I am, shall we say, a NaNo veteran, having won about half a dozen times out of all the times I’ve participated. So here’s what tips I can give on how to make it through NaNoWriMo and get to 50,000 words:
Some of the best advice I’ve ever been given as a writer is this: “The First Draft doesn’t have to be good, it just has to be written.” You can always fix a bad first draft, but you can’t edit something you don’t finish. NaNo is all about getting to that finish in a month-long sprint. Write hard and write fast and silence that inner critic. You’ll need it later, but you don’t need it right now.
Even if you do most of your writing on a desktop computer, you can find spaces in your life to write everywhere. Carry a notebook with you or use your phone or tablet to jot down notes and then type them up when you get back to your computer or just write the whole draft longhand. There are always spaces where you have tiny snatches of time to write or plot to write. Standing in line at the pharmacy? Write. Sitting through previews at the movie theatre? Write. Taking your lunch break by yourself? Write. Get up 15 minutes earlier and use that time to write. Use your phone as a dictaphone and dictate, if you have to. Make any space you have in your day where you’re not actively occupied a space to write in.
I may not be writing it down at the time, but some of my best plotting often comes during my commute back and forth to work, when I’m stuck in the car for half an hour. I turn off the radio, and if only inside the comfort of my own head, I’m writing. I’m gnawing on the plot and working out the problems, so when I do sit down to my computer, I just have to type out what I’ve already worked out.
In journalism, the letters TK are used as placeholders when you don’t have a quote or the research or a name that needs to go in that place, for filling in later. This is a wonderful trick and one I’ve used in my fiction writing for a long time. While I often have my main characters named before I ever start, sometimes I write in a minor or one-scene character that I don’t have a name for immediately, but I don’t want to stop the flow of my writing to jump to a name generator or baby name book. And sometimes there’s something that I know needs research, but I don’t want to get bogged down in researching right then. I just type TK in that spot and keep going.
Later, I can easily do a search for TK in the document and find all those blanks that I need to fill in.
This is a good month to get into once-a-week meal prepping, especially if you don’t want to subsist entirely on junk food and coffee for the entire month. I cook enough in one go on Sunday to get me through the week, so all I have to do is warm up my meal when I get hungry.
I also pre-emptively stock up on healthy snacks I can grab and go so that I’m not (too) tempted by the after-Halloween candy sales.
The coffee, however, is non-negotiable and must flow like water.
Use the NaNo forums and social media or use your home writing group to find someone else to prod you along your way or enlist friends and significant others who may not be participating but can still be counted on to encourage you. Sometimes you need a stiff prodding, and having someone you can count on to do that is wonderful. (If you want to add me on the NaNo website, I’m listed as MeadhbhDhommnail)
You’re only competing against yourself, in NaNo, not against the other participants. It’s okay if you don’t make it to your writing goal. The important thing is that you tried, and that you take what you learn with you into the future. Use this month to establish or re-establish a daily writing habit – it doesn’t have to be 1667 words a day, it can just be 500 or 250 or 5! I know all too well that some days it’s a victory if you just write a single sentence. Don’t beat yourself up for not making it to the finish line: That finish line is completely arbitrary and something you set for yourself, it’s okay to move it or to take your time getting there. Even if you don’t come out of NaNoWriMo with a draft you might look to publish one day, you’ve almost certainly learned something about writing, and that is the real victory.