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Ten Ways to Ace Nanowrimo by Alison Wells

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NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) is the crazy-making creative endeavour that challenges writers to produce 1666 words per day or 50,000 words in total during the month of November. You can sign up (for free) here www.nanowrimo.org . Create a user name, project title, and link up with other Buddies to track their progress. Use the fantastic resources on the site to help you through. The usual idea is to start writing a project from scratch but you can also be a NanoRebel and add to an existing project, use it to boost a collection of different pieces or you can simply add up all the writing you do in November and put it towards your final total. If you’ve produced 50,000 words by the end of November 30th, you’re a winner and can collect the badge for your blog!

I love the idea but it’s nearly (or already) November and there’s no way I can fit it in to my life…

Yes you can. Here are ten ways you can make sure to succeed at this novel writing marathon.

nanowrimo1: Get in Shape

A writing marathon is a marathon, get in shape. Plan to get a good night sleep each night (there are some great sleep apps for your phone that monitor your sleep time and quality). Eat long term energy sustaining foods rather than quick sugar filled pick me ups. Exercise every day of the project (even for a short time) to build up fitness, endurance and enthusiasm (exercise kick starts the happy hormones.)

2: Prepare your Survival Kit and Gather your Crew

Plan ahead. If you’re the cook in the house, make a big batch and freeze meals. At work, group meetings and core tasks. Keep lunch breaks free. Let friends, colleagues and family know about your writing challenge and call in favours. Delegate and let others rally round to take up the slack for non-essential tasks.

3: Stop the faff and fritter

We all have down time and wasted moments whether we know it or not. Identify the gaps in your day and use them. Bring your laptop, tablet, phone (notes function) or notebook with you at all times and use time on public transport, waiting (in queues, kids pick up etc), in your lunch break to jot down words and thoughts.

At designated writing times, GET TO IT. Use programs like Write or Die http://writeordie.com/, #nanosprints on twitter (follow @NaNoWriMo , or your own self-will to force you to produce a particular amount of words in a specific time. It works. Do not self-censor, just write.

4: Jot down a rough outline

While NaNoWriMo is all about embracing the glorious confusion of messy first drafts, you probably want more coherence in your novel than a 1970’s psychedelic pop festival. Give yourself a rough outline. Or use the snowflake method http://www.advancedfictionwriting.com/articles/snowflake-method/ to get down to the nitty gritty of what might happen in your novel.

5: Hang out with your characters

Character sketches and biographies are all permissible as part of your wordcount or at least will help you draw more vivid characters to inhabit your novel. Interview them about their background, religious and political beliefs, first loves and hates, key defining moments, least defining moments, dilemmas, situational choices.

6: Late or early, find your sweet creative time.

For me, it’s 5am, for others it’s in the dead of night. There’s a time of day when distractions are minimised, when you can carve out 1 or 2 hours of uninterrupted writing time. It is possible to write 500 words in 15 minutes, so whatever your day is like, you can still produce the bulk of your words outside of your normal routines.

7: Incubate, Associate, Extrapolate

The heart of creativity is association, making links and novel connections. You need focus to produce but not tunnel vision so step back and take time every day, (and a larger chunk of time at weekends) to read and do the things you enjoy while letting your novel percolate in the background. Let your novel and its characters travel in the mind so that you’ll have new angles when you return to it. Follow those new threads to their limits to produce extra wordcount.

8: Exercise and Flow

Walk, run, have a shower, climb a mountain, play sports. When we become absorbed in an activity so that we are no longer consciously thinking, psychologists call it ‘flow’. There’s something about these physical tasks that free the mind and allow new ideas to arise, almost magically from the subconscious.

9: Trade on Camaraderie, Shame and Pride

Check out how your buddies are doing on the Nanowrimo site, see how your progress matches theirs. While not really advocating you feel bad about yourself, your pride will want you to keep up, so use it as a motivational tool to push you forward especially as you fatigue through the project. Remember to mark your own achievements and spur yourself on in the final miles.

10: Marathon sessions, words in the bank

Whenever you have extra time, schedule in a few marathon writing sessions when you stack up the sandwiches and coffee and power away for several hours. If you can get ahead of yourself in the earlier part of the month, you can provide a buffer for when things get tough later in the month and you’re hitting your writing wall.


All the best for the writing marathon that is Nanowrimo. Ready, Steady, Go!

(c) Alison Wells

Alison Wells is a short story writer and novelist who has completed NaNoWriMo three times. Her Head above Water blog and Facebook page  helps and supports people in busy lives to find time for creativity.

About the author

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