Winning NaNoWriMo isn’t about writing a perfect, or even complete, novel. It’s about putting your butt in the chair and writing all month. You win if you reach 50,000 words. The end. That’s all there is to it. I know it seems easy now, but let’s talk about some strategies to make sure you finish the month with a shiny site badge that says you won NaNo.
1. Plan Ahead
Yep, the easiest way to stay on track during November is to plan ahead. This means planning your novel, planning your writing, and planning everything else. This will save you a lot of heartache on day one when you have no idea what you’re writing and on day twelve when you’re struggling to keep up with your word count. Planning makes NaNo and commitment, and you’ll be more likely to keep at it.
Last time I posted about how to prep for NaNo. Check this post out for more ideas.
2. Adjust the Plan
Plans are only good if they work, so don’t be afraid to change your plan once you get into NaNo. You may have an emergency that makes it impossible to stick to your schedule. Don’t stress if you have to take a day off, just make sure you make up the word count later in the week. Spreading the work across several days will be easier than trying to catch up on all your missed words at the end of the month, so adjust as you go, and you’ll be fine.
NaNo is all about discovery, so adapt.
3. Learn How You Focus
You may hear about people who do all their NaNo writing on the weekends and think it’s a great idea to do all your writing in two days a week. Others will find that a daunting plan and want to write a little bit daily. Figure out how you focus best. Do you need to do long blocks to stay in the flow? Do you need to take breaks to keep from burning out? Change your plan to fit your specific needs.
It doesn’t hurt to practice writing some stories or other projects now if you’re unsure about how you best work. That way you can head straight into November knowing exactly how you need to plan to work.
4. Learn What Inspires You
When you don’t have a ridiculous deadline looming over you it’s easy to say you aren’t inspired and not do any writing for the day. During NaNo, you won’t have time to wait until you’re inspired, especially if you’re playing catch-up towards the end of the month. Find out what helps keep you inspired now. Do you need to take breaks to read and recharge? Does writing with quiet music help you? Do you get ideas when you have coffee or tea on hand?
Part of NaNo is learning to write out of habit, rather than inspiration. Finding out how to force yourself to be inspired can make the process a lot easier. Work on it now so that you have some ideas when NaNo starts.
5. Change the Story
Whether you plan or pants in your writing, you will find that your story changes from your initial vision as you go. It can be scary, frustrating, and exhilarating all at once, but it’s part of the process. Don’t be afraid to make changes as you go. You need to write the story in the correct way. Don’t stick to the plan because you feel it’s set, and you don’t want to change it. You’ll just waste your time later when you have to come back and edit. Embrace the changes.
I know this can be doubly scary during NaNo when you’re just trying to push ahead with word count. In order to keep going during NaNo, don’t worry about going back to change the beginning to match. Just make a note of what needs to be changed and keep pushing with your new ideas. NaNo isn’t about creating a perfect first draft. You just need to get the structure down on the page. Second drafts are for ironing out all the changes, and you can do that in December.
Check out this post on how to stay sane when your plot changes if you’re a little freaked out by the idea.
6. Do Strange Things
Don’t be afraid to make your characters do weird things or to experiment with strange settings and styles. If you get stuck, sometimes making your character do something unexpected is the best way to fix the problems. Writing is about surprising your readers and yourself. Don’t be afraid of the weird.
7. Set Goals and Reward Yourself
Setting your own smaller goals and rewarding yourself can be a great way to keep motivated on those longer writing days. Maybe you tell yourself you get candy if you write for twenty minutes. Maybe you get to watch your favorite show without feeling guilty if you make it through a scene. Break the task into smaller goals to keep from scaring yourself with the large word count total you’re aiming for and to make the task more pleasant. It isn’t hard to work when you have something nice to look forward to.
8. Don’t Over Think It
It’s really easy to let yourself get critical about your work when you write. Sure, the dialogue is garbage and the plot is going in circles. Your characters may sound whiny, but that’s part of the process. Don’t get frustrated by the quality of the draft. Your job is to get it all down so that you can make it prettier and cleaner later.
9. Focus on the End Goal
You may think that the goal of NaNo is to reach 50,000 words in a month, and in a sense it is, but the real goal is bigger than that. The goal is motivate you to write. It’s to make you attempt something scary and crazy and fun. lt’s to make you ignore that crazy voice in your head that tells you everything you write is crap. NaNo is about ignoring the fact that you may not get published, or that the draft may fail, or that you may not be a good writer yet. It’s about sitting down and doing the work, so do just that. At the very least, you will learn a lot about your process and yourself during NaNo, and you’ll learn that you can write a lot. That’s what really matters.
10. Don’t Cheat
Sure, you can copy and paste 50,000 words of text from something else into the verifier and get the badges and prizes. No one will stop you, and no one will care, but you’ll be cheating yourself. Really commit to doing this the right way, or you don’t gain any of the benefits of doing it in the first place.