How to Survive All 4 Weeks of NaNoWriMo
Fall is in the air, and with it comes NaNoWriMo!
By the time this article goes live, we’ll already be a few days into National Novel Writing Month, so I hope you’re well on your way to hitting that coveted 50k. Over the last five years I’ve taken part in my fair share of NaNoWriMos, and they’ve always been a blast!
Of course, even if you jump into NaNoWriMo head first, the challenges you face on day one will be very different from those you face on day thirty. So, to help you prepare for everything NaNoWriMo will bring, here’s my game plan for writing your novel in thirty days!
What is National Novel Writing Month?
- 1 What is National Novel Writing Month?
- 2 The Rules of NaNoWriMo
- 3 5 Tips for Making NaNoWriMo Go Smoothly
- 4 Your Game Plan for Surviving NaNoWriMo
- 5 Are You Ready for Your Own NaNoWriMo Challenge?
National Novel Writing Month, abbreviated NaNoWriMo, is a yearly writing challenge where writers attempt to finish a 50,000 word first draft during the month of November. Though you could technically take on this challenge any time of year, the camaraderie and shared excitement NaNoWriMo brings has cemented November as one of the most exciting times to be a novelist!
What makes this challenge extra interesting is how it got started.
National Novel Writing Month actually began as a dare. In July 1999, a group of friends decided to each write a novel in one month as a competition. The winners would have to hit 50,000 words by midnight on the last day of the month, and anyone who managed this would get bragging rights over the others.
Soon enough, this yearly event spread and was eventually moved to November (supposedly to take advantage of the “miserable weather”).
Nowadays, NaNoWriMo is a thriving non-profit and an annual writing challenge with nearly 500,000 participants from all over the globe—and considering how widespread NaNoWriMo is, you can imagine it’s had a large impact on the writing community.
Not only has it coincided with an explosion of self-publishing success in recent years, but it’s encouraged many people to finally take their writing seriously. NaNoWriMo has even helped bring tons of amazing stories to life, including highly successful books like Wool and Water for Elephants!
The Rules of NaNoWriMo
The rules for National Novel Writing Month are simple:
#1: The challenge begins on November 1st and ends at midnight November 30th.
#2: You can’t start writing your novel until the 1st and you must stop after the 30th.
#3: Novels have to be (at least) 50k words by the end of November to win. Those words don’t have to be a complete novel, though they can be.
#4: You’re welcome to outline your novel before NaNoWriMo begins, but those words won’t be part of your final word count.
#5: You can write about anything you want, from thrillers to fantasy or fanfiction.
Ultimately, NaNoWriMo is only concerned with one thing—you, writing a novel, 1,667 words per day, for thirty days!
5 Tips for Making NaNoWriMo Go Smoothly
As you might expect, tackling a challenge like this one will be difficult. However, that doesn’t mean it isn’t possible!
While some writers jump into NaNoWriMo with little more than a pencil and a notebook, I’m a firm believer in preparation. By preparing yourself for this challenge ahead of time, you’ll be much more equipped to handle the hurdles you’ll face on your way to 50k. We’ll get to the full game plan in just a moment, but first, here are some general tips for enjoying NaNoWriMo.
Start With a Plan:
You’ll want to write quickly if you plan to keep up with your NaNoWriMo goals, which means you need at least a rough idea of where your story is going at any given moment. At the end of the day, there’s nothing better for organizing your story and exploring your ideas than an outline, and I strongly encourage you to create one before November begins.
Of course, if you don’t have one yet, don’t worry.
Even if you only have time to outline a few major moments of your story, that can still be a big help during this challenge—and can take as little as thirty minutes to complete. Whether you create an in-depth outline or not, try to outline these six moments of your story at a minimum before beginning NaNoWriMo:
Track Your Progress:
Part of succeeding at NaNoWriMo is knowing how much you can write in a given time frame…
Which means keeping track of how much you’re writing to begin with!
We’ll look at this tip a bit more closely during Week One of our game plan, but for now, take a moment to decide how you’ll track your progress. This could be something simple like the stopwatch on your phone and a notepad, or you could go a more tech-savvy route. Whatever you do, make sure you have a way of recording how much you write, how long you spent writing, and how much progress you’ve made towards your total word count.
Keep Scrap Paper Handy:
November is the season of coming up with random story tidbits and then frantically rushing to write them down—so having paper on hand is essential. Personally, I record all my spontaneous ideas in my phone’s notepad app, but you may choose to keep a small notebook on hand instead.
Even if you just stick a scrap envelope in your bag, that could still be the difference between forgetting an amazing idea or not!
Write with Others:
Writing is often a solitary pursuit, and it can be hard to stay motivated without other people to support you. Fortunately, if there was ever a time to dive into the writing community, NaNoWriMo is it!
There are tons of NaNoWriMo related writing groups and events every year, meaning you can probably find one in your area. If not, enlist the help of some friends to create your own writing circle for November, or join an online community. NaNoWriMo even has their own forums for exactly this purpose.
Finally, perhaps the most important thing you can do to prepare for NaNoWriMo is to let go of perfectionism. Your first draft isn’t the time for flowing prose or legendary characters, even without the added pressure of NaNoWriMo. Your goal for November should simply be to enjoy yourself, regardless of how messy and unpolished your writing ends up being.
December is the time for editing, but for now, you just need to write!
Your Game Plan for Surviving NaNoWriMo
National Novel Writing Month requires writers to have two things to succeed:
- The right mindset,
- And the right plan.
Not only will you need to figure out when you’ll be able to write—because let’s be honest, few of us will have time to write every day of November—but also how to stay motivated and excited throughout the month. The hurdles you face during Week One won’t be the same you face during Week Four, so let’s break down everything you can expect from this year’s NaNoWriMo challenge!
