November is just around the corner, bringing early sunsets, cool weather, and the perfect atmosphere for writing. Whether you are an experienced writer or are just getting started, November is the perfect month to finally write that novel.
National Novel Writing Month, shortened to NaNoWriMo, is an event celebrated by writers all over the world with the goal of writing 50,000 words (the minimum length for a novel) by the end of the month. This is my fourth year participating in NaNoWriMo, and though I've had varying levels of success, I've managed to compile a list of tips for getting started, reaching your daily word goal, and making the best of this exciting time.
1. Sign Up at NaNoWriMo.org
Though the act of writing itself is often a solitary activity, NaNoWriMo is a community event. Sign up for an account on the official NaNoWriMo website (for free, of course) to connect with other writers and participate in events. The website is also essential for keeping track of your writing goals and progress with badges and trophies for milestones like “Wrote for 7 days” or “Wrote 1,000 words.”
2. Write with Friends
Image Credit: John Schnobrich from Unsplash
My success with NaNoWriMo is largely thanks to the people I write with in a club at my school. Writing is more fun and it is easier to stay motivated when surrounded by likeminded writers who can offer suggestions, advice, and support.
Consider starting a club in your school or community for NaNoWriMo, or asking a few friends to participate with you. Create an event out of it by writing with snacks and warm drinks and holding word count competitions for motivation.
Now on to the actual writing part.
Starting with that first blank page can be intimidating without a plan and can dampen motivation before you've even begun. Before starting your first draft, come up with an idea, then create an outline. This looks different depending on how much you already know about your story.
Here's what I do when starting from scratch:
- For inspiration, I like to look at art pieces on Pinterest. The tone, scene, and story communicated through painting or photographs are great launching off points. If you have more time, take note in a notebook or phone of any interesting thing you see or hear throughout the day. If all else fails, you can always search for a prompt generator and start from there.
- Once you have an idea or prompt, write down everything that comes to mind. This can include whatever plot and characters you already have in mind or just the general aesthetic or genre you want to try out. None of this has to be formal, nor do you have to include all of it once you start writing, but this practice can be helpful for building on your initial idea.
- Now that you have general idea of what your story is going to look like, figure out a brief plot and a list of characters. Write down the plot like you're summarizing a book or movie. Describe each character including physical description, personality, likes and dislikes, and background. From here a story should be forming, and you can begin planning more or just writing.
Image Credit: Kenny Eliason from Unsplash
Here's what I do with an already-formed idea:
- Develop each character beyond what appears on the surface. Try to figure out a each character's distinct voice to improve dialogue and delve deeper into their characteristics and relationships with others. You can do this by using bullet points, a character chart, or just a stream of consciousness— whatever is most comfortable and natural for you.
- Write another summary of the plot, but go into greater detail chapter by chapter or page by page. Remember you're not writing the actual story yet: include details that might not appear to the reader in the final draft, but are helpful for you to keep track of the plot.
- Figure out the end of your story. Even if the details in the middle are still fuzzy, having a clear beginning and end can greatly help develop the tone and prevent you from getting stuck with no idea of where to go next.
With all this information, I usually feel ready enough to start writing. However, writing is a customizable process: what works for me may not work for you, but it can be a good place to start developing your own process. It can also be helpful to look up the routines and processes of your favorite authors and try them out.
4. Set Aside Time Each Day for Writing
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The main reason I find myself falling behind on writing is because I let forget to make time for it. To maintain a writing habit throughout the month of November and potentially afterwards, it is important to write everyday. Everything you write is important, whether it's 20 or 5,000 words, each is a step towards improvement.
NaNoWriMo.org estimates that you need to write 1,667 words a day to reach 50,000 words by the end of the month. However, if this is too much per day, it is better to write less per day and fall short of 50,000 words than to lose motivation from attempting to write too much and stop writing altogether.
5. Maintain Motivation
Writing 50,000 words, let alone doing so in a month, is no easy task, so continuous motivation is a must, especially when writer's block is at its strongest and the flow of ideas is at its weakest.
Here are a few ways to get motivated or stay motivated after a lull in writing:
- Create a Pinterest board. Make a board with the title of your novel (or, if you don't have one yet, just “story” or “book”— don't get caught up on this part) and create a section for each character. You can also create sections for settings, writing tips, and relationships between characters. When you're feeling unmotivated, find new images to add or look through the old ones. This helps me re-immerse myself in the story, and sometimes, pictures you saved without thinking can provide new direction.
- Have somebody help you stay disciplined. Perhaps even more important than motivation is discipline. You can set yourself reminders on your phone or ask somebody to keep you on track with a helpful “Have you worked on your story today?” You can also ask somebody for a random word or idea if you don't know where you want your story to go next.
- Reread what you have (or any work that you're proud of). Reading over your work so far not only reminds you of all you've already accomplished, but can also get you excited to write again. Maybe there's a scene you want to add to or an opportunity for a subplot hiding in chapter two. Remember: all writing is progress and important. If you have a particular piece— maybe a poem or even a school essay— you're proud of, pull it out again and reread it. Remind yourself that you are a good writer and you've got this.
- Read. I tend to find most of my motivation and inspiration in books. Reread a favorite to remind yourself why you want to tell a story, find a new book to explore different ways of writing, or annotate a book you already know and love. Try annotating or taking notes from a writer's perspective: How does the author move the plot along? Where do they use descriptive language and where do they summarize? How do they bring the story to life?
- Freewrite. Take a step away from your novel and write something else. Maybe it's poetry or a song or maybe just a short journal entry— whatever it is, make sure it's low-stakes and relaxing. Then maybe once you've created something completely different and new, you'll be ready to come back to your story with fresh eyes and renewed motivation.
6. Have Fun Writing
Image Credit: Aaron Burden from Unsplash
Although there's a goal to achieve, NaNoWriMo is supposed to be fun, and the main focus is to celebrate writing and writers. If you don't meet your goal, do not worry at all.
I reached only 5,000 words my first year, but I kept writing and tried again the next year and the year after that, getting closer to 50,000 words each time.
And remember, this is low stakes. No first draft needs to be perfect and no idea needs to be revolutionary— just enjoy the story and the road there.