in the trilogy. NaNoWriMo guided me to the last chapter.
In April, I began the month stuck on an expository chapter of the third book, and I knew I needed a push out of that sandpit to really get going. That’s what NaNoWriMo was for me, leaving me at the moment when the conflict really starts to intensify.
7. If you’re using NaNoWriMo to start and finish a book, never stop typing.
Have a plan in mind, have characters in mind with goals and personalities, and then once the 1st of the month hits, never hit that backspace button. Not once! Worry about edits later, for now, just get it all on paper.
At the end of the month, you’ll probably look it over and think, “This is crap.” But here’s a secret: 1st drafts are always crap, so don’t sweat it. Edit it, fix it, and then admire your work.
8. Reward yourself.
Give yourself milestone rewards to keep you motivated. I would tell myself if I got to a certain word count by a certain day, I would take a day off or treat myself to something decadent. These rewards would motivate me to get my work done faster.
30 days is a long time. Don’t make yourself go the entire month without some sort of reward.
9. For real, get enough sleep.
If you find yourself in a situation where you either go to sleep at a reasonable hour or you meet your word count, go to sleep. You can always make up the difference the next day, but you can’t always guarantee a focused and rested mind the next day. It’s better for your story and your productivity that you are on your game. The only way to do this is to get enough sleep… and I guess eat healthy and take your vitamins and what not, but seriously… go to sleep.
10. Last but not least, celebrate your accomplishments, even if you don’t win.
I know this post is titled “How to WIN NaNoWriMo” but sometimes winning isn’t about getting the winner’s badges or hitting that 100% at the center of your bullseye.
Sometimes winning is really about realizing your accomplishments.
So let’s just say it’s the end of the month and you finish with 50,001 words. YOU JUST WROTE 50,001 WORDS IN FOUR WEEKS. That’s nuts! You’re incredible! Give yourself a pat on the back and a great big bear hug, because you earned it.
Now let’s say you finish with only 43,000 words? Or even just 30,000? THERE ARE THOUSANDS OF WORDS IN YOUR MANUSCRIPT THAT WEREN’T THERE BEFORE, AND YOU WROTE THEM! You can do anything!
Writing is truly magical. Authors create worlds and people and experiences with only marks on a page, and by writing those marks, even just a few thousand of them, you are playing with magic.
Celebrate yourself you magician, you.