ANOTHER NANO POST.
AREN’T YOU SURPRISED????
But this one has true purpose! Last week I had a dear soul seeking advice on how to venture into the NaNo waters, and I’ve had multiple people ask me similar questions throughout the years. Thus I decided to finally just write a whole post with some tips and tricks on how to have a successful NaNoWriMo.
ALSO. Most of these apply to just writing a novel in general. So even if you’re not participating in NaNo, this may still be beneficial. (I PROMISE I LOVE ALL OF YOU.)
Naturally everyone’s NaNo experiences and writing habits vary from one person to the next. Some of this may not be helpful at all. But these are just some tips I’ve learned over the years to help me stay on track, keep some of my sanity (#LIES there is no sanity during NaNo), annnd NOT DIE. Which is always a plus!
TIPS FOR A
PLOT & PREPARE
If you’re anything like me, the moment midnight strikes and October 31st turns into November 1st, you’re only focus is WRITING. All those other silly life-y things are just a distraction and annoyance because WORDS. MUST WRITE. MUST REACH WORD COUNT. WOOOORDS.
But wait! You didn’t answer that email you promised you’d get done. And what about all the laundry that’s piled up? And and and…what if the worst of the worst happens? What if you get…WRITER’S BLOCK????
The last thing you want at the beginning of NaNoWriMo is to realize you have 2938493 other things that need doing. Or to be writing happily along only to get utterly and woefully stuck in your story and not be able to continue writing.
That’s where we take advantage of October. I always refer to October not only as “NaNo Prepping Month” but “Catch Up Month”. Because that’s when I make sure I’m fully caught up on emails, commitments, housework, whatever it may be! When November 1st hits, I like my plate to be empty so I can focus fully on my story. Sure, things will still pile up throughout the month, but at least they won’t be piling up on top of an already huge to-do pile.
Then there’s the ever dreaded WRITER’S BLOCK. Fun story, I used to be a full pantser. Plotting a story was unheard of! But for my first NaNo I decided, “Hey, what if I attempted plotting a story to assure I don’t get writer’s block?” And so I did. And by that I mean I wrote a nearly 10k-word chapter-by-chapter outline. (I have an obsessive personality, okay???) Needless to say, no writer’s block plagued me that NaNo. I always knew what scene came next. Which was lovely. Thus I plotted for the next NaNo, and all the ones after that. These days, I consider myself a plotter more than a pantser. (My young self would be shocked at my adult self.)
But ANYWAYS. I’m by no means saying you should write a 10k-word outline. (Some of you may actually value your sanity. I obviously hate mine…) I’m just saying, even a little plotting is good security for when you have to write a whole novel in only 30 days. But if you’re a hardcore pantser, ignore my advice! YOU DO YOU.
(Buuut if you want a step-by-step guide on how I personally like to plot, you can read THIS POST. Except I hesitate to share it because I wrote that back during my FIRST YEAR OF BLOGGING. That post was written 7 years ago, guys! But it may still help if you’re looking for some plotting ides. Just…read at your own risk.)
USE THE FIRST WEEK TO RACK UP THAT WORD COUNT
The first week of NaNo is a magical time. You’ve just embarked on an exciting adventure. You’re stepping out into the great unknown, ready to pour those words onto the page and see what amazing discoveries you find on the way.
Then the second week happens.
You’ve been writing nonstop for a week. You’re exhausted, have consumed an unhealthy amount of caffeine, and your plot is falling apart. All you can think of is, “There’s still THREE MORE WEEKS OF THIS???”
(Okay, the second week is oddly usually my favorite because I’m getting comfortable with my story and in the habit of writing every day, SO THERE IS HOPE.)
By the third and fourth week, all the things you’ve been ignoring have begun to pile up, the dishes in the sink are reminiscent of the Leaning Tower of Pisa, there are Thanksgiving plans to be made. That silly Life thing is getting in the way of the words! Suddenly you’re finding you do not have nearly as much time or mental energy to write as you did that magical first week and your word count is suffering. So what are you to do?
Take advantage of the magical high of the first week! Rack up them words while your mental energy is still filled up. (And while you still love your story and don’t want to burn it with fire and throw the ashes in the ocean.) Use that first week to write as much as possible so you’ll have a cushion for when Life happens and exhaustion takes over. Trust me, your second-half-of-November-self will be singing praises to your first-half-of-November-self.
WRITE 2K WORDS A DAY INSTEAD OF 1,667
If you look at NaNo as a whole, it can seem…daunting. I mean, 50,000 WORDS IN 30 DAYS???? ARE WE CRAZY? (Well, yes, but that’s not the point.) But here’s the thing, you really only have to write 1,667 words a day. That’s the designated daily number to reach that 50k. Not too overwhelming, right? Of course, that means you have to write 1,667 EVERY DAY, and if you miss a single one you’re suddenly behind on the word count. *cue crisis*
So I like to make myself a goal of 2k minimum a day instead. Just like using the first week to rack up the words will form a cushion, adding a little extra to that designated 1,667 also gives a nice comfy cushion to halt those uncomfortable crises. And that little 333 extra words really doesn’t feel like too much extra work, but it adds up in the long run!
