How to Win NaNoWriMo

Practical tips for how to write 50,000 words in one month.

pink letters fall from the fridge to the floor | Jason Leung

So you’ve decided to do it. Every November, during National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo, for short), hundreds of thousands of writers across the globe pledge their fealty to the writer gods and commit to writing a novel in one month. 50,000 words in 30 days. 1667 per day. And I’m not going to lie to you. It’s hard. Really hard. But you can do it. I know this because I’ve done it.

In the past two years, I’ve gone from writing as an occasional hobby to punching out over half a million written words as a blogger and fiction writer (both original and fanfiction). A sizeable chunk of those words resulted from my decision to tackle NaNoWriMo. And although I’m new to the whole “writing is a daily habit” thing, I’ve managed to win NaNoWriMo both years I’ve participated using a variety of practical strategies and helpful tips from other writers.

Below are some of my tried and true methods you can use to win NaNoWriMo:

Change Your Mentality
This isn’t exactly a tactic in itself, but it’s so important to start off your month long writing journey in the correct frame of mind. Here’s the deal with NaNoWriMo: You are not writing a book, or a novel, or even a fully-fleshed out story. You are writing 50,000 words, plain and simple. This is simply a “type till you reach the goal” situation. As many writers have testified, all first drafts suck. And giving yourself permission to suck is so important during NaNoWriMo. Plus, writing is all about rewriting. The novel and story will come later, after NaNo is long over, during the rewriting and editing phases. So don’t put too much pressure on yourself to write something good. Just write something.

Turn Off Your Screen
One of the biggest time-wasters when writing a first draft is editing as you go. For serial self-editors, resist this urge by turning down the brightness on your screen while typing. This way, your writing will be more stream of conscious (the purpose of a first draft is to get words on the page, after all) and less nit-picky. Resign yourself to the fact that everything you type on the page is there forever. Well, at least until the end of NaNo, or when you begin your first round of edits.

Turn Off the Internet
Much like self-editing, researching as you go is another problem that will hinder your progress. There is no need to be meticulously scouring the web for the correct type of fabric in specific period gowns during NaNoWriMo. Save your research until after you’ve finished your first draft. To confront the urge to Google, turn off the wifi on your computer. If simply clicking off your wifi doesn’t help, take the next step and unplug your modem. Or, if you’re writing in a coffee shop or library, don’t ask for the wifi password. And if you still can’t get your sticky fingers off the interwebs, switch to good ol’ fashion pen and paper.

Use Online Writing Software
If the idea of staring at a blank Microsoft Word document makes you sweat, try switching up your routine – using free online software can help reset your mind. I recommend Calmly, which helps create a distraction-free writing environment. In addition to its minimalist interface, Calmly includes helpful tools like an optional word counter, a focus mode that fades previously typed text, and the ability to save and download a copy or save to Google Drive without signing up for anything. For those with dyslexia, Calmly even has an “OpenDyslexic Mode” that features the Dyslexie font for optimal reading comfort.

Wake Up Early
If you work full time, have kids, a pet, or other responsibilities that make it difficult for you to summon the energy to actually sit down and write at the end of the day, try a different solution – wake up early. Make it a habit to get up one hour early every day, even if it’s just for one month. This is your sacred writing time. Protect it. Make a hot beverage and plunk yourself down in a cozy blanket with your laptop or pen and paper. Not only will this get your creative juices flowing first thing in the morning, but it will ensure you are carving out the necessary time to write. Plus, you’ll be able to spend the rest of your day with the awesome feeling that you’ve already hit your word count for the day (and none of that looming, soul-crushing guilt).

Word Sprints
If you’ve ever participated in a NaNoWriMo meet-up (virtual or local), you know all about the frenzied excitement surrounding word sprints. Word sprints (or word wars) are short timed challenges where writers aim to get as many words as they can down on the page. Because the sprints are often short (5-15 minutes), there is no time to self-edit or agonize over what to write next. Word sprints are a great addition to your writing routine because they provide short bursts of creativity that help boost your word count. To participate in virtual word sprints, follow @NaNoWordSprints to get motivated by prompts, dares, and (friendly) competition through organized wars. When the start time arrives, the sprint leader will Tweet a “GO,” often with an accompanying writing prompt. Then, everyone writes as much as they can until the leader Tweets a “STOP” at the end of the sprint period. Then, if you choose, you can compare your word count to others on social media.

Use Google Voice
If you have Google Docs on your laptop or smart phone, you can also take advantage of Google Voice, a program that allows you to talk into your smartphone or computer and have Google type out what you’ve said. This can be particularly helpful if you’re desperate to get your word count in and want to multitask while on the treadmill, while closing your eyes to rest, or while cooking. Some may roll their eyes at this method, but, hey, if helps you hit that word count, anything goes. (All is fair in love and writing.) To use it, open a new Google Doc and click on the Tools menu. Then click “Voice Typing” and hit the little microphone icon that pops up. Then find a quiet place and let your thoughts flow. (You can even say “period” or “new line” to add basic punctuation.) Don’t worry about spelling or grammar. These can all be fixed during the editing stage.

Fight Through It
Here’s a productivity trick that really helps writers reach their daily word count goal. When you feel like you want to give up for the day and your inner voice starts whining (“I’ve done enoughhh,” “I don’t feeeel like it,” “I’ll do it laterrrr”), just push through it. It’s that simple. But how do you actually do this? Here’s my trick – tell yourself “no” the first two times you feel like giving up. Then, give yourself permission to give up the third time. This way, not only are you setting yourself up with an rewarding end point, you are also proving to yourself that you can stretch beyond your limits. Oftentimes, I find that pushing through the first uncomfortable “give up” moment allows me to continue writing for quite some time after. Fight the angry goblin on your shoulder and persevere. It’s hard, but it gets easier every time.

Attend a Local Meet-up
The success of so many Wrimos depends on the awesomeness of local Municipal Liasons (MLs). These are local volunteers who have won NaNoWriMo in the past and will help keep you accountable during your month-long adventure. Search the NaNoWriMo website for your ML and attend a local meet-up. Not only will this ensure you are carving out a specific time during the day to write, but you will also meet some really awesome people who understand the madness you’re going through.

What practical strategies have you used to win NaNoWriMo?

Other NaNoWriMo Resources:

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About Malory Beazley (40 Articles)
Malory has taken her interest in fandom to the academy, penning a Master's thesis entitled "Out of the Cupboards and Into the Streets!: Harry Potter Genderfuck Fan Fiction and Fan Activism." You can find her in Nova Scotia, sipping coffee, writing fiction, and reading slash.

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