Faye Arcand, My Twisted Writer Brain…, Writing a Book

All You Need to Know to Be Successful at NaNoWriMo

Well, it’s that time of year again. Time to pump out a book in 30 days! What? You’ve never heard of such craziness? Well, then you’re in for the ride of your writing life. Come on and I’ll fill you in on the whole whacky world of NaNoWriMo!

What is NaNoWriMo?

Image courtesy of NaNoWriMo

National Novel Writing Month or NaNoWriMo begins promptly at 00:00:01 on November 01 and ends at 23:59:59 November 30.

In those 30 days aka 720 hours aka 43,200 minutes aka 2,592,000 seconds your aim is to write the first draft of your new book.

Is NaNoWriMo for Real?

You betcha. I’ve done NaNoWriMo twice and both times completed the first –very rough– draft of a novel.

This movement started in 1999 with 21 participants who wanted to write a novel in one month. They challenged each other, six succeeded and an annual event was born. Here’s the WIKI history and FAQs.

The basic idea of NaNoWriMo is that you write about 1667 words every single day for the entire month of November. If you do exactly that, you’ll complete a short novel of 50,010 words by the end of the month.

For some this is very effective because they know exactly what to expect and have an end point to shoot for. The goal of 50K is the NaNoWriMo standard but don’t worry if it sounds overwhelming because you can always make your own rules. Look here for alternatives to the traditional NaNoWriMo.

What Tools Do I Need for NaNoWriMo?

All you need are your regular writing tools–whether that’s a notebook, laptop, tablet, or computer, some paper for making notes if you like, and a pen. (I like to keep notes on each chapter as I write–just my thing). It never hurts to have water, coffee, and snacks but those are a personal preferences.

No special tools are required. Come with an open mind and a desire to write–that’s the real key!

Many people think writing 1600 words will take you all day and night but if you get on a roll you can probably do that in a couple of hours if you’re a decent typist. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself though as it can have the opposite affect.

Do I Need to Do an Outline or Plot Before I Start?

Whether you do an outline is up to you. Some writers prefer to make general notes about the plot of the book and some prefer to completely wing it.

You don’t need a plan, a plot, or anything before you start…

BUT… it really is a good idea to have a general feel for where you’re going with your story.

Often, by the time I’m ready to write, the characters, setting, and plot have been banging around in my head for several days, weeks, or even months. I toss ideas around in my mind about who these characters are, how they’ll react, and have a general idea what is going to happen to them.

All of this helps me as I start with a sense of direction. You may want to do the same.

Sometimes it depends on what type of writer you are. Look at the following definitions and see where you fit in…

Planner: You outline each scene and know exactly what is going to happen. There’s little surprise for you as the story unfolds because the route is already planned out. A planner (or outliner) for the most part stays within the confines on their plan.

Pantser: You’re the type of writer who flies by the seat of his pants. Yeeeee Haaaaaw!! You have no plan or idea as to where you’re going or what will happen in your story. You sit down, start writing, and let the story or characters guide you as the words flow. There’re are no boundaries and a pantser will tell you they enjoy the spontaneity of letting the muse take the lead.

Plantser: This is me–a combination of the two. I know where my story is going but also allow myself to veer off in directions that sometimes offer surprise, intrigue, and conflict that I didn’t anticipate. I once tried to outline and sadly I got board and ended up rebelling.

Do what works for your writing style. There’s still enough time before NaNoWriMo begins to sketch an outline and get your characters/settting/plot all planned out.

Support Systems Are Available Around the World.

NaNoWriMo is now a worldwide event and offers support and strategies on their site here. Check it out and see if there are any local groups near you.

On the site you can find so many pep talks, advice, and prompts to keep yourself going. There are communities all over the world. You can purchase a cup or a t-shirt (I bought the zip up hoodie one year) and submit your count at the end for final recognition and a certificate.

With covid it will be a bit different this year. Usually there are scheduled write-ins where writers meet at a local coffee shops to share the collective energy of the group. This won’t happen with covid but maybe you can do it online or with safe social distancing. Check the site to see exactly what’s happening near you.

Whatever you chose to do, be smart as we’re still in the midst of the pandemic.

What if I Run Out of Things to Write?

Running out of things to say is a possibility.

