5 Tips for Winning NaNoWriMo


5 Tips for Winning NaNoWriMo

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is almost upon us. I participated for the first time three years ago and now have three successful campaigns under my belt (meaning I’ve hit the 50,000-word mark each time).

Brag much, James? I know, I know, but if I’m going to offer tips for the event I should at least let you know that I’ve done it successfully a number of times, right?

Every writer is going to approach NaNoWriMo differently (hence all the talk about planners and pantsers), but here are five tips I think can help anyone:

  1. Get off to a fast start.
    I can’t emphasize enough the importance of coming strong out of the gate. During November, you need to write 1,667 words per day to hit the 50,000-word mark. Your NaNoWriMo stats page provides a number of different ways to track your progress, but perhaps none is more gut-clenching than the one that displays your words per day to finish.

    It’s this simple: Write more than 1,667 words per day and that number goes down. Write less and the number climbs. Fatigue and pressure mount as the month progresses. Seeing a lower words-per-day-to-finish count assures you that you can actually do it. Seeing the number rise might just have you fleeing the scene.
  2. Remember that anything that isn’t writing, isn’t writing.
    Twitter, Facebook and the NaNoWriMo forums are all great places to meet fellow NaNoWriMo participants, and doing so is a valuable part of the experience, but every second you’re not pounding out words is a second when your word count is languishing.

    It’s oh so tempting to commiserate with other writers about the challenge consuming you or to talk strategy or to discuss your work in progress, but, for my money, your best advice is this: Write now, talk later.
  3. Treat yourself.
    During this frantic month, you’ll have to balance writing with jobs, family, friends and all the other aspects of your life. You’ll feel the rush of knocking out words at a lightning pace, but you’ll also have moments when you’re not sure where your story is heading, and you’ll inevitably also experience the soul-shattering fear that you don’t have another word left in you.

    In the face of all this, every little incentive helps. Treat yourself to the little halo you get for donating to NaNoWriMo. It’s a little thing, but the halo and other accomplishment badges really do give you a boost.
  4. Make a cover.
    Participants who upload a cover for their novel in progress are much more likely to hit the 50,000-word mark. Doing so won’t magically add to your word count, and someone who creates (or has someone else create) a cover is probably more serious about the endeavor in the first place, but you can’t argue with the connection between having a cover and “winning” NaNoWriMo.

    Seeing that cover every time you go to your NaNoWriMo page adds legitimacy to what you’re doing. And if it’s an especially badass cover, it might even inspire your writing to new heights. I mean, how can you see a killer cover for your novel and not throw down the words to fulfill its promise?
  5. Keep your head in the game.
    I’ve found that my best writing is done away from the keyboard. By this I mean that you should use every spare moment of non-writing time to plan your work, so that when you sit down to write the words pour out of you. The last thing you want is to waste your writing time staring blankly at a page.

    Keep pen and paper handy or use your smartphone to type or record audio of story ideas. Be open to inspiration from every source and it will find its way into your work. These notes can be your to-do list, to be addressed in each writing session. My biggest anxiety during the event has been the fear that I’ll run out of story. Having a growing list of events to populate your novel is incredibly reassuring.


I hope those tips are helpful, and if you’re priming yourself to make a run at winning NaNoWriMo this year, good luck and enjoy the experience.

And if you find yourself in need of an editor in the months following the event, or anytime, look me up. I’d love to help you with your project!

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