Top Ten Tips For NaNoWriMo

1st Nov 2012

Top Ten Tips For NaNoWriMo

NaNoWriMo is both brilliant and terrible in equal measure. On the one hand, it’s motivation to sit down and write; the flipside is that it doesn’t take much to fall behind.

I have participated in NaNoWriMo for the past three years. So far, I have only ‘won’ once and it was a total anti-climax. My 50,000 words were just words. Lots of words.

There’s a difference between writing lots of words and a novel. As someone who has learned this the hard way, I will gladly save anyone else the trouble.

Here are my top ten tips that help make the crucial difference between writing 50,000 words, and 50,000 words of a novel.

1. Have a good idea

Think of an idea that is substantial enough to create a full novel. If not, you’ll just be padding out a short story with superfluous dialogue and description.

2. Have a plan

This is something that has recently been drilled into me. And yes – I resisted too, believing that ‘planning’ is a sterile, soulless process. But is it really so illogical to plan your novel before you start to write it?

Say you’re cooking dinner for your friends; do you go shopping for the ingredients or just throw random ingredients into a pan and hope for the best? Sure, it’s all food, but does it make a meal? One that’s actually edible?

3. Create good characters

My previous novel-attempts all included half-baked characters who only served as vehicles to carry my half-baked plot. They had no function and no presence.

Take time to really think about who your characters are. What is their purpose? What is their story? I recommend writing a biography for each character before you start writing.

4. Have an ending in sight

Your ending is your goal. Each chapter is heading for that place. You don’t have to stick rigorously to your original ending (after all, your characters can surprise you), but there’s nothing worse than a meandering novel that doesn’t seem to go anywhere and suddenly ends with a freak nuclear apocalypse

5. Ask questions

If your reader already knows what’s going to happen by chapter three then they’ll probably stop reading, assuming that the rest of the book just drags out the stuff they already know, culminating in a predictable ending (or a freak nuclear apocalypse).

Ask questions, and delay the answers. Be a tease, be suggestive, plant questions in your readers’ minds, and then leave them high and dry in the next chapter. Ask questions – lots of them, and then delay the answers.

6. But what happens?

If you can’t think of an answer, or the answer is ‘nothing’ then go back to tip number one and start again. Do not pass go. Do not collect £200. If nothing happens then there’s no point continuing.

You need a story to make a novel. A story is something where stuff (conflict, action, resolution) happens. If nothing happens then there’s no story. Just a novel full of characters going nowhere, doing nothing and having conversations.

7. Climax

Everything that has happened so far has been leading up to this point – the point where something happens. If you’re writing a first novel (which is between 80,000 and 100,000 words) you want to be hitting your climactic scene somewhere around the 50,000 word mark. Again, if there’s no climax, then nothing happens, you don’t have a story – just lots of words.

8. Don’t write for the sake of it

The 1667 word target means that if you do wobble off track, you can end up writing any old shit to make up the word count. This has been my mistake every year.

If you find your characters having mundane conversations that don’t move the story forward, then you need to stop – return to your plan, and figure out where you went wrong and how to get back on track.

9. Plan a routine

If you disappear to write your daily 1667 words and instead find yourself conducting a pants and sock drawer audit, then you are procrastinating and need to have a word with yourself.

It is difficult writing a novel alongside absolutely everything else you have to do, but be honest with yourself – if you really don’t have time to write, then don’t pretend you’re going to do it.

If you’ve committed yourself to taking part, then be tough with yourself. Don’t accept your own excuses. Find time to write every day and enjoy that time.

10. Carry on working on your project even after the November deadline.

If, by midnight on November 30th you’ve hit the 50,000 word mark then – huzzah! You should celebrate! And then the next day, continue your daily word count.

Continue writing your way to your ending and by the time Christmas rocks up, you’ll have the first draft of a novel. Crack open the champagne (or have a cup of tea and a Snickers bar if, like me, you’re poor and can’t handle your booze) and start the New Year editing your novel.

Good luck!

Are you participating in NaNoWriMo this year? Have you taken part before? What are your top tips for survival?

Jo Throup


  • Steven Chapman says:

    Five out of ten ain’t bad…right?

    Ten is definitely the most important step, I know too many people who bit 50k, throw their arms in the air, do the happy dance, and then file their work in a drawer not bothering to write anything else until November next year. Seems a bit pointless to me (although I have been guilty of moving onto non-nano stuff afterwards and not looking back).

    That’s why this year, I’m implementing rule 11 – get the whole damn thing finished…100k by Nov 30th then I’ll have no excuse not to sit down and edit when December comes around 🙂

    Cheers for the advice, word nerd.

  • Daniela Arthur says:

    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.
    I hope it’s ok.