Last Minute NaNoWriMo Survival Tips

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October 31st is a scary day, and it has nothing to do with Halloween. (Which I always forget about anyway.) No, this final day of October is frightening because November 1st is mere hours away… And with it comes National Novel Writing Month, also known as NaNoWriMo, a.k.a. “The Month Writers Sacrifice Their Remaining Sanity and Neglect Basic Survival Skills.” Sounds fun, right?

Actually, it is. Sort of. Once you get past the lack of socialization and sleep, it really is pretty awesome. Last year, I wrote a post of 30 Reasons to do NaNoWriMo. If you’re on the fence about doing NaNoWriMo, maybe this list will push you onto the side of slightly insane writers taking the challenge. (You can read it here)

Let’s say you’ve already decided to get in on the action, though, but now you have no idea how November is already here and you still have NO IDEA WHAT YOU ARE DOING WITH YOUR NOVEL. (Deep breaths. Don’t hyperventilate.)

Should you drop out? There’s always next November, right? Surely you can’t wade into the trenches of NaNoWriMo without a detailed battle plan, can you? You’ll never survive now that you’ve waited until the stroke of midnight to take action.

Never fear, my writing comrade. I’m right there with you. Until this morning, I hadn’t even settled on a story to work on this month, and I’m still having doubts. I logged into my NaNoWriMo profile for the first time two hours ago. If anyone isn’t ready to take on this monster, it’s me. But ready or not, here it comes. Part of being a novelist is being adaptable, and that’s a skill I work in November more than any other month. No story is ever truly ready, and writing is never without surprises, no matter how much we outline. Even if you just decided five minutes ago to get involved with NaNoWriMo, you can make November work in your favor.

Here are my simple tips for surviving NaNoWriMo, despite being mostly unprepared.

  1. Pick a story and stick to it. It doesn’t need to be your most revolutionary idea ever, or have any publishing potential. You don’t even have to like it after the thirty days of November are up. Just pick one idea and give it one month to see what happens.
  2. Speaking of ideas, if you have no ideas whatsoever, consult a prompt generator. My two favorites are the Google Play apps, Story Plot Generator and Writing Prompts. For iOS, there’s a similar app called the Great Plot Generator. Even if you don’t go with the exact idea generated, it may spark something. If you have too many ideas and not a single one stands out, write a few down and randomly pull one. There you go! Your latest literary masterpiece!
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  3. Be unoriginal. You only have four weeks to write 50,000 words. Now is not the time to create detailed character diagrams, in-depth fantasy worlds, or your own language. It’s okay if your main character reminds you of the lead in your favorite show. If your world is suspiciously like the Shire, keep writing. As you go, your story will take on a life of its own. In the meantime, don’t get so hung up on originality that you write nothing at all, original or otherwise. Even if you’ll have to make changes later to avoid plagiarism, borrow the ideas you need to keep going.
  4. Forget (almost) every writing rule you’ve ever learned. Go ahead and write one chapter in first person and the next in third. Ignore commas entirely. Ramble on for two pages without pauses. This is November. This is the month of writing anarchy and dangling modifiers.
  5. Repeat after me: This draft is going to be bad, and that’s good. I have to remind myself of this every November. The sooner you accept the inevitable badness of this draft, the easier it is to adapt to it. Make a bad draft work for you, rather than trying to work against that bad draft.
  6. Get a cheap notebook and a fast pen. I don’t recall who first said that, but it’s some of the most effective writing advice I’ve ever heard. My best ideas tend to come from marking up a blank page rather than staring at a blank screen.
  7. Don’t be distracted by all the shiny new writing apps and platforms. There are so many to try, but November isn’t the month to experiment with them. Keep it simple. Stick to what works.
  8. Create a rough outline. I use the term “outline” loosely, because it doesn’t even need to be in order. Just jot down anything that seems relevant to the story. Scene ideas, even if you aren’t sure where they fit, can be super useful. Character names, facts about dragons, chapter titles… Anything you want to include, dump into a document. Nothing is too insignificant to be inspiration for NaNoWriMo.
  9. Consult your calendar. Hardly anyone has time for NaNoWriMo, but if you truly are overbooked and can’t cancel anything, consider making an adjustment. Either pick a different month to devote to writing, or set a smaller goal than 50k. If you can squeeze your novel into November, block out some writing appointments. Lighten up on other activities as you’re able so you don’t burn out.
  10. Establish boundaries. I learned the hard way that NaNoWriMo will take over your life if there are no boundaries set at the beginning. The first time I competed, I ended up exhausted to the point of illness. And since I refused to take any downtime, I was probably sick for longer than I needed to be. Noveling is important, to be sure, but there actually are more important things. Don’t sacrifice sleep, meals, or relationships for a few thousand words.
  11. Remember why you’re doing this. You’re a writer, and you have a story to tell. NaNoWriMo is just one way of carrying out this goal. Keep that in mind, and don’t stress.
  12. Just start. No matter how prepared you do or don’t feel, nothing can happen until you start. Take it one day at a time, word by word. You may end up with 50,000 words at the end of November! And if not? It’s still a grand noveling adventure.This is certainly not an exhaustive list, and I could always use some more tips on surviving National Novel Writing Month. Comment your own novel advice below.Happy NaNoWriMo!

