Winning at NaNoWriMo: A Guide?
Have you ever considered doing the big National November Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), or maybe even one of the smaller camps like they have in April and July? Not sure how to handle it alongside your job or side gig (like, maybe a professional dog wrangler)? Then never fear, booknerds and aspiring writers, I’m here to help! Maybe. I’m going to do my best, anyway. I’ve been asked a few times how to prep for NaNo, and before I’ve always answered on Instagram, which limits word count and what not, so hopefully this “guide” is a bit more helpful, and early enough to where you have more than enough time to get ready for the next NaNo, whether that’s a smaller camp, or the big one in November.
First, in case you aren’t familiar, the differences between the two NaNo’s: The November one is where you write an entire novel in the span of one month. In this case, a novel is based on 50k words, so you can technically achieve the goal without finishing your book, which is what usually happens to me. My first drafts’ of novels all hover around 90k-110k words, so while I can “win” the November camp, I never actually finish a book in that time—which is ok! The second type of NaNo are the smaller camps that happen a few times throughout the year. These camps are where you can set your own goal, whether it’s a certain word count in a month, researching, revising… you determine what kind of project you want to focus on, and then put in your measurement for success. These camps are much more relaxed then the November one, and I tend to like them best, but the November one is great if you just really need that kind of pressure to get you rolling on a novel.
Prepping for these NaNo’s can be vastly different, mainly because the pressure for each one is vastly different. So let’s talk about how I prepare for the smaller camp’s first because those are by far the easiest. Personally, I love doing the smaller camps when I am in between projects because it helps keep me focused and moving things forward when I’d rather procrastinate like a boss about starting something new.
So, for prepping, I pick two projects that need attention, a bit of refining, or need to be outlined. I still pick a word count as a goal for these, but I keep it pretty low, between 10k-20k words. You can set your goal as time spent researching instead, which would also work for this. But the word count holds a type of accountability that I find helpful. Before starting the camp, I look at my monthly schedule, see what I need to do outside of writing (let’s say, it’s dog walking because I do walk a lot of puppers), and I figure out about how much time I need to devote to that on a daily basis. That gives me a good idea of how much time I have left for writing. From there, I skim through the two projects I’ve selected and see what they need, what will make me feel like, once I complete it, I am over that hump and ready to put these babies to bed to start on something new. It could be polishing a character’s personality, beefing up the fight scenes, or adding in name pronunciation guides. I make a list of the things those projects need and assign a word goal. If it’s small, like polishing, the word goal stays small, but if it’s more about elaborating on certain scenes, my word goal is a bit higher. Having those goals in mind before I start is key though, even with the relaxed nature of the smaller camps. Knowing what I am going to do ahead of time, and how much of my time I can devote to it, helps me figure out what’s not only doable, but gets me excited about the things I CAN do to improve my work. The good thing about the smaller camps is that I don’t have to write every day either, which is perfect for when I’m between projects and a little burnt out.
November’s NaNoWriMo is another beast entirely. I recommend starting to prep for this at least a month ahead of time, as November is already full of interruptions with holidays. In order to really do this one, make sure you know WHEN you can write, as well. Are weekends your free days for writing? Evenings? Or maybe just early mornings? Whatever that time is, guard it fiercely because you’ll have to write AT LEAST 1,700 words a day to really finish on time (it’s a little less than that, but rounding up helps create a bit of wiggle room). I tend to be a really fast, over writer. When I’m focused, I can write about 1,500 words in thirty minutes, so generally I know how much uninterrupted time I’m going to need in order to write 50k words in 30 days. Knowing that helps manage what you can and can’t do in a day.
But, and this is the big one, knowing what story you’re going to write ahead of time is huge! Have all your outlining done, your world building, know your characters names, all of that, before starting so you aren’t losing time in November to things that don’t count toward that larger goal. See why I recommend starting your prep work a month early?
But in the throes of November Camp, the best thing to help focus and keep you going (because trust me, some days are HARD when it comes to writing and the pressure feels a bit much) is to do writing sprints with friends. Even if your buddies aren’t participating, and they are just writing blog posts or beta reading, having people who are dedicated to doing one task alongside you for thirty minute sprints, and then checking in at the end of that time to see how you did, is a life saver. Not only does it keep you focused, it also adds accountability to make sure you work, and then after, you get to share your accomplishments, which is amazing! Personally, I really need that when I am feeling unmotivated, or that my words aren’t “pretty” yet. It’s also important to remember that this is just going to be the first ugly draft of what will eventually be something great. Giving myself that freedom to just vomit words out on a page, knowing full well I’ll fix it later (like at the smaller camps!) alleviates that personal pressure I feel for perfectionism.
Each year I’ve participated in a camp I have “won” because I go in with clear goals, and all my homework done ahead of time. I know how much time I have in between the demands of the dogs I take care of (I don’t have kiddos) so I can set realistic goals, and know how much time I need to guard from others, because that is my writing time. The prep work is a bit boring and cumbersome, but honestly, it makes the camps so, so much easier. And, if you need a buddy to keep you accountable, friend me on NaNoWriMo! I’ll be your forever cheerleader. Hopefully these little tips help you, but if you have specific questions, don’t hesitate to leave me a comment and I’ll do my best to help!
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