Surviving NaNoWriMo

Absolute Blank

By Erin Nappe (Billiard)

By now, most writers are at least familiar with Chris Baty’s brainchild; write a 50,000-word novel in one month, with the focus on getting the darn thing finished rather than worrying about how good it is. Back in 2004, I was a first-time participant in NaNoWriMo. I decided to dive right in, and I was not fully prepared for the task that lay before me. I started off with the best of intentions, but my intentions didn’t quite carry me far enough.

It took me three tries, but I finally earned the title of NaNoWriMo winner last year. I thought I’d share some of my own wisdom for completing the challenge.

Background Image: Ted Rheingold/Flickr (CC-by-nc)

It’s possible to be busy and still be a winner.

At this time last year, I was teaching four college classes and working as a substitute teacher. When the grading started to pile up, it was tempting to just give up, walk away, throw up my hands and say, “I can’t do it. I’m too busy.” But I didn’t. I made myself a schedule. I told myself I’d devote a certain number of hours each day, no matter what. I blogged and emailed less. I spent less time poking around the Internet. I did very little reading. And I survived! I even spent one weekend visiting a friend, and spent Thanksgiving with my family.

The laptop is your friend.

I don’t know that I would have gotten through it without my trusty iBook. I’m not saying it’s impossible to be a winner without one, but it sure made my life a lot easier. Since my life tends to be mobile, being able to take my novel with me wherever I went helped me reach my goal. Don’t have a laptop? Get yourself a flash drive, pronto!

Another possibility for portable writing is the AlphaSmart. It’s a portable word processor for about $219!

Announce your participation publicly.

If you want to succeed, it’s important to let people know what you’re doing. I posted my progress meter on my blog, and I found that facing the possibility of public shame was sometimes what I needed to keep myself going!

If you don’t have any place else to announce it (or even if you do), make sure you visit our NaNoWriMo forum and let everyone know you’re participating!

Get a writing buddy.

Or two. Or ten. The NaNoWriMo forums can be a great source of support. (Warning… the official forums are very slow right now!) If you find yourself overwhelmed there, you can always post on our forum. You’ll find that the encouragement of other people in the same situation will be invaluable.

Learn to love writing prompts.

There were countless times when I found myself stuck. I’d go online and search the calendar at TC, or look for prompts at other writing sites, and find something that would give me the spark I needed to get going again.

Roll with the changes.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t have a plan or an outline—many people can’t work without them! I’m just saying that you shouldn’t be so committed to anything that you refuse to change it. Because when you’re writing a novel in a month, well… things happen.

For example, I changed point-of-view characters well into my novel. The voice I started out with just wasn’t working for me, so I shifted to a different character and finished the novel in his head. I fretted about it for a while before convincing myself that it didn’t matter—I could go back and change things later. Don’t ever forget that—you can go back and change things later. I typed notes to myself within the text to change this, or fix that, or flesh this out. It’s not going anywhere, and no one ever has to see that first draft but you!

Don’t give up.

Try to keep up with your daily word count goals, but don’t be too hard on yourself if you don’t make it one day. Things happen. You can make it up. It might seem impossible, but I promise you, it’s not. I frequently found myself getting behind, but it’s amazing how much you can make up in a short time when you get on a roll.

Don’t forget food and water.

It sounds silly, but make sure that you’ve stocked up on food and drinks that you like, things you can enjoy while sitting in front of the computer. You’re not going to want to cook much, so try to find things that are easy to prepare. A loving spouse or partner who cooks is always a big help. 😉 I made sure to keep myself stocked up on tea and Dr. Pepper, because that’s what I like. Baker is partial to Vitamin Water. But whatever it is, keep it close!

Do follow the rules.

Particularly if you’re a first time participant, you should follow the guidelines set forth by NaNoWriMo. Start a fresh story instead of trying to rework, re-imagine, or reinvent something you’ve already started. You’ll have more enthusiasm for the project, and therefore more momentum.

Don’t panic.

Your muse smells fear. She doesn’t respond well to it. Keep your cool, and keep going.

Above all, keep reminding yourself that you can do it!

Here’s a quick guide to sites and other resources to help you get through November:


Sign-ups are underway now! Look for local groups, forums by genre, and more!


In particular, the writer’s tools are quite helpful. I used the word meter and posted it on my blog!

Writing Prompts

There are lots of writing prompts sites, but these are some of the ones I used: Creative Writing Prompts, Writer’s Digest prompts, Toasted Cheese calendar, Story Spinner online.

The Snowflake Method

Several of our editors swear by this method for designing their novel. Check it out!

No Plot? No Problem!

NaNoWriMo creator Chris Baty shares his secrets for a successful novel writing experience. I bought this book last year, and found the advice in it incredibly valuable

WriteBoard and Google Docs

More options for document portability. Both WriteBoard and Google Docs are free, secure sites where you can update your documents from any computer that has web access. Even better, you can share your documents with anyone you want!

Final Poll Results

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