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30 Reasons to do NaNoWriMo

Tomorrow is the start of NaNoWriMo, more formally known as National Novel Writing Month. It’s the challenge to write 50,000 words, or one draft of a novel, in a single month.

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Image courtesy of National Novel Writing Month

Or as I like to explain it, thirty days and nights of caffeine, creativity and craziness, all written down for you to admire (or gasp at) come December.

Maybe you’ve been a NaNoWriMo-er before, maybe you’re considering it, or maybe you’ve never heard of it until now.

Whichever category applies to you, if you are a writer, I think you have a reason to become a National Novel Writing Month Writer. 30 reasons, in fact, and probably more. But since there are only 30 days of writing frenzy for November, and because I should really be working on my novel instead of making this list, I’ll just stick to 30 reasons.

If you’re on the fence about NaNoWriMo, maybe this list will help your decision. If you’re wondering why anyone would want to do NaNoWriMo, perhaps this can explain a bit. Or maybe when you’re deep in the heart of your story, shivering and scribbling through November, you can pull out this list and remember why you started in the first place.

Without further ado, I give you, 30 Reasons to do NaNoWriMo!

  1. You like to write. If you don’t, I’m pretty sure you won’t enjoy NaNoWriMo. Why not dedicate this month to something else you enjoy? If, however, you do enjoy writing, then there’s a solid chance you will enjoy NaNoWriMo.
  2. You have a story to tell. Even if you haven’t worked out the specifics, if you have a spark, NaNoWriMo will fan the flames into a wildfire.
  3. It’s a challenge. The goal is to write an entire first draft of 50,000 words in 30 days (and nights. You will be writing at odd hours, I guarantee it.) If you like the thrill of a challenge, what could be better than scaling Mount WriMo?
  4. You will have stories to tell. This isn’t the same as #2. No, what I mean is, after 30 days of crazed writing, you will have some interesting stories about the experience. Like the time you had a packed schedule, exams to study for, and not enough sleep, but still kept writing, thus getting sick and being out of commission for two days. Not like I did that last year or anything… But it does make an interesting story, and it sounds almost noble. Or insane. 
  5. It’s competitive. Even if you’re just competing with yourself, entering that word count is motivating. On the days I fall behind, the feeling of competition gets me writing enough to get ahead.
  6. It’s inspiring. Just logging on to the NaNoWriMo site makes me want to write an entire book in an hour. It makes me feel like I am a writer, despite doubts, and I can tell this story. (Maybe not in a hour, but it’s empowering all the same.) I especially love the pep talks they share. They’re often witty and amusing, and they offer practical advice on how to succeed with both the challenge and writing in general.
  7. It’s global. Writing can be lonely, but NaNoWriMo provides a community. You connect with so many people, and even if you don’t converse, you know they’re in your corner. It can be inspiring just to read other writers’ profiles and see their novel progress (and then compete with them, as mentioned in #5)
  8. You can blog about it. I certainly plan to!
  9. You can do it with friends. NaNoWriMo doesn’t just let you meet other writers. You can share it with the writers you already know! Last year, one of my best friends took the challenge with me, and it’s become one of my favorite memories with her. We spent November sharing progress updates, complaining about stubborn characters, drinking coffee and plotting our next moves. In fact, we got so into the challenge, we invented our own in January to do it all again. If you have any friends who are also writers, or want to be writers, invite them to try NaNoWriMo with you.
  10. It’s an excuse to drink extra coffee, or tea, or both.
  11. It’s also an excellent excuse for getting out of things. If someone invites you somewhere you don’t want to go, you can simply smile and offer an apology, with the words, “I have a novel to write.” (That said, even NaNoWriMo can’t be used as an excuse for everything. Sorry, fellow introverts.)
  12. It’s a great topic of conversation. I love telling people about NaNoWriMo! If they don’t get why you’re taking part in this somewhat crazy event, feel free to refer them back here.
