Nanowrimo – Tricks and Tips

Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month) is a challenge to write 50,000 words in 30 days. They referred to it as, ‘a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to creative writing.’ I feel that sums it up pretty well.

I’ve now completed two years of Nanowrimo, and I love it more than ever. I can’t see myself stopping any time soon and wanted to encourage as many other people to join in as possible.

So for any of you thinking of doing Nano for the first time, or for seasoned veterans looking for an alternate perspective, I’ve detailed a few tricks and tips which I learnt during my previous years.

1. Enjoy yourself, whatever the outcome

The golden rule of Nano, enjoy yourself. Yes it will be intense, and yes it can be hard work. You’ll have to push through a lot of things, but don’t force yourself to do something you really don’t want to do. Also, you don’t have to hit 50k. I was actually very surprised that I managed to hit 50k in my first year after only having done short stories previously (we’ll come onto how that miracle happened shortly). Whatever you create is fantastic and you should be proud of it.

2. Be flexible with your daily target

Ah, the foreboding 1,667 words. Mathematically, yes, this is the amount you should write every day if you want to hit the target on the last day. But since when do maths and writing ever go together? You’re going to need to be flexible, especially in the middle weeks after your initial burst of energy has worn off. If you have a day where you manage 1,667 reasonably easily, why not do a few more? Invest to make it easier on yourself down the line, and trust me, there will be days when writing 1,667 feels impossible. Don’t beat yourself up either way, embrace the fact that the amount of inspiration you have will vary.

In my first year I was in the final few days and way behind. I had accepted that I wasn’t going to win and was happy with what I had achieved. Then suddenly, on a Saturday morning, I wrote….and wrote….and wrote. I was lucky enough to have the whole day free for this burst of inspiration and by 10pm I’d written a staggering 12,000 words. Putting me within 1,000 words of the goal with several days to spare. What a day!

3. Never give up

There will likely be times during Nano when you feel like throwing in the towel. When you feel like your never going to make it, so what’s the point? Maybe your inspiration has run out, or maybe the story has hit a dead end. All I’ll say is, never give up. Even if you stop for two weeks and then continue, all that matters is that you keep trying and enjoy yourself. Remember, the word count is not the end of the world.

I got so stuck last year near the end I ended up jumping way into left field and writing Thunderbirds fan fiction to mix things up. And guess what, it worked!

4. Finish mid-scene

This is a life-saving trick I picked up in my first year. Stop writing in the middle of a scene. The worst thing you can do is finish a really interesting scene and stop writing for the day. Then you’re stuck with a cold open the next day, which is a lot harder than simply continuing a scene you are part way through. You’ll find then that by the time you start the next scene, your mental writing muscles are already warmed up and it will be a lot easier.

5. Find times which work for you

Nearly every writer I’ve met is more or less creative at different times of day, be it early mornings or late nights, or anywhere in between. Find the times which work for you and whenever you can, plan your writing schedules around those times. Also, don’t limit yourself to one slot per day, unless that works for you. Some writers prefer doing all their writing for the day in one go, others find nibbling away at it in quick bursts best. While I did a lot of writing in the evening in my first year, I also found I could thrash out a few hundred words or more on my dinner breaks. And last year I wrote 70% on my phone on the bus to work!

6. Don’t limit yourself to one writing medium

A startling thing I learned in my first year, I can type just as fast (if not faster) on my phone than I can on my keyboard. This is a sign of the times and a recent study found that average typing speed on phones for the current generation is close to the average writing speed on a keyboard. It might not work for everyone, but there are other methods. There will be times where you find yourself with some time to write, but your laptop is nowhere in sight. Do you have your phone? Pen and paper maybe? An ancient typewriter you just happen to be carrying round? Doesn’t matter, just write. It all counts. I use Google Docs to write on the move, then when I’m back at my computer it all sync’s up and I add it to my main draft on Scrivener. But even if it’s on pen and paper, it still counts. Don’t write it out again though. Just count the words, mark the amounts down in your notebook, and when it comes to the final tally copy the same word X number of times into the word counter. You’ve done the work, it’s not cheating.

I have a typewriter…I keep daring myself to try and do Nano one year entirely using it. I haven’t conjured up the courage yet though (plus the clicking might drive my partner insane).

7. Skip scenes

If a scene isn’t working or doesn’t feel right, or you just have no idea how to write it. Skip it. Ignore it. Leave it in the dust. It doesn’t matter. You probably have a rough idea of what goes on in that scene so pick up the story somewhere else. Nowhere in the Nanowrimo rules does it say you have to write things in order, or that they even have to make sense. There is no point worrying over one annoying scene when there are so many others you could be writing.

8. Alternative scenes

While there is no editing allowed in Nanowrimo (make sure you’re inner editor is locked up somewhere) you can always write alternate versions of scenes. At least two of the scenes I wrote in my first year had two or more versions. After I had finished them the first time, I thought of a different way of doing them, so I wrote them again. It’s still writing, it still counts. No cheating here!

9. Follow your characters

Many experienced writers will understand this, but new writers might not have found this out yet. You’re characters often write there own stories. You’ll be halfway through a scene and suddenly you’ll find a character doing something you didn’t expect, which leads onto something else, which leads onto a whole subplot unto itself. Just roll with it (should be the motto for Nano). You’re characters often know what they’re doing better than you do, so follow the string and see where it takes you.

10. Write with friends

Above anything else, Nano helped me meet some fantastic people and engage with a wonderful community. Going through it alone can be daunting, having people doing it alongside you makes things a whole lot better. Check Facebook and Twitter for sure, but also see if there are any meetups in your local area. People often host write-ins to get people together to write (or, let’s face it, chat). And other events will likely go on before and after November as well. Maybe you’ll make some new friends and find some writing buddies you can bounce your thoughts off. You won’t know until you try.

Good luck to everyone doing Nano this year, be it your first or your fifth. I’ll be right there alongside you!