IWSG: Some Tips for Surviving (and Winning) NaNoWriMo

Happy first Wednesday of the month fellow IWSGers, and happy National Novel Writing Month!

I’ve done NaNoWriMo several times at this point. I’ve won, I’ve lost, I’ve deleted all of my progress on day 15 and had to HUSTLE to get to 50k before the deadline.

As someone who has written ~120k in a February, 50k spread out over 30 days isn’t as daunting of a task for me as it may feel to other people.

The thing I, personally, struggle with when it comes to that 50k is having the focus to make sure they’re all from the same book.

1. Take it seriously… but not too seriously.

Writing fiction can be a special kind of torture. Writing on a deadline is it’s own beast. So the most important thing, when it comes to NaNo is that you take it seriously. There are some people who can throw out 50k on a whim. And there are others who get tangled up in their work and spend a lot of time staring at a blank page.

I will point out that staring at a blank page is a completely valid part of writing. Thinking about your book is a stage of the writing process. Cursing at it, finding a way to destroy a physical copy of it, claiming you’re never going to look at that particular piece of trash again… all valid parts of the writing process that you may or may not encounter.

When you get to work (hopefully you’ve already started) remember that reaching goals don’t define you as a writer.

2. Plan, Plan, Plan.

This isn’t me telling you you have to have an outline and character sheets and an encyclopedic document of the settings, flora, and fauna.

When I say you need to plan, what I mean is that you have to have a plan of attack for how you’re going to get those 50k words in.

We’re all busy. We all have commitments outside of writing. For some, the act of sitting in that chair and getting in little bursts of words in is a victory in itself. The world is not kind when it comes to giving us time. We have to plan our sessions.

3. Have Fun

I like to think that most of us would like to shed the husk of our day job and do the writing thing full time. But as professions go, I don’t feel that it is one you can do without enjoying the task. Sure, we all have bad days, but if you let NaNo turn into a chore, or if it starts to feel like an exercise in masochism, you’ve probably strayed off course.

You don’t have to write the parts of the book that are difficult for NaNo. 50K words is not a complete novel. Put a pin in the parts that make you struggle and get around to them when you can. Write the parts that give you hope, that keep you excited. And then add in a bloated purple alien--even if you’re writing historical fiction. You can cut it from the book in edits (or leave it in, it might work out).

4. Don’t Worry About The Mess

A while back, I started employing “fast drafts” they’re basically a narrative outline--or a book equivalent of the game Chutes and Ladders.

You have the board, a start and end point. There’s a path you should follow, but occasionally you use a ladder to skip ahead, or a chute to go back and work on a previous bit you haven’t finished yet.

My first drafts are always a mess, so I learned not to aim for perfection, but rather build a skeleton onto which I can place the meat and potatoes.(Is that not what you do with skeletons?)

5. Madlib It

One of the things I’ve discovered to be a chore is the whole naming thing. Have you spent cumulative hours or even days on baby name websites? So I started using a MadLib method.

If I don’t have a name for a character, I decide on a quick descriptor and throw it in with parentheticals when I need to, just to keep the momentum going. Works for other items you haven’t named, or even for processes or whole scenes you haven’t gotten to figure out yet.

The parentheses help when you go back through for edits. Just search for the “(“ and you’ve got a road map to all the things your past self left for you to figure out.

The goal with NaNo is quantity, not quality. Remember that. And remember the most important part of drafting is compiling something you can edit.

6. Talk About It
YMMV on this one. I’m of the opinion that talking about your NaNo peice can help keep you excited about it. It can also help if you find yourself getting bogged down with a detail. The simple act of explaining the problem can help you get past it. If you want to keep everything secret, go ahead and explain it to a stuffed animal or even to a picture of Tom Hiddleston--he is a good listener, right?

If you don’t want to talk about your book as you’re drafting. That’s fine too. We all work through our process in different ways. Maybe letting the story go will make it lose some of its luster for you. If that’s the case, hold it close to your chest. Do what you need to to keep yourself excited and motivated.

7. Celebrate The Little Victories

Winning NaNo isn’t always about hitting the 50k mark. It can be about writing consistently, or passing a personal record, or even about starting.

Every day can be a win.

Good luck!

If you’re doing NaNoWriMo this year, let’s be buddies!

Stop back in next week for more information on my newest novel (Out Nov 10) Or read an excerpt here.

NOTE: I didn’t intend to turn this into one of my “7 Things” posts… but here we are. Kismet.

This post is part of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group.
Join with dozens of other writers/authors and post your doubts, fears, accomplishments, and hopes the first Wednesday of every month.


  1. My biggest issue with writing is "not worrying about the mess" while in the process. It takes tremendous effort not to put the right punctuation in or choose the exact word. Ergo, I'm very slow at getting those early drafts out.

  2. Hi,
    Good luck on NaNo. I've done NaNo about five times and made it to the finish line three times but I like to edit things as I am writing along. As long as I am ahead of the game, like writing four thousand words in one day, which i have done, I am comfortable and I don't get nervous. it is when I get behind because I am editing that throws me off.
    Wishing you all the best and Happy NaNo.

    Shalom aleichem,
    Pat G @ EverythingMustChange

  3. I like your "madlib" idea. I usually come up short on names and start referring to character N or M and then try and use the search and replace later when I decide on a name. I keep thinking about doing the NaNoWriMo but then just go on as usual. Thanks for your perspective.

  4. That's right! Get excited about the daily word count. Focusing on the total will just stress you out.
    Not participating this year but I am writing on my own.

  5. Great tips! I haven't done NaNo in a while, but it is good if you just want to get words down on something. Hopefully I'll participate again one year.

  6. I have got to do Nanowrimo again! Yes, I think the main idea is to have fun or put back the fun into the writing. Well said! Have a great IWSG day!


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