11 Tips for Finishing Nanowrimo (and Any Big Creative Project)
It’s almost November, which means it’s almost time for another Nanowrimo! If you’re not familiar with it, Nanowrimo stands for “National Novel Writing Month.” Every November, thousands of people around the world attempt to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days, or approximately 1,667 words per day for the whole month. Brilliant? Crazy? Probably a little bit of both.These kinds of sprint projects tend to divide opinion. On the one hand, the risk of burnout is real, even within a month. There is also a good chance you could produce higher quality work if you take your time and slow down the writing process.On the other hand, having a hard deadline is a powerful motivator. If you’re been wanting to write a novel, have a project in mind, or have a big creative goal you want to kickstart, the structure of Nanowrimo could be exactly what you need to make it happen. As I’ve written about here before, confidence comes from action (not the other way around), and Nano is a month of serious action. Whatever the final result looks like, knowing you’ve written 50,000 words in 30 days feels really good.I’ve attempted a Nanowrimo four times now and finished twice. While I don't consider myself any kind of Nano expert, I have learned a lot from both my unsuccessful attempts and the times I’ve finished, and I want to share some of these lessons with you today.This post is primarily geared towards Nanowrimo, but you can transfer these ideas to any big creative project beacuse—spoiler alert!—90% of it comes down to mindset. If you’re attempting Nanowrimo this November or have another big creative project up your sleeve you’d like to bring to fruition before the year-end, I hope you find it helpful :)
1. Plan as much in advance as you can
You might have heard of the distinction between “plotters” (people who outline their characters and story before writing) and “pantsers” (people who just start writing and fly by the seat of their pants as they go). The approach you choose is up to you, but I found the times I outlined to be much easier than those I didn’t.Nano is intense. 1,667 words per day for 30 days (on top of everything else we have going on in our regular lives) is a lot. You can have an idea of what you want to write and still be spontaneous within that structure, but having an outline means you can spend your time in November upping that word count versus twiddling your pencil while thinking about what to write. If you’re using something like Scrivener or Ulysses to write your novel (both of which I have used and 100% recommend), you can set up your chapters with their outlines in advance so when the 1st arrives you’re ready to go.
2. Don’t just make it a priority, make it a non-negotiable
It’s so simple, but the number one difference between times I finished Nanowrimo and times I didn't was my internal commitment. The first two times, I thought “I’ll try” the other times I thought “I will.” I planned better, showed up, and did what I needed to do to get to 50K.The times I stopped short, a bajillion other things ended up being more important and I fell behind. When I made it a non-negotiable part of my daily routine, that changed. Think of things you do every day without fail: eating breakfast, brushing your teeth, checking your email - and make your Nano project one of those things.Decide now when you’ll do your writing each day, schedule it in, block it off on your calendar, tell everyone around you you’ll be unavailable at that time, or whatever else you need to do to make that happen.
3. Plan for every eventuality
A lot will happen in a month and you should go into this assuming distractions, hiccups, and make-or-break obstacles will happen at some point. Plan for this now.On days when you can’t write at your normal time, what will you do then? What about weekends? What about holidays like Thanksgiving (if you celebrate)?It might not feel necessary to think right now about what you’ll do in three weeks time when you’re in a sweet potato pie haze and haven’t done that day’s word count, but it is. Decide “if/when X happens, then I’ll do Y” now, not when X actually happens and you’re under pressure.
4. Take the WYCWYC approach
Because best laid plans often fall apart, on the days when I needed to write and didn’t have time, I took the “What you can, when you can” approach.I wrote on my phone when I was waiting in line, when my daughter was napping, when I was on public transport, whenever I had a spare moment. Two minutes here and there might not feel like much, but it can add up to several hundred words over a day. Find the cracks in your day, that dead time when you're waiting, your mind is wandering, and you have a couple of moments to make progress.
