How to survive NaNoWriMo – Part 3, Organise Your Writing Life


Wall of ClocksPart 3 of this series is all about organising yourself to maximise your writing time and achieve results during NaNoWriMo…

I’m not an expert but I have ‘won’ or completed NaNoWriMo four times and failed once so I know what didn’t work for me as well as what does.

Some of these ideas are fairly obvious and others may not be but I hope that at least a couple help you reach the elusive 50,000 word mark.

Apart from the first tip they are in no specific order.

1. Lie to yourself
Yes, you did read that correctly. To successfully finish NaNoWriMo you must write an average of 1,667 words a day. Now that you know that fact forget it. What you need to do to succeed at that challenge is in fact write 2,000 words a day from the start. I can hear you now saying “But Monique I don’t want to write 60,000 words. Just 50,000 will do me fine.”

Of course! However the psychological value of being ahead is huge – I can’t stress that enough. It’s a daunting task, so once you slide behind you get overwhelmed easily (ask me how I know). If you’re ahead you feel better. If you’re ahead on day 14 when you hit a wall or get sick or a life crisis hits well…it’s not the end of the world. So lie to yourself it’s a 2,000 word daily minimum. (You can thank me later!)

2. Write every day
Now if life is working with you not against you and you can follow the first piece of advice easily then you are already writing every day but if you have a day when your car brakes down, your child gets the vomits, your friend comes over to cry on your shoulder the best advice I can give you is find fifteen minutes or half an hour and write as much as you can. It’s heartening to see your word count go up, you won’t brake the rhythm and more importantly you keep your head in the story.

3. If possible go hard and go early.
If you can get ahead, I mean have a 3,000 or 5,000 word day at the start then you have a huge advantage in terms of word count and for all the reasons I stated in my first tip. The first part of the story the ideas usually flow. You have lost to describe about the characters and their emotions and their world. This is the stuff you’ve hopefully been thinking about in October and now, while it is fresh try and get it down on the page. Before the slef-doubt and the inner critic stop by.

4. Know they self
I am not a morning person. This is a fact. If you know me, you know this to be a very true thing. I am not a person who is going to get up at five in the morning to write. You might be that sort of person but are useless after eight at night. Know yourself and try and work to your strengths. You do have to find ‘extra’ time to reach this goal so you also have to be flexible. Maybe you can’t get up two hours early but you can get up half an hour early, get dressed, make the lunches and sit down for a half an hour at eight. Or stay up for half an hour later. I’m saying stretch yourself a bit but don’t set yourself up to fail.

5. Sprint
On the NaNoWriMo forums they have things they call sprints. People all over the world start off and write as many words as they can at a certain time for fifteen minutes or half an hour. These are great to join but you can do them alone. It’s 10.30am and you write like a maniac till 11am. You’ll be amazed how many words you can do in that time and you might well keep going…

6. All time counts
As writers we often say “I only have fifteen minutes” or “that’s not long enough to achieve anything”. Well bansih such thinking. In the car at your kid’s soccer training, the train trip to work, your lunch break, while your child watches Sesame Street – these moments normally wasted are now used for writing. And remember how I told you to record all your favourite shows to watch later – well I’ve given you a few hours there already. In fact the average American watches 4 hours a day of TV…or 28 hours a week…so you’ve now got an extra 28 hours a week to write or over 100 hours in November. (Back to the know thy self point…you may be better to still watch an hour as a reward when you hit your words if the cold turkey approach won’t work for you). Also try and limit/monitor how much time you waste on social media, surfing the net etc…they’re time sucks…and they’ll still be there in December.

7. Do not edit
When I was about 18 two of my good friends dated Swedish twins. When I would drive them around and ask for directions they would say “Yust go for-ward”. Which meant of course, “Just go forward” instead of the more popular straight ahead. To successfully complete your manuscript in November follow that advice…no going back, no revising and no editing. (If you have a linear story it is easier to write chronologically as well to prevent the urge to edit but not everyone does – still the advice holds.)

8. Back-up your work
It’s obvious and yet….

9. Rewards
This links back to number six. I once had the most boring job ever…I just didn’t have enough to do but I had to look busy (long story). So I had an elaborate reward system running in my head. I rationed out when I could have a coffee, when I could go to the loo (because I passed reception and might get a 15 minute chat in as a bonus), when I could have lunch (as late as possible so the afternoon was short). Now I do the same with writing and I know lots of people do. You can make that phone call/coffee/dash to the corner store when you hit a certain word count or after a certain amount of time…it does help.

I have other tips but I’d love to hear yours.

And I’m adding a 4th part to this series in the form of a guest post on taking care of your body/physical self during NaNoWriMo. It’s solid advice for writers all year round…stay tuned.


Lauren James
10/14/2012 07:01:17 pm

Hi Monique,

Thank you for this series of blog posts on preparing for NaNo. I’m participating for the first time this year and even though some of these tips I’d thought of, others wouldn’t have crossed my mind. They’re definitely going to help.

My biggest problem will be not editing. When I’m tempted, I’ll be sure to remember “Yust go for-ward”

10/14/2012 07:13:02 pm

Please say it with a strong Swedish accent Lauren, as I always do! It’s very hard not to edit…I think that’s huge for everyone.

Pamela Cook
10/15/2012 09:15:56 am

Great advice Monique. Especially the “go forward” (said with an accent!) and the rewards. Keeping track of your word count on the nano site is great – seeing that line go up is a wonderful motivator and seeing it flatline or go down can help you get your butt back in the chair. Good luck all nano-ers!
10/15/2012 03:05:42 pm

That line going up is a HUGE motivator Pam, so true!

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