How to win Nanowrimo – 8 tips for smashing success!

how to win nanowrimo

It’s almost November, which means Nanowrimo (national novel writing month) is coming.

The rules are simple – start and finish 50,000 words of a new project in 30 days. Although it’s supposed to be fiction, many people use the momentum for non-fiction or to edit previous projects. As I mentioned in this article I wrote for the Nanowrimo blog, “Why I rented a castle for Nanowrimo” – one of the biggest benefits of participating is simply to be actively focused on your writing with lots of other people.

But there are strategies that can help you write faster, avoid overwhelm, and finish a story that’s more likely to be publishable with less editing. So here are my top ten.

1 – Sign up on the website. Even if you don’t use it much, you can login to update your daily word count score – which you need to do to get your digital winner’s badge.

2 – Figure out what software to use. I’m a fan of regular old MS Word; but I plot out the chapters using H1 styles so they show up in the navigation pane – they you can drag and drop scenes and chapters around easily.

3 – Plot your story. You may think you’re a pantser, but figuring out your plot structure first will save you so much time and effort – the biggest reason people quit Nanowrimo is that they don’t know what happens next and feel like they’re spinning wheels or writing crap. If you want a very simple plot outline that works for most popular genres, check out this article, 9 steps to a strong plot. It’s OK to plot the book early, so get started now. Also, it’s fine if your story changes or evolves as you figure it out.

4 – Make a grand gesture. Nanowrimo is intense and demands commitment. It can’t be something you just try out, or something that doesn’t really matter to you. You will succeed if you decide to succeed. It helps to have some skin in the game, something to win or lose. Make a public bet. Put away $100 to buy yourself a prize (if you win) or donate to Trump (if you lose). Something pleasurable and/or painful enough that you’ll actually do the work. For me, I rented a castle in France. It’s ridiculous, but I had to work for a year to make it happen and take the whole month off so I could focus on writing.

5 – Do writing sprints. A “sprint” is usually 20 minutes of writing. Set a timer, turn off the internet, do 20 minutes at a time. Most people can write 500 words in 20 minutes. To win NaNoWriMo you need to write 1,667 words a day. It’s hard to do that consistently, but don’t worry too much about the word count. Focus on putting in the time. 20 minute sprints, at least 3 times a day. If you can do four or five a day, you’ll make it.

6 – Don’t edit or research. Focus on what happens. Don’t describe the scene, background, backstory, and don’t fill the book up with extra crap. Keep it lean and simple. What happens, why, how, when, who did it and what motivated them. Don’t worry about bad writing, the writing will probably suck. That’s good. (It’s so much worse to polish every sentence and get 5 beautiful pages that have no place in the actual story). You need to figure out what happens first. Write fast. If you don’t know something, leave a comment to look it up later.

7 – Be social. One of the greatest motivators I’ve found recently was joining a Facebook group just for writing sprints. Every day they ask for our daily wordcount. You can do this on the Nanowrimo blog too but for me, Facebook is more immediate and rewarding. You’re in a friendly, supportive competition with your friends.

8. Make a pinterest board (and possibly a cover). Grab some pictures of actors or models that fit your characters. Add pics of your scenes, houses, towns, objects or places of interest. Get art that hits the mood of your story and makes you feel  the way you want your readers and characters to feel. If you don’t like pinterest, post all the pics in a blog post, or cut them out and make a bulletin board. Look at your “world” before you start writing. If you have one great image that you want to use for a cover, use it – use canva.com or wordswag to make a simple, clean cover (don’t go crazy with fonts or effects, it’s easy to waste time playing around with your cover instead of plotting your book, which is a far better use of your time). *If you grab art from online sources, you may not have the rights to share on your blog, and you’ll definitely not be able to use a cover you make unless you’ve gotten permission or bought stock photography, so be careful.*

Next week I’m moving into a castle for Nanowrimo and plan to get a lot of writing done. Follow me on Facebook to see pictures and videos!

About Derek Murphy

I help authors and artists turn their passions into full-time businesses, make a bigger impact, and blaze a luminous trail of creative independence. Right now I'm in Taiwan finishing a PHD in Literature, writing several books, and managing a handful of online businesses. Find me

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