Jen’s Top 10 NaNoWriMo Tips

Up until a few days ago, I hadn’t planned on participating in NaNoWriMo this year. I had planned on spending the month revising the latest draft of my current WIP. Unfortunately, my current WIP came to a grinding halt last week when I realized I’d made a fatal error:

I’d chosen the wrong narrator.

So, guess what? I have to rip up the majority of my first draft and start over.

*cue tears*

Okay, okay. Things aren’t that bad. Thanks to my methods of madness, I’ve already written a significant chunk of my new narrator’s backstory. Still, it’s going to be a lot of work. I need something–anything–to motivate me and push me to finish this new draft as quickly as possible.

After some hemming and hawing, I realized there’s no better motivator than NaNo. So, I’m signing up!

To prepare myself, and to help the rest of you who’ve accepted the daunting task of writing 50K words in one month, I’d like to share my top ten tips for surviving (er, “winning?”) NaNoWriMo.

Jen’s Top 10 NaNoWriMo Tips

1. Decide Why You’re Participating

“I dunno, I signed up just because.”

No, no, no! Don’t say this when people ask you why you’re doing NaNoWriMo. Give a valid, reliable, motivating reason to participate:

“I’ve been slacking lately and need a kick in the butt.”

“I have a great idea for a novel.”

“People say NaNo’s impossible. I’m gonna prove them wrong!”

Whatever your personal motive, make sure you have one. Don’t sign up for NaNoWriMo “just because.” If you do, you’ll likely fail. You’ll inevitably hit a rough patch and think, “Ugh, why am I even doing this? Forget it. I’m done.”

2. Just Write! 

NaNoWriMo is a great way to start or finish the first draft of a novel, or to completely rewrite an old one. It’s not a great way to revise or edit a novel. And it’s definitely not a great way to write a masterpiece that’s ready to be published on December 1st. Nope, sorry!

So, stop stressing about making things perfect, resist the temptation to edit or revise along the way, and don’t get upset about a watered down plot or 2D characters.

Just write.

Close your eyes, open your mind, and tap, tap, tap your fingers against your keyboard. And, remember, this is a rough draft. You won’t be showing it off to many (if any) people. So, let the words flow and don’t stop to question them. If you do, you’ll never make it to 50K by November 30th.

3. Don’t Skip Days

The first time I participated in NaNo, I missed the first three days because I was in a writing contest. And after that, I missed a few more days because, well, I missed them. Life happened. I didn’t feel like writing. I was tired. I had better things to do. Etc., etc.

Bad idea.

Missing one day is okay. Not good, but not horrible. But after one day, the word count deficit starts to pile up–fast! Within one week of my first NaNo, I was behind schedule by 10,000 words, and the only way I was going to catch back up was to increase my daily word count–ack!

Do yourself a favor and spit out those words every day, even if you don’t feel like it.

4. Be Proactive

Don’t live on the edge if you don’t have to. Give yourself a word count cushion.

After I climbed out of the deep, dark word count hole I’d fallen into, I decided to take the bull by the horns and get ahead of schedule. On days I had extra time, energy, and motivation, I blasted past my daily goal and kept writing. Why not? Who knew how I’d feel the next day, or if my life would blow up and I wouldn’t be able to sit down and write?

Because of this “get ahead” strategy, I was able to finish almost a week early.

5. Find an Idea You Love

When you hit those “ugh” moments, or you’re just flat out tired, it’ll be your passion and excitement for a story that gets you through. So, make sure choose one you love. Find a plot you want to explore and a cast of characters you want to know better. They should have the power to enthrall and entice you, and keep you motivated on a daily basis.

I promise, if you feel “meh” about your story before you start it, you’ll feel “meh” about it the whole time. And, sooner or later, you’ll throw in the towel.

6. Evolve With Your Idea

There is a very good chance the story you set out to write won’t be the story you end up writing. This is especially true for those of us who are “pantsters” rather than “plotters.” We assume we’re going to take a left at the fork, but end up taking a right instead. That’s okay.

Remember: Just write!

Don’t add constraints or limit yourself because the story “was supposed to go this way.” Go with the flow and see where things take you. After all, this isn’t a final draft. It’s an exploration of the story you will–hopefully–continue pursuing long after the November 30th deadline.

7. Embrace a Love-Hate Relationship

Even if you’re infatuated with your story, you’ll probably become infuriated with it at some point. You’ll have moments when you question your concept, or realize you despise a certain character, or fear you chose the wrong path back in chapter five.

It’s okay! First drafts aren’t meant to be perfect or 100% lovable. They’re ugly, troublesome, and, more often than not, a total nightmare.

So, accept the inevitable love-hate relationship you’ll have with your story, remind yourself you’ll be able to revise those despicable spots in the future, and keep chugging along.

