Using NaNoWriMo Wisely
Welcome! Over the next month, I’m going to share some of my strategies and suggestions for surviving National Novel Writing Month, for those who’ve decided to take the challenge. For the uninitiated, NaNoWriMo is an annual online writing challenge to participants to write a 50,000 word novel in the month of November. Many of your writing friends are probably pulling their hair out right now, trying to hit the first day’s word count quota. But I also know there are plenty in the writing and publishing community who dislike NaNoWriMo for a number of reasons, or feel like it promotes bad or sloppy writing, but I think that when used wisely, writers at any stage in their journey can benefit from the challenge.
Choose which category fits you best, and see how you can use NaNoWriMo wisely. And please—don’t take the titles as a reflection of the quality of your writing; only your writing experience.
You’ve just chosen to begin the strange and mystical journey of writing a novel. You have a story begging to be told, though you aren’t completely certain how to tell it. Or maybe you know the plot from beginning to end but aren’t confident you can do it justice just yet.
November is your opportunity to shake the nerves from your fingers and let them start flying. It’s good to have a roadmap for your novel, but don’t sweat this too much—just ensure there’s enough framework there to keep you going. Don’t be afraid to write the same chapter, scene, even sentence over and over from multiple angles until you find what’s comfortable. Get a feel for the shape of your writing, and learn what works for you. If you haven’t been writing consistently—like a daily or weekly word count, for instance—then the first week will be the worst by far. Let go of your inner editor and give yourself permission to write poorly. You can always, always rewrite, as long as you write something to begin with. Put one word in front of the other, and don’t be afraid to veer off course from your plot. You never know what great new ideas will spring up.
You’re starting to find confidence in your writing; maybe you’ve even reached The End of your first manuscript, but now you’re looking to prove you can replicate that success. Maybe as you trialed and errored your way through one story, you started formulating a new plot—a stronger plot, a killer tale that you just knew you could do wonders with once your writing was where you wanted it.
Use NaNoWriMo to continue to develop your voice, and nail the rise and fall of a great story structure. I know it’s too late right now, but if you spent extra time before November pre-planning your outline, you will be well ahead of the game to finding the necessary confidence to excel again.
Maybe you have a few NaNo wins under a belt, or maybe even—awe of awes—you’ve managed to write an entire manuscript or two outside of November’s crazy confines! Congratulations! Now is the time to work on your writing discipline: getting into the writing habit, even on those days when you don’t particularly feel like it.
Strive for consistency in your daily word count. Try to make yourself write every day in November, instead of scrambling at the end of the month to reach the 50,000 word finish line. If you have gotten into a pretty good writing habit outside of NaNoWriMo, then now’s the time to really push for higher word counts, or experimentation. Find a voice you’re unfamiliar with and run with it.
My number one rule for surviving NaNoWriMo and learning from the experience: high confidence, low expectations. Believe in your writing and your ability to produce a finished manuscript—perfection is not the goal.
That comes in December.