Advice for Making it Through NaNoWriMo

Last year, Brittany participated in NaNoWriMo for the first time, and she’s planning to do it again this year. NaNo starts in two short weeks, and she has asked for some NaNo advice. Here goes:


You will need roughly an hour a day to write if you’re going to “win.” Some days, you’re going to need more. But if you can find an hour a day and use it to actually write (not to check your email or update your Facebook status or daydream), you will finish.

Turn off the Internet. That’s the best advice I’ve got. Seriously. Just turn it off. Go somewhere without wireless to write. 

Tell everybody you know what you’re doing. This isn’t a time for secrets. If everybody knows you’re trying to write 1,667 words per day, they’ll be more understanding when you say no, show up late, and leave early. You may also be able to manufacture some guilt feelings if you start thinking about quitting because you’ve got all these people who are counting on you to write a novel this month. Whatever extra outside pressure/help you can get=good.

Do the writing first. If it means waking up earlier so you can write, do that. Most days during the month, I will at least get started on the writing before I do anything else on my to-do list.

Break it into chunks. You may not have an hour straight to sit and write. But you do have 10 minutes here, 10 minutes there. Train yourself to be able to move in and out of your manuscript without a lot of lag time.


The pace of NaNoWriMo can feel daunting, relentless. While you can write 1,667 words per day for a month, you cannot write 1,667 good words per day. But that’s okay. This is a get-something-done challenge, not a make-it-good challenge.

Make a ritual of writing. Habit is largely about doing the same thing at the same time in the same place. Create a space for yourself to write. Figure out what you need. I like coffee, a sweet, and my laptop. Maybe you like a corner of the living room with a legal pad.

Keep your hands moving. This really isn’t the time to reflect and polish.

Turn off the inner censor. Make peace with the fact that some of your sentences won’t be beautiful. This isn’t a time for precious or perfect writing.

DO NOT DELETE. I do cut things from the manuscript, but I move rather than delete. Cut and paste at the end of the document to preserve the word count. That’s probably a good work habit anyway, just in case you decide you want to save something.

Have a final scene in mind. I’m a pantser, not a plotter, but it’s really helpful to know where you’re trying to end up, even if you aren’t sure how you’re going to get there.

Know where to go for inspiration. During NaNoWriMo, I often start my writing day with a little reading from Laini Taylor’s Not For Robots site.

Have some strategies for what to do when you get stuck. I like detailed scenery description when I’m having trouble getting to my word count. I like to sit my characters down at their favorite booth at the coffee shop and start them talking. Something always happens then. Introduce a new character. Give everyone a pet. Kill somebody off. Think of the most unexpected thing a character could do and have them do it. You can’t really make a mistake when you’re Nano’ing because tomorrow, you can just rewrite the whole scene and make something else happen if you find you’ve written yourself into a corner. Write the scene from someone else’s perspective. Experiment. Send your characters on a trip.

If you really get behind, use Cuppa Jolie’s post-it method.  A few years ago, I decided to skip NaNoWriMo—then in the middle of the month, I changed my mind. I ended up needing to write 15,000 words over the last weekend of November. I am a SLOW writer, so this seemed impossible. I nearly quit. But then I found Jolie’s post and decided to try her method, AND IT WORKED.


You are going to hate your story and think it’s the worst thing anyone has ever written in the history of the world. That’s normal. It’s actually possible that you will write some of the worst sentences any human being has ever written this month. That’s okay. Just keep writing. You WILL write something good again.

Get a writing buddy and check in each day. You can also join the NaNoWriMo community online; they have very active forums. But note: joining the online NaNoWriMo community expressly breaks Cardinal Rule #1 of Completing NaNoWriMo (turn off the Internet).

Accept that you will want to quit. This is normal. That’s why full commitment is essential. Either you’re absolutely fixated on “winning” and obsessively compulsive about your daily word count, or you’re going to be able to talk yourself out of it. Even if you only write for 10 minutes one day, that’s going to help you stick to the challenge. Even if you only write one sentence, that’s going to help you stick to the challenge. So commit to writing SOMETHING every single day for the month of November–even if it isn’t the full 1,667 words.

One response to “Advice for Making it Through NaNoWriMo”

  1. […] On my blog this week, I shared my favorite online links for the week as well as a few photos of Frances (which I consider a community service, because photos of adorable cats make life better for everyone and Frances is really, REALLY adorable. Just look at that picture of Frances in the soup pot and see if you don’t feel happier. As well as inclined to decline a dinner invitation at my house). I also dithered over the syllabus for my Adolescent Literature course (currently at 30 titles and counting, it needs to be cut at least in half), very nearly committed once and for all to an idea for the Contemporary Literature course, and shared my tips for making it through NaNoWriMo. […]

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