Your Guide to a Successful NaNoWriMo

How do people write 50,000 words (or more) in just 30 days? If you’ve not done it before it can seem impossible, but I’ve been participating in NaNoWriMo for over five years, and I’ve never missed the word count goal of 50,000 words.

And I can make sure you never do either.

I’ve managed to win NaNo in spite of college midterms, full time jobs, and one year, me being away in Europe for almost two weeks where I did not even consider picking up a pen (or sitting at a computer).

There’s no easy way to win NaNo, but the following tips are the ones I live by, and the reason I always hit my word count goals.

Picture of person typing

 Remember If You Don’t Write Today, You Have To Write Double Tomorrow

This is by far my most successful pep talk, and it’s literally only a sentence long. If you don’t feel like writing now, what makes you think you’re going to want to write double the amount tomorrow?

You won’t. I can tell you right now that you will almost never feel like writing over 1,000 words. You’re busy. You have your daily life and responsibilities to deal with, which makes it really easy to put off writing.

Just remember that every time you don’t write, the next time you do you’ll be writing over 3,000 words.

Powerful motivator, right?

Start Early – Like 12:00 AM

Getting a head start by writing the moment November 1st starts is an amazing way to start off the month. I usually go to bed with at least 1,000 words done for the day. It makes the rest of the words I write later in the day feel like bonus words.

This may not be possible for you. I start work at 8:00 AM during the week, but this year I’m going to stay up and do it anyway. That’s why they invented coffee, right?

Speaking of coffee…

Write at Cafes, or Libraries, or Anywhere that’s Not Home

Unless you have a dedicated office space, writing at home is a lot more difficult than writing when you’re out. At home you wander to the kitchen for a snack, you have chores to do, and since it’s your home you feel like you can relax.

There is no relaxing during NaNo.

The change in environment can make all the difference when you’re writing. I get so much more done when I write away from home. If I’m home, I end up putting Netflix on for “background noise.” You can imagine how that turns out.

Go to the Events

There’s tons of events being held during NaNo, and they’re fun. I’ve met some of my best friends by attending NaNo events. In fact I host events myself now, at least one a week.

Events are places where other writers have the same goal as you. They’re a great place to socialize, be inspired, and get motivation. Writers at events will push you and encourage you.

Plus events usually have word wars and writing sprints to keep the words flowing. Also there’s often snacks.

Don’t go to Events Just to Socialize

I’m definitely guilty of this one, but don’t fall into this trap!

NaNo events are a lot of fun, but if you aren’t careful they can turn into social gatherings instead of a place to write. If your group is too chatty and no one is getting any writing done, suggest a word sprint. If all else fails, put in your headphones and do a sprint by yourself. You can always socialize after.

Have an Outline

I understand there are plenty of people out there who are pantsers, and that’s fine, but from my experience NaNo is a lot more enjoyable if I have a rough outline.

When you have a day where your creativity is stuck, an outline shows you what to write next. My outlines don’t list every single scene, but they do list the major points I need to happen during the novel.

My manuscripts without an outline are sitting abandoned in my documents drive. My manuscripts with outlines, like FanFact from last year or Seeking Utopia, are in the editing stages.

Don’t Edit or Proofread

Just don’t. Accept it right now that your manuscript will be a mess of typos and incomplete sentences. The goal is to write words you can work with, but going back to fix typos is an easy way to get hung up on your writing style and suddenly be three days behind.

Get Competitive

Do you want to have a higher word count than your friend? What about your ML? Of course you do! Now don’t go around declaring word count wars on people, but having the mental goal to have higher word counts than other people is another great motivator.

You might also have a goal of being the fastest writer (which I almost always am, just saying). It’s surprisingly easy to be competitive about writing.

You’re Ahead, Great… but No Breaks Allowed

If you’re ahead of the target word count, you may think this means you can take a break.

Do Not. Do This.

I don’t care if you don’t feel like writing, make time to write even if you’re five days ahead. Why? Because inevitably, over the course of 30 days, something is going to come up when you really can’t write.

Maybe you have a wedding to attend, or a long weekend of plans for Thanksgiving. Maybe you get sick and get stuck in bed for days.

Trust me, you’ll be glad to have a couple days’ worth of words banked for the occasion.

Don’t Write Fluff

By fluff, I mean don’t sit down and write two full pages of descriptions about the exterior of your main character’s house. It’s excessive and you’ll cut almost all of it when you go back to make edits. This is where having an outline is a big help.

