A Veteran Explorer’s Field Guide to Navigating NaNoWriMo

We’re surrounded by seasoned storytellers at Steyer, including Todd Sinclair, a talented writer and veteran NaNoWriMo participant, who shares his tips and tricks for getting to the end of November with a completed draft. 

For many of us, November recalls thoughts of football, family and friends gathered together, and the coming winter weather.  But for writers participating in the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo as the cool kids call it), a dark and stormy night is just where things begin.

NaNoWriMo bills itself as, “a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to creative writing.” The idea is to finally get that novel you’ve been meaning to write on to the page. The challenge is to write 50,000 words in 30 days. If you do the math, that’s 1667 words per day. Standing at the foot of a literary Mt. Everest, this can seem like a daunting goal and a grueling pace. But as someone who has made eleven attempts and reached the summit eight times, let me share with you the tips that got me to the top.

Make a plan. Stick to the plan.

Figure out how much you want to write each day. Make it happen. Don’t tell yourself you’ll make up the extra tomorrow.  You won’t.

Make a plan, part II.

Have an idea of what you’re going to write before November 1st. Consider some notes or an outline. But don’t overdo it. You want your story to take shape during the challenge.

Take one day a week off to let your brain cool.

Ambition will tell you to write every single day. I’ll tell you that you need a day to rest and recover.

Write more than your plan each day.

You not only give yourself buffer for unseen events, but you just might finish early.

Leave off your writing each day in the middle of a scene or thought.

When you return to writing the next day, it will be easier to pick up where you left off.

It is okay to make major changes along the way.

If you suddenly realize you need Dave to be the cousin and not ex, just start writing as if Dave is the cousin and make a note. You can fix it in editing.

This is a writing exercise, not an editing exercise.

You can’t edit what’s not on the page. Let your writing be bad if it needs to be. Spend November writing your novel. You can make edits in December.

Keep a story bible.

When you introduce a new character or location, make some quick notes for reference. It will save time when you can’t remember the name of the neighbor’s cat.

Get an accountability partner.

Tell someone you’re doing NaNoWriMo. You’re less likely to slack off or give up if you know someone is following your progress.

In the end, NaNoWriMo is about proving to yourself that you can write that novel; that you don’t have to wait for the right mood to strike or the muse to visit. You can conquer that mountain, one step at a time. Now is the time to finally tell that space pirate love story political thriller mystery comedy you’ve been dreaming about for years. I did it, and so can you.

Todd Sinclair is a Steyer Content consultant, freelance writer, and coffee connoisseur. Caffeine goes in, content comes out.