10 Ways to Write a Successful NaNoWriMo

With so many writers participating in NaNoWriMo, you’ve probably seen a few tips on how to cram those words in each day. But, every writer is different, so you may not have found all the best ideas yet.

So, here are mine.

This list is really specific to me, and I don’t expect everything on here to work for you, but you may find that some are adaptable to you, your writing style, and your lifestyle:

1. Commitment. When I decide to write a novel (50,000 words) in one month, I mean it. I do not make excuses; I make sacrifices. I do not accept failure; I accept that I made a decision and I will stick to it. I do not doubt myself; I confirm to myself that I can and will do what I set out to do.

2. First things first. I have a lot going on in my life, and when I commence on a task of this magnitude, I have to make sure that I maintain balance and keep my priorities straight. While it may make sense for some people to wake up and write those words immediately; for me, I have to do certain other things first. To ensure that I am successful, to make myself ready, to assist with strength and inspiration and endurance, I choose to put other things on my to-do list ahead of the writing. It may seem counter-intuitive, but I just know that I am less effective and less blessed with the ability to manifest my talents if I neglect my prayers or my scripture study. I’ve never had a problem with praying morning and night, but my scripture study has been patchy over the years. But not right now. Just when you may think I would have a great excuse to drop that ball, I make sure I do not write a word until that chapter of scripture is read. (I also make sure that other important things are taken care of, like personal hygiene, nutrition, and exercise; though some of those items sometimes tail behind writing in my daily order of operations.) Also, I never write on Sundays – even during NaNoWriMo. Yes, that alters my daily quota because I only get 26 days instead of 30 to write my 50k, but so be it. It’s more important for me to keep the Sabbath and write a couple of hundred extra words on the other days.

Bottom line: there may be something else that’s important to you; if it’s something that gives you strength, don’t make it take a back seat when you need your strength the most.

3. Enjoy the challenge. You gotta have fun with this. There’s no point unless there is some joy in the process.

4. There is no such thing as down time. If you are not eating, sleeping, working, or taking care of other essential tasks, you are writing. At least, until the word quota for the day is reached. If you want to get ahead, great. But until that point, there is no TV, no movies, no games, no Facebook, no Twitter, no web surfing, no YouTube, no shooting the breeze, no time wasting. You write until you’ve reached that number.

5. Reward yourself. You are not a robot. You are not a machine. Once you’ve reached the word quota for the day – once you are totally caught up and on track – feel free to get ahead if you want. But be sure to take a break first (unless you are on a major roll) and kick back with some mindless entertainment for a little while (but not at the expense of sleep!) or say hello to your spouse and children. They probably miss you.

6. Sleep well. Yes, you have to make some sacrifices, but your health is not one of them. You can’t function very well if you are not well-rested. Your schedule may change a little during this heavy writing month as you stay up late to write after the spouse and kids have gone to bed, but be sure to catch up on that sleep either with a later start in the morning or some good naps at other times (like at the day job).

7. Do the math. If you ever feel overwhelmed, just do the math, and it doesn’t seem so bad at all. For example, if you write at the leisurely pace of 750 words per hour, and you are writing for 30 days (see #2 for why I write 26 days), then that’s only two hours and 13 minutes a day of writing. Most people waste that much time each day on Pinterest. Come on, folks. It’s no big deal!

8. Keep track. Do whatever it is you do to measure your progress, but measure your progress. I love spreadsheets. A lot. So, I created one in which the only thing I need to do each day is enter my current total word count from Microsoft Word into a certain cell, and the sheet calculates how many words I have left for the day to stay on track, how many words I have written cumulatively, how many words will be required tomorrow if I stop now, where I stand as a percentage of the task and a percentage of the month, and draws a couple of pretty graphs of my progress. All from entering one figure. And it does this while accounting for my odd word quotas based on Sunday-less writing. It’s fun! It’s also encouraging and allows me to very easily see where I stand and be motivated to work harder if necessary. If you don’t like building spreadsheets (what’s wrong with you?) then I guess you could just use the system they have set up at the NaNoWriMo website. Or a notepad and a calculator (boring!).

9. Let others know. Talk about your NaNoWriMo experience. Not to brag, but to let people know why you’re so focused right now (and that you’ll have another book out soon), and also to let those closest to you know that you need their support. That support consists mainly of staying out of your way, which means altering their expectations about your availability to do other things for these 30 days. I’m a man on a mission, and those around me know it!

10. Make it a habit. If you are a writer hoping to make a career of it, NaNoWriMo should not be a one-off, or once-a-year thing. Yes, after November 30th you may give yourself permission to slow down a bit; especially if, like me, you have a full time day job and lots of other obligations. But the writing habits you form during NaNo should be the foundation of your writing life going forward. Don’t stop. Keep writing regularly and keep writing fast. Writing quickly, for me, produces the best work. And writing regularly, for me, produces story after story and novel after novel – it’s the way it’s done.

What are some of YOUR NaNo writing tips? Let me know in the comments!