How I Won NaNoWriMo

I finished NaNoWriMo with a little over 57k this year, with more still to go in order to actually finish the novel entirely. In the interest of (hopefully) helping others reach their wordcount goals or at least understand the processes of people who hit their own, I thought I’d note down what exactly I did to achieve this. Just be aware that what I do can sometimes contradict the most commonly quoted writing advice because I’m a special snowflake.

So maybe don’t take everything I’m saying as great universal advice because there are certain things in here that will only work for a small handful of people.

Outline

First of all, I spent time on October writing an outline. It’s a practice I started doing properly back in 2011 when I first attempted (and won) NaNoWriMo and it’s made such a difference that I’ve stuck to it since. Sometimes I get more relaxed during other months and don’t outline as diligently, which is usually a mistake. Now, my outlines are basically a list of events broken up into chapters. This time I also wrote character sheets but didn’t completely fill out all of them because I didn’t know all the answers yet. Once I have finished this draft, I’ll likely have a better idea. So my outlining method is thus:

  • Figure out the basic sequence of events
  • Divide into chapters
  • Start writing character sheets
  • Discover nuances in the actual drafting process

Load up on wordcount

The next thing I did, once November started, was try my damnedest to load up on wordcount early. I am notorious for having awful discipline and getting into a slump mid-event. Doing this saves my bacon (and also meant I won NaNo in a week in 2011, not that I’ve managed that feat since).

My wordcount goals were fluid, depending on free time and energy levels. During days off, I’d aim for at least 3k, sometimes 5k. And I always try to win early whenever possible, whether that be three weeks early (only once!) or a few days. It takes so much stress out of the process knowing I have a safety net.

On really good writing days, I’d push myself to write that little bit extra. I’m more of a burst writer than a particularly consistent one, so if there’s more in the tank, I use it.

Don’t write every day

For some people, they need to write a consistent number of words every single day. Because I write in bursts, it doesn’t really work for me and that kind of structure tends to make me want to throw something. The high wordcounts I pull out aren’t 100% sustainable all the time so I need breaks. This one goes hand-in-hand with my previous point. I can have a week of ridiculously high wordcounts and then the next week I’ll be lucky to get much on the page at all.

On the days where I had to write something but didn’t really want to, I’d adjust my goal to something lower, like 1k. I don’t like forcing myself to write all the time, though, because it can be quite draining.

Divide writing into chunks

While sometimes I could sit for hours and hit my goal in one go, other times I’d break the goal up into smaller sections and spread them out throughout the day. I prefer hour-long chunks but shorter periods of time can also work. I set myself a word goal for that hour and, generally, manage to hit it before the hour’s up. Then I can chill out for a bit.

Identify when I wrote the most

For me during NaNoWriMo, the time just after midnight usually results in the most words written in one go. Everyone’s asleep and the day’s just ticked over so I’m starting over with a clean slate. I’m not a morning person and probably never will be, so most of my writing happens super late at night. I’ll write some more during the afternoon and evening where time and energy permits.

Sometimes the motivation shifts and not much writing gets done during that peak time, so at that point I tend to go to bed and use the previous point to hit goals since, generally, motivational problems at my peak time indicate it’s going to be a hard writing day.

Listen to music for focus

I don’t always listen to music. Depends on my mood. But if there are a lot of people around, the TV’s on something I can’t tune out or I’m just in a weird mood, I load up my playlist and that puts me in the zone and tends to make writing a lot more fun. Chair-dancing breaks also give me a second to recharge. Don’t judge me.

Funnily enough, when I’m writing smaller chunks, sitting in front of the TV with my laptop can also help, provided it’s tuned into something that’s closer to a documentary than a fictional show that I need to focus on. Bondi Vet (I think it’s called Dr Chris Pet Vet in the US) has been handy for this.

The TV thing won’t work for a lot of people and it certainly doesn’t work when I’m trying to write a huge amount at once, but it can help me when I’m not in the mood to write. I just sit there, watch a bit, write a hundred words, and tune back into the TV without having missed too much vital information. Rinse and repeat.

I wouldn’t suggest taking that as advice, though. I’m weird and it doesn’t even work for me all the time.

Anyway…

Not everything works for everyone. I personally don’t like writing advice that’s touted as universal, e.g. write every day or write what you know. Everyone’s different. What works for you is all you need, so this is here just for ideas that may work for people whose mindsets are similar to mine (i.e. people who hate discipline). My writing process is also subject to change, so there’s a good chance what worked for me this time might not work again. Only time will tell.

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5 thoughts on “How I Won NaNoWriMo

  1. I need to know what you mean by chair dancing because you’ve mentioned it several times and I’m no joke picturing you giving some invisible person a lap dance and I’m *pretty* sure that’s wrong……….

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  2. I see some points similarity in our approaches to writing for NaNoWriMo. I don’t outline nearly as thoroughly, though. This year’s nano was inspired by an actual place, which became one of the primary settings of my story. Sometimes I feel like my settings are almost characters in their own right.

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  3. I love reading how everyone’s writing process differs. Thank you so much for sharing yours. I think it’s so important to learn techniques from each other. Trying out different ones is the only way we can find what works best for us.

    Liked by 1 person

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