We’re halfway through October and I still have so many tips I want to share for how to survive (and thrive in) NaNoWriMo. So far, I’ve given tips about how to get ready for NaNo–not just planning the story, but planning your space and getting your writing tools ready. There is certainly still plenty of time for those things.
But now I am going to start sharing my tips and tricks for how to make it through the event itself. I’ve split these into two posts of 7 tips each, so here are the first 7:
1. Break up the words.
50,000 words sounds like a lot (and it is). If you plan to write every day, it’s 1667 words per day. Because life can’t stop for NaNo, as much as we may want it to, there will be things that keep us from writing some days. If you know about these things in advance, you can count those days out of the total 30. Then you could divide 50,000 by the days you have left.
So then you have 1667 (or however many you come up with) words to write per day. Even that can seem like a lot, especially if your day is really busy. That’s when you divide the words even further. 500 words isn’t so much, right? That might take you 20-30 minutes to write. So three times throughout the day, take 20-30 minutes (or less if you’re in a groove) to write 500 words. The extra 167 words may be made up during those times, if you write a bit over 500, or you could just make sure to get them in before you go to bed.
If you have a whole chunk of time, maybe an hour or two, to write, you may not need to break the words down further. But if you’re finding yourself overwhelmed by the daily word count, this might just be a useful tip for you.
2. Write in sprints.
A continuation of the previous tip, this one can be useful whether you’re writing in smaller session throughout the day, or all at once. I’ve found that I run up against a mental block when I sit down at 9 pm and think, “Okay, time to write my words for today.” Rather than just diving in and going for 1667, I will write in sprints.
All that means is that I set a time (usually 20 minutes) and write until the time is up. No stopping to check Facebook/email/whatever, no alt-tabbing to look something up, no stopping for a snack, or getting up at all. Then I take a short break, get a drink, visit the bathroom, stretch, glance at Facebook or the NaNo forums, or whatever, before starting another sprint. Single sprints can fit into work breaks, doctor visit waits, or other smallish amounts of downtime. Just set your time limit accordingly.
I strongly recommend checking out https://twitter.com/NaNoWordSprints. Throughout November (not necessarily 24/7) volunteers tweet word sprints that anyone can take part in. They announce the start time and the time limit, and sometimes a theme or prompt you can use if you need inspiration. Between sprints, people are often invited to tweet their word count for the recent sprint and maybe a sentence you liked.
Word wars are also a super effective tool for NaNo. Two or more participants agree on a start time and time limit, then write as many words for their novel as they can. Afterwards they compare word counts to see who won. I’ve seen first-hand how doing word wars throughout November can breed high word counts and/or early wins. If you can get to a write-in for your region, that’s the best way to do word wars. You can also do them online with writing buddies, or find people to war against on the forums.
3. Reward yourself.
A helpful trick for NaNo is to set smaller milestones throughout a week, a day, or even one writing session, and find ways to reward yourself when you’ve reached them. For example, you could decide that if from Monday through Friday of one week, you wrote 10,000 words, you’d take Saturday off and relax (watching a movie, go outside) during your normal writing time. Or it could be as simple as having a pile of candy just out of reach and only letting yourself have one or two after each 20-minute writing sprint.
I will sometimes decide that once I’ve written 1667 words for the day, I’ll stop and watch 30 minutes of TV. Then I’ll see how much more I can get done before bedtime. Figure out what works for you and let that motivate you to get the words out.
4. Stay hydrated.
This one might seem unnecessary, but I know sometimes I can forget to make sure to drink plenty of water on a normal day when I have lots to do. During NaNo, especially when I have a day in which I have more time than usual to write, I can get so caught up in the sprints or wars that I forget to stop and refuel.
Snacks, coffee, and other caffeinated drinks are fuel for Wrimos, but just make sure you’re drinking plenty of water too.
5. Back up your work.
I don’t always remember this one myself, and I’ve had some scares. If you write with pencil & paper, it’s not as crucial, but we all know how fickle computers can be. Make sure you’re keeping a copy of your novel in more than one place. Some people back it up to the cloud (with Google drive, for example), while others may keep a copy on a thumb drive. Some keep several copies in every way they can think of. The key is to make sure you don’t have just the one copy.
6. Limit your time on the forums (and other online activities).
Have you been to the NaNo forums? The whole place is just this giant black hole of time sink on par with TV Tropes or Pinterest. There are boards for the genre you’re writing, for your age group, for almost any type of advice you may need…and so much more. And they are crazy busy during November.
It is really easy to go check out the forums at the beginning of your writing time and then realize half an hour has gone by. That’s why it’s important to put some sort of limit on how long you browse the forums. And really, this same thing can be said for any online time sink you may be inclined toward.
If you’re like me, your writing time may also be the first time all (or most of) the day that you’ve even had a chance to be at a computer. You may have email to check, Facebook to peruse, blog posts to read… But you have to set a limit, even if you use a timer to do so, or you’ll lose a lot of your writing time. It can also help if you can find other times during the day, time that you have at the computer (or with a mobile device) that isn’t really long enough to write. Do some of your normal online activities then, and save the rest for when your daily word count is done. Or December.
7. Don’t expect too much.
I’ve heard from people recently who were disappointed after their first NaNo, because they’d expected to end the month with a manuscript all ready to send off to publishers. That is not going to happen. Don’t go into this thinking you’re going to speed-write a novel, and it’s going to be great. I won’t rule out that possibility, but I’m sure it is super rare.
This may not be the first time you’ve heard this, but the focus during NaNo is on quantity, not quality. That right there is why many people think NaNo is pointless. If they’re expecting to end the month with 50,000 words of crap, why bother? Well, for one thing, it may not be pure crap. You may have a lot of unneeded filler, mistakes, and scenes that just didn’t work out. But you also may have the beginnings of a great novel. Perhaps it needs a complete rewrite, or maybe just a good round of revisions. But you’d have nothing if you hadn’t pushed yourself to write 50k words in a month.
Since there are still 2 weeks before November start, I’ll finish this post with another reminder to be writing every day, even now. It’s not necessary to success, but it sure can’t hurt, especially if you’re new to NaNo or haven’t been able to finish one yet. Starting cold with 1667 words on day 1 can be a real shock and even mental stumbling block. Whatever time of day you expect to be using for NaNo, start using that time now for pre-writing for your novel or (especially if you’re a pantser) simple freewriting about anything.
Are you doing NaNoWriMo this year? How are you preparing? Do you have any tips or tricks for getting through the month?