Nine Ways to Nail NaNoWriMo: How To Be Successful and Write a Novel


National Novel Writing Month 

AKA NaNoWriMo.

AKA writing 50k words in one month.

AKA, what the heck am I doing to myself?!!!

Nano for convenience, because life is too short to be typing it out in full, especially when I'm prepping to write like Speedy Gonzales for the upcoming 30 days. 

Nano is the opportunity for writers, both published and unpublished alike, to come together to achieve what seems insurmountable. From its inception in 1999, with only 20-odd writers, to these days where billions of words are written over the month of November. Nano is a creative writing project where all the participants' goals are the same. 

To write 50,000 words from 1st November to 30th November. 
For those of you whose mental arithmetic is as good as mine, that's 1667 words a day. Phew!

I've taken part in Nano five times and been successful in three of these. I mean, I was successful in getting words written during the other two as well, I just didn't hit the mutual target of 50k—one of these failed attempts was thwarted by a smoking Mac (and I don't mean in a good way) so sometimes even our tools can protest against the idea. 

And I can't say I blame them, by mid-November when I'm missing out on coffee with friends or speaking to my long-suffering partner I want to self combust too. 

But there's nothing quite like that feeling of camaraderie with other authors. The pick-me-up messages or the writing sprints to get down the words. And I know, in the year of doom that has been 2020 so far, these good vibes will be received with open arms (in a socially distanced Zoom kind of way). 

And, of course, there is nothing greater than the sense of getting to the finishing line, be it mid-November or 11.59pm on November 30th. Where a sprinkling of fire-works covers your screen and a load of money-off vouchers for writing goodies hits your inbox. 

My second successful Nano, back in 2018, is the book that ended up bagging me my wonderful agent—after a hefty few rounds of editing. Because no matter how bad the first draft was, at least I had a first draft to work on. And this is what cheers me on every year I attempt to write my fingers to a bloody mess (slight exaggeration) and my brain into an even bigger mess (no exaggeration).

It's hard. 

It's painful.

But it's exhilarating.

And that's why I'm here with some tips for those who want to join in this year. 

Nine Ways to Nail Nano:

1. Sign-up.

To be a 'real' Nano'er you have to sign up to the organisational website which can be found HERE. It's more than just a website though, signing-up will give you access to the community, which is what Nano is really all about. 

There are local groups, so make sure you check yours out. My local group is putting on a Zoom welcome party, lots of Discord & Facebook meetings, and plenty of sprints (more on those later). We used to meet up in our local library, but as the world is coming to a fiery end, this has been put on hold for a bit. 
You can add Nano buddies and buy yourself a Nano sweatshirt or mug too. Take some time to sign up before the 1st of November so you have plenty of opportunity to check out the website properly.

2. Sprints.

Writing sprints come in the form of short sharp bursts of writing. It's a take on the Pomodoro Technique which sees work broken down into intervals of twenty-five minutes with no distractions. It's how I work anyway, so I have found sprints to be the best way (for me) to get my daily words down.  

You can find other sprinters in your local Nano group, or on Facebook, and I think the Nano Twitter offers sprints too. There is also the option to sprint alone, using the Nano webpage.

A timer is set, then everyone beavers away for the allotted time, and when the alarm goes off we all compare how many words we've written. It's not competitive though if you're worried about a small word count, everyone is celebrated for the words they write. 

I find that shorter sprints are better for me, say 20 minutes. And the more I do, the more words I get down in each one. 

It's a good way to start, and worth a try even if you're skeptical. I was at first and now it's how I write all the time. 

3. Planner or Pantser.

The famous question. Are you a Plotter (someone who meticulously plots their book before they start writing)? Or a Pantser (someone who wings it by the seat of their pants when it comes to writing)?
Though Nano has added a new category of Plantser which is what I am, I have a rough idea and then flesh it out as I write. 

Whatever you are naturally, don't change this when it comes to writing your Nano words. It's hard enough to write 1667 words a day, without having to change your writing style to do it. Though it is best to know what you are going to write before November comes around. 

So whether that's a title or a full chapter plan. Just go with it. 

4. Focus.

Whatever it is you need to be able to focus, do it. Headphones. Coffee. Being in a room on your own. Locking the kids in a cupboard (joke!) Make sure it's all in hand before you sit down to write, otherwise it's too easy to just go put the kettle on

I have started using Brain.FM as a tool to help me focus. It plays background music that makes the neurons in your brain work in patterns to help you focus. I don't know the science, but I know that it has increased my productivity hugely. And I've never been able to have any kind of music on when I'm writing before.  (Not an ad, I just love it). 

5. Bank those Words.

If you have the opportunity on any day to write more than the allotted 1667 words then do it. You never know when you might have to skip a day, or if you might not have time to write enough words in one day. We all know that the world can throw a curveball at us when we least expect it (see the whole of 2020) so being prepared if you can be, is helpful. 

6. Don't try to be perfect. 

The aim of Nano is TO GET THE WORDS DOWN. 
Not to have a polished draft by the end. Don't spend time going over what you've written or trying to edit the previous day's work. Just Write. Write. Write.

If your characters go off on a story that you didn't plan, let them. Don't be afraid of mistakes that might happen. Give yourself permission to be imperfect.

7. Snacks.

I'm giving this one its own heading as food is really important to me. But I guess what I mean is look after yourself. 

I do this by feeding my body lots of salty nuts and bars of chocolate. Which I have to offset by doing lots of walking. It's a win-win because Nano can be very sedentary.

Whatever it is that makes you feel good, try and do a little of it every day. And, though there are those who say write even if you're exhausted and can't keep your eyes open, I have to disagree. My mental and physical health are more important to me.

8. What to do in December.

It may be very tempting to send your completed manuscript out to agents and publishers straight away. We've all made that mistake! I sent out my first completed manuscript (though not a Nano one) to agents about a day after I finished it and that did not end well. I look back now and cringe. 

Put it away in the proverbial drawer until you can't remember what you've written word for word. Probably about a month. Then give it a read back. You'll hopefully be pleasantly surprised. 

9.  Enjoy Yourself. 

I know this may seem like a bit of a cop-out last Nano tip, but really, what's the point in doing something as difficult as Nano if you're not enjoying it even a little bit?

So there we have it. 
Just a few hints and tips for your to use or discard at your own choice. 

If you decide to carry on and do Nano 2020, add me as a buddy and we can hang out online. I'm writingittoday. 

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