Ten Tips for a Succesful NaNoWriMo

Written by Kathryn Olsen | October 29, 2013

I assume that if you’re reading this, you have intentions to write something for National Novel Writing Month. Congratulations! I wish I were joining you this year, but I’m starting a new job, skipping the country and trying to get a manuscript edit finished in the next few weeks.  Now that you’ve made this momentous decision, I’m here to get you pumped up for this great adventure that lies ahead of you.

You are going to have so much fun; I can promise you that. You will take the brilliant thoughts running around in your head and put them into writing. That is a very exciting thing no matter how many words you log before the end of the month.

With that in mind, I’d like to give you my top ten tips for a successful NaNoWriMo.

10.  Use the message boards Find your local chapter–it will tell you what region you fit into and direct you to the right forum.  You can also probe the minds of fellow authors in the writing forums; I’ve given advice on writing teenagers and gotten help with Canadian police procedure there.

9.  Get organized! If you’re absolutely certain of the plot of your book, write an outline and/or a synopsis.  It is something that some literary agents will want on hand when you query, but it directs you.  To organize the book itself, I recommend using yWriter to keep track of your characters, scenes, chapters and word count.  This advice also includes the exhortation to write at a certain time for a certain duration every day.

8. Word war.  I’m not kidding when I say that nothing got the job done quite so effectively as having a bit of healthy competition. The basic premise is that you set a time, set a duration and choose your adversary. Whoever nets the most words in that time frame is the winner and if you do want to try turning off your internal editor, this is a great way to do it. In fact, it’s the only circumstance under which I will personally recommend turning off your internal editor.

7.  Get a writing buddy.  You can find this in your local chapter or your genre’s forums.  I’ve even found encouragement and ideas for a mystery from someone writing a romance.  Find someone who is able to give you a morale boost and return the favor.

6.  Set incentives.  Your local chapter leader will have NaNoWriMo goodies like stickers or badges to reward your hard work, but you can also set your own.  Did you meet your word goal for the week?  Write every day?  Order the pizza you’ve been craving for days.  I kept ice cream in the freezer and would eat it if I met my goal for the week.  It can be something as simple as letting yourself go see a movie for a job well done.

5.  Do write-ins.  I’ve suggested twice now using your local chapter.  Here in my current city, you can find people staring at laptops at the public library on Wednesday nights.  It’s not group anti-sociality.  It’s a NaNoWriMo write-in.  It’s sort of like a word war, but less competitve.  It’s a time to get together and be proactive about writing.  You can bounce ideas off of each other, give each other props, etc.

4.  Have a break day.  NaNoWriMo.org will tell you if you’re on schedule and when you’re expected to finish based on your current rate of writing.  That can be a daunting thing when you’re trying to work and see that they don’t think you’ll finish until Christmas, but that changes every time your word count changes.  Just like exercise regimens give you days off once in a while, let yourself rest to keep the juices flowing freely.

3.  Publicize your intentions.  Let your friends and family know how hard you’re working.  Don’t be smug about it, but keep them up to date on how it’s going.  I guarantee that you’ll have some extra cheerleaders out there and every little bit of help counts.

2.  Don’t be afraid to switch it up.  I know friends who discovered six days into the month that they wanted to write a completely different novel and it worked for them.  My Camp NaNoWriMo project from last year started out in the form of blog posts a la Gossip Girl and changed very quickly to the same story being told from two perspectives.  I once tried writing a love scene from the perspective of the boy, then the girl and wound up having the entire tale told from the point-of-view of someone eavesdropping from the next room.  If you find something that works better for you, try it out.

1.  Relaaaaaaaaaaaax.  You don’t have to take my lead and have a self-hypnosis mp3.  You don’t have to light incense and contemplate your navel.  But I will give advice from my piano teacher mother:  Nothing good happens in a state of panic.  Take the time you need and write at your own comfort level.

I wish you all the best of luck and will be back to take my own advice on NaNoWriMo next year.

Kathryn Olsen is your average office drone. She works 40 hours a week to pay for rent, food and the occasional fantastic trip. She comes home and watches too much TV for her own good. In her spare time, she works on the 30+ book ideas that are running loose in her head and writes for WhatCulture.com if there isn’t a Red Sox game on. Born in Texas and raised in Massachusetts, Kathryn studied English at Brigham Young University. She has no husband or kids, but is a doting aunt to five awesome nephews. Visit her blog here.