How to Have an Amazing NaNoWriMo

With NaNoWriMo underway, and perhaps the early excitement and momentum beginning to fade, now is the perfect time to ponder how to approach such a massive writing challenge.

“I know how to do that, silly muffin,” you might say. “Sit your butt down every day for 30 days in a row and write exactly 1,666.6 words per day, even as your life crumbles around you and the story you’re writing goes in five billion different directions and you never want to see it again once you’re finished. Voila! NaNoWriMo!”

While you're absolutely welcome to approach it this way, I think there might just be a better path, don't you?

Let’s explore four ways to make this an amazing NaNoWriMo!

1 | Focus on momentum, not excellence

The most insidious threat standing between you and the NaNoWriMo finish line is Excellence.

Excellence will clamour for your attention, insisting that you should go back and reread what you wrote yesterday, because it’s not up to your usual standards and is holding you back.

Excellence will try and make you think that if you don’t have a fantastic, agent-worthy draft by the end of November, you’ll have failed.

Excellence may be a worthy goal when you’re on your last draft pre-querying, but it’s your worst nightmare during NaNoWriMo. This is not about being able to write a book and achieve your wildest publishing dreams within a couple of months. This is about seeing a story through to the end, something many writers don't do. There’s nothing inherently wrong about not finishing NaNoWriMo, of course, but if you like the idea of turning writing into a career (or at least a serious hobby), finishing a story is a necessary skill to develop.

Finishing your first book is one of the hardest and most incredible milestones to reach, and NaNoWriMo can help you do it, if you don’t allow yourself to be derailed by a quest for excellence.

Throughout NaNoWriMo, remind yourself as often as you need to that there will be time for rewriting and editing and pursuing excellence, but it’s not now.

Now is about returning to the page every day.

Now is about being spurred on by every bit of forward progress.

Now is about feeling that momentum build with every passing day, taking you closer and closer to that golden finish line. 

2 | Don't view NaNoWriMo participants as competition

There’s a fine line between competition for the sake of motivation and competition for the sake of being the “best”.

Doing word sprints and checking in on each other’s progress is awesome, but the underlying motivation must be to lift each other up, not to best someone else’s progress so you can secretly feel superior about your own.

If you tend to be a little over-competitive but want to be part of the community, find a few resources you can suggest (like a favourite Pinterest board for writing prompts or an Instagram account with inspirational quotes) when the writers surrounding you falter. It’s an easy way to be supportive without getting into situations that might stoke the flames of your craving to be ahead of the pack.

It also pays to keep things in perspective. Hundreds of thousands of writers participate in NaNoWriMo every year, and tens of thousands achieve the goal of 50,000 words within 30 days. Chances are someone will always be further ahead than you are.

Seeing NaNoWriMo strictly as a competition is a lose-lose proposition, so take the opportunity to turn it into a win-win. You’ll get so much more out of NaNoWriMo and contribute positively to the writing community.

3 | Prepare for unexpected distractions

The moment you commit to something as ambitious as NaNoWriMo, distractions will crop up at every turn, mewling for attention and aid like a kitten on top of the fridge, and can lure you off course if you’re unprepared.

The most important thing to acknowledge is that this will happen. We can’t put life on hold and play dinky elevator music to keep it at bay while we undertake a massive project.

The key is to be ready to deal with these distractions as they happen rather than feeling resistant and upset every time they do.

When distractions arise, use the Eisenhower Matrix (a prioritization tool) to figure out how to deal with them:

If the distraction is both urgent and important, go deal with said distraction.

If the distraction is important but not urgent, make a note of it and schedule a time to deal with it later, then go back to your novel.

If the distraction feels urgent but not important, let it go (e.g. let the answering machine take a call) and return to writing.

If the distraction is neither urgent nor important, keep writing.

If you must step away to deal with something but have a spare moment first, jot a couple of notes about what you were on the brink of writing. This way, whether you can return to it half an hour later or it has to wait until the next day, you’ll know where you were heading rather than confronting a confusing dead-end.

This all looks a little different when it comes to people disrespecting fair boundaries you’ve set and made clear ahead of time for NaNoWriMo. Your unique situation and relationship with the person will dictate how you deal with this, but whatever happens, try to do something that day for NaNoWriMo no matter what, even if it’s not as fulsome a writing session as originally intended.

4 | Treat this as an adventurous new writing routine

If 50,000 words a month soars above your average writing output, NaNoWriMo is not going to strictly adhere to your normal writing routine.

This is something big! Different! Exciting!

Why not make a few small additions to your routine while you’re at it? If you go about it the right way, it can even help you achieve this heightened word count goal. That can make a big difference when your enthusiasm wanes.

How can you reward yourself for the extra effort involved in NaNoWriMo? Rewards could be:

  • reading time with a highly anticipated book from your to-be-read pile
  • whipped cream to go with the hot chocolate at your desk
  • treating yourself to a digital comic
  • playing a round of Fall Guys
  • seeking out inspiration on Pinterest

How can you bolster your energy (mental and physical) for a longer writing session? You could give yourself an energy boost by:

  • going outside for some brisk fresh air
  • venting any negative emotions about NaNoWriMo into a journal and closing the book on them
  • not spending every free moment writing, so you can refresh and recharge
  • reading a NaNoWriMo pep talk
  • watching a vlog about NaNoWriMo on YouTube

How can you keep things rolling when you’ve written so fast that it feels like you’re out of ideas? Reinvigorating your creativity could involve:

  • spending a rainy evening dipping into books of poetry
  • watching a movie or listening to a music album that lights you up
  • talking to a significant other or best friend about something you both love
  • browsing online art galleries or artist Instagram accounts showcasing your favourite artistic medium

At the end of the day, what it comes down to is this: NaNoWriMo is not just a numbers game. NaNoWriMo is whatever you craft it to be and, with a few clever tweaks, it might just turn out to be one of your favourite, most creatively inspired times of year.

I know you can do this. Now go forth and write, creative soul!

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