Five ways to navigate and win NaNoWriMo!
So, it’s October 31st already. Can you feel that buzz in the air today? I can!
But, here in the world of books, it’s not all the kids already sugared up for Halloween. That buzz is coming from all the writers readying ourselves to launch into the joy and the pain of NaNoWriMo tomorrow, November 1st.
And if you have no idea what I’m talking about, then let me explain. Every November, all over the world, writers come together, in person and online, to celebrate National Novel Writing Month. But this isn’t just an excuse for a party. This is an endurance test for writers, one which will challenge their commitment, their creativity and their craft. Nanowrimo writers must push themselves hard if they want to win – after all, the goal is to write 50,000 words of a story in just 30 days, and everyone who gets to 50,000 words by midnight on November 30th is declared a winner. But at the same time, they always somehow still find time to support each other and to act as accountability buddies to make sure everyone who starts will keep turning up and moving forward, even when they hit the muddy middle of their stories and things get really tough.
So, is this you? Are you taking on NaNoWrimo 2023?
If you are, then YAY! Well done for getting yourself to today’s starting line, ready for tomorrow’s start. (And if you haven’t committed to it yet, but are considering it, go sign up here. Now. Go on. Do it!)
Committing to NaNoWriMo is a huge decision for anyone to make, but remember, you won’t be doing it alone. There’s a huge community of Nanowrimers past and present all ready to cheer you on and walk hand in hand with you over the finish line. Of course, if you get more inspired by a bit of healthy competition, we’re all very happy to race against you to the very end.
Of course, it’s not all going to be sunshine and flowers. Trust me, I know that only too well . I ‘won’ NaNoWriMo back in 2010, reaching about 52,000 on the last day. And I can tell you that about 25,000 words of that felt like torture to write. In fact, my friend Mike and I sat opposite each other in our favorite writing café, and at least once every hour through the whole month, one of us would say, “This is total crap. This is total crap.” But we both knew we didn’t have any slack to go back and improve it right then, we just had to keep on writing or we wouldn’t finish.
However, even though there will be times when self-doubt may creep in, I can promise you that every writer, even the most accomplished ones, has faced those moments of uncertainty before you. So let me thrown a bit of sparkle before you’re put off from even starting . . . my 2010 ‘total crap’ Nano book ended up as WAIT FOR ME, my debut YA novel for Harper Collins in 2017.
So, for what they’re worth, as a NaNoWriMo winner who then got a Big Five publishing deal with her Nano project, let me share with you some thoughts on how to win NaNoWriMo. I hope you’ll find them valuable.
1. Why NaNoWriMo is all about mathematics
Yes, I’m serious! NaNoWriMo may be all about that overall 50,000-word target, but that can feel so overwhelming and frankly unachievable as I look at my blank screen on Day 1, so I like to break it down into more manageable daily and weekly goals.
For example, you could write every day:
50k/30 days = 1,667 words a day
However, maybe you won’t write at weekends because the kids are at home, so:
50k/22 weekdays = 2,272 words a day
Or maybe you can only write at weekends when you’re not at work (though this one’s a very big ask!)
50k/8 weekend days = 6,250 words a day
Or maybe you know you won’t be able to set aside the same length of time every day, and need to set yourself a weekly target instead, to allow you to write more words on some days and less on the others:
50k/4 weeks = 12,500 words each week
(plus you get two extra days for any mopping up!)
There are so many combinations to make sure your wordcount feels achievable. Just pick the right one for you and your life.
And don’t forget, if you live in the USA, you may have to factor in Thanksgiving on Thursday 23rd and all the days around it. It might mean you will have more time to work during the holiday period because you are off work, or it might mean you have less time to write because you’re travelling or surrounded by family. Just make sure you add that variable into your wordcount calculations.
And whatever’s going on in your life, if you can bank some extra words on the days you have time to, you will thank yourself later when something unexpected gets in the way of all your best laid plans.
Can you see how doing some quick calculations ahead of time might just save you some heartache later?
2. Why NaNoWriMo is for athletes
No, you don’t have to be an athlete to take part, but facing your Nano project like an athlete faces her training schedule will be a game-changer. Setting yourself dedicated writing time and space will make it easier to fit writing into your daily life. Pick a time that works best for you, whether it's early in the morning, during your lunch break, or late at night, and write it into your calendar. It’s much harder to ignore the commitment if it’s written down and your phone is sending you reminders. And make sure you tell all your friends and family that you need them to respect that time too.
