5 NaNoWriMo Tips

I’ve done NaNoWriMo a few times in my life—some successfully, some not so. What I learned from the process of writing a novel in 30 days however, has stuck with me. I finished the first draft of Time Up in 30 days, and it’s now my default to barrel through a first draft as quickly as I can. Still, if you’re new to writing or new to NaNoWriMo, the prospect can be daunting. Here are some tips to make sure you succeed, and end up with a finished first draft on November 30.

  1. Write, don’t edit. Seems simple enough, but the desire to stop and edit what you’ve written will be strong. Don’t! You have to push that desire aside if you want to finish. 50,000 words over 30 days is 1,667 words a day. That’s a lot, especially if this is your first attempt or you don’t write for a living. But it’s not impossible, especially if you save the editing for when you have a first draft (and you’ve given yourself a week or two off). You’ll probably be surprised how good most of it actually is when you finally get back to it.

    NaNoWriMo Tips

    NaNoWriMo is a sprint, but you can do it. Pipe optional.

  2. Keep track. A lot of people use spreadsheets to figure where they are, and where they’re going. Here’s a NaNoWriMo Tracker I put together a few years ago. What’s most helpful with this is that if you miss a day or don’t quite hit your goal, the spreadsheet will help you figure out what your new daily goal should be to finish on time.
  3. Stop early. Every November, I start seeing NaNoWriMo’ers posting on Twitter in the early days about their impressive word counts: 10,000! 12,000! 5,000! That’s a perfect way to burn yourself out early. More often than not, these high early counts end up being not that different from the total number of words they’ve written when Nov. 30 rolls around. Here’s a trick that I use day in and day out—I always stop early. Even if a scene is going really well, I cut myself off so that I always have a place to start the next day. This is a great way to fight the “I don’t know what to write” block that fuels procrastination. It’s like giving yourself a built-in warm up. For NaNoWriMo, this means writing to your daily goal and then moving on to something else.  
  4. Plan. Your chances of success are better with any writing project if you know where you’re going when you start. See my posts on how to start a story and why having the end when you begin is important for some help on this. I’ve also got 25 Fantasy Writing Prompts ready to go (and a PDF here) if you need some inspiration. You don’t necessarily have to come in with a full outline, but some character sketches and knowing what happens in the beginning, middle and end will really help.
  5. Enjoy it. You’re probably going to hate what you’re writing while you’re writing. That’s okay. Just remember what I said in tip one, when you come back to edit (because you’re saving that for the end), you’ll be surprised out how much better it is than you thought. The key here is to enjoy the process of creating, of writing, of getting words down on paper. Just think, when it’s all over, you’ll have written 50,000 or more words. 50,000. That’s something to be proud of, even if no one other than you ever reads it. This post is only 550.

In the next couple of days, I’ll have page with more NaNoWriMo resources all set up, and I’ll post it here. Until then, send me your best tips via Twitter and I’ll share them in a future post.

Justin is a writer and actor in Washington, D.C. His non-fiction stories have appeared in Wired, Popular Science and San Diego Citybeat among authors. He's the author of the Station One Series and Treknology: Star Trek' Tech 200 Years Ahead of the Future.