Six Tips for NaNoWriMo Success

I’ve hit the target goal of 50,000 words for the each of the four times I’ve participated in National Novel Writing Month, so I guess I could be described as a bit of a veteran.  While every writer is different, I thought I’d share how I managed to do it.  Keep in mind this is how I hit the 50K word target, and it may not work for you.  Some of it may seem obvious; some of it may not, but here it is:

1) Plan ahead.  Some authors write from the seat of their pants, making everything up as they go along.  I can’t do that, because I eventually get to a point where I don’t know where to go.  I need a plan.  It doesn’t need to be a long, detailed story outline, but I generally need to know the ending of my story.  If I know this, I can keep writing, even if the stuff in the middle is still inside that proverbial black box.

2) Write consistently.  NaNoWriMo is marathon, not a sprint.  To make it to end, I must write almost every day.  I seldom have big chunks of uninterrupted time to write thousands of words in a sitting; instead I focus on manageable daily chunks.  If I write every day, 1,700 words a day will get me to my target (with a little to spare).  I find that I can make this target within the 1-2 hours I have to write each day.

3) Bank words.  Realistically, I will not write to my target every day, so it’s important to “bank words” when I can.  Even if I only manage 200-300 extra words here and there, it will be easier to stay the course when I miss a day of writing for whatever reason.  I usually try to get a couple of 3,000-word days in early, when I’m still feeling fresh.  By banking these words, I can afford to miss my word target later in the month.

4) Always forward.  NaNoWriMo is about going forward in my story.  I resist the temptation to go backward.  I don’t rewrite a chapter, unless it’s such a mess that I cannot move forward.  I find that if I need to change something in what I’ve already written, a few notes “scribbled in the margin” are generally enough.  Then I forge on.  If I get stuck and don’t know where to go with my story, I’ll write a short bridging narrative (e.g., James somehow escapes from the dragon), and pick up the story farther along.  After another few chapters I may figure out how to write that section I skipped, and can either return to it or leave myself more detailed notes for later.  What’s important is that I put new words on the page, not just push around old words, like cold peas on a plate.

5) Daydream.  It’s important to get the creativity flowing, so I find it helpful to think about my story, characters, setting, conflict, or even key scenes when I’m not writing.  I’ll think about them on the bus, while eating lunch, when taking a sanity break at the day job.  I may jot down a few notes or listen to dialogue in my head or imagine how a character walks.  Basically I daydream about my story, so when it’s time to write, I have lots of details already floating around in my head, and I can focus on writing.

6) Have fun.  I write a story that excites me, that entertains me, that haunts me.  Basically, I write something that I want to write.  This is important because I will be living and breathing that story for at least 30 days, so I better like what I’m writing.  If I don’t enjoy my story (as opposed to just being stuck in a rough patch) I’d drop it quickly and find one that I do. 

So there you have it: my six tips for succeeding at NaNoWriMo.  If you’re participating this year, good luck.  Maybe I’ll see you at the finish line, provided I can make it again….

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About D. Thomas Minton

Writer of speculative fiction
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