And like any athlete, you can try some sprints too. Writing sprints are my go-to tactic whenever I’m writing to a deadline and finding it hard to get started. At the very basic level, I set my phone timer for twenty minutes and commit to do nothing but writing for that entire twenty minutes. No internet, no texting, no snacking, no stretching. Just writing. And it’s amazing how that trick helps me focus, and not just for the first twenty minutes either. I almost always end up hitting Repeat so I can do another twenty after that. And another twenty . . . Or, if you want to have company or compete, go and search Twitter or Threads for #writingsprint and I bet you’ll find someone somewhere who is about to start a sprint and will happily write ‘along side you’ for that short time. It’s a great way to build up a writing community too.
And talking of community . . .
3. Why NaNoWriMo is about community
One of the greatest strengths of this event is the support you will find in the form of fellow participants within the NaNoWriMo community. Go onto the Nano website and sign up for your local writing groups so you can go join their kick off or end parties, or be in on the in-person write-ins in local coffee shops or libraries.
Or, if you’d rather stay home, you can participate in virtual write-ins, or engage in the NaNoWriMo forums. The camaraderie can be incredibly motivating and a source of inspiration.
Even using the right hashtags on social media can take you into the NaNoWrimo/writing communities where other writers will help you get started, keep going, and win with a huge celebratory cheer. Listen to episode #27 of my podcast, Authors & Audiences for five great tips on how to use social media during NaNoWriMo to build your community, keep yourself accountable, and engage with your readers (and future readers) without using up precious writing time or derailing your wordcount goals. *Episode goes live on November 1st*
4. Why NaNoWriMo allows you to write really bad stuff and not care
It is hard, as a writer, to embrace imperfection. But finding yourself up against a ticking clock, this is your one chance to tell your inner critic to shut the **** up so you can give your imagination free rein, and not worry about the editing until much later.
During NaNoWriMo, it's essential to remember that your first draft doesn't need to be (and certainly won’t be) flawless. You are totally allowed to give yourself permission to write badly and edit later. For once, your focus here must be on quantity, not quality. Keep telling yourself that your only goal this month is to get 50,000 words on the page, nothing else. You can spend all the other non-November months worrying about perfecting those words, the story they tell and the order they come in. Here's my contributions to your Nano-dreamboard:
You cannot perfect what you haven't written yet.
5. Why NaNoWriMo is about celebrating (and that means celebrating everything)
Completing 50,000 words in a month is a HUGE achievement, but like the most enormous building, it’s made up of lots of little bricks. So don't forget to acknowledge your little bricks as you build your project. Stick up your daily word count win on your refrigerator door. Plan a reward to give yourself for hitting your weekly goal. Sing about hitting the halfway point one day early, and dance your way through the last 5,000 words. So whether you give yourself a sweet treat, a movie outing, or a hot bath with a glass of wine, it will be these little celebrations which keep you motivated and on track.
And why not share your celebrations with everyone else doing NaNoWriMo too, you’ll help keep them moving forward. Whether you’re on Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, Twitter or Threads, posting regularly about your achievements as they happen will keep you moving forward.
And to help you with that, on episode #28 of my Authors & Audiences podcast, which lands tomorrow, Wednesday November 1st to mark the start of NaNoWriMo 2023, I’ll give you some great tips on how to use social media through November to share your ups and downs, to ask questions and offer advice, without using up all your precious writing time, and without derailing your wordcount goals.
To hear that episode and all the others, visit www.authorsandaudiences.com. There are links on there to Authors & Audiences on all the usual podcast platforms. And if you subscribe, you won’t miss my other Nanowrimo episode coming later in the month.
So, those are my five best tips to help you win NaNoWriMo this year. Remember that the journey is just as important as the destination with this challenge, so set your goals, embrace your routine, and connect with all the other amazing writers in the NaNoWriMo community. And most importantly:
JUST. KEEP. WRITING.
I promise, whether this is your first ever novel, your first NaNoWriMo, or your twentieth of both, you’ll be amazed at what you can achieve in just one month.
I wish you all the best on your NaNoWriMo adventure. And remember, the world is waiting for your story.