How I Won NaNoWriMo Six Times

How I Won NaNoWriMo Six Times

Welcome to November – the first day of the National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo. I hope you thoroughly enjoyed your Hallowe’en, because that’s the last chance you’ll have to experience joy and happiness for the next thirty days.

Just kidding!

I’ve participated in NaNoWriMo six times over the past eight years. And each of those times, I’ve “won” the challenge, meaning I successfully wrote the first draft of a 50,000-word novel in the month of November. (Check out this post for more info on NaNo and why you should join me this year.) This is not an easy thing to do, but it is a fun thing to do, and it’s a really neat experience to be able to truthfully call yourself a novelist (at least in progress).

Many people have had false starts and failed years when participating in the writing marathon, which is totally normal. So how did I manage to win each and every time I signed up to write? Here’s my advice for current and future Wrimos hoping to knock it out of the park this year.

Start with a Winning Mindset

I’ve heard lots of people, in person and on the NaNoWriMo forums, saying things like this:

  • “I’m going to try NaNoWriMo this year.”
  • “I have a huge problem with procrastination, but we’ll see how it goes.”
  • “My cousin’s wedding is mid-November, so I probably won’t finish.”
  • “I’ve never won before, and this year likely won’t be any different.”
  • Or my personal favourite: “I missed the first day. Maybe I’ll try again next year.”

STOP. Right now. If you head into this challenge with the mindset of failure, or even potential failure, you are so much more likely to give up all motivation and sell yourself short.

I went into my first NaNoWriMo thinking that I was going to write a book in a month. I wasn’t going to try to do it, I wasn’t going to hope I could do it – I was just going to do it. This year is the busiest and most stressful of my life so far, and I’m still not thinking about whether I might fail. (Though I am thinking about whether this is the craziest idea ever…!)

I’m not just promoting a motivational technique here. From what I’ve seen, many people use the excuse, “I always knew I wouldn’t be able to do it” to drop out of the challenge long before they needed to or should have. Give yourself a fair chance. Consider it something you’re going to do for sure.

Get in the Habit

All it takes to win NaNoWriMo is 1667 words per day. Not perfect words, but simply words. I can usually bang that out in 30-45 minutes. Maybe it takes you a little longer, but that’s okay.

Now, if you wait for five days (because you’re so busy with work, school, or anything else to spare 30-45 minutes), you’ve now got a backlog of 8333 words (or so). And because we’re all human and not robots, it’s not simply a matter of multiplying 30-45 minutes by 5. You’ll need to add time for rest, food, interruptions, bathroom breaks, procrastination… and suddenly, you’ve spent an entire Saturday trying to catch up. Overwhelming to say the least. I’ve done it, and it’s definitely not the ideal case.

The trick is to get into a habit of writing every day, or almost every day. Find the free time in your day at which you’re most productive, and use that time for a writing routine. For me, it’s usually around 9pm, but I’ll squeeze it in whenever I can – as long as I’m writing every day.

So what happens when you do fall behind? Try the next two tips:

Get Out of the House

When I’m in a writing rut, I find it’s so important to get a change of scenery, especially if the new locale has a certain buzzing, writerly energy about it. The typical spots are coffee shops and libraries, but anywhere will do.

It’s also often better with other writers! Take your Wrimo friends along, or join a local Write-In organized by your city’s Municipal Liaison.

SPRINT!

Sometimes, you just don’t have the time or energy to generate well-crafted, thoughtful prose to hit your daily wordcount. Besides, the focus of NaNoWriMo is quantity over quality – editing is where the quality comes in, and that can wait until December. I often use “word sprints” to boost my wordcount without taking up hours of precious time.

Word sprints are simply periods over which you write really, really fast, without really stopping to think or edit. You can either write for a defined length of time, or you can try to hit a particular word goal as fast as possible. NaNoWriMo runs “official” word sprints on Twitter so that you can race against your fellow Wrimos. But for writing on your own terms, you can definitely race against the clock instead.

It also helps to have some sprinting tools in your back pocket. My two favourite websites for this are Written? Kitten! and Write or Die (I use the free version). Check them both out for two very different varieties of motivation.

Tell Everyone You’re Doing NaNoWriMo

If I hadn’t blogged about it and talked about it with basically everyone I know, I probably wouldn’t be doing it this year.  For me, this is probably the most effective method for making sure I don’t back out. So here we are.


Well, folks, that about covers the entirety of my plan to write a novel in a month for the seventh (eek!) time. I am starting off today with a single idea and literally no other details prepared. I’m definitely pantsing it this year!

Are you joining me for NaNoWriMo 2016? What tips do you have for aspiring novelists-in-a-month?