For those who are unaware, Nanowrimo is not an obscure piece of computer technology, it’s a writing challenge! It stands for “National Novel Writing Month” and it happens every year during the month of November. The challenge is to write a 50,000 word novel over the course of the month. Thousands of writers all over the world participate and track their progress on the official website, connecting with other writers and even earning badges for different milestones. There are organized “write ins”, Twitter hashtag conversations, and even drawings to win “nano” swag.
If you manage to complete your novel (and you have to prove it by copying and pasting all 50,000 words or more at the end) you “win”, which means you get a cool graphic to post on social media and a cool list of offers and discounts from various Nanowrimo sponsors that offer everything from graphic designs for covers to editing services.
All in all, the entire Nanowrimo process is an amazing opportunity for aspiring writers who have never finished a novel but always dreamed about doing it, or for long time authors that need a little motivation to finish their latest project.
Personally, I have a deep appreciation for Nanowrimo because it is how I finished my first novel. Before Nano, I had several stories that I would tinker with or write a chapter here or there, but I never had the discipline to sit down and actually finish one. I didn’t know if I could.
After attending several writing conferences and workshops, I finally got up the courage to sit down and finish that first manuscript. I decided I was going to be crazy and do Nanowrimo.
It was one of the best decisions I ever made.
Not only was it an absolute blast, I also built invaluable relationships with other writers, realized I actually could finish an entire novel, and surprised myself with what I am capable of. I did finish an entire novel. By the end, I had written not 50,000 words, but 90,000!
After several months of editing and then even more months of pitching and conferences and rejection after rejection… I finally signed that first novel with an amazing agent that worked for my dream agency.
I would never have gotten there without Nanowrimo.
So, we are in the midst of November. It isn’t too late to jump in if you haven’t already. So if you want to give it a try or are already pounding away at your keyboard, I wanted to share some of the tips that I used to “win” Nanowrimo!
1. Give up the idea of a perfect first draft.
Now, I know what you must be thinking. 50,000 words in 30 days? How is that going to produce anything of quality? The reality is… it isn’t. And don’t expect to.
One of my favorite sayings I’ve heard about first drafts is “all a first draft has to do is exist.” Hundreds of people dream of writing a book, but how many actually sit down and do it? Not very many. The biggest hurdle in writing a book is actually sitting down to do it. No, it might not be very pretty. The plot might be a mess, or characters might be all wrong, but that’s okay! Even the best writers in the world cannot sit down at their keyboards and pump out a best-seller without having to do editing. If even they don’t expect perfection on a first draft, you shouldn’t either. Don’t put that pressure on yourself. Editing comes later.
2. Have a general idea in your head of where you want to go.
In the writing world, there are two kinds of people: plotters and pansters. If you have no idea what that means, that’s okay, I had no idea either when I wrote that first book. Some people like to “plot” and outline their novels, others like to fly by the seat of their “pants” and write what comes to them in the passion of the moment. Both sides have fierce supporters, and I think they are both awesome. I’m more of a rough plotter myself, but I like to keep a foot firmly in both camps. I loved picturing the story in my head as a movie, and because I love movies so much, it gave me a general idea of what story structure should look like. I could picture scenes when I imagined “what happens next if this were a movie?”. I kept main scenes in my head and then let the creativity lead me until I got there. Now, I edited a TON after Nano was finished, but for me, it was helpful to have a rough plan in place of where the story was going.
3. Save time by skipping names and research (for now).
Can’t decide what to name that one character? No need to. Come back to it later. Type NAME HERE and then keep moving. Nothing slows down your daily word count than having to pause for three hours to research ancient Mongolian falconry or decide on a significant name for your main character’s sister’s nephew’s best friend. It isn’t as important as getting the story skeleton down. Then, you can go back and fill in where you need to.
4. Find a community!
The Nanowrimo website has different areas that you can see where write-ins or online groups are happening close to where you live. I personally joined an online Facebook group that allowed me to post my daily word counts and have accountability. Plus, we would do challenges and encourage each other. It was so fun to be able to post “I did 1000 words today!” and have people cheering me on. It was a huge motivator to keep going and not give up. I didn’t feel like I was doing it alone.
5. Don’t force it.
Have fun with writing. I don’t like to make it a “chore” or a “requirement” like exercise (ewwww!). Nothing stifles creativity like bitterness at having to be creative. I love to make it a treat! I will schedule time for myself to go to a coffee shop or get my nails done and let myself get lost in the story. It helps to give yourself plenty of time to really focus on what you are doing, but even if you don’t have long periods of time, that’s okay too!
6. Get creative about how to find time.
Ironically, I wrote almost my entire novel on my smartphone! I downloaded google docs and kept my novel in the cloud, so that no matter where I was, I could access it. Getting a pedicure? My phone was in my hand typing. Standing in line at the grocery store? Typing. Midnight feedings with the baby where he was sleep on my chest and I was too terrified to fall asleep myself or move him? I pulled out my phone and wrote. It can be done if you are creative with your time! (Now, I don’t do that all the time, but for a single month? I can figure it out!).
7. Know how to break your writer’s block.
I wrote a post a month ago about beating writer’s block (find it here!). Those three strategies were really helpful for me whenever I got stuck. I would watch an inspiring movie or documentary related to my story to get me “in the mood”. I would read craft books about writing for inspiration and encouragement. I asked friends and family for input on ideas. I had a plan in place of how to break out if I got stuck, and it helped me when I ran up against that creativity brick wall.
There are so many great articles and posts with even more ideas, but I definitely wanted to share some of my own that helped me make it through!
I am officially working on my second novel this month, and I can’t wait to see other people winning along with me!
Check out the official website for Nanowrimo here: https://nanowrimo.org/
Are you participating in Nanowrimo this year? What tips do you have to share with aspiring writers trying Nano for the first time? Share in the comments below!