TTT – How to Survive NaNoWriMo

Fifty thousand words in thirty days seems like an impossible task. Before July, the idea of competing in NaNoWriMo or one of the camp events sent a chill though me. What had put me off all those times before was the commitment. I’m good at starting a challenge, but tend to lose interest quickly; in fact, it’s a wonder I ever finish writing anything.

Taking part in NaNo and April’s A to Z challenge was as much about forcing myself to finish a project as it was about the challenge. If you’re like me, or even just to give your novel a push, I’d urge you to take part. For those not yet ready for the full might of November’s NaNoWriMo, the camps run twice a year (April and July) and are a good way to ease yourself into the challenge.

Okay, now that I’ve recruited convinced you with my extensive powers of persuasion, you’ll be needing a few tips to reach that terrifying target. Here goes…


1. Have a plan

I don’t care what anyone says, the only way to win at NaNo is to have a plan. It doesn’t have to be a blow-by-blow synopsis with each scene plotted down to the last details (I can’t work from these kinds of plans either), but it should include a basic road map. The plan is not there to stifle creativity but to help you in deciding what scene you will be writing in a given session. Trust me, you don’t have time to debate where you’re heading next.

2. Get rid of the plan

The plan is great, the plan will help to keep you on track. But remember, the plan is only a guide and not set in stone. Writing is organic and often has a mind of its own. If things go ‘off course’, go with the flow, get rid of the plan and keep writing. The goal is king, everything else is just edit-fodder.

3. Don’t stop writing

Time is of the essence during NaNo and, unless you’re lucky enough to be a full time writer, your writing time will be like mine and snatched at every available opportunity. Any delay can result in missing that daily word count and falling behind. Don’t spend an hour agonising over that one scene. Don’t waste time typing, deleting, retyping that sentence in chapter four. Make a note of what you’re trying to say, or the rough direction you want to scene to go, and move onto the next.

4. Remember this is a first draft

This was the obstacle I think I had the hardest time overcoming. I’ve always had a problem with editing on the fly and it wasn’t until NaNo that I finally worked this out. NaNo doesn’t give you the time to edit, you barely get the time to read through the words written the previous day. Whatever you write during NaNo, keep this in the back of your mind: you can write crap, you can write the worst sentences and paragraphs your mind can dredge up, because when you’re finished, you can edit all that out. Write now, polish later.

5. Get some support

Nothing keeps you on track more than a supportive group of friends. They could be family members, people in your writing group, or other writers suffering the same crisis of faith you are. NaNo has some great forums for finding other competing writers and most are encouraging of others. The best thing about having a support group is that it makes you accountable to more than yourself. It’s amazing how much of a kick in the arse you get from knowing that someone is going to ask you what your word count is now.

6. Be prepared to improvise

No amount of planning frees you from the possibility that you’ll hit 45,000 words and run out of scenes. I know a few writers this has happened to and most of them are pretty good at planning. What do you do if this happens to you? You keep going. Pants if you have to. Try out scenes you were unsure of during planning; those ones you cut out because you didn’t think they’d work. Add new scenes you KNOW will not work. You could rewrite scenes from the perspective of a different character or even write a short story with the same characters as your novel. Whatever you do, don’t stop writing.

Over to you: has anyone else out there competed in NaNo recently? Anybody planning on joining me in November? For the veterans amongst us, are they any other tips you’d like to share?

15 thoughts on “TTT – How to Survive NaNoWriMo

  1. I have always done great in all Nano’s except this year. I was adopting a little girl so I did an epic fail this summer. I’m more than ready to give November a go. That one is by far my favorite.

    My advice: Find what works for you and learn to forgive yourself.

    Chris I am very glad you joined in and I hope to see you in Nov Nano!

    1. That’s great advice. The words come so much easier if you’re not fighting with and second guessing yourself.

      See you in November and I wish you all the best with the adoption.

  2. I did NaNo in 2012 once. I came out at around 50k bit early, but after December editing, it became 48k. It was a great exercise, required loads of time and ease of availability to a computer. I ended up falling into a ‘write 800-ish words a day, then every 3-4 days, boom-write 4,000 words (and maybe delete like 600 somewhere)’ pattern. I tended to rewrite as I reread to remind myself of character/location names usually. For a while, I was going to whip it into an actual manuscript, but I buried it early this year. Just not what I wanted to share as my work.

    I might do NaNo this year in Nov. I haven’t decided yet. It probably will depend on where I’m at with my manuscripts or what not. It might be a good time to take a break though from my main manuscript though. So, there’s that.

    1. Thanks for commenting, Dominika.

      It’s always useful to take a break from a manuscript and give your subconscious time to process the story and its themes.

      It’s good that you have a clear idea of what work you wish to share and what you want to keep private. There are a lot of writers who will share something that’s either not their style, or that they haven’t fully realised yet (I’ve been guilty of the latter, especially when I’m excited by an idea).

      If you do choose to do NaNo then I wish you all the best.

  3. Good advice. I attempted to have a plan, but the plan failed, so I’d say about 90% of Camp NaNoWriMo was improvisation for me. Toward the end I was definitely feeling depleted of ideas. At least I couldn’t edit too, because that would have done me in. The fact that I didn’t have time to go back and reread what I’d written helped tremendously. (I just opened the file today, actually. I’m thinking the Vatican is going to be receiving the vast majority of it.) It was an interesting experience to be sure, although I’m not sure I have the courage/motivation to participate in November’s NaNo.

    But hey, if you hadn’t recruited (convinced) me to join the cabin, I may not have done it at all. So there’s that. If you do 50k in November after the 50k in July, that’s 100k words right there. Not to mention all the FF you do. I’d say you’re doing quite well in terms of finishing your projects!

  4. Running out of story before reaching the target? Couldn’t possibly happen to me…

    As you already know, I had a 25k word limit for July and ran out of story at about 16500 words. I ended up writing a continuation of the story where one of the side characters completely took over. (She’s evil, I love it!) I have since noticed that one of the main characters randomly disappears without a word at that point, which needs to be somehow fixed, but dreaming up that additional 9k worth of story is probably the best bit of the whole thing. It’s rough and needs editing a LOT but i’m glad I did it. I’ll possibly be skipping November but hope to be back with a vengeance for a full 50k next year.

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