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Tips to Myself for NaNoWriMo

October 29, 2016


Last year, I participated in National Novel Writing Month. It’s a global group of writing nerds who each try to write 50,000 words—ostensibly a novel—in the month of November. In reality, as some of the NaNoWriMo-hating bloggers have pointed out, 50,000 words isn’t really enough to be considered a novel, and it’s unlikely to be publishable after just a month-long sprint. It’s more likely a pulpy brain dump. Regardless, any excuse to crank on a personal project is worth it. I find the deadline, the concrete goal and the social pressure motivating.

I was looking back through my work from last year to reacquaint myself with it before continuing it this year. And I was reminded of a few things I found helpful. So, notes to self:

Start a new page every day. The temptation to read back through the previous day’s writing is too great, and while doing that, the temptation to edit said writing is too great. You don’t want to spend time editing yet. This month is about writing. So as I finish each day, I copy the last paragraph or so and paste it into a new document with the next day’s date as title. So the next day, I have the tail end of a thought to start with, but mostly it’s a blank page. No temptation to edit.

Park on the downslope. This is a phrase I heard John Dickerson use one time. I love it. I try to stop each day with momentum. Avoid the temptation, when I get stuck, to close the laptop and say, “That’s enough for today.” That makes it harder to get going the next day. And when I know what’s coming next, I’ll leave a few notes for myself. So when I open the (new) doc for that day, I have the tail end of some writing with the next stepping stones.

Track your numbers. I created a simple spreadsheet with a few columns. Date, words written that day, total words for the month, where I should be that month and the difference. Basically, a way to see if I’m ahead of or behind pace. I graphed it at the end—you can see I was sometimes up or down by a little, but kept within 3000 words of where I should be.


Big margins, double-spaced. The dumbest of my tricks, but I find it helps. It’s the old school trick when you needed to write a 4-page paper—make the margins bigger. Writing in a single, narrow column helps create the illusion of speed. I’m so gullible.

Don’t skip a day. This was the hardest but maybe most helpful. If you can sit down and check email, you have enough time to churn out a few lines. My lowest word count for a single day was 238. That’s about as long as the first three items above. It’s not much, but writing 238 words a day will eventually get you to a novel. Writing zero words a day never will.

Music. This is obviously a preference. Music plays a big role in the story I’m working on, so I made a Spotify playlist that has some of the songs that might appear in the story. But more than that, it can sometimes take me 15-20 minutes to write myself into the right mood for the story and find the voice. I find that playing the right music can help get me in the zone faster.

Quantity > Quality. Obviously, good writing is better than bad writing. But at this stage, bad writing is better than no writing. Just go forward. It doesn’t matter if it’s good. Reading through stuff I wrote last year, some of it is terrible. But some of it holds some promise. I’ll eventually cut the terrible stuff and work on the rest. Just get something down.

Remember: November has 30 days, not 31. This realization was not a good moment for me last year.



3 Comments leave one →
  1. October 30, 2016 8:34 am

    Hahaha, I love the last one! Good luck this year!

  2. October 30, 2016 6:41 pm

    nice chart. haha. I really like this idea. I was going to take up the challenge but I couldn’t figure out what to write. All I write are emails. I might draw or paint everyday. It is something I should be doing anyway.

    I hope you are well. Are you freelancing? Is it going okay?

    • October 30, 2016 6:44 pm

      You should! An everyday painting routine would be great. Things are good here. Fairly steady freelance. Could stand to pick it up a bit, but enjoying the pace of things.

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