4 NaNoWriMo tips for not winning brilliantly

Posted on October 13, 2016 at 6:00 am

By Stephanie Oakes

I have a confession to make—I’ve never successfully completed NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). I’ve tried a few times, and always start with huge amounts of enthusiasm, but I’ve never written more than 30,000 words in any given November. But the secret of NaNoWriMo is this—you don’t need to “win” NaNoWriMo in order to get something great out of it. Every year, I try again because there’s something quite wonderful about this month, when the world comes together to create. I might never write 50,000 words in a month, but I know I’ll participate in NaNoWriMo for a long time to come.

So, for what it’s worth, here are a couple of tips for making your November productive and fun, from a not-quite NaNoWriMo expert:

1. Use the online tools

During my first couple of attempts at NaNoWriMo, I didn’t use the website at all. However, the times I’ve had the best luck, I’ve logged in regularly. There’s a handy line graph that keeps track of your progress as well as forums full of prompts and advice that you can visit to pump yourself up when your enthusiasm is flagging.

2. Writing sprints

If you’re like me and you have a bit of a competitive streak, you can use writing sprints to your advantage. Get together with friends (in person or online), set a timer, and write as fast as you can for a certain amount of time (my favorite period is between 10 and 30 minutes). Then, compare how you did. I always write more during writing sprints than I would have otherwise. If you’re online, you can find the writing sprints forum on the NaNoWriMo website, or follow @NaNoWordSprints on Twitter.

3. Embrace the suckage

One of the truly wonderful things about NaNoWriMo is being reminded of the extremely true advice about first drafts: they often suck, so you might as well embrace it. As Anne Lamott said, “Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You have to start somewhere.” Imagine your favorite book—it began life as a horrible first draft. That New York Times bestseller that everyone’s talking about? Started out as a crappy first draft. Everyone goes through this, and NaNoWriMo encourages us to let go of control, accept that our first draft will be rough, and write anyway. Trust me: you can fix basically anything in revision.

4. Tailor your goals

For you, 50,000 words might not be feasible for a bunch of reasons. Maybe your work schedule makes that goal too daunting. Maybe you know your writing habits well enough to know that 1,667 words per day is not going to happen. Maybe the particular book you’re working on just doesn’t want to be written fast. Whatever the reason, you can still participate. Try making a goal for yourself that is a challenge but doable. If you cut the NaNoWriMo word count in half, you’ll still have 25,000 words at the end of a month, which is a big deal. I’ve never “won” NaNoWriMo, but I always finish November feeling incredibly proud of whatever I’ve accomplished.


Stephanie Oakes will be participating in the panel Publishing Toolkit for Middle Grade & Young Adult Fiction and leading the workshop To Outline or Not? on Saturday, Oct 29, as part of the NaNoWriMo Readiness Conference.

StephanieOakes-bioStephanie Oakes lives in Spokane, Washington, and works as a library media teacher in a combined middle and elementary school. She has an MFA in poetry from Eastern Washington University. Her first novel, The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly, was published in 2015. Her second, The Arsonist, publishes in 2017.


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