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Nanowrimo: 20 Must-Do Tips


Getting the Psychology Right

Your focus here is on mindset and willpower, not the  writing craft. The priority is to succeed in crossing that 50 thousand word finish line. It’s not even about the novel, it’s about accomplishing something and maybe starting a lifelong habit or writing regularly.

Remember your priorities, or you might waste precious time and energy.

Many of these tips really just deal with getting in the habit of writing every day, and don’t apply only to Nanowrimo



WRITE EVERY SINGLE DAY. This is the only point that matters. Every other thing I have to say is meant to help you do this

The first day you make an excuse not to write is the day after the last day you took this seriously. If a crisis gobbles up your entire day, sit down and write a few hundred words before you go to bed. Don’t listen to the voice in your head- You know the one I mean:  What’s the big DEAL if I miss a day? I’m so BORED with writing EVERY day! I don’t feel like I’m getting anything out of this. It’s using up valuable time. This is the voice that ends diets. It’s the reason why 80% of people who get gym memberships as a new year’s resolution don’t stick with it. Listening to this voice once will make it easier to convince you the next time.  Don’t listen!  That voice is not your friend.


Focus on writing. Focus on things like characterization, dialogue, and conflict later. If you don’t already know enough about these things now, add study and practice to your December to-do list.

Any time spent learning how to write a character sketch, for example, is time not spent writing. Second, this is actually a common procrastination / self-sabotage tactic–convincing yourself you need to be better at something before you really commit to it, and it’s a convenient distraction if the writing gets to heavy. Third, you want to stay positive. Acknowledge now there is lots to learn and don’t stick your nose in it. You might start doubting your ability.

I am not saying never read about the craft. I’m saying the time for learning about the craft is October or December. Better yet, January. The time for reading about the craft is once you have the habit.



Pace yourself. Don’t write four thousand words on your first day. That’s the worst thing you can do, especially if you’re trying to build a long-lasting habit. Your subconscious is going to run screaming from this. You’re telling it this is what it’s going to be like every day. Maybe some day you’ll want to write 4000 words a day, but take your time getting there.

BUT:  Feel free to write an extra hundred words a day–something modest to give you a cushion for the inevitable down day when you can’t meet the daily average 1667 words.



Like what you write! Absolutely under no circumstances should you write what you think you SHOULD write. If you really want to write a western, but you know more about history–screw history. Write that western! Write what you WANT to write. Motivation and persistence are your best friends, and they will evade you if you turn writing into a bore.

The motivated writer thinks about her characters before bed, and can’t wait to move the story forward she wakes up in the morning. Write what you want to read. Write what excites you.

Anne Lamott from Bird By Bird


Nurture the right attitude about writing. Anything that takes effort will sometimes wear down even the most committed person. Optimism doesn’t always come naturally. Self-talk is a powerful tool. Talk to yourself. Don’t be embarrassed. We ALL struggle with building habits. Don’t beat yourself up for having a negative attitude sometimes. Just make the effort to focus on productive perspectives and empowering self-talk.

Create a positive voice, a coaching voice.   You will need your coaching voice to help you when you’re bored or anxious or having a bad day.  Work to develop it while you are excited.  Maybe you are also building a habit of an empowering outlook.



Avoid self-sabotage. Right now, your time would be better spent planning how to deal with the temptations and pitfalls when they come than plotting out your novel. I’m not saying don’t do both. Just know that no amount of clarity about the twist in chapter six is going to help you if you start negotiating a cease-and-desist on day six.

Reflect on what you tend to do to sabotage yourself, and that will require honesty. We all fail to do things; what do you do or tell yourself when you’re about to give up on something?

I tell myself:

  1. I will start tomorrow. (Tomorrow never comes.)
  2. I didn’t really want to do it anyway. (I DID, but now I’m so stuck in self-loathing I don’t want to do ANYTHING.)
  3. I want to take up knitting instead.  (This actually takes work! Time for distraction.)
  4. There’s this catastrophe that needs my attention first! (Catastrophe always seems to happen. Hmmm…)

What you want to do is figure out your response ahead of time. When you’re in the moment it will be too hard. Yuo should never shop when you’re hungry–Same principle.

