So you want to win NaNoWriMo: 10 Tips for Success

Back when I defeated the dreaded NaNoWriMo challenge in 2008, there were a few key things I used to be successful and now I will pass them on to you! Some are as simple as some pre-November prep while others are get-it-done habits I had to stick to in order to meet my word count. But keep in mind, while these helped me out tremendously, you have to make NaNoWriMo  your own in order to be successful.

5 Tips for Before

1) Be excited about your idea. Nothing kills your NaNoWriMo experience faster than not being excited about your story. You have to spend 30 intense days with this story, make sure it’s one you want to be writing.

2) Know your daily expectations. What is the minimum word count you want to meet each day? I personally stuck with the (50,000/30=)1,667 words each day and I kept myself reminded of this goal by changing the background wallpaper of my computer to a calender that let me know where I should be on each given day. You can find links to them on the NaNoWriMo forums or search for them on Deviant art. This is the one I used, but they get pretty creative.

Here are some fun ones I found around the web from previous years:


3) Create stakes for yourself. Sometimes you just need more than the idea of a 50,000 word manuscript to get you through the day’s last 1000 words. Some people use threat of punishment while other dangle a reward for themselves. The year I won, I had a friend promise to make me a tshirt if I won. Somehow, that was the perfect motivation to keep me moving.

4) Find some writing buddies. Much like creating stakes, you have to surround yourself with people who will motivate you. What better way to do that than to inspire some competition. Add a word counter between you and your buddies to your iGoogle page to keep track of how far ahead or behind of you they are. Challenge each other to see who can write the most words in 10 minutes. Organize a write in, which means go somewhere quite and everyone sits and writes (feel free to add wine to this equation.)

5) Create an outline. Or at least do some sort of planning. The thing about NaNoWriMo is that you don’t have time to stop and think about what you want to happen next, something just has to happen and it is much easier to look down at an outline and know what’s coming next than to have to figure out what should happen next. But an outline can also get you into trouble if you follow it too closely. Many participants find that they complete their outline before reaching their 50,000 word goal and then what? That’s why you want your outline to be just that, an outline of the major events that you need to happen in the novel, but feel free to throw in some other spontaneous events as you go along. Your characters need complications and frustrations, they need to meet new people and discover new things. Sometimes when people need that extra boost of words, they throw in an alien abduction or have a death scene last 10 pages (which will absolutely be cut in editing). You want to have the freedom to do that while also staying within the story you planned for yourself.

After the Jump: More Tips!

5 Tips for During

6) Get ahead early. Nothing feels better than knowing you are a day or two ahead of your word count goal. This means that if (god forbid) you can’t write this upcoming Saturday because of a mysterious illness that has nothing to do with the events of the night before, then you can take a day off and rest without worrying about falling behind. It also means that if you finish early, you can actually enjoy Thanksgiving! Plus, it’s much easier to write 3-4K words each day in the beginning than it is at the end when you’re tired, stressed out and trying to play catch-up.

7) Figure out what is important and what’s not. Don’t tell my professors, but I used to spend time on my novel in class. Now, this may not be a good idea for everyone, but I knew I wouldn’t have any trouble staying on top of class if I diverted some of my attention elsewhere–let’s just call it multitasking.  You have to be able to multitask, but also to know when to turn off the TV or get off the internet and meet that daily word count. What means more to you? Reruns of How I Met Your Mother, or that awesome poster your friend promised to make of you if you finished you novel? Priorities!

8 ) Post your accomplishments. I know it seems silly to post that you just hit the 10k mark on a forum where no one will see your post as it’s flooded by how many people are already on to their last 25k, but it does help. The NaNoWriMo forums are great for this. There are entire sections of the forum just to shout out your latest success! Both the thrill of seeing how many people you’re ahead of and the stress of how many are so far beyond you is another level of competition that prompts you to keep chugging along. Post on Facebook! The more encouragement you get and the more people you could possibly let down if you fail will help keep you going.

9) Don’t get behind. Playing catch-up at the end if no fun. It’s extremely stressful. You’d be very surprised at how fast the word count can pile up when you skip a day or two, and by the time you are 3-4 days behind, the number seems unmanageable. It’s best to just not let that happen. Put you nose to the grindstone and don’t go to bed until you meet your word count–you’ll thank yourself in the morning (after you’ve had your coffee).

10) Don’t give up. If you really want to finish, you can’t stop. There are no elves that will come to magically finish your novel in the middle of the night while you sleep. It’s all on you. So DO IT!



Filed under NaNoWriMo, Writing

2 responses to “So you want to win NaNoWriMo: 10 Tips for Success

  1. Crap. I was seriously hoping for some elves. Thanks for the tips. I’m a first timer at NaNoWriMo. If you don’t mind me asking, how do you “win?”

    • Kristen

      Winning basically means that you’ve produced 50,000 words which can be verified by signing up at and using their word count verifier. You don’t have to make an account, but I suggest it because if you are considered a “winner” you gain access to a new area with all the winner flair and some cool discounts for affiliate stores.

      I hope your nanowrimo novel is coming along well! Good luck! Only 3 more weeks to go!

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