Nanowrimo is just around the corner (only a couple more days to go!) and it’s made me reflect on my experiences last year in nanowrimo. I thought I’d pass on some tips I learnt from participating in my first nanowrimo, you probably know a few of them already but it can’t hurt to have them reinforced.
I am participating in nanowrimo this year. I introduce my novel here if you’re interested in reading about my plans for nanowrimo this year. Now onto the tips!
You need to write every day
This one is pretty obvious, but it’s so easy to give yourself a rest day and then that fades into a rest week and on and on and then you will have written nothing. Writing, even if it’s just for a paragraph or two, keeps you in the story and makes it easier to go back to writing the next day. Plus 50k is such a massive goal that by the time you’re a day behind it can be difficult to motivate yourself to catch up.
Last year I had exams in the middle of the month so I had to put writing on hold for a week and a bit, that put me massively behind and feeling a bit confused about where my story was headed. I do stand by deciding to stop writing during my exams, but it meant I almost didn’t finish.
Writing buddies are vital
I have my writing buddies to thank for finishing nanowrimo last year. I was so close to giving up after getting so far behind, but I couldn’t stand them finishing but not me. It is super helpful to have people to keep you accountable and there are so many people on the nanowrimo site and on twitter who are great at motivating you to reach the finish line.
My main writing buddy is now living in another time zone to me, and I don’t even know if she’s participating in nanowrimo this year. (if you’re reading this, let me know okay??) So if any of you are interested in being writing buddies leave me a comment! I’d love to use skype/twitter to do writing sprints with someone.
If you’re stuck, just write anything
I know you want to come out of nanowrimo with a cohesive story but I hate to break it to you, it’s probably not going to happen. You’re going to reach a point where you don’t know what comes next and things aren’t working out and that’s where you’ve just got to write whatever.
I had a bunch of sections that didn’t really fit within the plot, but they were good because they helped me understand the characters better. By writing things the things I really wanted to write about I discovered what sort of story I wanted to tell, then I just had to figure out how to get the story so hit those points.
External resources are helpful
The nanowrimo site has a bunch of useful forums, my favorite is the writing sprints one. I especially love doing writing crawls because you don’t have to do them with other people and they make writing a bit more interesting.
Additionally, I found it really helpful to write out some prompts so that if I was feeling stuck I could grab one of those. I used locations and relationships that I wanted to explore within my novel world along with some random ones from pinterest (my board here). Even if they didn’t fit into the story completely I used them for backstory or for little side quests. It can be fun to write something almost like a fanfiction about your characters.
Use all the time you have
Don’t kid yourself that you’ll write after school or work, if you have a 30 minute train trip write then (on your phone if necessary). If you can wake up early so you can get some writing done before you need to be anywhere then do it. Use the extra time you have on weekends to catch up and get ahead. Write instead of watching TV. Write while waiting for your dinner to cook. Take a quicker than usual shower and write with that time instead,
Taking every opportunity to write will add up in the end and stop writing from feeling like such a momentous task. It is far easier to write another 500 words when you get home and just want to watch netflix than to begin your writing then.
Rewards are very helpful in keeping yourself writing. It is good to have some short term, some medium term and some long term rewards. These can be different from person to person so try to think about what will motivate you best. Personally I tend to have a trip to the massive bookshop in a large city near where I live as my overall reward. I have every 10k as one book so the more words I get done the more books I can buy there.
I also have a daily word count goal of 2k, and if I reach that daily goal (provided I am above/equal to the overall daily goal) I can relax and watch some tv. I use food rewards for short term goals, with every 1k (or sometimes 500 words on tough writing days) being worth one square of chocolate. Play around and see what works best for you.
Don’t give up
Especially in the first few days of nanowrimo I saw people dropping out left and right. It’s easy to be overwhelmed by how many words there are left to write and think that your story isn’t working out as you wanted. I recommend that you keep writing, you’ll never get there if you don’t keep going.
If it gets to half way through the month and you’re several thousand words behind then keep writing. I surprised myself majorly last year by managing to write 8k in one day which caught me up to where I was supposed to be. Even if that doesn’t happen to you, keep chipping away at that goal by writing an extra 500 words or so a day and you will slowly catch up.
