It’s November, National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) has started again. For many years, I attempted the challenge of writing a manuscript of over 50,000 words in the entire month of November, I failed many times. My first NaNoWriMo was in 2007, I managed to reach just under 5000 words before I suffered a tremendous writer’s block. A year later, I attempted but got distracted and only ended with 2000 words. I sporadically participated over the years, but finally, in 2015, I finished the manuscript for Ciphers to Neverland.
My first novel manuscript was completed, it was a tremendous personal accomplishment. It opened the window for me as a potential writer with the hopes of making a career out of it. For now, I write short stories for my fantasy world on my other blog: Death By Mage (you can read my anthology stories here). A couple of years later, I’ve continued to refine Ciphers to Neverland, and I’ve learned some essential lessons about publishing and will definitely improve my process the next time around. But that’s for a separate blog post. Since my successful attempt, I’ve watched many other aspiring authors attempt their first novel and have read several books from self-published authors about the ingredients needed to become a consistent writer (not just a successful one).
What is NaNoWriMo?
NaNoWriMo is a non-profit that firmly believes that everyone has a story to tell if given a chance. They are great champions of self-published authors, encouraging everyone to participate in the exercise to craft a manuscript with a minimum of 50,000 words in one month. Taking place starting November 1st to November 30th, thousands of hopeful writers take to their computers, pens & paper, and laptops to craft their stories.
This is their mission statement:
National Novel Writing Month believes in the transformational power of creativity. We provide the structure, community, and encouragement to help people find their voices, achieve creative goals, and build new worlds—on and off the page.
Donate if you can to help with the cause, plus the proceeds help to secure sponsors like Pronoun and other publishing services. But the most part for anyone participating isn’t just donating to the cause, it’s writing and here are some my tips and tricks.
Tips & Advice to Succeed in Writing for NaNoWriMo
1. Commit to a writing quota.
The month of November consists of 30 days, at the minimum 50,000-word count, the average amount of words typed or written for your novel is around 1666 words. My personal gauge is anywhere from 1600 to 1700 words a day. Everyday. Why commit to a daily quota? It creates a disciplined and methodical routine. If you really have a hard time writing up to 1600 words a day, I encourage anyone to spend several weeks writing 1600 words (not every day) but at least 3-4 times a week. Why? The average time to form a habit takes 60 days to build. If you do this before NaNoWriMo, then you have a substantial chance of fulfilling this quota. Didn’t do that? Read the next tip.
2. Writing sessions – small or large, pick a time to write.
When you plan to write your novel, set a period of time to write. For example, when I wrote Ciphers to Neverland, I decided that the hours of 3 PM to 9 PM was my dedicated writing period. I gave myself a considerable time period since I knew I would occasionally get distracted or wanted a break to stretch but committed to myself that between those hours, I would do my writing. Sometimes you don’t have the luxury to select large blocks of time to dedicate, still, pick a time period. Even if it’s only for 30 minutes, commit the time and focus on that time.
3. Follow NaNoWriMo Sprints or set up writing sprints
A great technique that I found while I wrote Ciphers to Neverland and subsequently for writing other things like articles came from the idea of making writing sprints. If you have a Twitter account, follow NaNoWriMo Sprints, and you’ll have prompts for timed writing periods. Usually ranging from 10 minutes to even a full-fledged hour. It feels like a game at that point, writing the most you can within that timeframe, it gamifies the whole experience. Post your results and see how others did, even if it’s just 200 words. That’s 200 words you didn’t write within that time. You can set up your own timed sprints too, just have a timer, set it and write for your life! Have fun with it.
4. Don’t edit!
As a perfectionist, telling myself to not edit my novel-writing was excruciatingly painful. I just kept saying myself to ignore them and fix them all during revisions. Just let the ideas and words come to you, don’t worry about overusing a word or a phrase, you’ll edit that during your revisions. This will slow you down and eat up writing time. Don’t do it.
