NaNoWriMo is a global phenomenon that has inspired millions of aspiring and established authors to say goodbye to writer’s block and finally write their novel—in just the 1 month of November.
I believe NaNoWriMo is one of the best things that has ever happened to novelists and aspiring novelists because it gives you a clear deadline, an immense challenge, and the inspiration and support to help you overcome every excuse you’ve ever had for not writing your book.
So, if you’re interested learning how to write a novel or just want to experiment and see how much you can write during this year’s NaNoWriMo event, I highly recommend you give it a shot.
How Does NaNoWriMo Work?
You can sign up on the official website to participate, but you’re not required to. All you have to do is sit down and write.
The goal of NaNoWriMo is for each participant to write their 50,000+ word novel between November 1-30.
Again, I love the idea of this goal because it makes you set your aim high. You just think differently about how to write your novel in 30 days than you would thinking about how to write your novel “someday” or over the period of a few years.
There’s something about setting a deadline and setting big goals that can get you extra motivated to actually take action and succeed.
How to Succeed at NaNoWriMo
Will you be the next NaNo success?
You could be if you plan well set yourself up for victory!
Set the Stage
Any major undertaking requires prep work, and NaNoWriMo is no exception. You’re not likely to succeed if you don’t spend a little time getting ready first.
Prepare Your Writing Environment
Where will you write? How will you write?
Decide this now, before November gets into full swing, and you’ll be setting yourself up for success.
In the interest of speed, most NaNoers choose to type their manuscripts—there are a few brave souls who write longhand, but not many.
Set up your computer so that you have good ergonomics and aren’t risking carpal tunnel syndrome or other issues from typing so much in a harmful way. Review these great stretches for writers and take the time to use them every hour or so, or when you start and finish a writing session.
Try to find a calm, quiet place to do your writing. If possible, set up a dedicated writing nook so that you can psychologically get into the mindset to focus on your writing whenever you go there. It’ll help you get more done!
Prepare Your People
Prepping to do NaNo the right way isn’t just a matter of getting your space set up—you’ll also need to prepare the people in your life for the challenge you’re about to undertake.
Have a frank discussion with your family, close friends, and maybe even your boss or coworkers about what you’re planning.
Let them know that you may not be available as much as usual, and that you’ll need more advance warning of events and activities that they want you to participate in.
At work, try to plan ahead so that you have extra lead time for crucial projects and don’t drop the ball because you’re busy thinking about and writing your novel. Let your coworkers know that you won’t be joining them for lunch most days, but make plans to stay engaged.
Let your family know they’ll have to take on more for themselves this month—you might not be packing all the lunches, walking the dog, and vacuuming everything every day.
Some NaNoers have found that November is a great time to teach their families to contribute more around the house; by being clear about the need to write and treating NaNo like a job or other key responsibility, they’re able to get other members of the household to contribute more. After November, you can keep up that momentum and use the newfound time to edit your book or write another one!
Do Your Pre-Writing Work
The timer for NaNoWriMo starts at midnight on November 1—but that doesn’t mean that you can’t prep for it in advance.
A lot of the work of writing a novel actually happens before you write the first word of prose.
That’s not breaking the rules—you’re not cheating by outlining and creating character maps, inspiration boards, etc. before November 1. You just can’t start writing the actual narrative until then.
You’ll need to focus on hitting your word count when the writing challenge begins, so do the work of getting your ducks in a row before November, or else plan to take the first 2-3 days of the month to get oriented to your novel.
Yes, this applies even if you’re normally a pantser—believe me, your novel will have plenty of opportunities to surprise you during NaNoWriMo. Outlining where you’re headed is critical when you’re writing on such a fast pace, even if you’d normally never do so! Look at this as an opportunity to develop a new writing skill in terms of organizing and doing prep work.
What kinds of things can you prepare in advance?
- Choosing a genre
- Brainstorming and mindmapping ideas
- Creating a general plot arc
- Character profiles
- Names, backstory, motivations, archetypes
- Setting, time, place, charting any sci-fi or fantastical elements
- Scene notes
- What are some key scenes that you’ll need to write to get from Point A to Point Z?
You can also work on determining your ideal reader and how you’re going to meet reader expectations during this pre-writing phase, which will help when you’re editing, publishing, and marketing the book later.
Track Your Progress
Now that you have all that groundwork in place, you’re ready to roll, right? All you have to do is start typing and you’re sure to succeed!
Well, not so fast. Yes, you’ve got a great outline and a solid plan to work from, but you have to stay on top of things in order to successfully cross the finish line.
In fact, one of the easiest ways to fail at NaNoWriMo is to lose pace.
Thankfully, this is also one of the easiest areas to plan for!
If you know you have certain times in the month where you’ll be busy with other things—you have a big work deadline, for instance, or you need to take a few days to celebrate Thanksgiving with your family—you can plan ahead by writing more in the days leading up to that crunch.
How much do you need to write each day?
1,667 words per day will get you to the finish line.
Need help staying on target?
Download this handy Excel word count progress tracker, based on one designed by writer Justin Mclachlan, and you’ll be cruising along in no time.