Do you want to wait til tomorrow? Start today and give yourself another reward tomorrow. Do you have ten things in your two do list? Always do the hard things first. Feeling like you don’t want to do it anymore? You prepared for this one–simply expecting that it will happen might be enough to let you know you’re just scared or experiencing doubt.

I’m not sure how to prepare for that one.


Think process not product. Your real enemy in this endeavor is your ego. It’s the part of you that is convinced that you are a good/bad writer. That part is scared absolutely shitless of finding out it is wrong. Could you even survive finding out you’re a shitty writer? (Yes. you’ll get better if you write.) Finding out you’re a actually a pretty decent writer brings its own pressures and challenges.

Tackle this problem by remembering that writing is a thing you do. A book is not who you are. IF you’re a writer it is because you write, not because you have written. People who judge themselves by previous work make themselves miserable. IF your previous work sucked, you lose confidence and motivation. IF you’re previous work was great, you convince yourself you can never reproduce it, and you lose confidence and motivation.

The more time you write, the more you learn. That’s all there is to it. Some writers out there are naturally brilliant, not because they are better than you, but because some part of them tuned into the rhythms and pacing of writing and better observed the human condition as it was acted out around them. Other writers are brilliant because they read, write, edit, study, and write some more. Over and over and over. Success with Nanowrimo will change you, but just a little bit. It’s only thirty days’ worth of writing.

Another thought: Which better represents you, the legs that carry you or the footprints fading in the distance behind you?

Besides, remember, don’t worry about being a good writer, worry about enjoying the process, the act.


Give yourself permission to write. Remember when you were ten and you asked permission to stay up late or have extra sweets. Getting permission was the best thing in the world ever.

You might start to think of Nanowrimo as a chore, a task, an ever steeper hill. Try instead to think of it as a treat you can’t believe you’re getting permission to enjoy. Don’t forget you give yourself permission.



Give yourself permission to write crap. We all have an inner critic. We all get embarrassed when we do something badly; we don’t even need witnesses. We are our own worst critic. Some part of you is going to want to judge every idea, every word.

Tell that part go wait in December.

Think of that part as the parents. You’re the grandparent. Mom and dad will get little Timmy back after the holidays. You’re job isn’t to make sure Timmy eats his greens, your job is to spoil him.

Tell yourself that you will fix it before you show it to anybody. Make a vow. Don’t worry, self-critic, we will study editing and revision before we let you be embarrassed.

Think of it this way. Rewriting is somebody else’s problem. Rewriting is for that guy in December or January to figure out. Your priority is to see what the first draft of your story is like, how it’s going to turn out.



Only read what will motivate you. Save the books on being a better writer for later. Read what will motivate you, support you, comfort you, and inspire you to keep writing. And don’t be upset if some sage advice doesn’t work for you. We all work differently. Find the approach that works for you.



Don’t measure yourself against other writers or let them measure you. A lot of people will say that if you’re writing crap, then what’s the point? They’re jerks.

Don’t compare yourself to other writers. Even if they aren’t years ahead of you, they edited the bejeesus out of their work.  Then somebody ELSE edited any remained bejeesus. Meanwhile you can’t help but compare them to your bleary-eyed, first-thing-in-the-morning, can’t remember what an adjective is, raw self.

Indulge yourself, not others, not even future, perfect you. This isn’t self-indulgent the way eating a eating a pint of Ben and Jerry’s is self-indulgent.  It’s self-indulgent the way picking a career that is right for you is self-indulgent.

A lot of people will say that if you’re writing crap, then what’s the point?

They’re jerks.


Finish your daily writing with a cliff hanger. Cliffhangers and unanswered questions are the best way to bring the audience back. What works on readers also works on writers. If you stop at the end of the scene, you’re going to be a lot more at ease. You don’t WANT to be at ease, you want to be waiting impatiently for the chance to write again.

