It’s finally that time of year again. The leaves are falling, the sun is setting earlier, and people around the country are hunkering down in front of their computers in an effort to write 50,000 words in one month. That’s right—it’s National Novel Writing Month.
For those of you who haven’t heard of it yet—and several of my friends and family members hadn’t, which is probably a failing on my part—National Novel Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo, as it’s more colloquially referred to) is an effort that started in 1999 in order to motivate writers to make significant progress on their work. Since then, there have been many offshoots, including Script Frenzy for screenplays and Camp NaNoWriMo for the summer months. But NaNoWriMo remains the largest and most well-known event, in part because of its notorious difficulty.
However, plenty of people have made it through. For those of you who are participating, here are some tips to help you make it to the end of the month, to the end of your 50,000 word count, and to the end of your novel.
Now, this can manifest itself in many ways, but it all comes down to accountability.
For many people, seeing someone else be productive can inspire them to be productive as well. If that fits your style, grab a group of friends and set up weekly writing dates. A good way to avoid distraction is to set a rotating timer—something like 20 minutes writing, 10 minutes of free time. This can be used either to discuss your writing or to talk about anything but your work. Either way, knowing you have a break coming up soon can help you focus during the productive period.
For a more remote option, set up a group chat and plan to check in regularly with a certain amount of words written. Services like Discord or Slack are great for this, as you can create multiple “channels” as well; for example, one for brainstorming, one to celebrate your successes, and one to share writing humor you’ve found. Goals are easier to stick to as well when you have multiple people to hold you accountable.
And I don’t mean simply finding a time to write. You also need to overcome distractions and make the most of that time. Write at the same time everyday, write in the same spot (your “office”), wear headphones—do whatever will help get your brain into a writing mindset and make it stay there.
One of the most oft lamented distractions is the compulsion to edit, and honestly, there are times where that may help you sort out a timeline or figure out a character’s motivation. But there are other ways to revise that will help you reach your 50,000 word goal, rather than detract from it. Instead of editing a scene, rewrite it from scratch, but keep the original there so you can refer back to it. Or, you can write a summary of what needs to be fixed. This will not only help you sort out the same issues that would have been fixed while editing, but also add to your word count.
Similarly, diving into research, while helpful, can also be time consuming. If you run across something in your writing that needs research, mark it in some way (highlighting is one option, but I prefer to use the Comment function because it allows me to note why I need to double-check the passage) and come back to it later. That can be after NaNoWriMo is over, or if it’s necessary for the plot to move forward, after your writing time for the day. The point is to mentally store it on the shelf so you can spend your scheduled writing time actually writing.
Use Tools to Jumpstart Your Writing
Writer’s block really is the Big Bad for NaNoWriMo writers. While outlining and character building can help tackle a majority of that, you’re likely to still run into times where you don’t know how to get from point A to point B.
Stopping your writing for the day in the middle of a scene—rather than at the end of it—will help propel your writing forward. Leave a few notes if you have an idea of how you want to continue. The next time you start writing, you’ll already have something to work off of, and by the time you finish the scene, you’ll be more immersed in your characters’ actions and motivations, which will make it easier to see what choices they would make and where the plot should go next.
In a more literal interpretation of tools, a note-taking app will help stockpile ideas and sentences that can help later down the line when you’re in a rut. Ones that are cross-platform, like Google Keep or Evernote, are particularly useful, as they allow you to write wherever you are and access them later where it’s most efficient for you. The important thing is that you make use of those quick bursts of inspiration that would otherwise be swept away in the course of your day.
Really, what NaNoWriMo comes down to is your willingness to push yourself and dedicate time you otherwise wouldn’t have to get more of your writing done. It’s something you have to commit to, and it’s not always going to be fun. But the easier you can make it for yourself, the more likely you are to succeed in making a habit of it. It is not the publication, but the act of writing that makes one a writer. Now go forth and write!