Know which days you will be able to do more writing and which days you won’t have as much time for writing. This will help you plan your writing around it and not worry if you fall behind one day as long as you know you can catch up later.
This also applies to using your remaining preptober time to get ready. For me that means writing blog posts so I don’t have to worry about those in November. What does it mean for you?
Set personal goals
The nanowrimo wordcount per day is 1667, however you’re not going to have an equal amount of time to write every day. It can be really helpful to set personal goals for each day or week. I generally aim to have a personal goal of 2k every day, this means I have a bit of a buffer for if I can’t write some days and it’s also a nice round number.
On days when I am more busy (for me this is Wednesdays and Fridays) I generally only set goals of 1k, and because I am setting higher goals the majority of the time this is fine. I have more time on the weekend so I aim for more than 2k each day, sometimes 3k and sometimes 4k depending on what else I have going on.
This can also be a fun way to challenge friends. There is 10k Tuesday, but how about seeing how much you and your friends can write in a day or two of your choosing? I find this is especially helpful on weekends when I have the time, I just need the motivation.
Set aside some reference books
This varies from person to person, but I find it really nice to have access to book that have a similar style or genre to my own. This can also include writers who’s style you really like or books that you think are really good writing. Whenever I read a book by Maggie Stiefvater I am hugely inspired to write something amazing, so her books are my go to choice for this.
I like having these books ready so that whenever I am lacking in motivation I can pick one of them up and read a few pages just to remind myself of what good writing is like and of a tone I might try to replicate. It can also be helpful to see how authors start their chapters, introduce new characters, develop world building or show backstory.
This tip isn’t for everyone, sometimes it can be disheartening to read other people’s amazing writing when yours is in the first draft stage, and there are some times when I avoid doing this for that exact reason. However I usually find it helpful so thought I should mention it!
Prepare for technological failure
There’s nothing worse than when your computer fails, but unfortunately that’s something you’ve got to be ready for. Figure out where you’re going to back up all your stuff and if possible share it between multiple devices so you can access it and keep writing if things go wrong.
I usually use google docs, a USB and email documents to myself. I am pretty worried that my computer is going to crash this time around because it’s not a great one, and I don’t have access to another so fingers crossed it doesn’t break.
I know a lot of people who swear by writing music, but personally I have never found it helpful. I can’t concentrate if there are lyrics happening. For a while I listened to movie or video game soundtracks (lord of the rings and skyrim were my favs) but then I discovered… background noise generators. (this is in no way sponsored I just love them)
I use Noisli or A Soft Murmur, but there are a bunch of other ones out there. They create the sound of rain, or the ocean or fire or a coffee shop, basically anything that isn’t a song. It fades into the background easily and lets you think about your story and your writing but it still blocks out the outside world. Some of them have timers, so you don’t have to worry about checking the clock you can just stop writing when the rain does, and most of them let you mix sounds to find your perfect mix.
Basically my point is, don’t feel pressured to listen to music while you write. Experiment and find what works for you, that is true of the whole writing process. I do still have a novel playlist that I listen to when I am outlining or trying to pump myself up though.
Write notes to yourself
Sometimes only you can tell yourself what’s up. Here are some examples of notes I wrote.
- WRITE NOW…YOU KNOW THE CONSEQUENCES – stuck to my keyboard
- Don’t you dare. I won’t buy more if you eat it all now. – stuck to my reward chocolate
- Have you written yet???? – stuck to the door of my room so I saw it as I left each day
- If you don’t write there will be no novel – stuck to the wall above my desk
- Once you reach 2k you can watch TV – stuck to my laptop screen
The biggest piece of advice I can give you is be strict with yourself. It’s so easy to slack off and not write, but remember you were the one who signed up for nanowrimo. You wanted to finish a novel, not end the month with only a few thousand words. If you don’t put yourself though this pain now you won’t get the end result you want.
Be honest about whether you’re not writing because you are busy with work, or if it’s because your novel isn’t interesting you. Take steps to be proactive in combating this, find some way to make your novel interesting again. Set a timer for 30 minutes and just write for that time, do nothing else. No one else is going to hold you accountable.
I know those are all pretty typical bits of advice, but hopefully they’re now fresher in your mind.