8. Lean On Other Writers for Support

I often tell people, “Writers have their own language.” And, it’s true. We do. We naturally understand each other and are able to relate to each other’s woes. So, why not befriend a few? Trust me, you’ll need their cheers, pep talks, and internet hugs to survive the NaNoWriMo roller coaster.

If you aren’t sure where to find potential writing pals, here are a few suggestions:

  1. NaNoWriMo’s website. It allows you to network and make solid connections. If you’d like to add me as a buddy, my username is jenspenden.
  2. Twitter. I can’t tell you how many writers I’ve met there and have created genuine, supportive friendships with. Be sure to check out hashtags like #NaNoWriMo, #NaNoWriMo2015, #NaNoPrep. And, of course, feel free to follow me (@jenspenden). I’ll happily follow you in return!
  3. Writing Blogs. Follow them, read them, and leave genuine comments on posts. If you do, you’ll naturally connect with other writers.
  4. Writing Contests. This one might sound strange, but some of my best writing friends have come from participating in writing contests, especially those that allow you to interact with other competitors (namely, NYC Midnight).

Whatever your method, I highly recommend you befriend other writers. Life becomes so much better once you do.

9. Have Fun! 

I mean it. Enjoy the experience. Yes, NaNo is stressful, insane, and a lot–a lot–of work. But nobody is forcing you to do it (well, I hope not). So, why not have fun with it?

Whenever I hit a low point during NaNo, I like to sit back in my chair and laugh at the absurdity of writing 50K words in one month. Who does that? Seriously? Or, I like to take a deep breath and embrace my accomplishments. I figure every word I write deserves a round of applause, even if it wasn’t the best word in the world.

10. Worst Case Scenario

The worst thing that can happen? You don’t reach the 50K goal by November 30th.

Big deal.

Okay, maybe it is a big deal and you want to focus on that goal to keep you motivated. Great! However, in my opinion, the point of NaNoWriMo isn’t to barf out 50,000 words for the sake of barfing out 50,000 words. It’s to help writers focus and kick start a steady writing routine that carries them past the November 30th deadline.

So, if you’re approaching the deadline, and you’re nowhere near the 50K word finish line, who cares? Keep going. Keep writing! The only true failure in NaNoWriMo is giving up completely.

Well, there you go! I hope you found at least one of my tips for NaNoWriMo useful. I’ll definitely be repeating them to myself when November 1st hits.

Good luck, everyone!

And remember: Just write!

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16 thoughts on “Jen’s Top 10 NaNoWriMo Tips

  1. #3, 5 and 7 are all soooo spot on! I haven’t finished a NaNoWriMo yet, but participated three years prior to this one. My first year I was time poor, and your #3 was the main issue. I got to a stage where I missed 10 days due to work, etc (retail isn’t great for giving you much time). #7 plagued me the second year, as I got to just about halfway and realised I had made a fatal error and just gave up. I’m so glad to see that I’m not alone on that one and that it’s fine to just keep going. Last year #5 happened. I should have known before starting that I was just not interested in the story and done something else. This year, I’m taking your advice here, and that of others in the blogging community and just going to write. I’m plotting as much as I can, but I know I’ll pants my way through it too. 🙂 Thanks for the valuable insight! 😀 😀

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    1. I love NaNo because it makes you write. You can’t stop and edit along the way, or second guess everything you spit out. You just have to go, go, go!

      Good luck! I have confidence you’ll make it this year.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. So glad you’ll be joining PlkPhoto and ShadowBeast in the NaNoWriMo this year. It is my first year, and so far I am geared up and ready to roll… however I know I will at some point end up rolling into a little ball of sobbing mess. 😀 I’ll keep writing anyway. High five, cheering buddy!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Good advice Jen, however, I have one more.

    Do your prep. I completed NANo last year, but it had a pretty good idea what I was going to write before I went in there. I had done my homework on characters, I knew at a high level where my story milestones were, and so I knew what I was writing towards. I left myself enough room for flexibility, but I did not start writing Nov 1 with only a vague idea. If you are doing Sci fi, make sure you have done your world building, use the snowflake method if that works for you, whatever character building work you subscribe to, do it before Nov. Give yourself material that will inspire you when you get stuck.

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    1. Yes, that’s an excellent tip! I think even if you’re a pantser, some prepping is needed. Even if it’s just naming your main characters and/or deciding where they live/what their job is, it helps to figure out the basics before you dive in. And if you’re planning to write a historical fiction or something that will require in-depth research, I definitely recommend taking care of that before November 1st.

      Personally, I can’t plan my stories beyond the basics (concept, names, location). I’ve tried, but it always leads to debilitating writer’s block. So, I have to avoid too much prep work.

      Thanks again for the great advice!

      Like

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