Wow, September went by in a flash. The highlight of the month for me was attending my first writing conference – I’m writing a post about that which I hope to have up soon.
But today I checked the calendar and realized that November is only a few weeks away, and that means that National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo!) is nearly upon us.
Who else has decided to join in on the NaNoWriMo fun?
If you’ve never heard of NaNoWriMo before, it’s a month-long event where writers challenge themselves to pen a 50,000-word novel (about the length of novels like The Great Gatsby or Fahrenheit 451). The goal is to begin writing on the first of November and finish by midnight of November 30.
You can plan and outline your story as much as you like beforehand but the actual writing of the story can only be done during November. Sounds kind of crazy, right?
I’ve participated several times over the years and completed the challenge twice, and it’s always been a fun and ultimately satisfying experience.
Sometimes I’ve jumped in because I’ve been plotting a story idea and wanted the push to start fleshing it out on paper. Usually, though, (like this year) I decide to participate because NaNoWriMo forces me to set aside time for my fiction writing.
I schedule my fiction writing sessions for the evening, and with the craziness of life, it’s easy to make excuses to skip them – I’m too tired or I need to finish a nonfiction article I’m working on or I’ve been writing all day and I’d rather read a book instead. If I’m not careful, days will go by where I haven’t added a single line to one of my stories.
NaNoWriMo gives me the motivation to ignore these excuses and get back on track with devoting time each day to writing fiction. Anyone who wishes to excel at their craft must put in the time to practice.
If you’re planning on participating in NaNoWriMo next month too, here are my five tips for getting the most out of the challenge and winning on November 30. These tips can help you work towards completing any writing project whether you are participating in NaNoWriMo or not.
1. Focus on Writing Every Day
I don’t know about you, but writing 50,000 words in one month always sounds like a very intimidating goal to me. To make that goal a lot less intimidating, it’s important to break it down into smaller, manageable steps that you can accomplish each day.
That means just focusing on the daily word count goal of 1,667 words.
Of course, even that can be a tough goal. I’ll start NaNoWriMo with a burst of energy and excitement, but there’ll inevitably come the day when I’m struggling with writer’s block or I’m so busy I don’t want to make the extra effort to find time for fiction writing.
Big mistake. I find that when I miss even a single day, I begin to lose momentum.
The author account on NaNoWriMo displays a helpful graph that tracks how many words you have written each day and how many you need to continue writing each day in order to reach 50,000 words. When you miss a day, the daily word count quota climbs higher. It becomes tempting to just keep missing days and give up on NaNoWriMo entirely.
Instead, I tell myself to just focus on putting words on paper. Even if I have a day where I only manage to write one hundred words, it is better than not writing anything at all. I will not fall as far behind, and I’ll be motivated to keep pressing forward.
The Victorian writer Anthony Trollope observed, “A small daily task, if it be really daily, will beat the labours of a spasmodic Hercules.”
(Bonus tip: check out my article here for the technique Anthony Trollope used to ensure he met his daily writing goal. If you’re not already writing daily, I recommend that you start implementing a daily writing routine in the weeks leading up to NaNoWriMo.)
2. Find a Partner to Keep You Accountable
My brother Michael has always joined me when I set out on the NaNoWriMo adventure. I think this is partly the reason why we both succeeded in completing the challenge several times.
Sometimes we compete against each other to see who can write more words in a period of 15 or 20 minutes. When one of us doesn’t feel like writing, we will encourage each other and cheer each other on. We’ll also read each other’s stories and suggest plot twists and new characters when one of us doesn’t know in what direction to take his or her story.
I have found that you are less likely to quit a project when you have friends working towards the same goals as you. Even if you are working towards different goals, you can all keep each other accountable, inspire one another, and encourage each other not to give up.
(Bonus Tip: If you’re looking for friends to cheer you on while you participate in NaNoWriMo this year, make sure to join my private writing group on Facebook. Click here to get your email invite.)
3. Formulate A Plan Before Setting Out
In 2013, I sat down in front of my computer on the first day of NaNoWriMo and had absolutely no idea what I was going to write.
“I don’t think I can do this,” I told Michael. “I don’t have any story ideas.”
“You can’t quit before you even try to write anything,” Michael told me. So after an hour long stare down with a blank Word document, I finally typed the first line of my novel. That first line ended up turning into a 100-page story.
This proves that it is possible to write a novel (or a very rough first draft as I call my manuscript) without any prior planning. However, I ran into a lot of writer’s block when working on that story and almost quit NaNoWriMo entirely. I found that having a structured plan before you set out makes it much easier to work towards your goal a little bit each day.
Now when I jump into NaNoWriMo, I try to have the rough outline of a plot typed up before I begin. This year I’m planning to work on a collection of interconnected short stories, and I’ve already come up with a list of story ideas and plot summaries.
Having an outline doesn’t mean that you must follow it to the letter, but it does mean that you will have a nice roadmap to follow and will have a better chance of avoiding writer’s block because you will have a general idea of where your novel is headed.
(Bonus tip: choose a story idea that you love and are excited to start working on. That passion will help you keep coming back to the keyboard.)
4. Write First, Edit Later
NaNoWriMo is a very fast paced project. If I went back each day to edit and rewrite passages, I’d never finish the challenge on time.
Normally, I like to take things a bit slower and not write at such a breakneck pace. But this often means that I get caught up with plotting my stories and am afraid to start writing until every plot point is just right.
I love NaNoWriMo because it forces me to overcome my perfectionism and procrastination. It lets my creative brain have free rein without being inhibited by my inner editor.
It is quite a noble goal to want to do things to the best of our ability, but often perfectionism can prevent us from ever getting out of the starting gate. NaNoWriMo has taught me that if you want to accomplish your goals, you need to be courageous, you need to banish procrastination, and you can’t be afraid to make mistakes and reach the end of the month with a very unpolished first draft.
(Bonus tip: Try to end your writing sessions in the middle of a scene. Ernest Hemingway once advised, “The best way is always to stop when you are going good and when you know what will happen next. If you do that every day when you are writing a novel you will never be stuck.”)
5. Never, Never, Never Give Up
You can’t win NaNoWriMo if you quit. Even if you skip one day or three, don’t get discouraged. Just head back to your desk and get back to work.
You’d be surprised at what you are capable of when you refuse to give up. There’s a psychological term for this: grit.
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, grit is “firmness of character; indomitable spirit.” More specifically, it is the quality of persevering towards long-term goals no matter the obstacles.
From my personal experience, it’s been the days when the word count seemed insurmountable, that it seemed impossible that I would ever catch up and finish the novel in a month, that I found I had the most inspiration. Those were the days that the words seemed to flow without any prompting.
By setting a daily writing goal for yourself and refusing to quit, you will develop endurance and discipline. You will discover the grit that you never knew you had. You will discover that you have an incredibly huge reserve of creativity, energy, and determination than you could ever have imagined.
And regardless of whether you end up “winning” NaNoWriMo, that’s something to be proud of.
Are you participating in NaNoWriMo this year? Make sure to get your invitation to my Facebook group for NaNoWriMo writers!
If you’ve participated in NaNoWriMo in the past, let me know in the comments if you have any additional NaNoWriMo tips and please share this post with a fellow writer that you would like to inspire.