How To Win NaNoWriMo

The tip of a fountain pen with text "NaNoWriMo"

We’re mere days away from the beginning of National Novel Writing Month or NaNoWriMo. As someone who’s completed the challenge of writing 50,000 words in a single month, I thought now would be a good time to share some tips for “winning” NaNoWriMo.

Make Writing A Priority

Aside from actually finishing a story, the main goal of NaNoWriMo is the same as other creative challenges like Inktober or the 100 Day Project: to make time for creative pursuits. So, to really win at NaNoWriMo, you need to make time for writing.

A Few Ideas

Start right away

As soon as you get up (perhaps wake up early), hit the blank page. This doesn’t give you time to think too much or come up with reasons to procrastinate.

Set a schedule

Block out some time every day to sit down and write. Setting an hour or so every day at the same time can help get you in a pattern, but if you’ve got a fluctuating schedule already just slot in your writing time where it fits. So long as you dedicate yourself to writing in the time slot you choose, you’re fine.

Write in the empty spaces

If you can’t find a solid hour, then make a point of writing in those smaller gaps of time throughout the day. Five minutes here, five minutes there, and so on. It’ll add up quickly, I promise. Leave your NaNoWriMo document open or your notebook handy so that you can jot down a few lines between projects or during bits of waiting time.

Take your writing with you

Writing doesn’t have to be done while sitting at a desk. Nowadays, there are lots of ways to access writing tools while on the go. Of course, there’s pen and paper. But there’s also Google Docs, Dropbox, and mobile versions of Microsoft Word and other word processors. Having some kind of cloud storage set up and a way to write on your phone or tablet means that you can write while commuting, in line at Starbuck’s, or waiting for a dentist appointment. This gives you fewer excuses for letting writing fall to the side.

Focus On Productivity

The whole point of creativity challenges is to be productive. For NaNoWriMo, that means writing regularly and actually making progress (not just rewriting the same paragraph over and over). That said, it’s easy to lose motivation when you’re sitting in front of a laptop by yourself with numerous possible distractions at your fingertips.

Tips For Staying Motivated

Track your progress

It’s easy to keep track of your word count in an Excel sheet or notebook, but you can also record your words through NaNoWriMo.org (my favourite option). Seeing how your efforts add up can be motivating in itself. It can also reveal patterns that can help you develop better writing practices. Maybe the days you write after eating breakfast are more productive than the days that you skip your morning meal. Maybe the days you write at the coffee shop yield more words than writing at home. You can plan your writing better when you know what works for you.

Find a buddy

One of the cool things about NaNoWriMo is that you’re not alone. There are thousands of other people participating and you can connect with them through NaNoWriMo.org and local NaNoWriMo groups. You can also ask your existing friends if they’re participating. Once you find a buddy, you can plan writing dates, share word counts, and track each other’s progress (NaNoWriMo.org makes these last two easy). This is a form of accountability and friendly competition, which can help drive you to keep going.

Imagine the end

It takes perseverance to write every day and to finish NaNoWriMo. So when you’re feeling disheartened or challenged, think about how you’ll feel when you make it to the end. Whether you successfully manage to hit 50,000 words, finish your novel, or just write more than you do regularly, you’ll have accomplished something. And accomplishment feels good. Sometimes imagining the glow of success is all you need to keep going.

Stay Positive

50,000 words in 30 days is intimidating. And if you don’t hit your daily word count, it’s easy to get disheartened. So if you intend to make it through the month, you’ve got to stay positive.

Things To Remember

Writing should be fun

Perhaps too often we think of writing as a task or chore, the means to the end. We forget that writing, the act of crafting a story, should be at least a little fun. Yes, it can be a slog sometimes, but try thinking about your characters and the fun plot points you get to put to paper rather than the words themselves.

Comparison is the thief of joy

Yes, this might seem like it goes against what I said about writing buddies, but it is important to remember that other peoples’ word counts have nothing to do with yours. You can’t compare them. Another person might have more time, or might have been working on their story for ages outside of NaNoWriMo, or might just be faster. But none of that matters to your story and your efforts. Just focus on your own work.

There’s time to catch up/finish

Last year I got so behind (about 10,000 words behind with only 6 days before the end of the month) that I almost gave up. But for once, the procrastinator’s mantra “I’ll do it later” worked out. I found the time in the last week to crank out the missing words and exceed my goal. So if you get behind, remember catching up isn’t impossible.

And even if you don’t think you’ll catch up, remember that there’s no magic cut off at the end of November. You can always keep working away at your story.

Trying is more important than succeeding

If you focus on the act of writing rather than the word count (which, let’s be honest is really more of a guideline than a rule for novel length), you may find yourself at your goal before you realize it. Or you won’t, but you’ll have succeeded in writing something anyway. Either is better than not having written at all. It’s the journey, not the destination. In short, winning doesn’t have to mean 50,000 words and a completed novel.Tip of a fountain pen with text

This is by no means an exhaustive list of tips. People handle NaNoWriMo in all kinds of ways and produce all kinds of writing as a result. Again, set your own goal and remember that working towards it is the actual point of NaNoWriMo—not necessarily completing the challenge. The work matters more than the end product.

Good luck, everyone!

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