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NaNoWriMo: 7 Steps To Set Yourself Up For Success

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Rejoice, writers! National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is almost upon us. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this, NaNoWriMo is a one-month writing event in which people write—and accurately log—fifty-thousand words for the sake of writing a novel. For such a grueling-but-rewarding journey, participants need to train their minds and bodies to survive this thirty-day marathon of the writing world. Writer’s Relief has compiled a list of seven essential steps to adequately prepare yourself for NaNoWriMo and all the trials, temptations, and rewards that come along with it.

Prepare mentally. You want your brain to be in a writing mood before NaNoWriMo starts. Forcing yourself to write for an entire month is going to make your brain think it’s work, not fun, and you may find yourself procrastinating at every opportunity. Starting now, make writing a part of your daily routine. Pick a few topics you enjoy, and begin training for November. That way it won’t be a shock to your system when NaNoWriMo begins!

Clear your calendar. Let your friends and family know that you’ll be “offline” for the month of November. Don’t beat around the bush either; tell them how important NaNoWriMo is to you, and show them your schedule so they know what days are absolutely off-limits. It’s crucial that you do all this in advance because when November rolls around, the last thing you want is a flurry of party invites and game nights tantalizing you right out of your writing mood.

Create an outline. No matter how straightforward it sounds, writing a book in only thirty days is nearly impossible without a detailed outline. Many writers go into NaNoWriMo thinking they can easily write throughout the month, but a deadly foe—writer’s block—often sneaks up and stops them long before the thirty days are up.

Think of it as entering a vast jungle without a map; not too smart, right? And, sure, your outline will probably change while you write, but that’s part of the fun! You’re better off getting excited by your changes and wanting to write than feeling lost and finding yourself frustrated and lacking motivation.

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Draft notes. Similar to the outline, you want to know your characters and settings on a very deep, personal level before you begin. Start a character sheet by listing everything you could possibly need to know about your character: his/her height, weight, favorite foods, greatest fears, etc.

Next, start drafting descriptions of the physical settings that will be in your story. Picture them in your mind, then try describing different parts of each setting on paper. This will save you lots of time when NaNoWriMo heats up!

Stock the fridge. No, not with Häagen-Dazs and Mr. Pibb. You need to stock your refrigerator with healthy snacks and drinks to keep your brain functioning properly. Soda and chips might sound like a great way to keep you awake, but a sugar-high crash lasts for a lot longer than the boost. Keep a few PowerBars handy whenever you start feeling lethargic, and drink plenty of fruit juice to stay hydrated. Maintaining a healthy diet will keep you focused and alert for the long writing journey ahead of you. Avoid quick-fix solutions such as energy drinks, sweets, and fast food!

Exercise! We can’t stress enough how important it is to maintain your physical health during NaNoWriMo. Long hours spent hunched over a keyboard are not good for your back, and the bright white of your screen will make your eyes feel like they’ve been staring into the sun. Take a half hour to an hour each day to exercise your muscles and get outside; an unhealthy body will make you feel sluggish, sore, and reluctant to do anything your brain perceives as “work.” Even if it’s just a few jumping jacks or laps around the room, exercise should be an integral part of your NaNoWriMo experience.

Set rewards for milestones. Considering the length of the task at hand, you want to make sure any rewards you set for yourself are reasonable, but still scarce enough to make them a challenge. Don’t reward yourself for each chapter you finish; instead, space out your challenges by telling yourself, “After chapter one, I’ll get X. After chapter five, I’ll get Y. After chapter fifteen…” and so on.

Once you’re done preparing your body and mind, take some time to prepare for what happens after NaNoWriMo is over. We at Writer’s Relief can’t tell you how important it is to just sit down and take a break after November; it’s going to be very difficult to adequately edit your work when you’ve been so recently and heavily invested in it. And, of course, once your new piece has been polished, revised, and thoroughly read, send it to Writer’s Relief for help making submissions to agents and publishers! Good luck, writers!

Writer QuestionsQUESTION: Do you have any tips for writers participating in NaNoWriMo?

16 Responses to NaNoWriMo: 7 Steps To Set Yourself Up For Success

  1. This is my first participation in a writing group. Since I’m a senior, I’m not adept at navigating sites very well. I’ll be grateful for anyone’s patient guidance when I run into roadblocks, even when they seem simple to younger writers. Thanks in advance.

  2. I started last year and allowed other people’s needs to drain off my energy, so I fell out at 6,000 words. This time I am in a separate 49 sq ft bldg with no phone, and a chair is the only furniture. I go there and do not leave until I have gotten 1,000 words down. By the tome I get to a thousand, I am in enough of a groove to put down another 600. I’m holding last years beginning in reserve in case of emergency.

  3. This is my first year doing NaNo, and I already have nearly 2K written with hours to spare and get ahead on word count! I will definitely be using these tips, and it really is an awesome and really fun experience so far :)

  4. Try and push yourself to do 2K or more each day during the first week. When you are feeling that rush of adrenaline from starting a new project and being surrounded (electronically or otherwise) with so many people doing the same, it’s easy to use that momentum to get ahead. You’ll thank yourself for the cushion in your word count when you hit some snags later on.

  5. One more tip.

    At the end of your writing day, take a few minutes to figure out where you’re going to start the next time you sit down. Write a short note to yourself, “…there the body sat, dress in the latest fashion, seen only by the child being pulled past the store’s display window. The child….”

    You’ll find that few minute investment and that note will make it much easier to hit the ground running the next time you sit down.

  6. Here’s a tip I use myself and many of my writers use as as well.

    During a committed block of writing (often your first 20 min), do one of two things… …Nothing, or write. Give yourself no other choices. If you’re not writing, that’s fine just don’t go do anything else. Sit on your hands. Chances are if you’re not writing you’re thinking and that thinking might lead to something to write and since you don’t have anything else to do, well, you’ll write.

  7. You win if you hit 50k words – even if you don’t finish your story. The whole point is to cross the finish line, not to necessarily finish the whole story. There are offshoots to take the work farther: like doing another 30k words in December, fifty hours of editing in a month, etc.

  8. I really like the emphasis on health in this post. It seems like everyone’s go-to snack for NaNo is chocolate or something equally unhealthy.

  9. Hi Amyna,

    Part of the excitement about NaNoWriMo is that it gets people writing in a frenzied fashion. Even if you don’t complete the 50,000 words in 30 days, pat yourself on the back for trying anyway. Many writers learn from the experience and can even take some of what they’ve written to write short stories. Good luck!

  10. This is a great challenge. I would like to participate – but what happens if we do not complete the required number of words.

    Thanks for all these useful tips.

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