My Top Tips to Prepare for National Novel Writing Month


For those crazy enough to accept the challenge of writing a 50k word novel for National Novel Writing Month, even though it’s not quite November yet, there are still lots of things you can do to set yourself up for success. As a successful author who’s completed this challenge every year since 2002, here are some of my top tips to help you reach that goal.
(Even if you’re a pantser!)

Image courtesy of NaNoWriMo

Get Involved

Find your nearest NaNoWriMo region. They’re all listed on the National Novel Writing Month website – just set up your home region and check out the forums. You can meet other writers, buddy up as a means of mutual support, ask questions, get tips, etc. They can also help to hold you accountable. On top of that, wonderful volunteers called “Municipal Liaisons” or MLs will have all sorts events like virtual plot planning sessions, write-ins, kick-off parties, etc.

Set Up a Time Budget

Step one is figuring out how long it takes you, on average to write 1667 works (your daily required word count). Sit down and write something a few thousand words long. It can’t be part of your novel, but a character backstory, or something set in the same world are perfectly acceptable. Time yourself. The total time you took, divided by the number of words you write, times 1667 is your best estimate for how much time you’ll need each day. (For me this is typically about two hours.)

Then look at a calendar and figure out where in each day, this time is going to fit in. For example, if you’re going to need two hours, you might set your alarm early to give yourself an hour before you have to get ready for work or school. Then maybe you can fit in 20 minutes over a lunch break. And that means that you’ll need another 40 minutes or so in the evenings.

Building on this it also helps to get out a calendar and identify those days where it’s likely to be a challenge to find any time. Balance those out with days where you can squeeze in some extra.

Of course you can’t time life to the minute. On some days the words may not flow as easily. Others will be filled with “unforeseeables.” But planning out your writing time will at least help you in keeping your writing goals in balance with all the other demands in your life.

Tell People What You’re Doing

Most people genuinely want others to accomplish their goals. (On a fundamental level, one could argue this is THE fundamental premise of all fiction.) When the non-writers in your life know what you’re doing, they’ll be less likely to disturb you when you steal away at lunch for a half an hour with your laptop or tablet to type out a few words and they’ll give you the space to lock yourself in your home office for an hour early in the morning or late at night.

This will also help your friends and family to understand that you’re not intentionally shutting them out for a month. You’re just focusing on accomplishing a goal.

Get Your House in Order

Reaching 50k while juggling everything else in life is all about time management. The time leading up to November is great to get as many of those little time-heavy chores done as you can to free up time once the insanity starts. Clean your house. Organize your desk. Get the snow tires on the car. Change the batteries in the smoke detectors.

It can also help to plan out meals and do a big grocery shop to stock up on supplies for the month.

This is also the time to get ahead on work or school projects where possible. Work a little extra in October so you will have less to get done in November.

Also, this is a good time to spend extra time with those people who are important to you. Go for a fall hike. Call your mom. Make your spouse a favorite meal.

Take Good Care of Yourself

This is an obvious one, but sometimes it’s important to state it anyway as a reminder. Writing a 50k novel in 30 days is emotionally exhausting. And it can be physically challenging too (carpal tunnel, repetitive strain injury, consequences if improper ergonomics, etc.) In preparing for such an endeavor it’s important to take care of yourself: get adequate sleep, eat healthy, exercise, socialize, allow yourself some down time as well.

Read Something Awesome

If you’re like me, your writing tends to mimic whatever it is you’re reading at the time. So in the leadup to NaNoWriMo it can really help to find a story you’re excited about, an author whose style you really admire and ideally something similar in genre to what you’re planning to write.