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How to Win NaNoWriMo This Year

Some people don’t like NaNoWriMo because it doesn’t breed good daily writing habits. It’s a 50,000 word race to the finish line but most people can’t sustain that past that one month mark.

But then there’s the rest of us who love that a chunk of our novel is churned out super fast.

This is called fast drafting, and you may be a fast-drafter deep down and not know it yet.

That’s why I advocate for everyone trying NaNoWriMo, even if you’re convinced it’s not for you. Fast drafting is exactly what it sounds like: writing your novel as fast as you can without pausing to edit or tweak your story. Writers who enjoy this can be both plotters (outliners) or pantsers (sans outline), so it’s important to try it out!

Check out my YouTube video on this topic if your eyes are feeling tired :)

I’ve covered why I think everyone should give NaNo a whirl, and I’m still a believer in that thought.

Last year I participated in both the July Camp NaNo (which a 50k word goal) and the actual November NaNo event and won both of them.

That’s 100k words in two months! You can see why I was so upset when I realized I wasn’t going to meet my deadline this year.

And in the months between and after those NaNo events...I only managed to bring that word count up another 40k in 14 months. I write far more fast-drafting than I do with consistent writing.

So whether this is your first time or your eighth time participating in NaNo, I’m going to go over exactly how I won twice!

This one has nothing to do with outlining--we’ll get to that one in a minute. I’m referring to a realistic daily word count goal.

Sure, following the suggested 1,667 words per day sounds great, but you’ve got a life outside of writing. National Novel Writing Month takes place in November, a month that just so happens to have a Thanksgiving holiday to mess up your writing plans.

If you know you’ve got a final one week and will have your nose in a chemistry book, plan for it! Don’t wing it and assume you’ll make it.

I made a simple excel spreadsheet that looked like a monthly calendar and showed my plans in that month and the word count required to make up for those plans.

You can choose to do double-days the weekends before and after your exam week, or spread it out over the rest of the month.

Whatever you decide to do, seeing those numbers on a screen will help you be honest with what you’ll need to do to keep on track. You’ll also see the trickle down effect if you start to slack off--the word count required for your remaining days will start to creep up.

Everyone always gets into NaNo preparations and talking about their survival kits (notebooks, outlines, pens, coffee, candy, etc) but perhaps of more importance is your “life survival” plan. AKA, what life events will get in the way of your writing?

For some people, this might involve meal planning so their family gets fed, or delegating chores so the house doesn’t fall into shambles.

This is where the non-NaNo’ers rise up. “If you can’t maintain your life and your writing, then NaNo doesn’t train you for anything!”

NaNo is all about the fast draft. And for many people, they can write a lot faster than they think they can. Some of us, myself included, need the no-distractions environment to push those words out onto the paper.

So prepare your life ahead of the month. Come up with a writing schedule so your family knows about it ahead of time. Teach your twelve year old how to do a load of laundry (is that an appropriate age these days?) and make sure your thanksgiving decorations and plans are handled before the start of the month!

Unless you’re an uber experienced writer, just don’t do it. One of the challenges I had when I started taking writing seriously was overcoming the idea that my horrible first draft wasn’t normal.

It totally is.

Sure, you might surprise yourself sometimes by the awesomeness you churn out but you might also lay down to sleep at night and look back on the chapter you just wrote, a chapter you already hate.

Don’t fix it!

If it makes you feel better, make a note of your negative feelings toward it and set it aside for the editing phase. Your goal during NaNo is to write a good chunk of your first draft. Here’s how I view edits: I know I’m always going to change my first chapters. I just am. I also know that I can better fix it later when I’ve written the rest of my novel. At that time, I’ll know what important details I should include in my first chapter, and what would deadpan for the rest of the plot.

You’ll be better equipped to edit your novel when you’ve written all of it. So march on you write-soldier and allow your first draft to be (possibly) garbage!

If you’ve never tried outlining, do it this NaNo. If you’ve tried it and you hate it, then I still have some advice for you: think about your next scene during the day, before you sit down to write it. Day dream while you’re brushing your teeth or doing the dishes, scanning paperwork at your day job or waiting in line to pick up your kids (just don’t run over any little ones). Prepare yourself for your writing of the day so you don’t get to the blank page and stare at it for two hours.

Those who would like to outline, here’s some major topics you should know about your novel: the main characters and supporting characters, your major plot points (you can follow any structure you like: hero’s journey, 3 act structure, etc), any world building you might need, and any sub-plots you would like to incorporate.

If you’re world-building, I have some great tips for that and an even greater worksheet to help you build that world from the bottom up.

One of the great things about NaNoWriMo is the community. When you sign up online, there’s dozens of forums you can go to and chat with other writers in your genre.

My favorite part of NaNo is the sprints hosted on Twitter, via @NaNoSprints.

Seriously, even if you don’t have a twitter, sign up just to participate in those!

For those that don’t know, writing sprints involving writing as much as you can in a given time limit--5 minutes, 10 minutes, sometimes 30. The fun part comes in when these sprints are themed, and my favorite are the Harry Potter themes. You can decide which HP house you want to be in and compete with and against other writers to win the writing House Cup.

People like, comment and share each other's achievements. It really is a fun and supportive community, so be prepared to chat with fellow writing enthusiasts!

My last tip segues into my next one perfectly. Social media can be your downfall.

While the community of NaNo is amazing, it’s easy for plenty of us to get lost online responding to people and browsing the thousands of writing tweets.

Allow yourself a limited number of minutes every day to look at social media. For me, this means one check-in Tweet per sprint. I don’t respond to anyone to like anyone else’s writing stats until I’ve met my goal for the day.

If you love jumping on your Pinterest board for inspiration or just like to veg out on YouTube, create a limit. I used to have a routine of coming home and watching YouTube videos for 20 minutes before I would write. I set a timer and when that timer went off, I stopped watching. Period.

Force yourself to abide by these rules because trust me, it won’t be easy sometimes.

So many famous writers have participated in NaNoWriMo. Read their stories. Absorb any tips that they give. Here are just a couple examples of people that have participated and made it big:

Marissa Meyer. She’s first on my list because I just finished the last book in the Lunar Chronicles series and I was almost in tears because it was over. Meyer managed to write 150,011 words in an attempt to win a spot as a walk-on for Star Trek. She didn’t win but Cinder, Scarlet, and Cress were born out of that one month of writing. Now I’m just waiting for the movie adaptations because there’s a hole in my heart where her stories used to be.

Hugh Howey. He wrote nearly half of Wool during the 2009 NaNo which went on to be an internationally bestselling novel. Howey has credited being a professional novelist to his participation in NaNo, and has already sold the movie rights to Wool!

NaNoWriMo is more about self-control and discipline than anything else, especially if this is your first go around.

Let me know if you're participating in NaNo this year! Is this your first time or are you a veteran?

"Keep your head in the clouds, your hands on the keyboard, and remember that Rome wasn’t built in a day." - Marissa Meyer

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