This usually happens to me when I try and pants an entire manuscript. A couple of years ago I got to 30K words and then hit a solid wall that wouldn’t give no matter how hard I tried. I’d written the characters into a corner with no solution and I found myself writing in circles.

Hey! It happens. It was a lesson for me.

If you find yourself in that situation don’t stop, just redirect.

Don’t try to edit what you’ve already written as you’ll get bogged down in what may or may not be fixable. Instead, move forward, keep writing, and developing those characters and settings. If you can make that happen, then you’re on your way to getting 50K words for the month.

Maybe you need to go back to a certain place in your manuscript and change a key scene and make the characters react differently.

Commit to push yourself past the tough points. Keep writing, writing, writing.

I Can’t Write Every Night. Is That Allowed?

Absolutely! This is your journey and you get to set the rules. Not everyone can drop all responsibilities and write every day. That’s completely fine but…

For me the most important thing was to commit to writing every single day during the month of November. Even if it’s a five word sentence and pushes your story forward then that day is accounted for.

So, even if it’s late and time for bed, take two minutes and write a sentence… I know you can do it.

If you’re busy with work, kids, and life in general then feel free to alter the goals to suit your own restrictions. If you want to shoot for 1000 words a day for the entire month then you’ll have the first draft of a novella at the end of the month. How awesome would that be?

What if I Reach 50,000 Words Before the End of the Month?

Wow! If you’ve reached 50K and it isn’t even the end of the month then pat yourself on the back and keep going.

Is the story completed? Are you happy with the novella size or are you looking for a full size novel manuscript? Maybe you need to go back and flesh out some of the characters or add some back story.

Really, the decision is yours. You can continue on your roll or you can write “the end” and close your NaNoWriMo experience for 2020. Congratulate yourself and give yourself a break. Let the manuscript sit and stew for a few weeks before going back to it with a fresh set of eyes.

Remember what you’ve written is not ready for publishing and is simply a first draft. You’ll still need to rewrite it and add to the scenes, fix the errors, and continue the editing process.

Do I Need to Register to Participate?

No you don’t need to register.

With NaNoWriMo you can be as involved and organized as you want. I’ve never registered online but that’s me.

Check out the website for more information and make your decision from there.

How Do I Stay Accountable?

I like to post my numbers daily on Facebook. What I do is post

yesterdays total–

todays total–

and then total to date.

The numbers are there for all to see whether it’s 2000 words or 20. Every single day during NaNoWriMo I do this and others take notice of the process and begin to cheerlead for you. It’s been highly effective for me.

The other accountability method for me has been to use Instagram and post a daily picture of your word count.

No matter what, you’re not alone and by putting the numbers out there can be a powerful motivator to keep going.

Give it a shot. Best of Luck.

Be kind to yourself and don’t let frustration take over. Relax and try and enjoy the process.

9 thoughts on “All You Need to Know to Be Successful at NaNoWriMo”

  1. Great post, Faye! I think I remember a tip somewhere about being stuck in your story: “If you don’t know how to move along, then either kill a character or let them have sex.”

    I’ve never needed to use that yet, but simply knowing I can throw in conflict at any time empowers me to move on with my original plot.

    1. Thanks for dropping by Stuart. lol…yes that 30k was a middle grade…I killed them one at a time…didn’t help…lol…Wasn’t meant to be. Hope life is treating you well. xo

  2. Great post. I have just started writing fiction and have dabbled in a couple of short stories.
    A novel? Me? And now I am thinking “why not?”

    1. YAY! a convert. Its so much fun and you’d be surprised how much you can do. If you don’t want a novel just shorten up the word count for the day. Please let me know how you did! So excited for you. I had the same attitude with my first NaNo…why not?! I’ve never looked back. xo

  3. Great post! This is my ninth year doing nano. It’s crazy because I just came across the first book I wrote for it back in 2012 and it’s wild to reflect and see how much I’ve grown. Good luck to the first timers out there!

  4. I’ve never done NaNo, mostly because it never quite times out! I’m either not done researching, or I already have the draft done haha. Are you doing it this year?

    1. Hi Mary Grace! I’ve done NaNo successfully a couple of time. One of the novels is now with my agent. I’ve also failed at NaNo a few times. Lost interest, life got in the way…all those things. It’s a great exercise though to write every day on the same project. I highly recommend it…even if it’s 500 words. At the end of the month thats a novella of 15K! That’s awesome.

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