My 10 Not So Secret Secrets to Winning NaNoWriMo

Everyone’s talking about Nano. Well, I guess they would be, the count down to the 1st November started on the 1st October πŸ˜‰

Most of you know that this is my 3rd year of Nano and that the previous 2 years I was, in fact, a winner. Nano 2010 changed my life. If it wasn’t for Chris Baty then I probably wouldn’t be writing now, but anyway, I digress. People keep asking me, “how do you do it?” Win at Nano that is. So I thought I’d give you my top tips. I hope they help πŸ™‚

1. Come up with your novel idea in advance. Yeah yeah, all the pansters are booing at me, but seriously….I’m not saying you have to outline. I’m not saying you have to have this great plan of all the scenes, but, trust me, having a rough idea, a beginning, middle and end in your head, will really help. My Nano 2010 still remains unfinished because I didn’t have a clue where it was going, whereas Nano 2011 may only be 52,000 words, but is at least complete. Soooo much more satisfying πŸ™‚

2. Aim for daily word count goals. To win at Nano you have to do 50,000 words right? Ok, so that equates to approx 1666 words a day. But what if aunt Alice comes to visit? Or little Billy gets sent home from school with head lice? Or, heavens forbid….hubby gets man flu!!!! You can quite easily lose a day. So, do a bit extra each day. Aim for 2,000 words or even 2,500. You might just need to be ahead at some stage πŸ™‚

3. Forget about the quality. It’s quantity we want here. Not every single word has to be Booker Award Quality. No one ever has to see this novel. Chris Baty refers to this Nano written draft as “draft zero” ie, the pre first draft….remember that!

4. Have a comfortable environment. Here in the UK, I won’t care where I write as long as its warm lol. My preferred place is my desk, but, I’ll also be attending write ins and going on a retreat. So as long as I’m warm and comfy I’ll be fine πŸ™‚ If you like to write to music, make sure you have your favourite tracks on hand, and if you like silence (like I do) plan your writing sessions around times you know you’ll be on your own.

5. DON’T edit. Now this one is really important!!!!!! Seriously, if you try to edit while you’re writing you will work yourself up into a state of panic, crash, and burn 😦 I know it’s hard, you just want to go back and correct passages, spelling mistakes etc. But don’t as you’ll lose momentum, and you’ll be doubling the amount of time it takes you to write one chapter. Forget about it….until the 1st of December πŸ˜‰

6. Try to eat healthily. Yeah, ummmmm, this is my advice, but I don’t normally take it lol. I tend to snack a lot during Nano. The family live on take out, and I hate to imagine how much chocolate and Pepsi I consume during November. Sooooo, my advice is, have whatever you need/want to keep you going, but, do yourself a favour, have at least 1 piece of fruit a day yeah?

7. Get support. The Nano forums are brilliant!!! You can get advice if you’re struggling with your plot, receive sympathy if you’re flagging, and feel like you’re part of a lovely big family. Join your local region and attend at least one Write In for your area. Your lovely ML’s who organise them are on hand to give you any advice and support over a latte πŸ™‚

8. Tell the family! Or room mate. Basically, whoever you live with. In my house they know that 1. They probably won’t get words of more than 1syllable out of me during November, 2. They will run out of clean underwear unless someone is assigned to the laundry and 3. That there won’t be much cooking going on (not that there normally is anyway I hear my daughter cry!). So best to warn your nearest and dearest I think.

9. Don’t give up if its not working. Ok, so you’ve written 15,000 words of a novel you suddenly realise you hate. It’s utter rubbish and deserves to be thrown in the bin. I’ve known people to give up completely at that stage…. NOOOO! DON’T DO IT! just carry on with another novel, another idea at word 15,001 or write some short stories, or your memoirs, anything, and just add it on! πŸ™‚ Whoever said it had to be a complete novel? It can be short stories, your memoirs, or even a journal, observations of your day. *whispers* there are even some rebels out there who use it to rewrite novels and to finish existing ones πŸ™‚

10. Have fun and don’t panic! Ok, look, we know its about getting to the finish line, the 50,000 words that let’s you claim your winners certificate, but, lets not have a melt down. Officially, this entry shouldn’t be on the list because I’m supposed to be telling how to win, but, its my list so i can add what i want πŸ˜‰ Winning, is in the eye of the beholder. So you only did 7,000 words? The car broke down, the schools pipes froze and all the kids were sent home for a week. These things happen (usually to me on a regular basis lol). But, if that 7,000 words is more than you’d usually write in November, well, you’re a winner in my book πŸ™‚

My Netbook, where all the Nano action takes place πŸ™‚

I don’t claim to be an expert, this is only my 3rd year, but the above list is based on my own experience of what works for me πŸ™‚

Good luck everyone who’s taking part, and if you have any other tips, please share πŸ™‚

Nano Planno by Steven Chapman
Nanowrimo The Pitfalls @ Writer Unboxed
My Nanowrimo Legacy
Pantster, Planner or Percolater?
Ready or Not Here It Comes: Nanowrimo

62 thoughts on “My 10 Not So Secret Secrets to Winning NaNoWriMo

  1. I eat terribly during November and then spend half of December trying to bring myself down from the caffeine that has infused with the red blood cells. Unfortunately, I won’t do NaNo this November and I’m really bummed. On a good note, I “won” both of the Camp NaNo sessions so I’ll be spending November editing. I’m determined to have completed, edited ready to see the light novels (yes, novels – plural) by the end of the month.

    I will be around for cheerleading purposes for all those adventurous souls partaking in the journey that is NaNoWriMo. Your list hits all the important points. Good luck and will be tracking your progress!!


