How to Prep for NaNoWriMo: 10 Tips from the Pros

Completing NaNoWriMo is an incredible feat both for newbies to the challenge and seasoned contenders. Check out these 10 tips from authors to help get you through.

Book Culture Favorite Quotes On Writing
A woman typing on her laptop, which has the NaNoWriMo logo of a mint green shield on it.

Many writers are familiar with NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, which spans the duration of November every year. Writers who join the official NaNoWriMo challenge are encouraged to finish writing a draft of their novel (or at least 50,000 words of it) in just 30 days. While writing under 2,000 words a day might not seem like a substantial feat, those of us who have attempted the challenge before will know how difficult completing NaNoWriMo truly is. Between work, school, parenting, meeting basic needs like eating and sleeping, and dealing with the random nonsense life throws at us; it can be almost impossible to find the time to write anything at all, much less to write 1,667 words a day for 30 days straight.

This challenge is designed to help us reach our writing goals, but at times, it can be a demoralizing process when we don’t meet our markers or fall behind on writing. At many points during the month, our objectives feel so unattainable that we want to give up completely, which is why having a plan for success going into the month is essential for keeping on track and not getting discouraged. To help you set yourself up for victory, here are 10 tips from published authors that will allow you to realize your writing dreams.

1. Focus more on developing a sustainable writer’s life than finishing a novel

Mistborn cover by Brandon Sanderson, a stained glass window in the floor being shattered by smoke pouring upward.

NaNoWriMo isn’t about finishing a novel. In my mind, it’s about teaching someone to think like a writer. It’s about giving them a chance to feel what it is like to be consumed by a story, and to let that person decide if they really want this force in their lives.

Brandon Sanderson, bestselling author of the Mistborn series

2. Don’t sacrifice your well-being for NaNoWriMo

Cinder by Marissa Meyer, a young cyborg woman crouching down in a cluttered workshop.

If you’ve been a noveling mad-machine for days on end and are now struggling to keep your eyes open long enough to write ‘Once upon a time’…

Seriously? Go to bed. Even the most dedicated of us need a power nap now and then.

Awake refreshed, reinvigorated, and ready to show that novel who’s boss.

Marissa Meyer, bestselling author of The Lunar Chronicles

3. When you’re in a slump, rediscover inspiration in your favorite books

Legend cover by Marie Lu, gold emblem of a star, and circular design with an R inside.

Pull your favorite, tattered, dog-eared book off the shelves. Find a chapter that leaves you breathless. Start typing it out in a new document, word for word. Don’t just type blindly; think about what you’re writing. For me, something about this exercise helps me see the genius in the other writer’s storytelling, and will stimulate my own writing and thoughts.

Marie Lu, bestselling author of the Legend series

4. Don’t be afraid to write badly!

Cinderella Is Dead cover by Kalynn Bayron, Cinderella in front of a thick forest with pink flowers.

50,000 words in one month is a lot, and it’s okay to acknowledge that a lot of those words won’t be the perfect, engaging, gripping storytelling you want it to be. That’s okay! What you will have is a complete first draft that you can then shape into what your story will eventually become.

Kalynn Bayron, bestselling author of Cinderella Is Dead

5. Find the fun in writing instead of worrying about your word count

Water for Elephants cover by Sara Gruen, an elephant standing on top of a red and white striped circus tent in front of a blue sky.

However far behind you are, take comfort in knowing that there is somebody else out there in the same boat, and look for that next fun scene. And then the next. And if that doesn’t work, set someone on fire. In your book, of course.

Sara Gruen, bestselling author of Water for Elephants

6. Resist the urge to edit

Bridge to Terabithia cover by Katherine Peterson, whimsical scene of a little girl playing on a rope swing while a little boy looks at her from across a divide.

I aim always to get to the end of the first draft even though all the time I’m telling myself that I’m writing nothing but garbage that no one on earth would ever want to read, especially me. But I tell myself that this poor little attempt, this garbage, deserves a chance…So I say to myself: Don’t read back too far, don’t try to start rewriting, just get to the end.

Katherine Peterson, bestselling author of Bridge to Terabithia

7. Use this time as an opportunity to explore your characters and story

The Poet X cover by Elizabeth Acevedo, a young woman's face with colorful words and art scattered across it.

On many days when I was struggling to meet my word count, I would write recipes for the book instead, or spend time writing a detailed scene, attempting to fill it with as many images as possible. The point for me wasn’t to arrive at the ending (I was huffing and puffing trying to make it to the finish line), as much as it was to see what it was about this character and her worlds that stoked my muse to such a pitch that I hurtled after her.

Elizabeth Acevedo, bestselling author of The Poet X

8. Take it one day at a time

The Cruel Prince cover by Holly Black, a golden crown hanging in the branches of a leafless tree.

I am here to tell you — what matters is sticking with it. Even if you don’t know if you can make it through NaNoWriMo, just get through today. Then get through tomorrow. Don’t worry about the day after that, until it’s today. Then you know what to do.

Holly Black, bestselling author of The Cruel Prince

9. Find a process that works for you

Outlander cover by Diana Gabaldon, an elaborate golden crown set on a bright blue background.

Anyone educated in the art of composition in the Western Hemisphere at any time in the last hundred years was firmly taught that there is One Correct Way to write, and it involves strictly linear planning, thought, and execution. You Must Have a Topic Sentence. You Must Have a Topic Paragraph. YOU MUST HAVE AN OUTLINE. And so forth and so tediously on…

Got news for you: You don’t have to do it that way. Anything that gets words on the page is the Right Thing to Do.

Diana Gabaldon, bestselling author of the Outlander series

10. Just keep writing!

American Gods cover by Neil Gaiman, streaky horizontal red stripes on a white background.

You write. That’s the hard bit that nobody sees. You write on the good days and you write on the lousy days. Like a shark, you have to keep moving forward or you die. Writing may or may not be your salvation; it might or might not be your destiny. But that does not matter. What matters right now are the words, one after another. Find the next word. Write it down. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

Neil Gaiman, bestselling author of American Gods

Writing advice is not one-size-fits-all, but these authors all know a thing or two about being a successful writer. Whenever the task of completing NaNoWriMo feels insurmountable, find comfort in the fact that many writers before you have conquered the 50,000-word goal. And if they can do it, why can’t you?

For more on NaNoWriMo, click here.

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