On Writing

Tips for Making NaNoWriMo Work

Tips for Making NaNoWriMo Work

We’re on the cusp of November, which means writers everywhere are planning (or, if they’re pansters, considering a last minute, “Why not?”) for NaNoWriMo. NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing Month where writers from all over the world commit to the task of writing 50,000 words. From setting aside writing time to balancing work/home life, to creating characters and story worlds, NaNoWriMo is equal parts exhilarating and overwhelming.

After multiple “failed” attempts at NaNoWriMo, I was reluctant to try again. Fifty thousand words is no small amount. It breaks down to 1,667 words a day. But after talking to local YA author and homeschool friend Mary Jane Capps, she encouraged me to just give it a try again.

I’ve “won” the last two years. (Anyone who reaches the 50,000 word count is a NaNoWriMo winner.) It takes a lot of work, commitment, planning, and drive to reach 50,000 words. But it is possible!

The feeling you get when you sit back and realize you’ve written a novel’s worth of words is amazing. It’s proving to yourself that you can do this writing thing!

10 Tips for Making NaNoWriMo Work for You

1. Set your goal.

Set your goal for NaNoWriMo. Is it to write 50,000 words? Maybe you know that’s not possible for you this season and your goal is 25,000 words in November or 5,000 words a week. It’s okay to not have the 50,000 word count goal! Use the energy of NaNoWriMo to give momentum to your writing projects.

2. Share your plan.

Tell your household your plan to participate in NaNoWriMo. Writing can feel extremely isolating even when you have writer friends and supportive friends or family. Trying to commit to such a huge writing project in secret could be very heavy. Share your plans with your spouse, roommate, close friend, or family member.

Let others know you’re taking your writing serious, so they can support and encourage you, pick up dinner, drop off coffee, take the kids out, ask how your project is going, etc. Sharing your writing self is vulnerable, but let your people be on your team! It’s been so sweet to hear my children encourage me to write my story and learn to respect my writing times.

3. Schedule your writing sessions.

This may be my most practical advice. Get your planner out. Look at your average week–meetings, school commitments, work, appointments. Mark your current commitments (I like to use an hourly planner for this) and then look for the white space on your calendar.

When do you have an hour or two to write? It may be the same time every morning or every evening. It may be mornings on MWF and afternoons on Tu/Th. Or you may be able to write for 5 hours every Saturday, but only 3 hours during the week. Figure out what works for you and the life you have.

What I do know is you’re more likely to keep to your commitment if you’ve marked down when you’re going to write. Schedule it, protect it, and ask your support system to respect your writing boundaries.

PS – You also need to sleep, so don’t always always schedule your writing times late into the night…unless you’ve got awesome work hours and don’t have to show up until noon.

4. Plan easy meals.

This sounds super practical, but it’s important. We all need to eat. Especially if you’re the go-to chef in your house. Three meals a day times thirty days is 90 meals. That’s a lot of food…and even more mental energy space that you could devote to writing!

Make a meal plan. Keep it simple. Repeat the same meals. Everyone will live. You’ll get to write.

My family is in a take it easy season and our current meal plan is fairly simple:

  • Monday – Meat + two sides
  • Tuesday – Soup (usually canned), salad, + bread
  • Wednesday – Instant Pot/One Pot meal
  • Thursday – Pasta
  • Friday – Pizza
  • Saturday/Sunday – My husband takes over cooking duties. 

I’m not winning any awards over here, but it’s simple and it’s working for us. With attempting to write 1,667 words a day–on top of everything else you’re doing–simple and repetitive is good enough.

5. Let things go.

The thing about NaNoWriMo is that it’s short term. One month. It’s not sustainable for all twelve months of the year. To write 50,000 words you’ll have to let some things go. Maybe it’s laundry, kids bedrooms, keeping up the garden, whatever your thing is, you might have to loosen your expectations if you also want to honor your NaNoWriMo commitment to yourself.

You cannot do all things or be all things to everyone, even yourself. Some things will have to go or just wait.

It’s probably not time to organize all your closets or redo your kitchen. Those will still be there on December 1st.

6. Be ready for highs + lows.

NaNoWriMo is an emotional rollercoaster. You will be so excited and proud of yourself and every other writer you meet. Then you may ask yourself why did you even sign up for this and that you’re probably the worse writer ever and what are even words. (We all do this.) Just know that you will have highs and lows. Ride the highs and when you reach the lows realize it may be time to step back, take a walk, drink some tea, or just go to sleep.

7. Remember it’s a draft.

It’s a first draft. It’s a first draft. It’s a first draft. Just keep reminding yourself you’re writing a first draft. No writer (even the most successful) publishes a first draft. Don’t get hung up on the perfect word or getting every character or setting detail right. Make a note (parantheses are great), forget about perfection, and move on. Tell yourself the story.

“The first draft is just you telling yourself the story.”

Terry Pratchett

8. Be kind to yourself.

No, seriously, be kind to yourself. Sleep, eat, speak well of yourself and your work. The writing life is a process with ups and downs. Speak truth to yourself. You are not the worst. You are capable. This is impossible. You’re making it happen. Sure, there are writers better than you. You are learning and growing.

9. Keep writing sessions for writing.

You have limited time as a writer, especially when it comes to NaNoWriMo, so keep your writing sessions for writing. Not researching what kind of buttons Greeks wore in the 11th century or looking up genre conventions or how to write a query letter. This is not the time for Pinterest mood boards or finding comp titles for your novel. Or even commenting on #nanowrimo posts from your online writing community. All of that will come later.

If you find yourself needing more research for your novel make a note, add a comment, and move on. Leave the rabbit trails for persuing later.

10. Be proud of yourself!

You’ve done a huge thing! Be proud of yourself! Whether you “win” or not, you’ve made a commitment to your writing and you are making progress. That’s something to be proud of.

BONUS: Connect with the Writing Community

Even if you have supportive friends and family, they may not understand the ins and outs of the writer life. It can be really helpful to connect with the writing community on social media. Peruse the hashtags #nanowrimo and #nanowrimo2020 and connect with other writers. There are usually a couple of NaNoWriMo photo/prompt challenges floating around that will help you connect too. Last year I hosted #nanomynovel and will do so again this year.

Share your tips for making NaNoWriMo work for you!