It’s almost time everyone! Yes, it’s almost Halloween, and you know what that means. One last hurrah before it’s time to hunker down with your laptop, typewriter, or pen and paper and get to writing for NaNoWriMo. If you’re new to NaNoWriMo, here’s what you need to know. Each year on November 1, NaNoWriMo challenges you to write 50,000 words of a novel in 30 days. The community-powered event has been going strong since 1999, and whether you’re a seasoned writer or just trying to write something for the first time, NaNoWriMo is an excellent challenge with lots of community support.
I’ve been participating in NaNoWriMo since 2012. Having a deadline always makes me write faster. I haven’t always successfully completed the challenge, but I always enjoy trying. Since I’ve been doing this for almost ten years, I’ve learned a little bit about what helps (and what doesn’t). And I’m happy to share with you my secrets for getting a bunch of writing done in a short amount of time.
One big thing I want to point out before I get into my tips? Remember that NaNoWriMo is just one way out of many that you can set deadlines for yourself. Yes, this is a time of the year where a whole bunch of people are committing to writing more, but you can absolutely do this on your own (or with others, if you can find the people!) at any time. So whether you’re getting ready for a busy November, or just trying to write quickly for your own deadline, here are my tips for writing a book in 30 days, even if you’ve never written anything before.
1. Tell People About It
I’m a writer. But it’s really hard for me to tell people that. Why? I don’t know. It sounds pretentious, I guess. I really hate telling people that I’m a writer. Even more than that, I hate telling people about what I’m writing. I always worry that the more I talk about writing something, the less I’ll actually want to write about it. Like telling people about the writing will scare it away.
But look. Listen. If you’re really dedicated to getting something done in 30 days, you’re going to have to tell people about it. First of all, by letting people know about your goals, you’re setting up accountability. You’re less likely to give up on your writing goals if you know other people know about them. Like, it’s okay to let yourself down, but you can’t let other people down.
You also have to tell people about your 30-day writing goal because, guess what? If you’re writing 50,000 words in 30 days, that’s going to take up a lot of time. People are going to notice. They’re going to wonder where you are. When they try to make plans with you, you can make up an excuse or you can tell them the truth: You can’t leave your house because you’re 5,000 words behind your goal, so you’ve got to get serious.
2. Quantity Over Quality
Yes, of course you want your writing to be good, but you’re not looking to create a finished draft a the end of 30 days. You’re just trying to get something down. For the next 30 days, keep your writing hat on and your editing hat far, far away. In fact, throw your editing hat out of the window. If you lose it and you have to buy a new one in December, so be it. For now, you’re not allowed to critique or change your writing. Just write.
On that note, I know everyone writes differently, but for me, it’s best if I just write whatever I feel like writing rather than trying to write the whole thing in order. You’ll write more if you’re excited about what you’re writing, so pick what part of the story you feel like writing, and go to town. If the thought of writing everything out of order feels like chaos, I suggest coming into this 30 day writing period with a strong outline so you can pick up wherever you want in the story and know where it fits.
3. Stop Writing When You’re in the Middle of Something
This one is kind of related to writing things out of order, because this is also all about writing what excites you. When you’re in the middle of writing something and you know where it’s going, try to stop half way through and save the rest for your next writing session. Why? Because you’ll keep thinking about it until your next writing session, and when you sit down to write again, you’ll know exactly where to start.
You know all those times you sit down to write and end up staring at your computer trying to find the words? Yeah, this is basically a foolproof way to avoid all that wasted time and anxiety.
4. Reward Yourself With Snacks
This one might seem obvious, but trust me. You might forget. Please take snack breaks while you’re writing. And hydrate too. Sometimes when you’re really in the zone, it can be easy to forget to take care of yourself. Invest in some good writing snacks that are healthy and easy to eat while typing away.
Or, even better, when you’ve finished a great writing session, take a step away from your computer screen and sit down at the table to reward yourself with a snack. Yes, you’re going to need a lot of time to write, but you’ve also got to take breaks to avoid burnout. On that note, don’t forget to get plenty of rest too!
5. Commit to Writing Sprints and Mini-Deadlines
Writing 50,000 words in 30 days is one big deadline. To get there without getting overwhelmed, you’ll want to break it down to smaller, easier-to-reach mini-deadlines. Try to set a goal for number of words per day, or even per writing session, and try to stick to that number so you don’t fall behind.
Writing sprints are another way to set very small mini-deadlines. I usually set a timer to 20 minutes, write non-stop for the full 20 minutes, and then reward myself with a short break after. You might have hours of writing scheduled for one day, but if you break it down into short 20 minute sprints with breaks in between them, writing for those small blocks of time feels much more attainable.
6. Find Other People to Write With
This may or may not be something that helps you. Everyone works differently. But for me, finding a community of writers who are also trying to get a lot of writing done has been helpful. You can check out the NaNoWriMo website to find local writing sprints to join if you want to surround yourself with other people who are writing. Or if you’d prefer to stay online and socially distanced, there are so many writing communities you can join online for support and for community writing sprints. Writing with other people has been a game-changer for me because yes, it creates accountability, but I also love how supportive writers are of each other (disclaimer: usually). Writing is so solitary most of the time. I love when I get to connect with other people who are just as passionate about writing as I am.
7. Keep Reading
Okay, you’re doing a lot of writing. You might feel like you don’t have time to do anything else. But trust me on this one. Keep reading. Reading makes you a better writer and it will inspire you. Find time to keep writing. Use it as a way to relax after a long day of getting your own book done. Read stuff that’s like what you’re writing if you want. Or if you need to take a step away from your work entirely, pick up something that has nothing to do what you’re writing. Allow yourself to escape your own head for a little bit and enter into another writer’s world.
8. Visualize How You’ll Feel When It’s Done
This is advice that works for basically anything difficult you’re trying to finish. You’re trying to write a whole book in 30 days. That’s so much! But you can do it. How do I know? Because I’ve always visualized what it’s going to look like when you’re done.
You can do this too. When you’re in the middle of doing something hard, it can feel impossible. But the fact of the matter is, it’s going to get done because you’ve dedicated yourself to doing it. In moments where it feels impossible, just remember how great it’s going to feel when you make it to that 50,000th word.
You’ve already committed to doing this. You’re going to do it. I believe in you!
If you need more inspiration, here are 8 of the best books to prep for NaNoWriMo. And if you want to help inspire the other writers in your life, here are 15 gifts for NaNoWriMo writers. Finally, whenever you think it can’t be done, here are 9 books that started as NaNoWriMos.