First up, you need to develop a solid writing routine early in NaNoWriMo.
This will mostly be about picking your ideal writing space and deciding when you’ll write each day, but it’s also a good time to start honing in on how much time you’ll need to dedicate to this challenge. Remember how I encouraged you to track your word count and time each day? Well, this is where that comes back into play.
By the end of Week One, you should have seven days’ worth of data, which you can then use to figure out how long it takes you to reach your 1,667 word goal. This information will be tremendously helpful later on as other commitments come up, so keep it in your back pocket.
The other major hurdle you’ll face during Week One is simply getting your story moving.
Not only will you have to introduce your cast and world, but you’ll need to write an opening line and spark the conflict of your story. This is a good time to remind yourself that your first draft doesn’t need to be perfect. Don’t spend hours tinkering with your opening line—instead, just get words on the page so you can keep moving forward with your novel. You can always come back to edit things later on!
Here are some articles that’ll help you during Week One:
- An Introduction to the Three Act Structure
- 8 Ways to Create Positive Writing Habits (And 5 Habits to Try)
- Crafting Characteristic Moments and Their Mirror Scenes
- The Two Types of Conflict Every Novel Needs
You’ll likely find Week Two is similar to Week One—your main goals are still to keep your story moving and to keep up with your daily writing.
Of course, if you miss a few days this week, don’t panic! We’ll deal with those soon.
By the end of Week Two, you’ll be halfway through NaNoWriMo, and likely halfway through your story as well. Unfortunately, that also means this week is when you’re most likely to begin struggling for inspiration. After all, this portion of your story leading up to the Midpoint is well known for being a wide open expanse with few guide posts to help you along.
That means this week is a good time to get into the habit of brainstorming before you write each day. Sit down and let your mind zone out for fifteen or twenty minutes and see what you come up with. Even if it seems like nonsense, that’s ok! Write it down so you can remember it later. You never know what might spark an interesting idea down the road—plus, even if this brainstorming produces nothing useful, it’s still helping your mind get into a creative zone.
Here are some articles that’ll help you during Week Two:
- The Story Structure Series Pt 5: Writing a Strong Midpoint
- The Basics of Scene Structure: Action and Reaction
- The Ultimate Guide to Motivating Your Protagonist
- Your Game Plan to Break Through Writer’s Block for Good
By this point in NaNoWriMo, you’ll probably find your goals getting harder. The holidays are looming, and you’ve likely missed at least a few goals so far.
Because of this, Week Three will be all about catching up before the final week ahead. Sit down and look over your goals. How far behind are you, and how much time will it take to catch up? If you’ve only missed a day or two, you can probably make up for that time pretty quickly—if you’ve missed an entire week, this might be more difficult.
To make matters more complex, Week Three is also when you’ll need to think about the holidays.
I don’t know about you, but I never have time to write during Thanksgiving. Between traveling and visiting friends and family, by brain is just too fried to sit down and write for two hours. So, to prevent you from failing the challenge, we need to do some extra work this week.
Exactly how many extra words you write (or when) is up to you, but try to write enough that you can comfortably take Thanksgiving off and still reach 50k. Once you know how many words you need to write to both catch up and create a buffer for Week Four, figure out when you’ll write them. Personally, I like to dedicate all of Saturday and Sunday of Week Three to NaNoWriMo, but you could spread these words throughout your regular writing sessions.
Whatever you do, don’t despair! By preparing now, next week will go much more smoothly. 🙂
Here are some articles that’ll help you during Week Three:
Thanksgiving is here, meaning it’s time to watch our progress grind to a halt…
Between family and traveling, it’ll be hard to keep up with your NaNoWriMo goals. Fortunately, if you took advantage of Week Three and prepared for this, you should be just fine! Still, you’ll want to sneak in some writing in between socializing and eating, just to complete the final few words you need to hit 50k.
Week Four is also where your story will finally wrap up, reaching its Climax before settling down into the Resolution. These are both major scenes, so you might find yourself wanting to make them “perfect.” However, just like with Week One, the goal here isn’t perfection.
Hopefully you’ve developed a good strategy to block your inner editor by now, but if not, make sure you remind yourself that your first draft doesn’t need to be good. No matter how messy or unpolished your writing is, what matters is that you’re getting your ideas on the page—you can always come back to edit them later.
Of course, it’s also possible you won’t finish your story this week, not because you don’t hit 50k, but because your story needs more than fifty thousand words to be complete. While many novels sit comfortably at that fifty thousand word mark, many others need seventy or even eighty thousand words to reach their conclusion.
So, if you find yourself wrapping up NaNoWriMo with your story still far from its end, don’t worry. You’ll always have December to write those few extra words!
Here are some articles that’ll help you during Week Four:
- The Story Structure Series Pt 8: A Meaningful Climax
- The Story Structure Series Pt 9: Perfecting the Resolution
- Why You Need to Restrain Your Inner Editor (And How You Can)
- The Complete Guide to Self-Editing Your Novel in 8 Steps
Are You Ready for Your Own NaNoWriMo Challenge?
All in all, NaNoWriMo is a wonderful time of year for writers, no matter how stressful it may feel in the moment.
After all, whether you hit 50k or not, you’ll be in good company. Hundreds of thousands of other writers are competing in this challenge alongside you, and all of them are facing the same hurdles and making the same hard decisions about their stories.
Best of all, we’re all taking on this challenge together!
If you get stuck on something or find yourself in desperate need of advice, know that there’s someone out there with the right answer. Whether you ask the NaNoWriMo forums, troll Pinterest for some helpful NaNoWriMo articles, or even send me an email, November truly brings the writing community together! 🙂