  2. Write with a buddy. That’s why I kept at it last year because I knew we were racing each other to the end.

    I’ve put more thought to serious plotting this year. I want to know where I’m going so actually end up there. I was a writing fiend last year because I hit 50K on the 16th because the story poured out. Odds are I won’t be able to keep pace like that this time.

    Great advice by the way. πŸ™‚


    • Good tip CC πŸ™‚ I’m very lucky in the fact that I’ve made some good friends through Nano, and I’m still introduce with people I met at the Write Ins last year, so I know quite a few Wrimo’s in my area πŸ™‚

      I was like that the first year….hit 50,000 words on the 11th!!!!! Couldn’t do it again the second year, but at least I had an ending to the 2011 novel lol. I still can’t figure out if in a planner or a pantster lol.

      Good luck honey, I’ll be cheering you on xx


  3. I’m so excited for you, Vikki, and even though I’m not doing Nano I found your tips reassuring! I’m just nearing the end of the first draft of The Family Trap – October has been a bit of a Nano for me! – and keep having crises of confidence about it being rubbish – and yesterday I wasted three hours of writing time reading back and editing. Argghhh! πŸ™‚ Good luck honey x


    • Thanks Jo πŸ™‚

      I guess in a way they could transfer to any “novel writing session” if you know what I mean πŸ˜‰

      Ooooo, exciting!

      Ah, yeah, I think that’s what’s so great about Nano, the idea to get a “draft zero” and then sort out the mess in December πŸ˜‰

      Good luck honey, I’m sure it will be WONDERFUL πŸ™‚



  4. Great points all of these!
    One thing that I still have to do is make my playlists. I adore writing to music, so I make one for each day in November. Each is about two hours long which is enough time to get my words for the day.
    Good luck with your story! (I’m off to add you to my buddy list now. πŸ™‚ )


  5. Though still not doing it…lol…I thought this was a very encouraging post. I especially like the part about your still a winner if you do more writing than you usually do. I didn’t complete the summer camp one, but it was still inspiring and I managed to write more of a fiction book than I’ve ever written. Who knows, maybe one day I’ll dig it back out and work on it some more.


  6. You make it sound so easy – best of luck! I’d love to take part but after the day job is over I simply don’t have enough time to write 2000 words a day, cook, eat and sleep. My family aren’t as understanding as yours I fear…


  7. I have some thoughts on number 2. A well known author of numerous novels gave some advice which was to ignore the word count, and instead think about the segments / chapters. A typical novel will have chapters roughly the same length give or take (say 2,400 words or whatever it is). That is just how readers like to take it, so loosely it is like a word count. But the focus is on the part you are doing, giving it a start, end and flow. Again the quality can be improved with rewrites, and it does depend on having a spine for your story even if that comes partially from what you do. But focussing that way gives the story more focus than the word count.


    • That’s a very good point Elliot! πŸ™‚

      What I did the first year was basically a chapter a day, but I was doing something like 4,000 words a day then lol.

      Last year I abandoned chapters all together lol πŸ˜‰

      Thanks honey, yeah, definitely worth thinking about which way could work best for you, thanks πŸ™‚



  8. Thanks for the pingback, Vikki! Best advice for nano– don’t panic! πŸ™‚ I have to remind myself of that all the time when writing – and not just in November. Hope to see you around the NaNo forums.


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  10. Thanks for the tips- I need all the help I can get. One thing that concerns me is the forum
    stuff. Understand it can be a great source of support, but I’m such a forum addict, I’m afraid to enter least I never find my way back out. So I hereby throw out a general appeal to anyone who sees me hanging around forums (fora?): please tell me to get back to work!


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  13. There is nothing so frustrating as having to rifle through tons of loose paper and index cards to find something in your notes, or realizing your reference material has mysteriously disappeared. I can get really disorganized during the first-draft stage, especially when experimenting with storyboard methods and outlines. There was a time when I had chapter-by-chapter synopses taped to my wall (that reminds me, I need to buy paint). Disorganization=disruption. For this reason, I favor typing my notes, character descriptions, story arcs, etc. and saving them all in one place.


  14. Thoughts of the Day: Really, it’s just been novel fever around here. Not thinking terribly clearly on any front, and probably won’t until the draft is finished. I’ve been pondering that last scene a great deal, and that’s about it.


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  16. At the beginning of my transition from working on Broadway to writing full-time, I did Nano four consecutive years in a row. Hit 50K and past the whole time, doing what you suggest above. My daily goal was 2500 words/day, because I knew I had to hit 50K by Thanksgiving, which is a big deal in our family. Anything beyond that was gravy.

    My second year Nano had to be torn about and restructured for nearly 5 years, but it’s published and doing well, and I intend to revisit the others as soon as my contract schedule allows.


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  19. I think the nano devil is against me. A deer flew at my car and damaged it badly on nano day 1. It’s in the body shop. Company on nano day 3, 4, 5. A lady ran her car into the rental car on day 8. Had to get that fixed. Sheesh. But, (Holly raising her fist) by the grave of God, I will not be defeated. Losing is not an option!!


  20. I love the “Draft 0” argument.
    So many people who criticize NaNo do so because they don’t understand why quantity is important: that NaNo is all about committing to getting the darn thing written, and that any GOOD writer will spend time editing after the fact, anyway.
    I should know; I was one of those criticizers before I decided to give it a shot for the first time in 2010. πŸ˜‰
    But as far as quality, I definitely would consider my NaNo draft to be the zeroth draft, the one I wrote solely for the purpose of getting the basic plot down.

    And thanks for visiting my blog!


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