5 Tips for When You’ve Fallen Behind During NaNoWriMo
One of the worst parts of NaNoWriMo is falling behind.
We always start our drafts with the best of intentions. You’re going to write for an hour every day, or write a thousand words each week, or finish your novel by the end of November. However, life has a habit of getting in the way—and soon enough, you’ve fallen behind.
When this happens, it can feel impossible to catch up, and if you’re not careful, your novel will slowly fizzle out. But there is a way to keep making progress. So, let me share my five tips for catching up on your writing goals when life makes writing difficult.
Why Small Setbacks Start to Grow…
The trickiest part of writing goals is how quickly they seem to fall apart.
At first, your setbacks likely seem small. A hundred missing words or a skipped writing day here or there aren’t that many in the grand scheme of things—but, if this becomes a trend, those setbacks compound into massive holes.
This is especially true during writing challenges like NaNoWriMo.
Before November started, thousands of writers from around the world shared tons of ambitious writing goals, and had the best of intentions to meet them. However, with the month almost done, it’s likely not all of those goals have gone to plan.
Any number of things could have happened:
Maybe you wanted to write 1,600 words each day. But after a slow start, you started skipping more days than most…
Perhaps you planned to dedicate Saturday evenings to writing. But you gave in and binged season five of The Crown instead…
Or maybe you intended to finish your first draft. But the story wasn’t coming together, and you had to shift gears…
When these setbacks happen, it’s easy to just give up. What starts as a single missed day soon becomes five, ten, or even twenty, and catching up can feel impossible.
Fortunately, there’s always room to keep writing!
Though you might not meet your original goals (or at least not how you originally envisioned them) all progress is good progress. And, just like small setbacks grow over time, small bits of progress do too—until suddenly, you’re holding a finished novel in your hands.
All told, there are five simple ways you can shift gears, reorient yourself, and hopefully return to your writing goals, no matter how far you’ve fallen behind. 👇
5 Ways to Meet Your NaNoWriMo Goals
Figure Out Why:
Before you can catch up on your writing goals, you first need to understand why.
Why have you fallen behind?
Now, I don’t want you to use this as an excuse to judge or shame yourself. Writing a novel is a big endeavor, and there are tons of valid reasons you might have skipped writing days or struggled to meet your NaNoWriMo goals. All of that is ok.
The key now is to understand what happened, so you can prepare for it in the future:
- Has life been overwhelming lately?
- Are you struggling with writer’s block?
- Are you just not sure what to write?
- Have you been procrastinating?
- Are you doubting your writing abilities?
- Is your health making it harder to write?
Regardless of what is getting in your way, take some time to reflect and consider why this is a problem for you. Again, no judgement here! By approaching this with compassion and kindness, you’ll be less likely to retreat in defeat, and more likely to unpack these blocks and start figuring out what to do about them.
Once you’re done, jot down a few notes about your struggles, as well as what you hope to achieve by overcoming them. If you have ideas for how to make writing easier, write those down too!
Change Your Mindset:
Next up, you probably need a mindset shift…
We as writers put a lot of pressure on ourselves, in a lot of insidious ways. We want to write faster, write more, and write perfect—even if that ends with us writing nothing at all.
Realistically though, it’s hard to achieve all of these things, especially during NaNo.
National Novel Writing Month is all about writing fast, and that means embracing the idea that your draft is imperfect. It’s an unfinished version of your story, meant for your eyes only, which means you have full permission to write the wildest, wackiest, and messiest draft you want! After all, you can refine all of it in revisions.
Of course, this is easier said than done. If you’ve internalized the belief that your novel needs to be perfect, it’s hard to let go of that belief. Fortunately, all you need to do is keep taking small steps forward.
When you sit down to write, remind yourself that this is only the beginning of your novel. You don’t need to find the right word—just a word. Better to have something on the page than have nothing at all.
