As we're gearing up for this year's NaNoWriMo writing competition (and mentally preparing to binge write fifty-thousand words in a month) we're relying on the knowledge we gained from last year's win to help guide us into our second. We thought we'd share 10 surefire tips that lead to NaNoWriMo success to help us all succeed together this year!
1. Planning Ahead Works:
If you've attempted Nano in the past but weren't able to complete it, the reason could be that you didn't plan enough. We know not everyone is a planner, but on a basic level winging everything from your idea to your word count won't work. The main reason is because you haven't done what's necessary to make sure you're setting yourself up for success, therefore success cannot be expected. Do you need to plan everything? No! How much you plan and what you plan is completely up to you and your writing style/needs. The best plan is the one that caters to your particular struggles and strengths. Bare minimum, there are two aspects that you should absolutely plan: your plotline and your writing strategy. Plotline so you know where you're going next and writing strategy so you know how quickly you need to cover each chapter to make the deadline.
2. Mindset Is Everything:
There's a reason why they say mindset matters. It's the determining factor between winning and losing, and here's why: When the excitement tapers off and the real work begins (around the end of the first week) you have to be able to sit down and keep going. When you would rather spend time with your family or binge watch Netflix, you have to force yourself to write instead. Even harder, you have to keep yourself going those last three days- even when all you want to do is quit and lounge in your post-Thanksgiving coma. To do that, you've got to be mentally tough- tough on yourself so you stay disciplined and tough enough to keep writing past the fatigue.
3. Accountability Matters:
One thing that motivates us to finish a project more than anything else, is knowing that other people are aware of what we're trying to accomplish. By sharing our Nano goals and process on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter we not only had support when we needed it, but we felt like we couldn't let those people down. We had to keep going for them and that's ultimately what kept us motivated even when we wanted to quit.
4. Settle Your Responsibilities:
This is a big one. Life happens. We all have responsibilities outside of our writing whether it's a day job, chores, children, partners, family, holidays- you name it. The point is that there will always be something standing between you and your writing, particularly during November which is admittedly a terrible time to attempt to write a novel for obvious reasons. The truth is that none of that matters. Whether you succeed in writing your novel or not depends solely on your will power. If you prioritize your writing in your top three things to do each day, then you will wind up with a novel. The problem is that when we fail, we tend to blame it on our busy schedules. Truthfully there's always time to write, just like there's always time to make excuses on why we aren't. You either do it or you don't.
5. Expect The Unexpected
Plan for things to go wrong! We can't stress this enough. Often disappointment happens when we set our sights on perfection rather than keeping ourselves grounded. If you typically only write five hundred words a week, then setting the bar to reaching the full fifty thousand in a month almost guarantees a self-esteem crash. Crazier things have happened and if you can pull a miracle one-eighty in all your habits then sure, it can happen. It's not impossible. But odds are you won't be changing that dramatically. Setting your word count to twenty thousand however is much more realistic and at the end of the month, an amazing accomplishment. Likewise, if you plan to participate in Nano and have the mindset that you're going to write the next great American novel, well my friend, you're also going to be rudely awakened. Binge writing never leads to perfection. That's what editing and polishing afterwards is for. If you approach this competition with unrealistic perceptions of your abilities or of the process in general, all you'll win is the bitter taste of dissatisfaction.
6. Music Makes The Muse
Music played a huge role in keeping up morale, especially in the later weeks. We created a Spotify playlist that we felt best represented our story, its characters, and our genre in general. Listening to it lifted our spirits, helped put us back into the mindset of writing and inspired more than its fair share of scenes. Without it, Nano wouldn't have been the same. It also helped us to segment our time of writing versus not writing, meaning if the music was on, we wrote and that was it. Doing so limited distractions and staved off the urge to scroll on other websites or play on our phone. We left the competition with a unique moment in time saved in a playlist we can revisit and share with our readers once we publish. Plus now there's songs out there that directly remind us of our work- how cool is that?
7. Sprints Pay Off
One writing method that proved its weight in gold during Nano was writing sprints. Prior to the competition we'd never tried them before but now we're hooked! It kept us writing effectively through limiting distractions, by getting us to sit down and write, and by making it feel like we were writing for less time than we actually were. All of this makes an impact the further along into the month you get, when motivation dies off and all you want to do is procrastination or quit. Starting the days you feel like doing anything other than write with a thirty minute sprint tricks your mind into thinking you're only going to write for a short amount of time. It's easier to sit down and do it if you think it'll go quick. The great thing about this method is that rarely do you only write for those thirty minutes. Typically it leads to longer periods and more words. Before you know it you've written a thousand words in an hour and a half and you've met your goal for the day.
8. Break Smart
Whoever said you can't take a breather during Nano was a sadist. Let's face it, we're humans. Humans need mental and physical breaks from work to function. That's a fact. It doesn't matter that Nano is a marathon and for those who try to write it without self-care in mind it can turn into a toxic pursuit. Placing a self-care routine fail-safe into your Preptober plan ensures that you take care of yourself while you write, something that writers struggle with even outside of this competition. One way you can do this is by planning to give yourself a break. Choosing to write more on days you feel energized and writing less on days when you don't helps. Giving yourself three days off throughout while accounting for the difference in the word counts of your other days is smart. It's all about balance and how effective you are at giving yourself what you need, when you need it.
9. Remember You're Shoveling Sand, Not Building A Castle
Author Shannon Hale once wrote, “I'm writing a first draft and reminding myself that I'm simply shoveling sand into a box so that later I can build castles.”. Keeping this in mind, if you're tackling Nano in the traditional rule-abiding way this is exactly what you're doing. You're shifting through the sand and exploring all the possibilities of your idea. You're gathering materials to use for your accents once you have a castle shaped. But you're not shaping your castle yet, you're merely making a grainy mound. Now is the time to keep your outline close by so you know where to go without getting stuck, but it's also the time to deviate. If your character makes the opposite choice of what you wanted them to, let them. See where it takes them. If you feel inclined to make a decision based on the natural progression, trust your instincts. Chances are you'll wind up with something you can use. Now is the time to get messy and see what good things lie beneath the surface without worrying about what the outer appearance looks like.
10. Stay Positive
Lastly, and most importantly, stay positive! Writing is grueling, thankless work. One minute we feel like gods who created the perfect world and the next it's all dumpster fires and we fall to hell faster than Lucifer. At the end of the day it doesn't matter if you completed your goals or not. What matters is that you tried. If you started this and put more than two words down on the page- that's a win. If you wrote past where you got to last time- that's a win too. If you went all the way and won- that's also a win! Nano has no losers, just writers who are committed to evolving and making themselves better writers.