Some Tips and Tricks for Surviving NaNoWriMo
Hey y’all!! Nanowrimo is coming up and although I’m certainly not an expert, I thought I might be able to provide a bit of advice for any nano newbies out there!
I’m definitely not just desperate because I’m out of any other post ideas. Whether you’re a returning nano-er or a new one, nano is more than a little intimidating, but it’s especially daunting when you’ve never done it before. I avoided it for years before finally committing to trying, and I know I wasn’t the only one 😁
(In case you aren’t familiar with it, nanowrimo (or nano for short) stands for National Novel Writing Month, and it takes place every November! The goal is to write 50k, which usually isn’t quite a full novel, but is still . . . a lot of words.)
This November is only my second actual nano, but I also did both camp nanos this year, and I feel like I have a fairly good sense of where my successes and failures have come from, and know what I’m doing (as much as you can with writing lol) at this point. That said, although I’ve tried not to get too prescriptive with any of this advice, not all writing advice is going to apply to everyone, and take all of this with a grain of salt! This is what’s worked for me, but I can’t promise it will work for everyone XD
1 – find a writing group
I cannot recommend this enough. I know I said not everything will work for everyone, but if there is one piece of advice I have for other writers it’s this. What exactly this looks like can vary—a big group, a little group, strangers, friends, whatever works for you—but I strongly suggest trying to find something. Even if you aren’t comfortable talking about your book ideas yet, finding a group where you can scream about accomplishments and struggles with other people who get it is a game changer. If you’re looking for something a bit smaller/more casual and are on social media, a lot of people start writing group chats around nano season—look around for one, or else start your own with some writer friends. If that’s less your style/not an option for you, check out the nano forums! I don’t use them personally, but I know a lot of people who’ve found a great writing group on the forums, and there are so many different groups on there centred around all sorts of different things.
2 – figure out what sort of schedule will work for you
To win nano, you need to write 1667 words per day. But realistically, you’re probably not going to sit down every day and write exactly 1667 words. Some days you’ll write more, other days you’ll write less. How drastically your daily word counts vary is up to you though, and I suggest having a rough plan for what you’re doing before you go in. Do you have school on the weekdays? Maybe you want to get your writing in mostly on the weekends then! Or have a busy week in the middle of November? Plan around it! Personally, my schedule is basically just “write every day, whether it be 5k or 3 words”. It works for me. Sometimes though I get a bit more specific than that—for instance I’m writing this month, but I’m making myself stop for the last week so that I don’t burn myself out before nano. Take your plans into account, and figure out what works best for you. It doesn’t need to be rigid (unless rigid works better for you), just give yourself a sense for it so that you don’t get overwhelmed.
3 – set realistic goals
Okay here’s the thing: nano is hard. 50k is a lot. I don’t say this to bring the mood down or to discourage you from doing it, but sometimes life gets in the way. Especially if you’re juggling school or a job, but also just if you’ve never tried to write this many words in so short a time before you might just plain get burnt out. And that’s okay. Life is hard. Nano is hard. 2020 is especially hard. It’s okay if you don’t hit 50k. But if you have all your expectations pinned on 50k and you don’t hit it, that’s going to hurt. I’m not saying not to aim for 50k (although if you do just plain want to set a lower goal, guess what? that’s also valid!), but set yourself lower goals as well! When I first did nano, I set my goal for 50k, but I also told myself that even if I only hit 30k it would be a success. And so if you aren’t sure if you can write more than 30k or 20k or 10k or etc, that’s still a lot of words and it’s still incredible. Having lower goals along the road to 50k will help you feel better if you don’t hit 50k, and it also gives you more things to celebrate when you do hit them. After all, what’s better than hitting your goal once? hitting it two or three or five times because you keep raising it.
4 – at least sort of plan
Plotting vs pantsing is one of the big writerly debates, and I’m not here to tell you one is more valid than the other. Personally I fall somewhere in the middle, and I think both strategies have a lot of merits. That said, having gone into nano last year with only a climax, a map, and two random scenes that I’d already written . . . it didn’t work for me, not for nano. I mean I got words. I hit 50k. But it wasn’t good. Part of that was because it was my first ever finished draft, but another part of it was definitely that I didn’t know where I was going with the book and I kept writing anyways. I’ve gone into other drafts with just as much (or even less) prep, and been able to take my time figuring out where they need to go, but when it comes to nano there isn’t really much time to take your time. By no means am I telling you you’re going to crash and burn if you don’t have a 15k outline with every scene detailed in great detail, but if you want a draft without too much filler (it’s nano so you’re going to get some filler, but you can reduce it by knowing what you’re doing with your story!) and maybe even a draft that makes sense (as much as first drafts ever do) you’re going to benefit a lot from at least knowing the basic beats of your story.
5 – don’t be afraid to take breaks
I know sometimes when writing it’s hard not to want to go a little all or nothing, but that’s not sustainable and if you don’t take breaks you’re going to burn yourself out. This is coming from someone who has consistently done this every single nano and camp nano, so I certainly get it 😅 but ultimately you’re going to get better results by taking care of yourself. If you burn out mid-nano it’s going to be hard to get back into the swing of things. Not impossible! As I said, I have burnt out mid-nano literally every time and I’ve managed to get back into it. But it’s hard. You would be better off not being like me, and taking breaks and taking it slow. This refers both to shorter breaks like making tea, taking a walk, cuddling your pet, and so on, as well as to longer breaks, like taking a day or two to just chill or focus on other priorities. Take time for yourself. Nano is less important.
6 – let yourself have fun
Everyone always complains (
mostly lovingly) about writing—and especially nano—being hell, but the truth is if you’re writing it should be because you like doing it. Not every single part necessarily, but enough to make it worthwhile. And especially for nano, it’s important to let yourself write what you want to write. On a larger scale this is of course true when it comes to choosing your project for the month, but it’s also true on a smaller scale. Sometimes that means skipping ahead to the scenes you want to write at the time—I rarely do this, but sometimes during nano it’s either skipping the hard part or else getting stuck. Other times it means just letting yourself write fluffy scenes or ramble a bit—especially because nano is usually a first drafting process, sometimes it’s okay to write a scene that you know full well needs a lot of work or maybe even to be cut altogether. If you’re enjoying yourself and getting words on the page, you’re winning. I’m not saying spend all your time on scenes you know won’t make it (I did that, it was bad), but the goal for nano is mostly just getting words on the page, and even if they aren’t good words they’re a base, and if nothing else they’ll at least help you to hone your characters and your voice more.
Again, not all of these are going to apply to everyone! Some people want different things out of nano than others do, and different people work differently. But I hope some of these are helpful to you, and I wish you all the best of luck with nano!
*panics because nano is somehow in two weeks*