NaNoWriMo – My Top Ten Tips!

My writing desk - pick somewhere comfortable where there are few distractions.

My writing desk – pick somewhere comfortable where there are few distractions.

So here it is, another year, and already another NaNoWriMo. You’ve never heard of it? It’s the National Novel Writing Month, and it involves a vast number of aspiring authors getting together with professional writers, making a statement about their objective of writing a book in the month of November, and cracking on with it.

Does it work for everyone?

No, of course not. Because modern life is hectic and tiring, most people cannot face the thought of getting home after a long day working and then trying to work out the motivations of a character, the detail of a hazy subplot, and then put it all down on paper for the 2,000 words a day that is needed.

However, there are some professional hints that can help, if you’re into NaNoWriMo. These are my own top ten tips:

1. set a goal for the day. It doesn’t matter whether it’s 500 words or 2,000, but once you’ve set it, stick to it. Start in the morning before work, and type as many as you can, then finish off as soon as you get back after work. The main thing is, to be disciplined about it;

2. make sure your goals are realistic. Do not work to unattainable targets. For me, 10,000 words in a day is occasionally possible. It is not feasible routinely. My usual average is between 5 & 7,000. 5,000 is comfortable; 7,000 is challenging. However, if I set myself a target of 25,000 in a week, I know I can and will hit that every week. Make sure your goals are achievable. If in doubt, go with 750 and see how you get on;

3. plan what you will write. This doesn’t mean you will always sit down with an extensive flow chart before writing, but you should always take time to think about what the next scene is, why it’s in the book, whose point of view you’re using, and what the objective is. In other words, how does this next scene take the story forward. For me it takes ten minutes between scenes to plan the next one;

4. stop on a high. This is advice from the ever-delightful Terry Pratchett: always stop work knowing that the next scene is going to be a good, fun one. That way you sit at your desk the next morning knowing you’re about to enjoy yourself. It helps keep you motivated;

5. if you are working, no TV until you’re done. My writing career began when we threw out our TV. Still, when I am in a book (which is most of the time) I will not turn on the television.  TV absorbs your energy and wastes your life. Once you sit in front of it, you’ve lost the evening. Planning your life around the next edition of “Breaking Bad” or “Downton Abbey” means, simply, that you will not achieve your goals. Turn off the TV and set up the recorder so you can catch up later, if you must. Better: get used to the idea you’re weaning yourself from TV forever. Also, turn off Facebook, Twitter, email etc. They all stop you working and notifications come through, invariably, just when you’re in the middle of a great scene. It’s the Kubla Khan syndrome;

6. don’t try to sit down and type up a whole book. I find that I can write 1,000 words in 50 minutes. I always try to work for one hour, then take a break. That is the planning stage for the following scene. While making a cup of tea or offloading the previous one, I am thinking about the last scene and where the story is going with the next. It keeps your writing fresh;

7. don’t persuade yourself that you need more research. The comfort blanket for many is the reading of research material. We sit and read, each new piece leading us to another with a glorious inevitability. And as December begins, we realise we’ve missed the basic element of the novel, which is writing the damned thing! Research is good. It is fine. It is helpful. It is destructive for writing. It is a work displacement activity for writers. Your job is to make things up;

8. don’t worry about what other people will make of your work. Write for yourself. Yes, people will be able to pick holes in it, but you are working on the first draft, not a final copy. For me, that means writing fast, keeping the mood going, and putting down words as quickly as possible. Later, when I edit, I’ll take out or replace a lot of them. That’s fine. That’s the next stage. Right now, you should be aiming to get the words down so that you have something to edit;

9. don’t think about emulating anyone else’s style. Your writing will be defined by all the books you have read, all the stories you have heard or told. It will come naturally, if you let it. And that is what you are looking to develop, your own narrative voice;

10. don’t think this book will ever be published. It is incredibly rare for a first novel to be published. My own book “The Last Templar” was my second attempt. Most people are lucky to get a third or fourth accepted by a publisher. NaNoWriMo is an opportunity for you to learn whether you can actually write a full-length novel, to see whether you have the stamina and excitement to tell a story. If it works, you may get the bug (or addiction) and discover that you are a writer, but it doesn’t work for everyone. Writing is a hard, lonely job. It isn’t for everyone. After all, watching “Breaking Bad” is a lot easier than working into the night.

It takes time and hard slogging to finish a novel.

It takes time and hard slogging to finish a novel. There are lots of words in that pile of paper!

There you go. Which of these is the most important? I think they all are. They are the ten crucial rules of my writing life, but the absolute critical tip is the eleventh. It is the one that summarises all the others.

What is it? It is that, most of all, the key thing to remember at all stages of writing is: don’t prevaricate: just write!

Have fun in November, and I hope you discover how much fun writing can be. Best of luck with your writing project!

20 Responses to “NaNoWriMo – My Top Ten Tips!”
  1. Jack Eason says:

    Reblogged this on Have We Had Help? and commented:
    Wise wrods from Michael ;)

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Reblogged this on Chris The Story Reading Ape's Blog and commented:
    Great advice from Michael :D


  3. floridaborne says:

    Excellent advice. The best part of the advice was to get rid of the TV, facebook and twitter.

    Just passed 6000 words. Day 3 :-)


    • 6,000 is not a bad start at all after only three days! Well done!

      Should have added the phone to my list of discards!

      Liked by 1 person

      • floridaborne says:

        Minimizing phone calls is a good one to add (in my book–excuse the pun). I keep my cell phone turned off and when the polls, politicians and others looking for donations try to call (it seems to come in waves), I pull the plug on my phone.


  4. Lindsey Russell says:

    Right on target, as always. Not quite so sure about the phone – it could be an emergancy – get an ex directory number and answer phone with caller display. If the first few words of the message aren’t pleading desperatley for help you can tune the rest out and carry on and the caller display lets you know if it’s a friend you can call back during a break or an unrecognizable computer generated number likely to be some idiot telling you you can claim back ppi.


  5. gardenlilie says:

    I like the comment that NaNoWriMo is about whether you can do it or not-pull off a story and complete it! I think that’s it.


  6. great advice I’m sure though I will never write a book so won’t be following it :D


  7. Great tips. Very motivating to sit down and write!


  8. Funny — I started writing seriously in November of 2000. That’s why I made that my main character’s birthday. 2000 was long before NaNoWriMo, which I’ve never done. I thoroughly agree with your points 8 and 9. And TV and the internet are death to writing projects, even though the internet is useful for research, especially of the fact-checking sort. I think the reason I managed to write five substantial novels between 2000 and 2008 was because I didn’t have internet at home then. I got connected in 2010 so I could self-publish, and haven’t written anything new since then besides blog posts.


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