Making It to 50,000 Words: Strategies for NaNoWriMo

By | November 14, 2011

Last week, Alpha graduate Jameyanne Fuller talked about “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly About National Novel Writing Month.” This week, Alphans discuss how they do the impossible (or at least highly improbable), win NaNoWriMo, and finish their 50,000 words.

Lara Donnelly (Alpha 2007 & 2008):

This may be viewed by some as semi-cheating, but I like to take advantage of what is fondly known as OctoPrepMo. This is my fourth NaNoWriMo, and only my second time creating an outline in the month preceding. My first year, I was all over that outline, and the resulting writing was pretty good (I think), and fairly (fairly, but not totally) painless. The next two years, I pooped out on writing outlines. The first year was so easy, I declared, that I didn’t need one! Lies. The resulting novels were meandering, plot-less, and generally less than fantastic. This year, I outlined the sucker. And I have got a plot of which I am not ashamed and characters I’m very interested in writing. Hopefully, I’ll end November with something that resembles a worthy novel. Worthy of DecNoEditMo. Or whatever.

Rachel Halpern (2007 & 2008):

The only way I know to do NaNo is to write every day. I kept elaborate spreadsheets, I planned my plot in advance, I was willing to experiment, but pretty much I just found that the key rule is write, every day, and if you don’t write one day, to make it up absolutely as soon as you can. Just keep writing.

It sounds silly – I hear a lot of people say “To write you have to write,” and it’s like, well, obviously. To do NaNo, you have to write 1667 words a day or equivalent. But that’s all I’ve got. One of the things I learned from NaNo is that there was way more time in a day than I’d thought there was – it’s not true for everyone, how fast you write and how much you have on your plate varies a ton from person to person, and NaNo isn’t for everyone, and that’s okay. But for me, personally, if I made writing 1667 words a day a higher priority than doing anything fun, and on the same level as any other piece of homework I actually turned in the next day, I somehow always had time to finish. In fact, I got to 50k ahead of time, all three years.

Gretchen Hohmeyer (2011):

As writers, we’re so caught up in making our writing perfect. Some of us are such perfectionists that we can’t even finish a piece because we get stuck trying to edit it before we write THE END. We work laboriously, trying to come up with something that maybe—just maybe—doesn’t suck. Nine times out of ten, we can’t help but disappoint ourselves. After all, the second you start thinking you’re the next Shakespeare is the second you need to find a new hobby. NaNoWriMo is a time to throw all that out the window. If you work like a perfectionist, you’ll never be done in time. Nothing irks a perfectionist like not winning, right?

Everybody can be a winner if they try hard enough. However, winning requires that you stop caring about quality writing. You stop caring about discrepancies, clichés and even spelling sometimes. You have to learn how to stare into the eyes of writer’s block, because you literally don’t have time for that. You need to be able to kill off a character just to get things moving, or yank the story in another direction because your plot just isn’t working. The challenge of NaNoWriMo goes far beyond just finishing.

What do you think? If you do NaNoWriMo, what strategies get you through the month? Tell us in the comments! And stop by next Monday for a discussion about how NaNo might not be for everyone.