5a. Plan Your Story – Committing to an Ending
There several approaches when it comes to novel-writing, either chronological or sporadical. In the sequential method, writers craft their novel from beginning to end. Sporadic writers will write parts or sections at a time. Some, in the beginning, some in the middle, and some near the end but never in any established order. It’s irrelevant which method you use, what matters is what you’re comfortable with and the most crucial part: commit to an ending. What do I mean by this? Some writers choose to not plan their novel and merely wish to let their character interactions and sequence of events define the outcome. There’s nothing wrong with that approach. But, the pitfall that happens for all writers stems with how they chose to end a story. There are stories about authors spending months or years crafting the ending to their stories. Don’t be like them. Whether at the beginning or near the halfway point, based on what you know, determine an outcome or goal you wish to see fulfilled by your characters. Doing this will help guide your writing to a direction you want to go. Keep in mind, this ending is ethereal and can change too. Commit to a conclusion, it’ll be your lighthouse in the fog of creativity.
5b. Commit to your characters
This is an addendum tip. Before you write your novel, commit to the number of characters. Before you write, consider physical and mental traits for each of them. Next, establish what sort of connections tie these characters together. What kind of conflicts they may be experiencing either before the events of your novel or during the events of your book. A story always focused on their characters, so make sure to devote just as much time and attention to them. This will help you establish plotlines and story arcs much more accessible than if you went in blind. Keep these things in mind
6. Tell people about your novel
One thing that I encourage authors to do, or even just writers in general. Tell someone about your project, tell them about the story, at the very least tell them you’re writing a novel. Don’t say “I’m planning” or “I’m working on,” say it: “I’m writing a novel.” Take ownership of the action. If you have a friend doing NaNoWriMo as well, become writing buddies. A soft competition of word count (honesty please) will help motivate all parties involved. Update your word count on your NaNoWriMo account page. A visual depiction of your efforts helps reinforce your actions. Telling someone of your project creates accountability, especially when they constantly ask about it. Oh? Want to know when you’ll be done with that novel? Congrats, you are now like every other author being constantly asked when their next work is published. You’re almost there!
7. Take breaks
Taking breaks is important. Writer’s block is not an idea block, it’s a block on word selection. Take a break, take a nice walk, read something, watch a movie, eat or drink something. I played video games a lot during those difficult days towards the middle of my novel. Naps are also your friend.
8. Know what helps you focus – Entering the Flow state
While it’s not apparently, I majored in Psychology and spent some personal time researching the Flow state which colloquially means: “getting into the zone.” It’s generally a state of energized focus, full engagement, and enjoyment while performing flow-centric activities. You ever get caught up something fun and next thing you know, time went by, and you don’t know why? That’s the Flow state. Unlocking this state is very empowering for you as a writer, finding your enjoyment in writing will be amplified once you know how to achieve it yourself. Here are the conditions that were proposed by Owen Schaffer (2013):
- Knowing what to do
- Knowing how to do it
- Knowing how well you are doing
- Knowing where to go (if navigation is involved)
- High perceived challenges
- High perceived skills
- Freedom from distractions
9. Remove distractions – Music can be a powerful aid.
When I say remove distractions, I want you to remove the outside world from your mind. It doesn’t exist. Nothing beyond your mind and the device you are writing on matters. Your universe is you and your novel. Nothing is more critical, and may necessarily become an obsession. Music is a great way to help remove some audible distractions, but be careful that the music itself isn’t too distracting either. Having multiple playlists for different moods will help influence your performance. There may be some impressions formed in your writing from the music, so keep that in mind as well when selecting the genre. If music isn’t your forte, the library is an alternative. But ideally, any place you can declare as a workspace should be devoid of outside influence and be minimized. Sometimes the tunnel vision can be excessive so if needed, set timers for your breaks if you have long writing periods (check back to tips 3 & 7).
10. Have fun
While it’s objectively noble to write and complete a novel manuscript, remember that this is something fun too. There are even writing parties that are often hosted or organized by NaNoWriMo leaders (sometimes former winners or seasonal NaNoWriMo writers) that have many writers meeting together to write. Read the NaNoWriMo forums and make sure to register your location, you’ll be surprised how many other people may be doing it too. Enjoy the creative process, be proud of whatever amount of you wrote. If you beat the NaNoWriMo event, that’s okay, you still have more of a novel than when you previously started this journey. Continue forward with it and expand on it. If you did complete NaNoWriMo and got your novel manuscript, make sure to shout your achievement to the world. The most laborious work is about to start: revisions. You thought writing a manuscript was hard? You ain’t seen nothing yet.
If these tips and advice helped you this NaNoWriMo, please share it and let it be some insight for others hoping to reach their writing goals. Share to other writers too, there’s always something to learn from another fellow writer.