5 Tips for Rocking NaNoWriMo (How to Write a Novel in 30 Days!)
Woo hoo! It’s almost NaNoWriMo time! For those of you who don’t know, NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month and it’s a great event that happens every November where novelists around the world take on the challenge of writing a novel (equivalent to 50,000 words or more) in one month.
As someone who writes four more books per year, every day of my life is pretty much a NaNoWriMo. In fact, I just did the calculation and last year I wrote over 351,000 words over the course of four books. That’s an average of 30,000 words per month…every single month. Or 1,000 words per day…every single day. So yeah, I know a thing or two about crazy word counts. That’s why, for this NaNoWriMo, I decided to share with you my 5 tips for getting lots of words down on the page every single day, so you come November 1st you can start stacking up those coveted NaNoWriMo badges.
So, the math has been done for you. The magic number to hit 50,000 words in 30 days is 1,667 words per day. Challenging but my no means impossible. Especially if you follow some of these tips:
1) Start with an outline
I know, I know, you “pantsers” out there, the ones who like to write by the seat of your pants instead of plot ahead of time, are cringing right about now. But look, it doesn’t have to be a huge outline. It doesn’t have to account for every page or even every chapter. Just a simple three-act structure outline will really help you organize your thoughts and keep you on track so you don’t find yourself mid-November meandering down some obscure plot road that has absolutely no connection with your story.
Trust me, if you want to write a novel in 30 days, you have to know at least a little bit of what that novel is about. Sure, you could write 30 days of pointless backstory and random character exploration, but the name of the event is National Novel Writing Month, not National Pointless Backstory and Random Character Exploration Month. So do yourself a favor: before you sit down on November 1st, try to get an idea of where the story is going. If you need help outlining, I recommend the book SAVE THE CAT! By Blake Snyder which is a plotting and structure book for screenwriters that I’m currently in the process of adapting for novels. But because my novel edition isn’t going to be available in 2018, you should start with Blake’s book. Or if you don’t have time to read a full book and just need a Save the Cat plotting crash course, download my free Save the Cat for Novels Starter Kit here.
But if even that’s too much structure for you, try to at least figure out your basic three acts.
- Act 1 – Set up: who is your character, what are their flaws, what are their major problems and what inciting incident is going to send them on the journey of your novel.
- Act 2 – Conflict: what exciting new world or new way of doing things does your character encounter? And how do all of those new experiences create conflict and messiness for your character. If your character doesn’t GO anywhere or DO anything differently in the second act, what’s the point of the story?
- Act 3 – Resolution: How does your character get out of all the messy conflict you’ve set up for them in Act 2?
If you can figure out at least a rough idea of those three things, you’ll be much more likely to not only finish NaNoWriMo but finish it with something that actually resembles a completed novel.
2) Don’t edit
I know this is hard. You’re a perfectionist, I’m a perfectionist. We’re all perfectionists. But NaNoWriMo is not about perfection. It’s about word count. It’s about 50,000 words logged into your computer. It’s about getting stuff down. The more you erase and backtrack and fix, the less you’re putting down on the page. It’s basic math.
I actually don’t ever edit the novels while I’m drafting them. Yes, it’s hard. Yes, I always want to peak back at what I’ve written and start tinkering with it to death. But I resist. Because I know that doesn’t push me forward. It only holds me back. And writing a novel in 30 days, or what I like to call “Fast Drafting,” is all about forward momentum. So I don’t even re-read what I’ve written, unless I need to remember what I’ve written so I can continue with the flow of the story. But I don’t ever edit what I’ve written. Not even misspellings. Because one minute you’re fixing a misspelled word and then the next minute you’re wondering is that really the right word? I mean would that character actually say that? Maybe that’s not who this character is at all!
And then two hours later you’ve got your entire novel torn apart in pieces and you’re stuck in an internet spiral of doom looking for character inspiration photos while chatting with nomophobics in a mobile chat room.
(And in case you’re wondering nomophobics are people afraid of losing cell phone service. Yes, it’s a real thing.)
So in other words. Just don’t look back. Don’t edit. Keep your inner perfectionist bound and gagged in the closet. And yes, they will scream and try to break free and run for help. But you’re a good kidnapper, you won’t let that happen.
Yes, your writing is going to suck. But guess what? That’s not your problem. That’s Future You’s problem. Future You is amazing at editing crappy writing. It’s their only job! Let them deal with it. Your job is to write as much as you can in 30 days. So do your job and let Future You do their job. Otherwise, if you spend all your time editing now, they’ll be nothing for Future You to edit (because you won’t have any new words written!) and then Future You will be sad because they’ll be out of a job. Don’t put Future You out of a job. That’s just mean. So yeah, write horribly, but write a lot. This will make Future You feel happy and needed.
But how do you keep yourself from editing? My best suggestion is to start each day start a new word document. Yes, this makes it harder to tally up your total word count, but it’s worth it. You can’t edit what you can’t see. Keep all other documents closed and just focus on the one in front of you.