5. Get ahead early
I had an intercontinental move and the launch of my last book during last year’s Nano so it wasn’t exactly the ideal time to write a novel.But let’s face it: when is?I knew I would have days where I couldn’t meet my target so I racked up extra days when I could. The first few days, when my motivation was high and I was excited about the book, I rode that wave and used it to get ahead. Which was good, because…
6. Focus only on the very next step
…That motivation and excitement? It will disappear at some point. I found I crashed around the halfway mark, when the novelty was waning, it felt like I had done sooooo much writing, I was bored with my story, yet I still had over 50% to go. Each writing session felt lacklustre, I was sure my book wasn’t going anywhere, and the whole process was starting to feel like a big dragging chore.I got through this period by gamifying my writing sessions. Days when I wasn’t feeling it, I would tell myself I could stop after 30 minutes. By the time I got to 30 minutes, I was usually on a roll and determined to get that day’s quota in. But I also figured any words were better than no words, so when the 30 minutes were up, I also gave myself permission to stop—even if I hadn’t reached my word count for that day.
7. Don’t try to do it all
Accept some things will fall by the wayside during the month and remember this is just for now. You might not stay on top of your laundry, your social life might stagnate temporarily, and you might be eating microwave dinners for a couple of weeks.And you know what? That’s OK for now. The point of Nano is it’s a sprint, not a permanent way of living.
8. Get support and accountability—if it’s helpful
Tell people, join your local Nanowrimo groups, get support from a writing coach (hi!) with one big caveat: if it will be helpful.Some people find the public Facebook declaration useful for keeping them on track. I personally find committing to stuff like this publicly (e.g. on social media) shifts the balance of pressure from internal to external, which leaves me feeling more anxious than motivated. Ditto with the online Nanowrimo groups (there are sub-groups all around the world where you can meet local Nano writers and get together to write). I know people who find them incredibly motivating and love the social aspect—and I think that’s great!—but I’ve found I fare better when I keep my eyes on my own novel and just get on with it (#introvert).Think about what’s worked for you in the past when you’ve worked towards stretch goals. If public accountability has been a powerful and positive motivator, try it. If not, find what feels good and do that instead.
9. Embrace the “shitty first draft”
Although the aim of Nanowrimo is to write a novel during November, this summary is a tad misleading. The reality is it’s a first draft. You are not supposed to have a polished, publishable piece of work at the end of the month.Accept this now: most, if not all, of your Nano novel will probably be pretty terrible. And that’s OK, because the end of Nano is far from the end of your journey.The way I see it is you need to get all the bad and cringe-worthy writing out of the way first before you can get to the good stuff. You can’t edit nothing, so rather than feeling discouraged by each plot hole, cliched character, or tangled storyline, see it as progress.
10. Remember: everything passes.
Nano is intense, demanding and an emotional rollercoaster. You will have times of joy and times of frustration, days when you feel invincible and days when you feel like you’re at the bottom of the pile.Like all emotions, this too shall pass. Make the most of the highs and ride out the lows and keep in mind that at some point you will finish (yes, you will!).
11. Have fun!
If you’ve signed up for this wild ride, you might as well make the most of it. It won’t always feel fun. In fact, it will often feel distinctly un-fun.But the rewards are huge. You will learn a ton about yourself, about writing, about what it takes to set a bananas goal and reach it. And, if you get to the end, you’ll also have the first draft of a novel. A novel! So do what you can to make it fun. Find ways to gamify, join the community if you want and, whatever the outcome in terms of word count, try to get as much out of the experience as you can.If you’re attempting Nanowrimo this year, good luck! You can do this and I’m cheering you on.If you’d like extra support as you work on your novel, I invite you to try coaching. I work with writers and bloggers to develop the habits that will help them reach their biggest creative goals (including Nanowrimo). If you’d like to see how coaching could support you and your writing, you can try a week for free by clicking here and entering the code HANNAHBRAIMEWEEK. Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash