On Writing: Ten Tips for NaNoWriMo

It's the first day of November. You and your made-up friends (okay, we'll call them characters if we have to) are about to embark on a very special journey into a world that only you know, and yet it doesn't quite exist yet. Whether that world is a post-apocalyptic land of zombies, or a place where you share your knowledge and wisdom in a non-fiction narrative, that world needs to exist so well done you for committing to NaNoWriMo and giving yourself the opportunity to create something and learn a lot about yourself in the process. NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, is where hundreds of thousands of writers around the world commit to writing 50,000 words in the 30 days that are November. This works out as an average of 1667 words a day, but you can write as frequently or infrequently as you wish; the point is to just write as much as you can over those 30 days, with 50,000 words being the goal.

Ten really important tips and things to remember during NaNoWriMo

With all this in mind, and with a million and one articles floating around offering writing advice and NaNoWriMo tips (some of which you can find on this blog as I will embarking on my sixth NaNo this year), I wanted to remind you (and yes, myself too) what NaNoWriMo is really all about. Because as the days pass and your energy/sugar/enthusiasm levels do Irish jigs with each other, you're going to feel many different emotions over the next four weeks and two days (it's like a marathon, they couldn't just make it four weeks or 26 miles, it's 26.2 miles!). This is normal and while it may not feel it when you're crying into your sixth cold cup of coffee of the day, it's a good sign. It means you're doing some of that "growing" thing that apparently makes us better people. However, telling yourself this or similar cliches that make you want to poke someone's eye out ("it's a journey", "what doesn't kill you only makes you stronger" "sugar is bad for you") may not always work, so when you feel like you need a bit of encouragement, please return to this page and read the following very important things to remember as you take part in NaNoWriMo.

It's supposed to be hard

So, if you thought NaNoWriMo was going to be easy, I'm sure you've already discovered it's not. Every year - even though I can easily write 1000 - 2000 words in an hour and I manage to knock out more than 25,000 words a month (sometimes twice that) for work and other projects, I still find NaNoWriMo hard. Over the last six years it has hit me at different stages, but normally by the end of week two I'm opening the door and welcoming in the "Give-Ups"; these nasty internal monsters that try and convince me that it's not worth continuing. They do their best to make me question the need to have 50,000 new words and they make me think that there are countless better ways to spend my time like hoovering up the crumbs down the back of my sofa or organising my sock drawer by colour. The Give-Ups are your instinctive reaction to the obstacles you will face doing NaNoWriMo whether that's a plot-hole (my old friend!), back-ache or sheer knackeredness. But they're fickle creatures and will disappear if you just keep writing and push through each obstacle.

But it's also supposed to be fun...

So the Kryptonite to your Give-Ups is a strange sensation that you may or may not expect to encounter while doing NaNoWriMo: Fun. NaNoWriMo will reveal a lot of things about your writing (for example, an over-reliance on the word "suddenly") but one of those things really should be that you ENJOY writing. There should be a handful of moments during NaNoWriMo (at least!) where you get swept away with the story you're telling and you feel something positive about the work you're creating. That could be excitement, that could be hilarity (man, you're so funny after seven cups of coffee!), that could be a sense of peace that you're doing okay. Either way, you should experiencement some amount of joy during NaNoWriMo. This is essential because this is what will get you through the hard moments. 

If you're not experiencing any joy, and NaNoWriMo is nothing but a new and onerous task on your already-too-long daily to do list then please don't continue. It's hard to say when you should make this decision but I feel strongly that if you get halfway and you are feeling more anguish than joy about writing your word count then stop. Of course, a crazy high could be just around the corner, but continuing could mean another two weeks of nothing but struggle, and that's NOT what NaNoWriMo is about (at least in my mind.)

You're not alone

The best thing about NaNoWriMo is the sense of community and camaraderie when you're all in the trenches together during the month of November. All you have to do is search for the #NaNoWriMo hashtag on Twitter or Instagram and you'll find countless other writers bemoaning falling behind or celebrating meeting daily goals. Follow me on Instagram where I'll be sharing weekly updates (aka groans and moans). For twice daily inspiration, follow my WriteNOW Cards account (or treat yourself to a pack of 50 affirmation cards). I'm also going to be sharing daily audio updates on Anchor and Twitter in something that will be a bit of a new experiment.

Create a NaNo profile and make friends with me and other writers. Follow their progress and use it fuel your own. Join a local NaNoWriMo group on Facebook and see if you can join in a "sprint" (where NaNo-ers all get together and write as much as they can for a few hours). At the very least tell those around you what you're doing so they will a) give you a wide berth when you need to get your writing done and b) hopefully offer up lots of words of encouragement. If they don't then write them into your novel and kill them unexpectedly in Chapter Three - perfect revenge!

It's not forever

If you're a half-full kind of person, you'll find this a very motivating fact. If you're a half-empty kinda guy then you'll see this as something of a reassurance. I'm a bit of both and find it both a kick up the butt and a sad reminder that I have to wait a whole year for this heart-warming, community-focused writers' challenge.

NaNoWriMo is a 30-day challenge. After 30 days you never need to pick up a pen again (but we know you will!) and after 30 days you can have a long rest. You do not have to write 1667 words every day for the rest of your life (phew!) but that's why you should really bloody well give it your best shot now because when it's over you really don't want to feel like you didn't give it your all. 

Anything is better than nothing

Spoiler alert: NaNoWriMo isn't really about writing 50,000 words. That's one way you "win", but really you "win" but writing as much as you can in 30 days. For some that will be 100,000 words (yes, these bonkers carpal-tunnel immune human deviants exist), but for others that will be 10,000 words. 10,000 words is bloody awesome. Don't worry about "winning" EVER. Worry about writing. Actually, not don't worry about writing; just write.

You can write whatever you want to write

I cover this in much more depth in this post about being a NaNoRebel, but I will say it again here because I feel it's so important. While yes, NaNoWriMo is National NOVEL Writing Month, the challenge can be undetaken for any writing project... at least, to my mind it can. And you'll not see anybody shutting down your profile or throwing rotten vegetables at you if you choose to write 50,000 words of a screenplay, a memoir, a non-fiction book. What's more important, I believe, is that you set out to write the first draft of this work because that lends itself to the "write fast, don't look back, and don't you dare edit a single thing, not even that dot on the top of an "i" you missed" philosophy of NaNoWriMo. It's not about writing the perfect novel; it's about WRITING.

(And PS, this is why I still haven't written a novel, for NaNoWriMo or at any other time!)

There are more important things than NaNoWriMo (but NaNoWriMo is still important)

When I wrote this in this list what I really meant to say is: Your mental health is more important that NaNoWriMo.

If the pressure of NaNoWriMo taps into something deeply uncomfortable for you, and/or you feel a growing sense of anxiety or depression surrounding what you are or aren't doing as part of the challenge, I would strongly advise you to stop, and address this unpleasantness before you do anything else. NaNoWriMo is a big test for most creative minds, and I know better than most how vulnerable creative minds are to depression and anxiety (which is why I created WriteNOW Cards) and I know for some people it's just not possible to "write through" panic attacks or periods of depression. 

Your mental health is more important than NaNoWriMo. Your physical health is more important than NaNoWriMo. And likewise for family members.

However, I strongly feel that if you're fit and healthy, as are your family and dependants, then flipping give yourself the gift of growing as a writer and a person by doing NaNoWriMo.

There are a number of valid reasons to stop - fear is not one of them

As mentioned above, there are some very good reasons not to continue with NaNoWriMo.

And as the month progresses, there may be several others that seem a worthy reason to jump off the daily 1667 bus. And I do get it. Life happens. It's absolutely fine if a sick child, a new work deadline, a pet emergency gets in the way of your writing during NaNoWriMo, but I urge you to deal with what you have to, butthen return to writing, even if it's almost certain you're going to miss 50,000 words.

What isn't okay is if you stop writing because you get scared.

I don't mean, it's not normal for this to happen, because it's COMPLETELY normal and will probably feel like the right thing to do at times thanks to those ugly Give-Ups. But it's really not good for you. It's not you being good to yourself, or even kind or fair. I don't say this to make you feel guilty, I say this to help you write again. Because writing is the only way you get through the fear. I know this from experience. I didn't write for 15 years before doing my first NaNoWriMo, and the fear didn't disappear, it got bigger. The only time the fear began to shrink (it will never disappear, because LIFE!) was when I pushed on through the cramp, the tiredness and the blurry eyes to write every day for a month back in 2011. On 1st December that year I felt so much more exhilaration than fear about my writing, and it's been the same every since... even the year I "lost" by not making it anywhere close to 50,000 words.

Stopping means the fear sticks around and will do nasty things to you like eat your teaspoons or invite spiders up the plugholes of your sink. Fear will stick around as long as it is successful in stopping you do what you want to. Kill fear by writing. I don't mean 1667 words today if that just isn't possible because of your hamster's broken leg, but by doing what you can - 100 will do - and then re-committing to doing it again the next day, and the next. Do this and you will see fear start to pack up its things and open up the Uber app on his phone...

It's okay to take a break

So taking breaks. Hmm. I have mixed feelings about this because for some people (like me) this will be more trouble than it's worth. I do not do well when I'm behind on the daily word count goals. Falling behind is pyschologically difficult to me and is basically like handing over my house keys to the Give-Ups and putting the kettle on. But I also recognise that taking a break and rest is really important as a writer. Again one part of me thinks "It's only 30 days, you can rest in December" (which is hilarious because Christmas and New Year in my family/social circles does not lend itself to a quiet time) but I also

My approach to taking a break, is that I try to get ahead in the first week when energy levels are high and my eagerness to write is 100 times more peppy than it will be in week three and four, and this means I can take a break later on. However, I know this is not possible for many people, and that a break will do a lot more good than harm because you're possibly pyschologically stronger than me! If you really feel like a break is the best thing to do so you can come back stronger, than 100% do it. You are most excellent for giving yourself that extra bit of rest.

You are more than NaNoWriMo

What happens this month has zero effect on your worth, value and beauty as a person. Seriously. You are enough. You are awesome.

And a bonus thing to remember... NaNoWriMo is still the biggest achievement of my writing career.

This is of course wildly personal, and you have every right to respond with "What writing career?" but I will hereby inform you that the sales of my books have kept me comfortably in penny sweets for the last few years. No, I have not won the Man Booker Prize - or any prize - but I have published four books, many more short stories, and I have had more than a view emails from readers (who aren't related to me FYI!) who felt moved by the stories I have written. That is arguably the highest praise any writer can receive.

But the single best thing I did in all these years of writing and publishing books and connecting with readers, was the first NaNoWriMo I completed back in 2012. Coming out of that month with the first draft of my first book, albeit a deformed and disappointing version of it at the time, was the proudest moment of my life, aside from possibly holding my first born baby. Possibly.

If I dig deep enough, I can still conjure up that giddy feeling of pride and astonishment at writing every day for 30 days. I want you to feel that feeling. I want you to feel flooded with pride. I want you to astonish yourself.

Go do it. Go write.

The cards featured in the photo in this post are WriteNOW Cards - affirmation cards designed for writers to help you build and enjoy your writing practice - they're available to buy in packs of 10 or 50 here.

And if you'd like to share or save this post, here's an image you can pin:

Frances M. Thompson

Londoner turned wanderer, Frankie is an author, freelance writer and blogger. Currently based in Amsterdam, Frankie was nomadic for two years before starting a family with her Australian partner. Frankie is the author of three short story collections, and is a freelance writer for travel and creative brands. In 2017, she launched WriteNOW Cards, affirmation cards for writers that help build a productive and positive writing practice. When not writing contemporary fiction, Frankie shops for vintage clothes, dances to 70s disco music and chases her two young sons around Amsterdam.
Find Frankie on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and Google+.

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