This does NOT apply to scenes you are having trouble with. DO NOT stop in the middle of an intimidating or challenging scene. You’ll be hesitant to return. You’ll want to avoid that confrontation. Plow through difficult scenes.



Don’t talk about your story ideas with anybody!!! Talk about your problems with writing. Get support. Talk about the process, but don’t talk about your story.

But you’re excited! You want to share. Stop and think, though:  do you want to use that excitement up in conversation, or do you want to let it build so that you can’t wait for writing time? Don’t talk about your story. Or characters. Or that stunning plot twist.

Also, nobody will ever mirror the level of excitement you have or respond to your ideas the way you want. There’s nothing any one can say that will make you want to write MORE than, “When do I get to read your book?”



Tell people you’re a writer. Tell people you’re doing nanowrimo. You’ll meet people in a similar position. Seeing other people see you as a writer might help. People asking you questions about your book that you demurely avoid might help.



Remove all distractions. Multi-tasking is a myth. Turn off the TV. Put your phone in airplane mode. Invest in noise reducing headphones. Tell your kids not to bother you unless one of them is on fire.  Understand that the first few times you do this, those distractions will do everything in their power to intrude.  Your mom will call 82 times in a row, then come over because she thinks you’re dead.  The pets will have explosive diarrhea.  The kids will set themselves on fire.  Deal with the distractions, take steps to prevent them, and go back to writing. Reassert your need for space and quiet each day and eventually it will become a habit for you to ask for it and for the people in your life to respect it.



Figure out YOUR best time and place for writing. Some of us must write in the morning. Some of us want to kill those people that must write in the morning. Some need complete silence, and some need the murmur of a coffee shop. If you don’t know which of these writers you are, experiment until you do.

Be honest with yourself. Don’t convince yourself you do your best writing at Starbucks because you have constant access to mocha half caf laugh trackoccinos. Find a comfortable place free of distractions and flaming children.

A good way to figure out when you write best is to keep a journal or a log of when you’re writing and do a full systems check. It is important to be objective about this, because sometimes we want to write at times that are really not the most conducive for us.



Make friends with writers. Fellowship is a wonderful thing. Whether you and your writing friends are on the same level or not, make some friends with writers and develop mutually supportive relationships. You will find that helping other writers when they’re having the occasional meltdown will make you feel better about your writing life. Not because of schadenfreude, but because you’ll see that you’re not a failure just because you get anxious every time you want to write. And maybe a little schadenfreude.

Make sure you don’t make friends with emotional vampires, people that want you to fail with them, people that criticize everything, or people that hate it when they’re friends are successful.



Consider joining a support group. You can definitely find them online. You might even find one in your own town. A little bit of google searching should give you many options. You can even start a support group. And remember you can check the Nanowrimo website. The same advice about friends applies to groups. Don’t join groups that are stealing from your motivation.



Ritual can be helpful. There is great power in rituals. Some people must wear a certain hat when writing or have some sort of good luck charm. Some people do writing exercises beforehand. Some meditate, pray, play certain music, etc. I always pace and stretch before and between writing. I also noticed once that whenever I need a breather I lean back and strike a pose like Rocky during the jogging montage. I laughed at myself and kept right on doing it.



Pick the right music. Music and heroic endeavors go hand in hand.

When it comes to music, studies have shown that music with counterpoint is best for studying. Classical and baroque are good if you want relaxing music; modern electronic music is good if you need to get the blood flowing. Counterpoint is recognizable by the melody hopping about rather than flowing smoothly. Think jagged EEG of your brainwaves as opposed to smooth rolling hills.

When I am writing a story, I sometimes make a mix tape that represents each of the point of view characters and play it when I’m in their head. It helps ground me in the character. I also notice that sometimes I need to turn the music off because I need to hear my own thoughts a little better.

Find out what works for you. In everything. And be honest with yourself.



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