Nanowrimo Survival Guide (Or, How to Get That @!$@ing Writing Project Done)

(Yes, I’m a bit late posting this, but in my defense this article is meant to help not just with Nanowrimo but with any sort of writing project you might be trying to complete.  So there.)

As the survivor of 4 (or more…I’ve lost count) Nanowrimo projects and the author of 8 novels and a few short stories, I thought I’d tell you what you need to do to get through a writing project .

The bottom line: just write. Make it work. Yeah, it’s that easy.

Writer on a Deadline

But first, let’s talk about “Novel in November” for a moment.

If you’re a writer, there’s at least a ghost of a chance you’re involved in this whole Nanowrimo silliness, which by this point is about 2/3 of the way done. For the uninitiated, Novel in November is a collective effort when thousands of people – authors, aspiring authors, and other innocent people from across the world – attempt to write a short novel in one month’s time. The target is roughly 50,000 words (which for most would qualify as a “novella”, but I’m not one to hedge), and the focus is not on writing the BEST NOVEL EVER but on just…WRITING a novel.

You see, the biggest hurdle for most beginning writers (and some established ones, for that matter) is just WRITING THE DAMN BOOK. People often over think it, believing they need to make their novel perfect the first time, or else they jump into a writing project with too vague of an idea as to where it’s going; sometimes people have great skill at writing and plotting and simply can’t find the time. Ostensibly, Nanowrimo is meant to help out with that.

Even then, tons of people sign up, and a lot of them never finish. They get 10,000 or 20,000 words in and end up giving up because they can’t figure out where the story should go, or they can’t decide what a character’s name should be, or they can’t get enough writing time.

Well, I saw HOGWASH! to all of that. (For the record, I think that’s the first time I’ve said HOGWASH to anything. This is a momentous occasion.) Anyone can survive Nanowrimo.  No, it isn’t easy, but the rush of exhilaration you get when you put down that final word is marvelous, and I highly recommend shooting for that goal.


How can you do it? Well, everyone is different, but here are 10 little tips meant to help you get through any writing project, whether you’re talking about Nanowrimo or that Great American Novel you’ve always aspired to get finished…

  1. Make time to write. Yeah, MAKE time. Do it in spurts if you must, but when you’re serious about finishing a project you have to take every ounce of spare time you have (and I understand that might not be much…I myself haven’t had any “alone time” since 1999…) and fill it with writing.
  2. Turn off the Internet. You heard me. Turn off your Smartphone and the TV, too. It’s too easy to get distracted.
  3. Don’t get frustrated by interruptions. You may feel like the world is conspiring to make sure you never get the novel written. Hint: it is. Defy the world. If your dog needs to go outside the moment you sit down to write, get back to it when you let the little cretin back in.
  4. Hit that daily goal. Not only that, but try to make reaching that daily goal a priority. I know, I know: you have a life. You have a job, fourteen cats, eight kids, and a million friends. Well, they’re just going to have to work around you for a bit. If you’re too embarrassed to explain why it is you need them to leave you alone for a while, just tell them you need some unspecified “alone time”. Or tell them you’re on the edge of sanity and likely to kill the next person you see…THAT should get you some of the quiet you need!  You need to write roughly 1,600-1,700 words a day to complete a 50,000 word goal in one month. That sounds like a lot, and when you’re first getting started, it sort of is. Shoot for 500 in your first sitting; take a break and come back to it. Trust me, the first 1,000 will feel like they’ve taken 18 hours, but if you keep with it and get some momentum the last 600-700 will practically write themselves.
  5. Don’t put writing off. If you say “I’ll get to after I go to the bank, do the laundry, BLAH BLAH BLAH” guess what: you won’t get to it. It’s a law of nature, and contrary to popular belief, procrastination does NOT lead to better work, at least for most people. (I know, I know, some people are their best under pressure, but if you’re one of those people you probably don’t need any of the advice I’m doling out in this post anyways.)
  6. Don’t worry about writing a great book. Don’t even worry about writing a GOOD book. Just write. If you can’t figure out what’s supposed to happen next, have a guy with a gun come in and kill all of the other characters, then start writing a new chapter with different characters. If you can’t figure out a new character’s name, plug BLURG in wherever their name should be mentioned and just keep writing. If you can’t figure out a plot twist when you feel certain your book should have one, LEAVE IT OUT! JUST WRITE! (YES, I’M YELLING AT YOU!)
  7. When in doubt, Dialogue! If you get stuck with what’s supposed to happen next, have your characters start talking. They don’t have to be addressing the plot: have them talk about the weather, the price of gas, their favorite flavor of cheese or the San Antonio Spurs chance of winning the title this year. Think of conversations you’ve had. Even if you don’t get “back on track”, dialogue is great filler!
  8. When in doubt, Description! Still stuck? Look outside, and describe what you see. Even if you live in Florida and your story is in the Arctic, you’ll see something you can write about: the sky, the time of day, the number of trees, what that old guy walking his dog looks like, etc. Again, it doesn’t matter if it’s pertinent. We’re not going for Hemingway here.
  9. Just write. It doesn’t matter at this stage if your book stinks. It doesn’t matter if it makes sense. It doesn’t matter if it’s lacking a middle or even an ending. If you’re serious about writing, there will be plenty of opportunities to fix it later. If you’re not, your goal is to write something reasonably coherent that’s 50,000 words or longer…and if it ISN’T reasonably coherent, I’m pretty sure no one is going to ban you from the planet earth. ;D
  10. Have fun. Seriously. That’s what it’s all about!

Writer's Clock

Steven Montano is two-thirds human, one-third caffeine.  Add a dash of sarcasm and some nutmeg, and you have an Indie Author who writes epic fantasy and military sci-fi.  Learn more about this recipe at


9 comments on “Nanowrimo Survival Guide (Or, How to Get That @!$@ing Writing Project Done)

  1. I’ve been wanting to leave a comment since yesterday, but it was just so hard to tear myself from my writing! 😉

    Well, in a way that is true. I’m passionate about writing and once a story starts to flow it is all I want to do. Everything BUT writing becomes a distraction at that point. Don’t believe me, ask my husband! Actually, I could take a photo of my poor housekeeping… Lol. What you say is so very true, Steven. Every second, every word, adds up. This morning I had four minutes (yes, exactly four minutes. I was making tea. I time it. I am THAT big of a tea-aholic!) and considered retweeting friends and ended up a paragraph deep in my next chapter. Speaking of which, I have fifteen minutes….

  2. Pingback: 100 Word Wednesdays: New Project | iequalsalissa

  3. I’ve only done NaNo once. I’m happy to say I hit the goal of 50000 words in a month (actually surpassed it), but I did not have a completed novel. In fact, it was only a little over half of a novel and went on to be published as the third book in my Icarus Fell series, so it was definitely a worthwhile project.
    In my opinion, the most important point here is that it does not have to be good…and that doesn’t just got for a NaNo project, but every first draft. The difference between published authors and those who struggle to finish is knowing that, although it sucks now, you’re going to go back and make it sing when you edit it. Editing is where the magic happens…after the first draft is complete.

    • Blood Skies and something black…were both Nano projects. Since then I’ve used November to just go on writing binges. ;D

  4. Pingback: Routine « Manu Kurup

  5. Pingback: Rookie NaNoWriMo participant panic attack installing…. HELP!!! | The Writing Shed

  6. Hi! Just stopping by to say that I’ve put a link to your post on my blog. 🙂 The name of the post is “Rookie NaNoWriMo participant panic attack installing…. HELP!!! ” and it has a lot of links to blogs that were helpful to get me ready for NaNoWriMo 2014. 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s