How I won NaNoWriMo last year

Last year I decided to participate in NaNoWriMo. It was my second time around and I was victorious; by which I mean I was successful at writing 50,000 words in the month of November. What I wrote ended up being the first draft of my novel, which I am currently rewriting and reworking. Writing over 50,000 words in a month leaves you with a 50,000-word mess. At least that’s what it did for me. But at least I know my characters really well and I have some basics down on paper. Most of what I wrote just plain sucked. But hey, I had fun and that’s what I had wanted.

I went into NaNoWriMo expecting two things: 1. develop a regular writing habit, 2. have fun. I also hoped that I actually would write at least those 50,000 words, but that just would have been a bonus. Guess what? I succeeded. I have been writing regularly since then. I had a lot of fun participating in NaNoWriMo. I spent most days looking forward to working on my novel and I had fun taking risks and exploring different avenues for my characters. There were harder days, but I had prepared for them (see below). The most important thing is that I didn’t let myself give up and I just sat at the computer almost every day (I did allow for some off days, which was realistic and needed.).

This was my second attempt at NaNoWriMo, and the first time I failed miserably. The first time around, I decided just a few days earlier that I’ll do it. I didn’t prepare, I had no story. I also had a 4-month-old on my hands AND I was attempting to work in the meantime. I had all the cards stacked against me and I failed. But that failure taught me a few things about myself and led me to success last year. So what did I do right in 2013?

  1. I read articles by people who had successfully written at least 50,000 words in a month to see what they did. Well, you’re reading this so congrats on taking the first step to your win.
  2. I prepared. I planned. I had a notebook dedicated to doing prewriting prep work. I did character sketches and interviews. I wrote back stories for them and my planned story. I outlined.
  3. I did research on major events that occurred during the time frame of my planned story. I even wrote down major astrological and weather-related events, just in case I may need to work them into my story. I didn’t end up using them, but they did give me lots of background info that definitely helped my imagination.
  4. I read a lot. This is obvious. As writers, we need to read A LOT. Any kind of writing on any kind of topic. Even when you’re not completely aware of it, your brain is always analyzing story structure and the how’s of writing. Sometimes it’s nice to analyze things you read consciously, especially writing you deem successful or interesting. Actually, analyzing “bad” writing can also be useful, so you can then apply it as a lesson in what not to do.
  5. I wrote a lot before November. I don’t think it is easy to write almost 2000 words a day every day for a month without having written anything at all before that. Notice I don’t say impossible. I am sure many people do it, but I bet some of them have a hard time at it. I made a pact with myself that I will only do NaNoWriMo 2013 if I will write at least 500 words a day in October. That was good motivation and also helped me develop a writing habit that I have been able to sustain since.
  6. I had a contingency plan. I wrote down scenes or ideas of things to write about if I ran out of ideas or felt stuck. I ended up using many of these ideas and they took the story to new and interesting places that got me excited about the story. These included small things like sudden changes in the weather, so the characters had to cope with them or introducing major events or new characters. Make a list. Some things should be fairly realistic, but be creative with this list. The longer and more out there it is, the more useful it may be.
  7. I had a spreadsheet and a word count plan so I could stay on track. I knew what the requirements of the month were. I knew which days I could count on my husband to take care of the home and our son, and which days I knew I would not be able to write at all. In this spreadsheet, I wrote out my word count goal and the scenes I needed to cover that day. I checked in daily and also revisited the plan weekly to make adjustments and plan for the upcoming week.
  8. I stopped reading how-to books and articles. In November, I stopped thinking about how to write and I just wrote.
  9. And the most important thing I did during November 2013 was WRITE.


Official NaNo prep

Other articles with tips and tricks: NaNo tips, survival guide, quotes for writing inspiration, villain motivation, making time to write, writing the first draft.


You may be wondering if I’ll participate in NaNoWriMo this year. And although I’ve thought about it because I had so much fun last year, I just can’t do it this year as I really want to keep working on my current projects. I know I’ll do it again sometime in the future as I love the idea and approach to the first draft. I’m the type of person who can get stuck if I think too much about it, so the write-as-fast-as-you-can-to-get-your-first-draft-done-in-a-month approach is really good for me.

Will you be doing NaNoWriMo this year? Have you done it before?

Share your thoughts and tips in the comments.


4 thoughts on “How I won NaNoWriMo last year

  1. Pingback: Are you skipping this vital step in your writing? | confessions of a broccoli addict

  2. Pingback: NaNoWriMo Countdown – 4: What To Write… | What If It All Means Something

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