(Inter)National Novel Writing Month is a global challenge where participants attempt to write a 50,000 word novel in the 30 days of November. It’s something I’ve attempted a couple of times, and even (technically) succeeded once or twice, but I’m yet to write anything like a coherent tale from start to finish.

The Rules Of Nanowrimo

  • Don’t talk about Nanowrimo.
  • Never edit as you go. If you get caught up with editing, your story will never meet your expectations and you’ll get bored. You don’t want to get bored. Fall in love with your story! – Sean Patrick G.
  • Don’t quit if you get behind. You’ll still feel happy if you finish a book in December. – Marie M.
  • Remember you are doing this for you. Not to impress friends. Not to get published. Do this because it makes you happy. Remember that you love to write, even when it’s hard. – Amy R.
  • If it’s November, you HAVE to write.

Preparing for NaNo Success

What You Should Have In Your NaNo Emergency Kit, Teri Brown

  • Distraction-free editor
    • Focus Writer
  • Coffee
  • Chocolate
  • A cheerleader
  • Twitter
  • Mad skills for silencing your inner editor
    • Try writing a paragraph and misspelling every other word. This will make your inner editor so nuts he, she, or it won’t even notice normal mistakes. Trust me on this one.
  • A healthy dose of denial
  • A little self-respect and self-love

How to Schedule Time for Writing, Chris Baty (NaNoWriMo founder)

  • Average writer takes about 55hrs to write 50,000 words.
    • 55hrs/30days = 1.83hrs/day = 1hr 50mins/day … every day
    • 909 words/hour; 1666 words/day
  • Try a variety of approaches early on, discover what works best for you, and use it relentlessly thereafter.
    • e.g. My personal technique is to write for two hours per night, three or four weeknights per week. I follow that up on weekends with three, two-hour sessions on either Saturday or Sunday.
  • Approach your scheduling is with a light heart and an open mind. Because inevitably over the course of the month, you’ll encounter a variety of emergencies at work and home that will curtail your chapters and muffle your muse.

5 Tips for Getting Your NaNo-novel Started, Nathan Bransford

  • NUMBER ONE: Think of an idea you love enough to neglect everything else you enjoy in life.
  • NUMBER TWO: Flesh out a vague idea.
  • NUMBER THREE: Figure out how you’re going to back up your work.
  • NUMBER FOUR: Don’t chase trends.
  • NUMBER FIVE: Just do it.

6 Tips to Finish a First Draft, Kristyn Kusek Lewis and Daniel Wallace

  • Much of writing is just doing it. I have a sign in my office that says Sit Down in big letters. There’s a tendency to let writing fall to the fifth or sixth place on our to-do lists each day, after shopping or cleaning or whatever, but it needs to be first or second. Commit to having a messy house—it means you have your priorities straight.
  • Suspend your editorial function while you’re writing a first draft—don’t worry so much about quality at this stage. Whether they take one month or several years, first drafts are not meant to be good. Spend this month just getting the stuff out and then when the month is over, I would put it away for a while. When you come back to it weeks or months later, it will be easier to discover what’s good and dispense with the things that aren’t.”
  • You simply cannot be thinking too much while you’re writing a first draft—in fact, that’s a great way not to write. A lot of my students hit the wall because they’re thinking too much, they want to take it really slowly and agonize over every word. A novel is going to take hard work no matter how you do it, so don’t get hung up on a single sentence at this phase, just get it out and know that you’re going to go back to it later.
  • Writing is tough for everyone, myself included, so you can’t get tripped up by a lack of confidence—or too much. In fact, if you think of yourself as a great writer, that’s a death sentence. You must know that you can always improve. I know that I’m imaginative and can craft a really great sentence but writing is very difficult for me—and it should be. It’s hard work.
  • One of the great joys of writing is the world you create through your senses. When you miss somebody, you miss their smell, the jacket they wore… Focus on these details, because it’s through the compilation of these things that we slowly create the imaginary worlds that become our work.
  • It helps to not be too precious about how you do your writing. I used to only write in one place but now I take my laptop everywhere—the backyard, the sofa…working in different environments can inspire in unexpected ways.

