Five Tips for Winning NaNoWriMo

by • November 18, 2013

We’re knee-deep in NaNoWriMo—that’s National Novel Writing Month, in case you missed the memo—and although the finish line draws closer, you may find yourself thinking about throwing in the towel. Don’t panic and don’t give up! Here are five ways you can keep your creative mojo flowing.

Support: Although writing is essentially a solitary endeavor, it’s almost never done in a vacuum. Pick up the book nearest to you and flip to the acknowledgements; chances are, you’ll see a list of people who helped the author create the book you hold in your hands. Friends and family are invaluable sources of support, encouragement, and the occasional motivational kick in the pants. Fellow writers can be great accountability buddies. If you don’t know anyone else doing NaNoWriMo this year, check out the forums and regional groups on the organization’s website. Having more people on your team means a bigger crowd cheering you on when you cross the finish line.

Strategize: Don’t start your daily writing session by staring blankly at your computer while you wait for inspiration to strike. You are on a mission, and to achieve your objective (a minimum of 1,667 words a day), you’ll need a plan. Ideally you’ll have some idea of what your overall plot looks like by this point. However, your “big picture” outline typically won’t have enough detail to be useful in your daily writing sessions, like trying to drive cross-country with only a topographical map of the U.S. Take five minutes before you start typing to sketch out the scene you’ll be working on. List which characters appear, block out the action, figure out who says what, and briefly describe the setting. This pre-writing exercise, adapted from Rachel Aaron’s 2k to 10k has been proven to increase your hourly word count.

Save: Save early. Save often. Save in at least two places. The power might go out in the middle of your daily writing session. You could drop your laptop on a hard surface. There are a thousand possible calamities that could befall you, but saving on your primary computer may not be enough. If your machine breaks down or gets a virus, you could potentially lose the whole manuscript. There are many low-cost or free cloud-based storage options, including Google Drive and Microsoft’s Skydrive, that allow you to back up your work and get to it from any computer with internet access. You could also email your document to yourself every day at the end of your writing session, or, if you’re particularly paranoid, back everything up on an external hard drive. Remember: Lots of copies keep stuff safe.

De-Stress: You can’t keep going at full speed all the time or you are liable to suffer burnout. Whether you’re writing 1,667 words every day like clockwork or trying to cram 12,500 into marathon sessions on the weekends, you need to take frequent breaks and reward yourself. One way to avoid physical and mental strain is to build a rest period into plan. Aim for a break of five minutes out of every half hour. This is not a Facebook/email/funny cat video break. This is a time to get up from the computer, refill your coffee mug, and walk around. Get some fresh air, if possible, and if you’re feeling particularly sluggish, do a few minutes of aerobic activity. No one will judge you for doing jumping jacks in your pajamas.

Stay Motivated: In case you need a little extra push to get over the finish line, check out this Mental_Floss article on published NaNo novels. If Erin Morgenstern (The Night Circus), Rainbow Rowell (Fangirl), Hugh Howey (Wool) can do it, so can you!

What are your tricks for making it through NaNoWriMo? Let us know in the comments!

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