NaNoWriMo: 8 Essential Steps

This is a post for all you folks who have never done Nation Novel Writing Month, but are considering giving it a shot. All of you who have already done NaNoWriMo might want to read it as well, but only for that sense of satisfaction one gains by looking back on the part of the mountain face you've already successfully scaled.

1. It will only be fun if you make it fun. NaNoWriMo can be an exhilarating, delightful thrill ride. This lasts through Week 1. Week 2 sucks. That's when it starts to become work. Actually, Week 3 kind of sucks, too, because that's when you realize that the idea you started with is way, way too thin to support a full 50K. Fortunately, because you are allowed to go off in new directions and incorporate new ideas, Week 4 becomes fun again. The process of writing forces you to be actively creative. You don't just sit and wait for ideas - you have to gin them up. That's a lot of fun. Embrace the suck, call it fun and keep going.

2. Really look at your schedule. 1667 words per day for 30 days is 50,000 words. However, odds are, you don't really have 30 days to do 50K. Either your day job will limit your writing during the week, or your family will limit your writing on the weekends. Thanksgiving kills a day, Black Friday kills a day, your husband's birthday kills one evening, your sister's wedding kills a weekend, etc. Look at your schedule for November and strike off the five days that will most likely be unproductive. For all the others, make them 2000 word days. 2000 x 25 = 50,000.

3. Don't do it alone. The NaNoWriMo website has many different forums to interact with other writers on a variety of pertinent subjects. Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, Easily Mused... these and other communities are chock full of writers who are either doing NaNoWriMo or have done it in the past. Got a question? Want to kvetch or crow? Need a boost or want a writing buddy? It is SO MUCH EASIER TO WRITE when you aren't doing it all alone. Speaking of which...

4. Get the buy-in of your family and friends. I'm not talking about your online buddies or your Facebook friends and third cousins whom you have never set eyes on. I'm talking about your parents, spouse, siblings or other emotionally attached people with whom you breath the same air. (n.b. I'm assuming here that they know you write. Don't laugh... many people keep their writing completely secret.) Getting this buy-in is not strictly necessary, but it's much harder to have fun with NaNoWriMo if they believe NaNoWriMo to be, at best, a waste of time and effort. It's hard enough when it's clear they don't support you; if they are actively working against you, either by consistently reiterated negativity or through deliberate sabotage, you may still complete NaNoWriMo, but only with scorched earth tactics. Nobody said art was easy.

5. Plan ahead. Plotters lay out everything in advance. Pansters write by the seat of their pants, letting the story unfold by itself. To go for 50K and end up with something that will be at all salvageable, it will help if you have a general idea of what you want to happen. You don't need a detailed outline or massive story bible, but please, for your own sake, before you begin NaNoWriMo, ask yourself these questions: Who is my main character? Where does she live? What does she want? Who or what is stopping her from getting it? What is she going to do about that? If you take a moment and write down the answers to those questions, you will be able to write your book. Halfway through, you might decide to change the answers, or you'll discover that what you thought was the real obstacle was just a transient thing, or a front for the REAL obstacle. Nice... write it down.

6. Pace yourself. You're going for 2K a day. If you catch on fire early on and knock out 5, 6, 7 or 10K in a day? That's terrific! Please know, though, that 10K a day is hard to sustain. Even 5K a day is a demanding schedule. You have a long way to go, so don't burn yourself out too soon. The hardest part of a race is the last lap. Oh, and don't forget to eat and get some sleep, too.

7. Let it go. Lord Bicepton is defending the honor of Princess Honeycheek from pirates! After swimming to the side of her royal caravel, he climbs the rigging and draws his brace of pistols, forcing the hideous Pierre le Beouf to retreat! Just write it down and keep going. DO NOT STOP TO CHECK if "caravel" is the right word for the kind of ship you have in mind, or if that kind of ship has side riggings that someone could realistically climb, or if seawater would have made his pistols useless, or if you spelled "le Beouf" right, or, or, or... just keep writing! If you write something that you think needs a fact check, spelling check or any other kind of check, just type in a TKTK and keep going. Why TKTK? That sequence of letters isn't used in English words. Later on, during editing, you will search for TKTK, find the kludgy bits and do a proper job of it. Seriously, even if this bit of fact checking is completely necessary to make later plot elements work, just TKTK it and go on. To keep it honest, though, you don't want the TKTKs to count as words, so addTKTK them to the end of a wordTKTK in the paragraph in questionTKTK.

8. Don't listen to haters, snarkers or professional authors. When you complete NaNoWriMo, you will have accomplished something that 99% of the people in the world have never done and will never do. It takes work, resolve, courage, creativity and stamina. It takes heart. Yet, for everyone who is ready to congratulate you and celebrate your accomplishment, there will be someone quick to dismiss and deride. They will attempt to belittle your accomplishment, belittle you and belittle the entire NaNoWriMo concept. Scientific studies have shown that almost all of these nay-saying people were exposed to high levels of mercury as children; they should be pitied for their inability to experience joy, either in themselves or in others. Pity them, but do not listen to them. True, you won't be able to sell your NaNoWriMo without more writing and massive amounts of editing, but that's why there's the National Novel Publication Year plan.

Have fun with NaNoWriMo, you crazy kids!

===== Feel free to comment on this or any other post.


  1. I am in this year. Even took judicial amounts of time off to enable me to do it. I'm working on an outline now which is also great. Last time I did it it was more a of a seats of you pants kind of thing and that made it far more difficult in the end. Too much time was spent trying to figure out what needed to happen next. My outline will not be super detailed, but I am writing the rules for my Universe so I at least know the boundry of my particular World's sandbox :-)

    Great post, Tony!

  2. D. Paul: Thanks! The advantage of laying some groundwork on the plot & characters is that it saves you loads of time during NaNo itself. Even for dedicated pansters, I recommend at least a bit of prep.

  3. thanks! that was one of the best nanowrimo posts i've seen this year. i'm going to use it to hopefully finish my magnum opus novel. thanks for mentioning the importance of prep work. the most important prep for me is to put some time aside to look over how far i've come.

  4. Thinking about it. Fantastic, helpful post, Tony.


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