The Dangers of Over-Planning, Chris Baty

  • 1. If you give yourself too much time to plan, you might end up stumbling across a brilliant concept for your novel.
    • And the last thing you want heading into your noveling month is a brilliant concept. Every year during National Novel Writing Month, I get emails from people jubilantly informing me that they’re dropping out of the contest because they’ve found a story that they love, and they want to work on it slowly enough to do it justice.
    • When I check in with these people six months later, they’ve inevitably stopped working on the book entirely. Why? Because they’ve become afraid of ruining their book by actually sitting down and writing it.
    • A novel rough draft is like bread dough; you need to beat the crap out of it for it to rise. Once you stumble across a fantastic, once-in-a-lifetime idea for a book, it’s hard to treat that story with the irreverent disregard needed to transform it from a great idea into a workable rough draft. When you just give yourself one week to flesh out your concept, you won’t have time to feel overly protective of your ideas. And you will therefore stand a much better chance of bringing them to life.
  • 2. Past a certain point, novel planning just becomes another excuse to put off novel writing.
    • You will never feel sufficiently ready to jump into your novel, and the more time you spend planning and researching, the more likely you’ll feel pressure to pull off a masterwork that justifies all your prewriting work. Give yourself the gift of a pressure-free novel, and just dive in after one week.
  • 3. Prewriting, especially if you’re very good at it, bleeds some of the fun out of the noveling process.
    • Nothing is more boring than spending an entire month simply inking over a drawing you penciled out months earlier. With the seven-days-and-out timeline, you’ll still have lots of questions about your book when you start writing. Which is great. It makes the writing process one of happy discoveries and keeps the levels of surprise and delight high for you as an author.

Characters and World-Building

  • A Character-Building Questionnaire, NaNoWriMo
  • How Do You Come Up with Great Character Names?, Patricia C. Wrede
  • How to Use Setting Effectively
    • Mirror your characters
  • How Do You Create a Unique World?, Michael David Lukas
    • On the surface, this seems like a question oriented towards science fiction and fantasy novels. But, in fact, it’s applicable to any genre. Novel writing is, first and foremost, world building. You may be building a world ruled by the electric sheep from android dreams or you might be building a world that looks very similar to our own. Regardless, writing a novel is about creating a landscape, populating it, setting the rules, and telling the stories that bubble up to the surface.
    • Whatever your world may be, it has to be one that is uniquely yours. Your world can be influenced by other fictional worlds. But in order for the world to be successful it should be one that you have created and (importantly) one that you will feel comfortable living in for the next few years.
    • Spend some time in your world before you start writing, give yourself the space to imagine who lives there, what the air smells like, how hard the sun beats down. Build the world out in your mind before putting it down on the page. Because once you start writing, the demands of story start to take over.
    • And, if at all possible, try not to think about the market (whether people want to buy a book about talking hippopotamuses or a slightly noirish remake of Garfield). Try not to let all the vampires, werewolves, and plucky dystopian heroines influence your world building. A world that’s unique to you will be more enjoyable to write about and, ultimately, it will produce a book that’s more enjoyable to read.

Plot and Conflict

5 Steps to Building a Propulsive Story Cannon, Chris Baty

  • Construct the Cannon.
    • You might have already answered the question “What does your main character want more than anything else?” This question is so important that you’ll be answering it for all of your characters, including your villain. This will give you enough subplots for a trilogy!
    • Whether it’s true love, sweet revenge, or a cupcake-filled swimming pool, a character’s greatest desire is the cannon that propels her toward her destiny.
  • Build the mountain.
    • If you want to write a book people will actually read instead of use as a face pillow, you’re going to have to inflict some pain on the character you’ve grown to love.
    • Create conflict, suspense, and heart-wrenching drama by stacking a mountain of setbacks (fears, weaknesses, villains, spider monkeys) in front of your protagonist. That way, when your protagonist finally does find the person, planet, or swimming pool of her dreams, it will be so much more satisfying!
  • Light the fuse.
    • Like you or me, your main character is a creature of habit. In order to start him on his quest, you’ll need to literally light a fire beneath him. This event ignites the fuse on your character’s cannon; it’s the phone call from an old lover, the tragic loss, the trip to Vegas. It’s what makes it impossible for your main character to continue in his old ways.
    • Think of the last comedy you saw. We bet our bottom dollar that the main character had to cleverly get himself out of one pickle after another until he had to wiggle his way out of the there’s-no-way-he’s-going-to-get-himself-out-of-this-pickle pickle at the climax of the film. The same should go for your book. Creating mini-problems to build up to the mega-problem is the best way to keep readers reading.
  • Plot the problems.
    • Conflict is the fuel that moves your plot forward. And we are not talking about just one big blowout at your climax. Exciting plots have characters encountering problems right from the get-go.
  • Meet him or her on the other side.
    • The person that you load into the cannon at the start of your novel will be much different from the person you meet at the end, after she’s reached the other side of the mountain.
    • At the beginning, your protagonist may be a sad and reclusive computer nerd, but after saving the world from a nuclear holocaust she becomes a confident warrior. How your main character changes in your book might not be as simplistic as nerd to superhero, but it’s important that he or she does change and that your readers see the transformation unfold along the course of your novel.