If you’re writing fantasy or sci-fi, you can get away with this because of how much world building you have to do. If you don’t plan to pursue publishing you can write all the fluff you want, but save yourself a headache later if you plan to edit your story.

Ignore My Tips!

If these tips don’t work for you that’s perfectly fine, but these are the reason I’ve been able to be so successful at NaNo in the past.

During November I’ll probably do shorter, less involved blog posts since I’ll be busy writing. This November I’ll also be out of town for a long weekend to attend Youmacon, and I have a wedding to go to. I’ll need to account for this and try to get extra writing done ahead of time.

Hopefully these tips will work for you, and good luck hitting the 50,000 word count goal!

Resources for NaNoWriMo Participants

NaNoWriMo Website – The central hub

Write or Die – For extra motivation

NaNoWordSprints – Twitter to keep you writing

Impostors Book Review

“Frey and Rafi are inseparable . . . two edges of the same knife. But Frey's very existence is a secret.

Frey is Rafi’s twin sister—and her body double. Their powerful father has many enemies, and the world has grown dangerous as the old order falls apart. So while Rafi was raised to be the perfect daughter, Frey has been taught to kill. Her only purpose is to protect her sister, to sacrifice herself for Rafi if she must.

When her father sends Frey in Rafi’s place as collateral in a precarious deal, she becomes the perfect impostor—as poised and charming as her sister. But Col, the son of a rival leader, is getting close enough to spot the killer inside her. As the deal starts to crumble, Frey must decide if she can trust him with the truth . . . and if she can risk becoming her own person.

With Impostors, master storyteller Scott Westerfeld returns with a new series set in the world of his mega-bestselling Uglies—a world full of twist and turns, rebellion and intrigue, where any wrong step could be Frey’s last.”

I first started reading Scott Westerfeld’s YA novels years ago. To this day I regularly recommend his Uglies book series for fans of dystopian novels. When I heard that he was returning to the Uglies world with a new book, I was ecstatic. It’s the first time in quite a while that I’ve gone to a bookstore to get a book as soon as it came out.

Book: Impostors

Author: Scott Westerfeld

Genre: YA Science Fiction

Rating: 4/5

A New Exciting Look at What Happens After the Revolution Ends

Years after the revolution ends and Tally Youngblood vanishes, society has re-built. For some cities, the changes have been for the better. For other cities, citizens aren’t as free as Tally Youngblood probably envisioned.

Impostors is a fast-paced story with memorable, fleshed-out characters and an extensive look at what happens to society after a revolution ends. Once I picked it up I couldn’t put it down. At times I found myself skimming sentences because I was so eager to see what would happen next.

The action started right away and pretty much never stopped. There weren’t very many quiet moments in this novel, including much time for reflection. And yet, Westerfeld manages to craft masterful character development. Frey is a joy to read. She’s a strong girl who never lets her fears or psychological scars stop her from going after her goals.

Frey made this book. She’s fierce and strong, but still expresses vulnerability. As someone who was raised to be a body double, whose only purpose was to die for her sister, who doesn’t even exist in any official capacity, you would expect her to be a more jaded, cold individual. But her love for her sister is unbreakable and her feelings for Col are solid from early on.

You don’t need to read the Uglies series to understand this novel, but without the world-building from the previous four books you may find yourself a bit lost. Impostors makes quite a few nods and references to the first four books in the series. While this is fun for me, it may be confusing for a new reader.

What I love most about this book though is that we get to see what happens after the revolution is over. In dystopian novels the entire book (or book series) focuses on changing the social order and upending governmental policies. I love those stories, don’t get me wrong, but it is very rare that you get to see what happens when those goals are met. How does society rebuild after being broken? How do people move on after being set free?

Impostors shows us that there is no easy answer for this. In some cities, freedom and privacy are highly protected. In others, leaders rule in an absolute dictatorship, censoring the media and spying on every aspect of civilian and government life. And on the outskirts are the rebels, the ones who helped this revolution begin in the first place, still fighting for their own extreme ideological ideals.

Raising a body double certainly isn’t a new idea, but the political motivations for everything Frey and Rafia’s father have done over the course of their lives was honestly shocking. Raising Frey to die for Rafia wasn’t as simple as a chess move for power, though, it was rooted in fear after the death of their older brother. There’s a lot of layers built into this story and the ending has promised me it’s only going to get more complicated.