Lean on Games, Sprints, and Placeholders:
For many of us, writing becomes stale over time, and NaNo is no different. After twenty days of writing 1,600 words each day, you’re likely running out of steam. So, how do you add energy back to your writing, especially if you’re trying to catch up on your writing goals?
Well, the answer is threefold!
Play Some Games:
Though this might not help you finish your novel itself, writing games are a great way to get yourself excited and inspired at the start of your writing sessions. These games can include group activities, writing mad libs, and a lot more.
If you’re interested, you can find a guide to four fun writing games here!
Do a Writing Sprint:
Similar to writing games, writing sprints are another way to mix up your writing routine. In this case, you’ll set a timer, write as much as you can until it goes off, and then take a five-minute break. This makes writing easier to fit into your normal routine, and can be really motivating—especially if you struggle with procrastination like I do.
If you’re interested, you can find five NaNoWriMo writing sprints here!
Last but not least, sometimes all you need is to get into the writing zone. If you struggle to stay focused while writing (especially if you’re distracted by research, plot holes, or character names), I highly recommend using placeholders. This allows you to make a note of what you need to fix later, and then keep writing what you know now—which is a great way to speed up your first drafts and stay in a creative headspace.
If you’re interested, you can find my guide to using placeholders here!
Mix and match these however you need to get yourself interested in writing again. After all, it’s much easier to reach your goals when you’re having fun with them!
Reward Your Wins:
Alongside having fun, you also want to recognize your wins—no matter how small they are. Perhaps you finished the first chapter of your novel, whereas before you never got past the first page. Maybe you finally sat down and wrote for a full day, or perhaps you wrote a scene you’re really proud of.
All of these things are worth celebrating.
Rewarding yourself when you succeed is an important part of motivating yourself to keep moving forward. Even though these wins might seem small in the grand scheme of things, they’re still wins, and should still be cause for celebration.
So, don’t be afraid to reward yourself!
Tell yourself (and your friends) when you’re doing a good job. Put on some nice music and jam out. Treat yourself to some tasty food, or go on an invigorating walk.
By making writing a positive experience, rather than a negative one, you’re more likely to feel inspired and excited to write—and thus more likely to return to the page and actually meet your writing goals.
Be a NaNoWriMo Rebel:
Finally, if all else fails, sometimes you need to be a NaNoWriMo Rebel.
NaNoWriMo Rebels are writers who ignore the standard 50k goal, and instead set their own writing goals. This could be finishing their outline, revising their second draft, or simply writing 100 words every day. Big or small, these rebellious goals are all about making progress at your own pace, whatever that looks like.
So, if you can’t catch up to your original goal, then it’s time to become a rebel!
Take honest stock of the time you have left and what you can achieve in that time. What smaller goal would move you closer to finishing your novel? What goal would you be excited to meet in the time you have left?
Though this can be a hard change to make, there’s no shame in shifting gears if you need to. All progress is good progress—so, if a smaller goal would allow you to still win as a NaNoWriMo Rebel, don’t be afraid to own that!
Either way, your novel will still be finished in due time. 🙂
There’s Always Time to Catch Up!
Though falling behind on your writing goals is difficult, it’s a normal part of writing a novel.
Personally, I set some ambitious goals this November. I planned to start an entirely new novel and finish it before the month was over. Sure enough, though, my plans fell through. Other projects got in the way, and I realized I wasn’t as prepared as I originally thought I was.
Though I did make some progress, it still hurt to know my goals wouldn’t pan out.
Luckily, I managed to shift my mindset. I recognized that life threw me some unexpected curveballs (like an exploding septic system) and that I had an awesome breakthrough for my story. Rather than admit defeat, I reworked my writing goals and embraced the idea of being a NaNoWriMo Rebel.
In the end, my novel will still get written—and the work I did for NaNo will be a big part of that.
Again, all progress is good progress. So, how do you plan to meet your writing goals this month? Even if you have to adjust your original plans, I hope these steps inspire you to reclaim your writing and dive back into your novel, excited about everything to come!