Five Tips & Tricks For … National Novel Writing Month

There’s only a few days before the yearly writing challenge NaNoWriMo — National Novel Writing Month, by its full name — and maybe you’ve been sitting on the fence considering whether to do it or not.  Perhaps it’s your first year and you’ve no idea what to expect from the month-long creativity fest.  Even the thought of writing 50,000 words in 30 days can sound daunting, but despite all the 0s in that figure we have some simple tips to make the challenge feel more manageable.

Decide how much you’re planning on writing

It sounds odd — the target is 50,000 words, isn’t it? Not necessarily.  Some writers decide to aim for more, and some enjoy taking part but because of time commitments or health issues can’t manage a full 50k and aim for less, but either way having a solid idea of how much you’re aiming for will help you when you come to start.  You can rely on NaNoWriMo’s own graph on your profile page if you’re shooting for the standard 50k, but if you’re aiming higher or lower then tools such as Mattias Ahlvin of Tall Tech TalesMonthly Writing Log can help you work out how much you need to write to meet your custom goal.

Which leads to…

Set aside enough time to meet your goals

I don’t mean carve out enough time to sit and hammer out 1,667 words in one session a day — although if you want to and can, go ahead!  But if you haven’t got that luxury, try instead to split it into more manageable chunks.  If you think you can write 300 words in the morning before work, 600 to 1,000 in your lunch break and the rest just before bed, you’ll feel more comfortable.  And don’t worry about not meeting your goals on one day or another, you can always try to catch up when you have a little more time or are a little less stressed.  Remember, NaNoWriMo is supposed to be a fun project, not one to make you worry!

Another useful idea is to carry around a notebook and pen (if you’re a stationery fan) or use a phone app such as Evernote or Google Drive to sneak those elusive words down when you’re in p

laces where you can’t settle down to write ‘properly’.  Many a tale has been told of workers being praised for their note-taking diligence at work when they were, in fact, writing in loving detail their hero’s struggles.

Attend a meetup

Many regions, not just in the UK but across the world, hold meet-ups during NaNo. Whether they’re dedicated solely to relaxing, to writing, or a mixture of the two, you can meet up with other writers embarking on the same mad dash as you.  If you’re stuck it’s a fair bet someone will have an idea that could help, even if it’s just to add an octopus, and getting out of the house and away from your novel for a couple of hours will help clear your thoughts.

Notts NaNo meetups usually include various inspiration tools as well, from story cubes to Storymatic cards to help unblock those creative juices.

Challenge yourself

If you’re struggling to find the words (and who doesn’t, particularly around the week 3 mark?) then hit up the Word Wars, Prompts, & Sprints forum.  It contains a wide variety of games designed to help you write while making the whole experience more fun, from sprints to story-based word crawls. Sometimes, before you quite know what’s happened, you can find you’re beyond the bit you were stuck on and, on top of that, you’re a fair bit further toward your target than you were before.

If you want a more competitive edge, you can try word sprints.  These are timed writing events, often involving other NaNoers, and are held in the forums, on Twitter and in the chatroom and are on a similar principle to the Pomodoro technique: you set a timer and write as fast as you can for the duration.  At the end you tally up the amount you managed, then try to beat it. Racing other writers adds an extra twist, with the bonus that even if you don’t write the most, you’ve still written more than you might otherwise.

If you’re not able to do times writing or word wars online with others, try setting your phone’s timer to three, five or ten minutes and challenge yourself.  Seeing if you can beat your previous high-score has a strange and compelling excitement of its own.

If you can exceed your goals, then do

Even if it’s ten words over your usual daily amount, that’s ten words closer to the end than you would be if you knocked off dead on your daily word count. To quote a famous supermarket slogan:

Every little helps

Thank you, Tesco.


What advice would you give brave new NaNoers?

Feel free to share in the comments!

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