There are only a couple reasons this book didn’t get a 5/5 from me, but they’re pretty big ones. The first is simply that the romantic relationship between Frey and Col happened too quickly for me to believe. I didn’t feel their chemistry and I would have liked to see their relationship develop more organically over the course of the book.

My second reason for dropping the rating had to do with the chapter lengths. This is a personal pet peeve of mine so it won’t bother everyone, but I hated how short the chapters were. In most sections the content of three chapters could have been condensed into one. By having so many chapter breaks I actually felt jarred out of the story.

Overall, Impostors makes a great addition to the Uglies universe, with strong characters and a fast-paced plot. I can’t wait to read what happens next.

The Real Difference Between Professional Writing & Creative Writing

Are you a creative writer who dreams of making a living by writing professionally? And I don’t mean as an author -- I mean writing content for an actual job position. Is it as amazing as it sounds to spend your entire day writing at your job, then going home to work on your novel?

Well, not exactly.

The Real Difference Between Professional Writing & Creative Writing.png

Professional Writing

Pretty much everyone assumed that when I said I was pursuing an English degree that I was going to work as a teacher. Absolutely not. Teachers do amazing work, and I actually used to write about education frequently at my old job. But I wouldn’t want to be one.

There are a lot of jobs you can do with an English degree, but if you want to work with words you’re most likely to end up in marketing/communications. That’s what I do.

Writing at a computer

My first job out of college was as a Copywriter, and I pretty much did it all. I wrote copy for blogs, advertisements, social media, websites… you name it, I was the one writing it. I’m working as a Communications Manager now, and while the job is still primarily writing, it’s more focused on email marketing and magazine publication. But both jobs involve a lot of writing.

But It’s More Than Writing

When you work as a professional writer, you aren’t just sitting at your desk typing all day. To create content, there’s a lot of things you have to do before and after the writing process.

  • Researching information for the content you’re writing

  • Interviewing others to enhance your content

  • Writing content according to brand guidelines

  • Utilizing keywords in your copy

  • Meeting requirements such as word/character count

  • Fact checking names, dates, and pretty much everything else

  • Getting approval on copy you’ve written

  • Working with graphic designers to solidify layouts, photos, & more

  • Tracking analytics to determine how effective your copy is

  • Researching marketing trends and tools to stay up-to-date

I spend the majority of my time writing, but there’s also a lot of hours that go into all that other stuff. If that doesn’t appeal to you, you’re not going to enjoy a career in professional writing.

Professional Writing Topics

But hey, at least you’re writing for a living, right? That has to be more interesting than most other jobs out there. Here’s an example of the type of topics I’ve written content about in my professional career:

  • Digital Signage

  • School Supplies/School Furniture

  • Cardboard Boxes

  • Mailboxes

  • Postal Uniforms

  • Bubble Wrap

  • Arts & Crafts Instructions

  • Product Descriptions (thousands and thousands of them)

  • Trends in Education

  • Marketing

  • Corkboards

That’s just a sampling. As you can see, there’s some really cool topics in there. Digital signage, marketing, educational trends-- that can all make for some exciting content. But what about corkboards and boxes? How boring are these things to write about?

Part of your job as a professional writer is to make these seemingly dull topics interesting. That can be a challenge, and for me it’s a rewarding challenge. If that doesn’t sound very rewarding to you, writing professional copy may not be for you.

Why Creative Writing Is So Great

I doubt I have to list the benefits of creative writing to you, but I will for the sake of argument:

  • Ability to write whatever you want without rules

  • Create brand new worlds

  • Make characters do whatever you want

  • Do research on topics that interest you

  • Share your story with others

But creative writing is still a lot of work, just in different ways. If you’re serious about becoming a published author, you have to worry about marketing. You need to understand the publishing process. You have to do a lot of intense editing work, like I’m doing now, and you have to think about scene structure, dialogue choices, and hundreds of other little things. Sadly, creative writing isn’t always fun. Most things aren’t.

Do I Enjoy Writing Professionally?

I love it. There’s no job I would rather be doing. But if you’re only interested in the creativity of writing and only want to write what interests you, you may want to go into another field of professional work.

I still can’t believe that my job is to write for a living. There’s a lot of other things involved in it, sure, but at the end of the day my job is to write. It’s challenging, extremely gratifying work, but it isn’t for everyone, even if you love writing.

How does professional writing sound to you? I’d be happy to answer your questions!