Top Seventeen NaNoWriMo Tips

The National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is an annual challenge focused on writing at least fifty-thousand words in a novel during the month of November.  Interested, go sign up at

This post focuses on tips for a successful NaNo campaign (other posts can describe the pros and cons of NaNo — believe it or not, there are those who think it is a bad thing).

I have completed NaNoWriMo four times in it’s various incarnations (The November 50k challenge, or the Camp Nano set-your-own-goal). I have talked many people into trying NaNo, some successful, some not. [I’d call it a success if they wrote more than they would have — but this isn’t a philosophy blog].


Top Seventeen NaNoWriMo Tip List:

1. Think of an idea for your story before November

I’m impressed if you can write a novel without thinking about it ahead of time. But for the majority of writers (perhaps even all) you’ll get a better jump at NaNo if you have an idea what is coming.

2. Get your prewriting done

Whatever level of prewriting that you need to do: Do it ahead of time.

We humbly recommend:
Outlines (Only like 15k links on this)
The beginning sections:
Mind Map: (self-serving link)

3. Give yourself permission to write a bad first draft

Your first draft will not be a masterpiece. Neither will mine, nor, likely, any author you ever meet. But the old saying is that anything can be fixed — except a blank page. You can, and will, fix your manuscript on later drafts — so go ahead and write the story you hear in your head.

4. Do not stop to edit — No, not yours

Focus on your story and characters. Don’t worry about the editing for now. Don’t worry, you will fix it later.

5. Use [ ] as placeholders so you don’t stop writing

Stopping to research kills progress — so avoid it using [ITEM] placeholders. Unless the entire scene hinges upon whatever you are looking up then do this technique I first saw from Mary Robinette Kowal: Put things to fix in [ITEM]. You can put things in the brackets, names of characters, songs, or whatever you can’t remember. The key — do not let a phrase stop your progress.

Example: The wench reaches into her purse and pulls out her trusty pink [PISTOL]. After the first draft is done you can go fix all of those [ITEM] placeholders.

6. Set a schedule — and stick to it

I get up early in November to write. It’s a habit that I’ve kept after NaNo. It’s my key to getting writing done. Tell your friends, tell your family, you will not be disturbed during your writing time. This is what you owe yourself.

7. Take the first day in November off

If you happen to work on November 1st, then take that day off. NaNo should be a holiday anyway, so why not make it one?

8. Update your word count every day.

My first NaNo I thought I was up and doing well. I didn’t know that I should enter in my word count every day. Then when I did update I was a thousand words behind. That’s why it’s so important to update so you can keep yourself accountable.

9. Turn off the Internet

We all love the Internet — too much. Set a goal and keep off games, the Internet, television, whatever your time-wasting vice is until you’ve hit the goal. (If you are disciplined you can set a goal — say, every 500 words you can check twitter — but only do this if you can stick with the rules).

10. Find others doing NaNo

Writing does not have to be solitary. Last year we had write-ins at least twice a week where I got in bonus writing. But more than the count, I made many new friends.  Check the site for local chapters. Or use social media to find online groups.

11. Reward yourself when you meet word count

Shout it, say it loud. Give yourself a treat when you meet that day’s word count. We do well with reward.

12. Work ahead

Start this habit: Get ahead of your daily word count. Fifty thousand words is the minimum. Get ahead because life happens.

13. Don’t be afraid to use tricks like written kitten to keep you going

The ladies of the North Side Tomato Gang were using (every 100 words they get a new picture of a kitten). We would start a tomato (see below), and we’d all be pounding on our keys until we heard “click, click, click, ahhhhhh, click, click, click, ahhhhh”.

14. Save early – save often

In fact, get used to do this in all computer writing. Type, save, backup, type, save, backup.

15. Experiment. NaNo is the best time to try something new. 

Want to do that 2nd point-of-view omniscient — NaNo is the right time.  (Please fix that in post)

16. Do Tomatoes (word sprints)

Word sprints are a fun way to have camaraderie, competition, and to get your word count down. Borrowing from the Pomodoro technique, I use a tomato timer app on my phone. There are plenty of places to do word sprints but my favorite is at a NaNo meet up. It’s just fun and you can get so much done.

17. Complete early

Setup your pace to finish on the 29th or 30th. That way if something happens (your kids need you, you meet “the one” at a Black Friday shopping trip, you are infected by a vampire, etc) then you have a day or two of gotchas.

Plus One:  Bonus Tip

Do not think your novel is done when the first draft is complete. It’s called the first draft for a reason. Edit it, go ahead and make major changes. But don’t do a light edit, declare your brilliance, and then sent it out or self-publish it.

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