  13. November brings the perfect novel-writing weather. Hot chocolate + knitted blanket = noveling essentials
  14. Writing becomes a priority. This is one of the biggest reasons I love NaNoWriMo. Dedicating the month to my novel means I actually have to write it. It become a real, tangible goal rather than something I’ll do “later.” Even if I don’t feel ready, I have to sit down and write my story.
  15. It shuts down the inner editor. A lot of the time, perfection stops progress. NaNoWriMo forces participants to write fast to keep up. When you’re going at that speed, you have to step out of your own way or get steamrolled by your own story. A novel is never perfect the first time, but it can’t be improved unless it’s written. NaNoWriMo helps get that messy first draft out.
  16. You know how if you talk too much, you lose your voice? It’s the opposite in writing. The more you say, the more you get written down, the clearer and stronger your voice becomes. NaNoWriMo is a month long conversation between you and your characters and story. When I took the challenge, it helped me find my voice because I wasn’t stopping to censor it.
  17. You will become a stronger writer. NaNoWriMo is like a month-long fitness program for writing muscles. There is strain, and sometimes pain, but it builds writing power and endurance that will stretch beyond the month.
  18. It establishes writing habits. Often by the first week, you’ve figured out which writing habits work for you. Do you like to write in the morning, at lunchtime, in the evening? Do you need silence, music or the sound of thunderstorms? Do you prefer to write at a desk or on your bed? Do you need pajamas and messy hair, or do you make yourself presentable first? There’s no single method for writing, and NaNoWriMo encourages you to find the ones that work for you.
  19. After spending a solid month with them, you’ll really get to know your characters. They become real. And they hang out even after the month ends.
  20. It becomes easier and easier to enter your fictional world. Your story’s setting becomes a real place, and the more time you spend in it, the more you learn about it.
  21. You must write. So many times, we wait for inspiration, for the right words, the right moment. NaNoWriMo takes no excuses. Because writing is a priority, (see #14) you have to show up everyday, sit down and do it. NaNoWriMo is a tool for making me stick to that.
  22. Writer’s block gets smashed. That’s not to say writer’s block doesn’t happen during November. I’ve definitely had writer’s block during NaNoWriMo. But because I had a word count to reach, I couldn’t stop writing. NaNoWriMo forced me to write around that block, to push through it. It kept me going even when stopping seemed easier. It taught me the only way to beat writer’s block is to attack it head-on.
  23. You’ll never feel more like a writer. 
  24. It’s exciting. There’s something thrilling about watching your story grow in a month, and seeing your word count skyrocket.
  25. It’s rewarding. In the same way it’s exciting, this challenge really pays off. Your reward at the end is 50,000 of your own words- the first draft of your story. What better prize is there? To celebrate, NaNoWriMo also offers some awesome winner’s goodies, but I won’t spoil that 😉
  26. It gives you confidence. NaNoWriMo proved to me that I can write more than 1,000 words in a day. It boosted my confidence as a writer, and also as a person. Doing NaNoWriMo is like getting author super powers.
  27. You will learn a lot about writing in a short time. By the end of November, I could already tell I had improved as a writer. There’s so much to take in, and packing it into one month avoids gaps.
  28. Your novel needs you. It deserves to be told, and only you can tell it. NaNoWriMo helps.
  29. Someone needs your novel. No one else can tell your story, and if you don’t, no one else can read it. Someone out there needs your words. It could be your best friend, a stranger, or simply yourself. NaNoWriMo will help you write and share those words.
  30. Why not? Just give it a try. If you happen to decide NaNoWriMo isn’t your thing, it’s okay. But it could also be just what you need to get your novel out there. You’ll never know until you try.

Are you going to be part of NaNoWriMo this November? Is there anything you would add to the list? Happy Novel Writing Month!

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