DAILY GOALS & RULES
On the flip side, instead of making one set goal for every day, making different goals each day is a huge help. Because some days are just going to be busier than others.
For example, on the days I’m going to be home all day, I may set myself a crazy goal of 5k for that day (because I hate myself apparently). But on the days I’m at work, I have to be more realistic and shoot for just 2k for the day.
No matter what, I always try to set some kind of word count goal at the beginning of each day. Because if I didn’t, I may just say, “Eh, I’ll write when I can” and then…“accidentally” scroll on Pinterest for 2 hours. But a goal helps me stay focused and forces me to keep writing until I reach it. Because I CANNOT FAIL. #Perfectionist
And word count goals aren’t the only kind! I also set rules for myself. One that helps a TON is the rule that I’m not allowed to touch the internet or update my word count on the NaNo website until I’ve written the first 1k or 2k words for the day. THAT’S SERIOUS MOTIVATION. Or maybe I’ll set a rule that I can’t watch the newest episode of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic until I’ve reached my daily word count goal. Again, MOTIVATION, amiright?
Just…GOALS, PEOPLE. THEY SAVE LIVES.
SHARE YOUR PURSUITS WITH OTHER HUMAN BEANS
Writing is a lonely, discouraging adventure. Sometimes it feels like Frodo’s journey to Mordor was easier because at least he had Sam, right??? But we have to face this journey ALOOOONE. *drapes arm over forehead dramatically*
Do we have to do it alone???
Guess what? YOU DON’T. Especially not during NaNo! Because with NaNo, you’re traversing the same journey with thousands of other people. IT’S MAGICAL. Buuuut, unfortunately, you’re still technically in your bedroom typing up those words with no one but your cat to keep you company. And holing yourself away for 30 looong days can get…depressing. That magic spark at the beginning may fade and you start questioning your life choices.
YOU NEED A SUPPORT GROUP.
NaNo takes so much mental energy. Trying to tackle it and keep up the optimism by yourself is HARD. So what to do?
ANNOUNCE TO THE WORLD YOU’RE DOING NANO. Tell your family, your friends. Chat with people on the NaNo forums because what better support group is there than people going through the exact same thing you are? You can even select on the NaNo site what region you’re from and you can attend actual, real life write-ins with people in your own region who are participating in NaNo as well. Fun stuff!
Social media is also a lifeline. Twitter (<—shameless plug to my twitter account) is my favorite place to hang out during NaNo, because it’s quick, so doesn’t cut into much writing time, but at the same time I can keep up with my fellow Wrimos and
scream and cry and whine share my own progress. We even post snippets over there and our current word counts and cheer each other on. I love my little twitter community!
How ever you do it, JUST FIND PEOPLE. Whether in person or online. A support group is vital! Not only to have people who will keep you accountable, but also to get some encouragement boosts during those days when you just want to crawl under your bed and never look at a keyboard again.
“I thought we were talking about writing, Christine,” I know you’re probably thinking. “What is this foreign word exercise???”
I KNOW. Craziness. But, believe it or not, exercise is good for you and even helps with your writing. SHOCKING, RIGHT????
Okay, so, truthfully, I don’t exercise neeearly as much as I should. But I do find it even more important during NaNo than other times because we’re spending sooo much time bent over our computer screens. I mean, yes, your fingers are getting an unbelievable workout but, ya know, SPOILERS: we do have more than just fingers.
Last year I made a habit of exercising every afternoon during NaNo. It was super hard to pull myself away from the computer and cut into my writing time. But you know what? I actually wrote more words that NaNo than I had for the last multiple NaNos. I realized taking a break and moving my body around for a while helped refuel my creativity and energy. I was pumped and ready to dive right back into writing after each workout.
Plus, you know, it helped keep me alive and stuff.
It’s also good to get up and move every 30 minutes or so. Lately I’ve been occasionally getting up from my laptop and doing a few jumping jacks. Because, turns out, sitting at the computer for 5 hours straight isn’t good for one’s body. WHO KNEW???
Yes, it can be hard to force ourselves away from the words, but, in the end, you’ll be so glad you did.
(And I’m mostly just telling myself this because I’m the worst about forgetting to exercise. SO EXERCISE, CHRISTINE. SHEESH.)
Just like getting up and exercising can help refuel your creativity as well as save your poor muscles from misery, switching where you’re writing does the same.
This one is a big one for me. I do my best to write in different places throughout the day. Sitting in one place can be a drain on body and mind. I’ve learned if I’m feeling unmotivated to write, simply switching to a new seat can recharge my imagination.
If you’re able, move to a new location every hour or so. And I don’t mean you have to leave your house. Just find a new place to sit. I’ll switch from my chair in my room, to the bed, to the desk, to the porch swing, to the table on our deck, all in the course of one day. But also taking your laptop to the library or a local coffee shop is great, too!
