The first week of November is over, which means if you’re participating in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), you’re probably just about to dip out of that honeymoon phase and face the reality of this crazy commitment you’ve made.
Not to worry, writerly friends. I have here some tips that will keep you going until you cross the finish line, flush-faced and windswept and victorious (even if you don’t win! More on that later.)
Most of these tips won’t be new to you, but I encourage you today to look at them with fresh eyes. If you’ve never tried one of them out before, maybe give it a go. Something might surprise you!
This is such a Mrs. Weasley kind of thing to suggest, and possibly the most unexciting tip ever to start out this list. But seriously. Drink some water, guys! Not only is it generally just good for you, it’ll help keep up your energy and wakefulness. If you feel yourself wearing thin, try chugging some good ol’ h2o (and have a little stretch, while you’re at it. 😉 )
Oh, no, I’m being practical again. But taking breaks is just good sense, you know? Get up, move your body around, have a walk or a shower to shake loose all that creative goodness that’s getting cramped inside your overworked brain.
I’ll be honest—I rarely do any of those things I just mentioned. I am the sort of person who likes to just power through something until it’s done. But I still take breaks. They just take a lazier, faster form: I give myself 10 minutes (still at my computer) to do something else. But the key here is that when that break is over, you get back to the writing. Your Youtube or Netflix marathon can wait til after your daily goal is done—you’ve got a story to write!
Try an Outline
This is for you pansters out there (so called because they write by the seat of their pants.) I was one of you, once. And I still did NaNo then and I enjoyed the heck out of it. And it was HARD.
And then, one day, I decided to write an outline for my story. And I can’t describe how much it has changed the way I write.
The thing is, outlining can be as structured or as loose as you want. Mine is extremely loose. I love the discovery of writing too much to plan everything in an outline. And I give myself full permission to veer off course whenever my little heart desires. But having a vague idea of what will happen in the next chapter, and the next, and what the big plot points will be, and having an ending—it’s been an incredibly helpful change, and I’m never going back.
This is one of those ones that might not work for you. Maybe you’ve tried it. Maybe you haven’t. If you’re the latter, maybe try outlining just the next few chapters of whatever you’re writing. See if you like it. It might be just the thing you’re looking for to boost your word count.
This is another tip I only just started myself a few months ago. And not only has it worked, but it’s been super fun. My rewards range across the board, from affordable and simple (a gold star on my calendar for every day I write the NaNo goal of 1,667 words) to the splurge (a new tarot deck, a couple of new books, or a pair of boots I’ve been eyeing). I keep a list of rewards to use: daily ones (usually free) to keep my mood high throughout the month, smaller (also usually free) ones for finishing chapters or daily goals, medium ones for milestones like hitting the three-quarter point in my manuscript or working out an impossible plot tangle, and the rarely-used big rewards, which I reserve for major moments like finishing a draft…or getting through NaNoWriMo. This is such a flexible, catered-to-you method for motivating yourself through goals of all shapes and sizes. Highly recommend.
This is so important and so much easier said than done. But when it comes to anything in life, and sometimes especially creative things, there’s really nothing that can kill your productivity and drive faster than comparing yourself to other people. It’s really easy to do during NaNo, too. You can see your buddies’ word counts, hear people cheering about their 10k writing day in chats, and watch the progress bars of strangers in the forums turn purple with a week still left in the month. It can be discouraging. But it doesn’t have to be! Keep in mind that everyone has a different pace and method, and none of them are the right one or the better one. NaNoWriMo is one of those things that highlights certain skills—speed and turning off your inner editor—while underplaying others—careful sentence craft and quality. If you win NaNoWriMo, does that mean you’re not a real writer because you must not be good at crafting sentences or producing quality work? Not at all! You shouldn’t feel bad about winning, and you shouldn’t feel bad if you don’t “win.” If you “lose” NaNoWriMo because you prefer to edit as you go, have a more thoughtful writing pace or prefer not to write every day, that’s just your method. Do what works for you, my lovely. And let the successes of others be inspiring. We’re all in this together, and that’s a rather amazing thing.
When we’re looking at the sad, scrawny sentences of a first draft it’s easy to feel like writing is a terrible way to spend our time. But I’m positive that most anyone who has chosen to write a story chose to write that story for a reason. Don’t think about how your words are telling it all wrong, don’t think about how it’s taking longer to get it down than you’d like. Remember that seed, that glowing ember that sparked this writing fire in you. Is it your main character, or that scene you just can’t get out of your head? Is it that setting, or that thing that’s been on your mind for years that you’ve been battling and want to help others battle too? There’s something in there that made you choose this crazy thing we’re doing, and you can find it again. Let it inspire you, and trust that when you have all the words down, you can find a way afterward to shape them all into the perfect story to share your “why” with the world.
Side tip: don’t forget to have fun, sometimes 🙂 If you’re feeling bogged down, try writing a scene that’s just pure goof. For bonus points, write it terribly. A perfect time to “act the giddy goat,” if you will. It’s a good time, and it might spark some fun ideas!
Don’t feel like you have to win.
And here’s where we come back to having a victory even without a “win.” This is maybe a #unpopularopinion kind of tip but…I’m just gonna say it anyway.
Winning just really isn’t the point.
Community might be the point, or making a habit of writing, or maybe just getting some words on a page where there weren’t words before. I’d accept any of those arguments. But winning? I humbly suggest that it just doesn’t matter. Giving your all and not giving up? That matters. Even if you start on the last day of November, that’s awesome. Even if you started on the first day and are barely skimming 1,000 words but you keep trying…that’s awesome! 5k, 10k, 20k, 30k—it’s all amazing, and every day you write is more words on the page. So keep writing during NaNo, whether you think you’re going to “win,” or not. You win just by playing.
Hope you can find some help in these tips, fellow NaNo-ers. If you’re doing NaNo, shout out in the comments! Tell me how you’re doing. Let me know if you try any of these, and if you have any tried-and-true tips for NaNoWriMo or just writing in general, please share them! I’d love to hear all the things that work for you.