Just fill out your word count for each day and watch progress bars appear, showing you if you’re on pace to meet your goals. You’ll even get color-coded visual representations of if you’re writing ahead of schedule or falling behind!
Want even more ways to track and share your progress? The NaNoWriMo team has come up with nifty website widgets so you can share your word count with the world on your website. Get them here.
And don’t forget to download this handy PDF guide created by Kimberley Grabas of Your Writer Platform exclusively for TCK Publishing readers – it contains a word count tracker, healthy habits tracker, and so much more!
Set Challenges and Rewards
As you head towards your NaNo goals, you may find yourself slowing down at points, stuck on what comes next or just plain unmotivated to keep writing on such a crazy pace.
How do you get over the hump?
Set challenges and rewards!
Humans are naturally motivated by competition, so make meeting your word count a game.
Try doing a Word Sprint, either on your own or with a friend who’s also doing NaNoWriMo; you can even find sprint partners in the NaNo forums.
Sprints consist of timed writing sessions where you compete to see who can bash out the most words in a short period. For instance, you might be challenged to crank out the most you can in only 2 minutes, or go up to 15 minutes for longer challenges.
You’d be amazed how much you can write in such a short time if you’re trying to beat a friend!
Stuck on what to write next? Pop over to the NaNo forums and pick up a writing prompt or challenge. These strange phrases, situations, events, and prompts can get your creative juices flowing again when nothing else seems to be working.
After all, figuring out what to do with the prompt “I swear I have no idea how that got in my shoe” and how to incorporate it into your steamy romance will certainly snap you out of writing complacency!
As you go, don’t forget to reward yourself for hitting major milestones. You’re achieving a lot here, remember—most people never finish a novel in their lives, let alone in 30 days!
So treat yo’self—after every 10,000 words (tracked in your handy dandy spreadsheet), give yourself a little break or reward. Have a chocolate, go to a movie, take time for lunch with a friend—do something you’ve been putting off in favor of writing all month. The manuscript will be there when you get back.
Take Care of Yourself
Along those lines, don’t forget to plan time for yourself during NaNoWriMo! It can be all too easy to ignore yourself and your loved ones while you’re pushing to write so much.
But by doing so, you’re going to end up exhausted and drained, unable to enjoy the process of writing during this wild and crazy journey.
Build in time during November to take care of yourself.
Try to get your writing done early in the day, then take time for yourself at night: take a bath, read a book, watch a favorite TV show, go for a walk.
Not a morning person? Well, give it a shot—you may find that you get more done in the quiet hours of the morning when you wouldn’t usually be awake and active.
Our brains function differently during our “off hours,” the times when we’d normally be on autopilot or even asleep. Sometimes, your most creative moments will come in the early morning if you’re a night owl, or late at night if you’re an early bird, all because you’re out of your comfort zone and not filtering yourself!
If you really do need to work late at night, build time into your day to take care of yourself regardless of scheduling. Rather than writing on your lunch hour every single day, plan one day when you’ll take a walk or go out with friends. Take an afternoon off when you’re a little ahead on your writing schedule just to refresh.
Consider tracking your self-care just like you track your writing progress: keep a log or journal of when you’re exercising, sleeping, eating, how much water you’re drinking, etc.
All of these are important to maintaining a solid balance between work, life, and writing. Yes, NaNoWriMo is a sprint and a heck of a challenge, but most of us can’t just sit in our pajamas all day bashing at the keyboard. Keep on top of your exercise and diet to make sure you’re in top shape when you finish the challenge.
All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, and it affects your writing just as much. Take the time to take care of yourself, even for just half an hour a day, and you’ll see a major positive difference in your writing productivity and attitude.
Free Planning Resource Download
All of this information is great, but it’s very nearly November—how are you expected to get everything together in time to kick things off right?
No worries! We’ve done the hard work for you and distilled all this information – and plenty more – into a super-handy free PDF planner that can help you conquer NaNoWriMo the stress-free way.
There’s even a free word count tracker and “good habits” guide to help keep you healthy, happy, and balanced during your big writing challenge!
By planning well, challenging yourself, building in breaks and self-care, and keeping track of your progress and rewarding achievement, you can all but ensure NaNoWriMo victory!
Turn off that inner editor and write like it’s hot this November.
Get your 50,000 words out and complete that novel you’ve been dreaming of.
Then come on back and we’ll help you learn how to edit, revise, polish, and publish your new book!
Tips for NaNoWriMo
Got any great tips for NaNoWriMo that have worked for you? Post your comments below and let us know!
If you liked this post, here are some other articles you might love:
- How to Succeed at NaNoWriMo: Your Guide to Planning and Writing 50k the Stress-Free Way
- How to Write the First Chapter of a Book: A Checklist for Novelists
- How to Write Great Descriptions in Novels: 4 Ways Overwriting Can Sink Your Story
Tom Corson-Knowles is the founder of TCK Publishing, and the bestselling author of 27 books including Secrets of the Six-Figure author. He is also the host of the Publishing Profits Podcast show where we interview successful authors and publishing industry experts to share their tips for creating a successful writing career.