Tips on how to win NaNoWriMo from a first time winner and new writer.
a.k.a. Questionable Advice from a First Time NaNoWriMo Winner
Since finishing my NaNoWriMo 2016 novel’s first draft a little over a week ago, I thought it would be a good idea to write what worked for this year, figuring it may help me again next year. To my future self, I’d say, “Give these approaches a try to make the upcoming crazy month a little bit easier on yourself.”
Write first thing in the morning if you can. It tells you that it’s important because you’re doing it before anything else. It is much easier to get the writing done and move on with your day than it is to dread reaching the daily word count goal. Before you know it, it’s 11 P.M. and you don’t have a single word written. Life might get in the way of writing first thing in the morning some days, but it’s a nice goal to aim for.
When you are writing, eliminate as many distractions as possible. Turn off your phone, seriously. Mute your computer’s notifications. Make the writing application fullscreen. Immerse yourself in what you are doing. It helps with maintaining focus, which is critical.
Don’t watch your word count as you write. It can be tempting, but it’s the path to madness, especially on days when there’s much else to do. If possible, in your text editor, hide the user interface element that shows the word count while writing. It’ll let you focus on the next word you need to write instead of how many you’ve written already.
What to Write
Write until you have to stop. Write what comes to mind; don’t filter yourself. Don’t worry about what you’re writing. It’s okay if it’s not clever or funny or emotional. No one else is reading it, not even you, yet. There’s no jury of people judging every word you write, so don’t sweat it.
See where what you write takes you. The words will, surprisingly, lead the way more often than not. If you get stuck, keep writing, even if it is nonsense. You can write yourself out of being stuck, and it’s a lot more fun than pacing around thinking about how stuck you are.
If you want to mark a sentence or section as something to revisit or expand upon something for a future day’s writing, use a unique and distinct marker like “TODO” in your text so you can easily search to find those spots and expand upon it. For example, here’s one I had in my manuscript at one point: [TODO: expand upon how this makes Milo feel]. When I was feeling like I needed a change of pace, I would search for “TODO” in my text editor, find that marker, and expand upon it. It’s a nice way to change up the pace and go back to a previous part of the story.
In the scenario where the plot of your novel wraps up before 50,000 words, write an epilogue at the end that shows what the characters are up to in the future. Heck, write two or three epilogues if you need to. You might find yourself starting a follow-up novel or a short story, and that is awesome.
When to Stop
Stop writing when you feel good with what you have written and know where things could go next—don’t write until you’re totally exhausted. Writing until every ounce of creativity is gone can leave you with pieces of plot that are difficult to pick back up.
As Ernest Hemingway said:
The best way is always to stop when you are going good and when you know what will happen next. If you do that every day when you are writing a novel you will never be stuck.
And, when you do stop writing, whether it’s for an hour to eat lunch or overnight, leave yourself a little note about where the story could potentially go when you return to it. This helps ease the transition of stopping and starting. You can get the ideas down without much detail and then jump right back in. For example: [Milo talks to Jordan about what happened over a cup of coffee]. That makes it much easier to return. Sometimes you may decide to go in a totally different direction, and that’s fine too. It’s just a reference. It’s not set in stone.
Be patient with yourself. You’re writing because you’re creating something awesome. It isn’t a 100-yard dash; it’s a marathon.