I have to be honest, this no-editing-as-you-go tip is one of the hardest for people to implement. It was for me at first too. But I promise it’s worth it. Let yourself write badly. It’s the fastest way to finish a novel. Or like I always say, Don’t be afraid to write crap. Crap makes great fertilizer.
3) Turn off the Internet
That’s right. NO internet for you!
No mail. No twitter. No Facebook. No nomophobic chat rooms. (I promise you it’s a thing. Google it! But not while you’re writing, because you’re internet should be off.)
Turn off your WiFi on your computer. Hide your phone in another room. Venture off to a writing place that has no internet. (Do such places exist?) Or if you can’t trust yourself to do any of that, pay for a service like Freedom which actually turns off your Internet for you for a set amount of time. Set aside at least 1 hour of completely uninterrupted, no Internet time per day when your ONLY job is to get words on the page. You’ll be surprised and delighted at how many words you can get down when you have no distractions. When just checking Facebook for two seconds is not even an option.
4) Keep a list of edits/revisions as you go
So there you are: you’re writing like the wind, the internet is off, you’re not looking back, you’re not editing and then…BOOM! You slam on the breaks because something wonderful just came into your head. It’s the most perfect opening for this novel EVER. It’s going to set your main character flawlessly. It’s going to turn this novel into a work of art. Can I just go back really quickly and write it in?
Because essentially changing means deleting and deleting means less words. And then what happens when you write in that brilliant new idea and it sparks a whole new idea for the next scene after that? Then before you know it, you’re rewriting and not writing. You’re moving backward instead of moving forward.
But of course, you don’t want to forget that brilliant idea. So here’s where my obsession with list making comes in handy.
I keep an active list of changes and revisions I want to make very close at hand at all times. Either in a word document, notebook, Evernote, or even a list-making app. I write down all my ideas for that brilliant change, and any other brilliant changes I come up with along the way. Then once I’ve finished the messy, crappy first draft of the novel, I have a nice tidy to-do list ready for me to implement on my revision.
And here’s the best part! Once I do finish the novel, I’ve had so many MORE and BETTER ideas for fixing stuff that half of the things on that list no longer even apply. And aren’t I glad I didn’t waste all that time changing things if they were just going to change all over again?
This is the ultimate time saver and the essence of fast drafting. When you don’t revise until the end, you save yourself so much time in all of those subsequent revisions you would have had to do. Now you just get to implement the best of the best ideas and cross all those old, stale ideas that once seemed so brilliant, off your list.
5) Participate in word sprints
The NaNoWriMo community is amazing. Actually the whole writer community is pretty amazing. And very supportive of each other. I would definitely encourage you to check out all of the community options on NaNoWriMo.org. If you put in your zip code, they’ll match you with other NaNoWriMo-ers in your area that you can team up with in person to write together. Or you can join online NaNoWriMo-ers and get support that way.
But one of my all-time favorite things to do with other writers is word sprints. This is when you team up with someone or a group of people, either in person, or online and set a timer, usually for anywhere between 10 and 30 minutes. Then you all write as much as you can in those 30 minutes.
This is also a great trick for implementing tip number 2: Don’t edit. Because I don’t know about you but when that timer starts, my competitive instincts kick in and I’m like YOU WILL NOT OUTWRITE ME! I will write you all under the table! There is NO time for editing when glory is on the line. And when all you have is 30 minutes or less to get as many words down as possible on the page, it’s amazing how easy it is to shut that inner perfectionist up. Because your inner Victor is way too loud and bossy.
And it doesn’t have to be NaNoWriMo to do a word sprints. My writer friends and I do word sprints all the time. All year long. And if you finish one word sprint and still want to write more, start another. I’ve found that I can write up to 2,000 words in just a few 30-minute word sprints. And remember they don’t have to be good words. They don’t have to be words you’ll keep. They just have to be WORDS.
The hardest part about finishing a novel is FINISHING a novel. Because it’s just too easy to go back and try to make everything beautiful. But that’s the fastest way to never finishing a novel.
You can’t decorate a house until it’s built. Just like you can’t revise a novel until it’s written. Let yourself put down a bare-bones foundation, THEN you can go back in and start filling in the walls and hanging the paintings and deciding which color carpeting to use in the bedrooms. If you don’t know what your story looks like, there’s no way for you to fix it with any sort of clarity. So turn off that internet, kidnap that inner perfectionist, and get those messy 50,000 words down on the page as fast as you can.
If you’d like more tips about maximizing your daily word count, be sure to check out my online, self-paced workshop, Productivity Hacks for Writers, which includes all of my strategies and proven techniques to be more productive and get the most out of every writing day.
Also if you need help brainstorming a novel idea to write, check out my How to Develop Blockbuster Ideas workshop, which is also online, on-demand, and completely self-paced so as soon as you sign up, you have lifetime access to the course and can take it whenever you want, and as many times as you want.
Good luck with NaNoWriMo! Happy writing, everyone!
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