In 2004, when I attempted and won my first NaNoWriMo, I had no idea what I was doing. I had the frame of an idea but when I got to the last 2500 words, I ended up writing an author’s note where I rambled until I got to the 50,000 word end. The next year, when I failed to win, I had to reflect on what I had done differently and what wasn’t going to work for me in future attempts.
Here we are, about a week before NaNoWriMo 2019 begins and I’m working from a very different place than I did fifteen years ago. I write from the experience of success and failure. I write from knowing what my end goal is (a first draft of novel number five). I write knowing how I best write. As I look over all the advice given to participants on how to win or complete NaNoWriMo, I find there is some advice missing.
The key to winning NaNoWriMo is knowing how you write best.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a plotter, pantser, or plotster. It doesn’t matter if you’ve outlined every details of your story or have a large playground free from structure for your characters. It doesn’t matter if you know every single character, his/her motivation, his/her journey, the tropes, the ending – or know none of it.
The key to winning NaNoWriMo is knowing how you write best.
As a fifteen year, mostly winning vet of NaNoWriMo, here are my tips to figure out the ways you can figure out how you write best.
Write short pieces before the month starts… about 1,666 word pieces.
No really, that’s the only tip. Here’s why:
This is the word count you want as your daily output to finish the month. When you’re done writing, there are things to reflect on.
How long did it take you to write that many words?
This is how much time you’ll have to budget a day to meet the goal. It takes me a little over an hour and a half to two hours to write that much. Where does that time come from in a day? I know I won’t get up early to write. I have to plan my time around when I will have a free two-hour block too meet my goal.
Sometimes this means I’m trying to play catch up on the weekend.
Oh, and if you’re in America you have Thanksgiving!
The year I failed to win was because I went to Miami (where I grew up) for Thanksgiving at the end of the month. This year it falls on the same weekend (except I’m not going to Miami). I was so distracted by spending time with family and friends that I forgot to write. I was in my childhood bedroom, at midnight on November 30th, furiously trying to catch up. I was 1,000 words short. I just needed 1 more hour.
Knowing how much time you need to write 1666 words will allow you to plan how to write around large distractions. I knew, after that year, that I needed a 5,000 word buffer before Thanksgiving starts. For years like 2019, I need to be as close to done as I can be.
How did you deal with distractions during your writing time?
Life doesn’t stop because we’re writing. Pets, spouses, children, friends, work, and our own minds demand attention. If you’re dedicating two hours a day to write, how do you deal with distractions during that time. Writing these short pieces before the month begins will help you figure that out. Do you need to add in a 15 minute buffer? What about the distractions of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Tumblr, or Wikipedia? I often get started down the rabbit hole of Wikipedia when I check it for a quick fact or detail. Next thing I know, an hour has passed.
How are you going to deal with the distractions of the internet? You can turn it off but what if you need to keep it on. When our mind wants a distraction, we’ll find it. It’s better to prepare for this ahead of time.
How do you deal with your inner editor?
Oh, the illusion and cruel inner editor. It took me years to tell mine to STFU effectively. This is the voice that tells you to scrap the twenty words you’ve just written and re-start. It’s the voice that tells you that you’re opening paragraph is crap and to re-start. Your inner editor eats your word count and time like a glutton, destroying your self esteem in the process. NaNoWriMo isn’t about quality, it’s about quantity. You need to turn off the voice that evaluates the quality if you want to win. Writing short pieces before NaNoWriMo begins will help you figure out how to turn off your inner editor better.
Where do you write best?
I had a writing model down for many years and then, one fall, I got a puppy! He’s cute, cuddly, and demands constant attention. He likes to sit right across my lap, where my laptop once sat. That was four years ago and he forced me to re-think how I wrote best. I realized I had to leave the house if I wanted to get anything done. Even if it was for two hours a day, on weekends, I had to let him be alone so I could get things done. Then I could give him all the attention and cuddles he needed. I found myself at local cafes and realized, I write better in public than I do at home. I just put in my earbuds and I can write distraction free for hours. In fact, I learned that writing at NaNoWriMo write-ins was a problem for me. The social element turned into more of a distraction than I realized. I ended up inviting people to join me at cafes but framed the events as focused writing instead of social writing.
What about you? Do you know where in the world you should write from? Is it an office, the couch, a cafe, the library, the bathroom? Figure this out early so you can claim it. Communication your needs with your distractions so the space you use is free.
How do you deal with creative blocks?
These are going to happen, even if you’ve planned every detail of your story. Your mind is going to stop giving you ideas for what you want. It’s happened to me countless times. Personally, when it happens, it’s because my brain want to work on something else. Woodhouse Hall, the novel I wrote for Camp NaNoWriMo July 2018 and comes out on Monday, came to me because I was blocked on another story. I gave myself permission to put aside the plan and focus on my brain’s desire.
Before I was writing first drafts of future novels, I would deal with blocks by writing about the block. Sometimes I would stop and talk to someone about the problem. Other times I would just write something different. You need to figure out how you’re going to deal with them because they will keep you from getting to 50,000 words.
Those are my tips for getting ready to win NaNoWriMo. What are yours? How do you deal with the issues I raised. Tell me in the comments!
Sara Marks is a self-published author. She primarily writes chick lit and contemporary romance books but sometimes takes on horror. In 2017 she decided to focus her efforts on self-publishing over traditional publishing. She won her first NaNoWriMo in 2014 and has participated every year since. She started two regions and helped found Mill Pages five years ago. You can learn more about her and her books on her webpage.