As we get into October, everyone in the writing community is starting to think about NaNoWriMo, short for National Novel Writing Month. For those with several novel manuscripts under your belt, this could be a fun challenge for you. If you’ve never written a book before, it can be terrifying. First of all, I’m telling you that you can do it! I never thought I could draft a novel, and at this point, I’ve drafted four. Next, I want to share some advice, both what I’ve learned from years of reading craft books and writing myself, and advice I’ve collected from past NaNo winners!
When writing a novel, it’s best to plan ahead
Since we’re in October my first piece of advice is to prepare as much as you can beforehand. I’m always best able to sprint and crush word count when I know the basics of what should happen in a scene, and where the narrative is leading. That also makes me feel free to try totally wild and unplanned stuff! — Sarah Enni
I cannot recommend outlining enough. When I have a road map before I begin, I find that my daily writing comes more easily and my final product is more polished. There are tons of different ways to outline. Personally, I cannot recommend the Save the Cat beat sheet enough. It’s changed the way I outline. But for those who find that structure too stifling, there are other options out there! At a bare minimum, I recommend you know the beginning, middle, and end of your story. I like to know what is going to happen in each scene before I start a project.
During NaNoWriMo, stay on track & build a support group
My advice would be to choose an idea, character, or concept for NaNo and really stick with it. If you’re excited about exploring this idea, the words will come easy. If you have fun with a character or concept and are open to where it takes you, the days will fly by and you’ll spend more time wanting to uncover what the novel is about than worrying about whether anything is good. I’ve always done best when I was committed to a concept or idea and went about writing as opening up and exploring it, rather than trying to type out a perfectly formed 50K word novel.
I also would say that the best piece of advice I can give is to have someone (or a few someones) hold you accountable. Check-in and celebrate (or commiserate) together. That way you can have a group that’s taking on this challenge together and you’ll feel more pressured to stay involved around the 20K wordmark than to give up when the going gets tough. — Brianna Robinson
The best way to survive NaNoWriMo is to schedule out your days and make sure you carve out enough writing time to get your word count goals done each day. 50,000 words can feel very overwhelming, but if you break it down by day or week, it makes the word count more doable. Also communicating and interacting with other writers doing nano can greatly help and provides you with support and encouragement. Most importantly, though drafting can be torturous at times, have fun! — Emma Deimling
Pacing is also super important! NaNoWriMo has a minimum of 50k, so that means writing about 1400 to 1500 words a day, but skipping a day or writing a little less is okay! Only you know what your story needs and where, so as long as you have a good understanding of your story, then pacing and recovery for missed days will be easy. — Cheyanne Larinan
Writing can feel so isolating, but it doesn’t have to. Especially during NaNoWriMo, there are so many hopeful writers doing the exact thing you’re doing! I’ve found Twitter is the best place to meet writer friends, using #nanowrimo or #writingcommunity. Don’t be afraid to ask for advice, swapping pages, or simply someone to talk to! You want at least one other writer who will encourage you every step of the way, while still making sure you are hitting those word count goals.
I also recommend rewarding yourself for hitting those word count goals each day. It might sound weird, but writing coach Rosanne Bane says, “rewards can be thoughtfully employed to reduce resistance, particularly when the reward is given for effort rather than outcomes.” The point of NaNoWriMo is to get those words on the page, not fixate on how good those words are! Use rewards to teach yourself that. Personally, I like to use chocolate or 15 minutes of reading time as my daily reward. It won’t break the bank, but it will brighten your day and make you feel good about yourself!
Take some time to relax and refill the creative well
In the realm of pacing, be sure to relax when not writing. You won’t always have the luxury of balancing work or school or whatever, but those little bits of rest are crucial to refueling the creative part of the brain. — Cheyanne Larinan
Confession time: I’m a workaholic. When I have a spare minute, I’m opening up my WIP Google Doc. I know most of you can relate. With such a daunting word count, it’s hard not to feel like you have to spend every waking minute trying to crank out those words.
But for writers, that rest time is critical. That’s the time when your creative brain is working, even when you don’t realize it. You have to refill that creative well too. Read books that you love and watch TV that you’re passionate about. That will fuel your creativity too and keep you from hitting a wall!
Most importantly, have fun
Don’t think of NaNo as writing a novel in a month, but rather as an excuse to ruin the white page. It’s not about producing something you’ll publish—or even something that will make it into your book—but using it as motivation to get to the next page and ruin that one as well.
Even our worst writing can sometimes spark the best ideas. And you’ll never write a novel if you never finish a novel. NaNo lets you say, “I don’t care,” and produce potentially terrible writing with the goal of just finishing the thing. It really helped me gain some freedom from the author who didn’t want to produce “bad writing”. But seeing a completed rough draft was far more liberating than any perfect few chapters I’d ever written. — Jess Callens
Starting a novel is terrifying. If you’re a perfectionist (also me), it’s hard to write words that you think are bad. It feels better not to write at all. But the truth is that you won’t be a good writer until you’ve written a lot. Every first draft is messy, and it won’t be good until you write that first draft and revise it.
By asking you to write so many words in such a short period, NaNoWriMo forces you to stop caring about how good you are. It forces you to pick a character or idea and just run with it! It doesn’t matter if you throw the whole draft away! (Don’t do that—your writing is worth saving. I like to be dramatic). Lean into your passions. Write those spicy enemies to lovers romances. Throw in vampires and werewolves, if that’s what you love. This month is about making you happy and making you finish something. Make the most of it!
Check out these resources!
- Save the Cat Writes a Novel by Blake Synder
- Around the Writer’s Block by Rosanne Bane
- The Emotional Craft of Fiction by Donald Maas
- Romancing the Beat by Gwen Hayes
- 27 Essential Principles of Story by Daniel Joshua Rubin
- Alexa Donne’s Youtube Channel
- First Draft with Sarah Enni Podcast
- Susan Dennard’s Writing Blog