Just move around! The change of position and scenery will do wonders for your motivation.
(water is probably good too)
You now why it’s a stereotype for writers to consume unreasonable amounts of coffee?
BECAUSE IT HELPS.
Not only does caffeine reboost our energy enough to churn out a few more hundreds or thousands of words, it’s also just much more fun to have something tasty to drink while you sit there writing and writing and writiiiing. Taking a sip of something delicious is a nice little break for our minds as we ponder the next sentence. It breaks the monotony. All around, it’s a win-win!
So yes, drink that coffee! I mean, come on. Writing 50k words in 30 days? YOU’RE GONNA NEED COFFEE. It’s science.
But it doesn’t have to be actual coffee! There are all manner of tasty, caffeinated drinks to boost your energy. Sheesh. It doesn’t even have to be a drink. Why not have a pack of gummy bears and eat one every 100 words? (By the way, little reward systems like that is fantastic motivation as well.) Just something to keep your mind alert and help you not lose it as you sit there writing for 5 hours. (Oh wait, we just discussed how we’re not supposed to sit at the computer for 5 hours straight, didn’t we…?)
Immense amounts of caffeine isn’t exaaactly the most healthy thing for your body. You still need water! We’re supposed to drink 8 glasses of water a day after all. I don’t think 8 cups of coffee counts… I pretty much always have a glass of water next to me. Like, at all times. That way I’m drinking it throughout the day and, ya know, not dying. Because when we’re in that writing zone it can be hard to remember to get up and drink some water. So it’s good to make sure you always have some next to you. I sometimes find I drink more water when I’m writing, because when I get stuck on what to say in the next sentence, I’ll end up reaching for my water as I ponder how to word it. And, well, I get stuck on how to word things…a lot. So I end up sucking down that water preeeetty fast while writing.
Basically, JUST TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF. It can be easy to slip into bad habits during something as crazy as NaNoWriMo (trust me, I’m the queen of bad health habit…). But making sure you’re healthy is so much more important than getting thousands of words in a day. (<— LISTEN TO YOURSELF, CHRISTINE.)
And, as I mentioned earlier, you’ll probably find yourself able to produce more words if you keep your mental and physical energy up.
WRITE IN SHORT BURSTS BETWEEN LIFE
Back in the olden days, I always thought if I wrote, I had to set out a couple of hours at least to do it.
Then NaNo happened.
From my very first NaNo, I quickly learned the value of writing in short bursts between those life-y things. Waiting for your lunch to come out of the oven? Go throw together 100 words. Sitting in the doctor’s office? Pull out your phone and get some words down. It may seem like writing in 5 or 10 minutes increments won’t add up, but it does!
In general, I definitely want to set aside a couple of hours at a time to write and fully disappear in my story for a while. But, unfortunately, Life happens (#Rude), and it’s great to get in the habit of writing some words amidst Life.
To me, that’s the true point of NaNo—to teach us how to find time to write even when we don’t have time to write. To create those stories we’ve always wanted to amidst our crazy busy lives.
I can’t even begin to number all the good writing habits I’ve learned by doing NaNo each year. (I mean, sometimes I don’t act on those habits I’ve learned but, ya know, knowing them is a start, right? *cough*)
JUST HAVE FUN &
DON’T STRESS IT
NaNo can be a stressful time.
Okay, okay. NaNo is a stressful time. But you know what? The whole point is to just have FUN!
Sure, the “goal” may be to write 50k words in 30 days. But I firmly believe that’s not the ultimate purpose.
The TRUE purpose of NaNo is to help us create the stories that have been buzzing in our head, aching to get out. To teach us how to make time for writing amidst our busy lives. To just have a good time and write stories with countless other people around the world!
So it doesn’t matter if you write 500 words or 50,000. What matters is that you did write something. I repeat…
WHAT MATTERS IS THAT YOU WROTE.
You stepped out bravely and did your best and made progress on your creative pursuits. And that is what makes you a winner. Not your word count.
So don’t let that scary word count number stop you. Don’t let the fear of failure hold you back. JUST WRITE AND HAVE FUN.
There is something so special and magical about NaNoWriMo. It’s something I’ve been trying to put into words for 8 years now, and I still can’t. You just have to experience it for yourself.
So if you’re wanting to give it a try, DO IIIIIIITTTTTT!!!!!!
I promise, you won’t regret it.
~ ~ ~
LET’S TALK WRITING. Do you have any things to add to my list? Any habits that help you get those words to the page (without dying of stress #Bonus)??? Do you like to plot or pants your novel? Or are you a plantser and do a little of both? (I’ve literally done all 3 because I’m a weirdo.) And do you have any other questions about NaNo I didn’t cover here? ASK AWAY.
P.S. If you’re doing NaNo, I’d looove to buddy you over there! You can find my profile HEEERE!!!