Tips For Surviving NaNoWriMo

As we all know, National Novel Writing Month, better known as NaNoWriMo, is just around the corner (though considering it’s done all over the world these days, it might need a name change). If you are not familiar with the tradition, it’s basically that every year authors try to write a novel in the course of a single month, usually one that’s around fifty-thousand words, and always in November. Of the authors that choose to participate each year, some do it independently, while others do it through an international organization that can hook them up with other participating writers in their region and even let them know about local events centered on helping authors during the month.

I’m on the fence on whether or not I’ll be participating this year. I’ve three other books at various stages of editing and I have to decide if one of those books needs to be rewritten (if so, then I’m participating because that’s basically starting from scratch). Even so, I thought I’d serve the writing community and do my civic duty by posting some notes on how to survive and get through NaNoWriMo with all your fingers still attached to you and your sanity somewhat intact.

Because let’s face it, writing fifty-thousand words in thirty days? I don’t know about the rest of you, but normally that many words takes me six to eight months. Cramming all that work into a month, we need all the help and advice we can get.

So first off, don’t get stressed about the word count. To get fifty-thousand words written in thirty days, you’d have to write approximately 1,667 words, or about 6.7 pages per day.* I know for a lot of writers it’s difficult to get that much out in a single day. The thing to remember is not to feel upset if you can’t force yourself to get that many words out per day. Remember, all good stories take time, and there’s no prizes for meeting daily quotas (the NaNoWriMo organization hands out badges, but they’re like the ones from Audible, nice to have when you get them but they don’t make much of a difference after you get them) or getting the full fifty-thousand words written out besides bragging rights. Besides, if you have to force yourself to put out words when your heart is not in them or just to meet a quota, your first draft might not turn out so well.

That’s another thing: remember that this is a first draft. And a rushed one, too. So if you look at what you’ve written and wonder what the heck you were thinking, that’s a normal reaction to a first draft. They’re supposed to be full of errors and passages that make no sense to you upon the second read-through. It’s during that second read-through that you touch it up and get it closer to the gem that you know it’s going to be.

Now that we’ve gotten the tips that’ll keep you in a good frame of mind out of the way, let’s cover how we actually survive NaNoWriMo:

Prior to November, research and prepare. We’ve still got twenty-two days till NaNoWriMo kicks off. During that time, it might help for you to get an idea of what you’re working on, where it might be heading, and maybe learn a bit more about the subject matter you’re writing, especially if it’s a topic you don’t know very well (like a murder mystery in Tang China or a coming-of-age story set in an ROTC unit). Now I know a lot of you might like to write by the seat of your pants, but just doing a little bit of prep can be helpful, especially if it means you don’t have to stop midway through writing because you realized you don’t know a thing about car maintenance and you lose four days because you got a car maintenance manual and needed to cram all that info in.

It also helps to prepare so that you can make plans in case you have to stop writing for any reason. Whether you need to attend a wedding midway through the month or you have to put the metaphorical quill down because you have a Poli Sci exam coming up you need to study for, having a contingency plan in case that happens can work wonders.

Speaking of which, while it is important to get out as much writing as possible, make sure not to neglect your life just to write. Many of us have day jobs, school, families, friends, and a variety of other things that require our attention. While it is important to write and maybe give up a few social obligations or fun outings to work, don’t neglect the real world entirely. I find the real world can not only give me great ideas for stories, but also reenergize me so that when I sit down to write, I’m not restless and looking for a distraction or yearning to go out and see the latest horror movie or something.

And while you’re working so hard, remember to take care of your health. In some ways, NaNoWriMo is like the last three weeks of a college semester: you’ve got a ton of work to do, only so much time to do it, and you’re willing to get maybe four hours a night of sleep and eat ramen noodles three times a day if that’s what it takes to get through it on top. I’m advising against that. There are no consequences to not getting out the full fifty-thousand words, so your health shouldn’t be a consequence of trying to. Get plenty of sleep each night, eat healthy meals, and get some exercise too if you can, even if it’s just going for a walk. You’ll find you’ll have more energy for writing if you do, believe me.

It’s also healthy to take an occasional break. We all need time to recharge and let our brains focus. So if you feel approaching burnout or writer’s block, or if you can’t figure out where your story should go next, or if you’re just so tired of writing about a princess trying to cover up her father’s murder so she doesn’t have to marry against her will, then maybe a trip out to the movies or to the bar with your friends or some fun family time or an all-night Mario Kart tournament with your roommates might be what you need. Studies actually show that ideas come more easily to you if you’re distracted, so there’s even more reason to take a break right there.

And if you need a little motivation to keep you going, reward yourself for certain milestones. For every five-thousand words or so you put out, reward yourself with something fun. This could be a favorite dessert, watching Netflix for a little while, whatever you want. Give yourself something extra special when you reach fifty-thousand words and/or finish the book (I suggest some wine, some celebration music, and later a good movie with a friend). You’ll find it much easier to write if you have something to look forward to after all your hard work.

And let’s not forget to build a support network around yourself. The NaNoWriMo organization attempts to do this by putting you in touch with other participants in your area and with community events, but whether or not you decide to participate in these events, you should still have people around you encouraging and cheering you on. Friends, family, lovers, authors you’re friends with online or offline, they should all be there for you. I can’t tell you how much it means to me to have people cheering me on and willing to read my work every time I publish during the rest of the year. Imagine how motivating it’ll be when you know there’s a group of people standing behind you when you do the writing equivalent of a 5K.

Finally, take a long break when you’re done. Not just from writing so you can get your creative juices to recharge, but also take a break from whatever novel you were working on once you’re done. I always feel that a month or more between drafts allows for writers to come back to their first drafts with fresh eyes so they can see where they made mistakes in the first draft and correct them. If you start editing immediately after finishing the first draft, you can only see it as the baby you just poured so much time and energy into and miss quite a lot. Better to take a break and let it lie until you’re ready to look again.

I’d like to wrap it up here and wish everyone participating next month good luck. Whatever you do to make the month of November one of the most productive and crazy of the year, I hope you found these tips helpful and that you have fun trying to get a full novel out in thirty days.

Are you participating in NaNoWriMo this year?

What tips do you have for getting through the month and writing as much as you can in so little time?

*That’s if you write like I do, which is Times New Roman, 12 point font, and double spaced on 8.5” x 11” paper. Otherwise it varies.

What is Writer’s Block? And how can you avoid it?

There might come a time in your writing career that you meet Writer’s Block. Say hello to the symptoms. 😀

You’re drained. There comes a moment in every writer’s career when they’ve pushed themselves so hard to accomplish things that their mental and emotional self can’t keep up anymore. You tire easily and can’t see yourself writing another word.

Writing no longer holds your attention. There will always be those moments when you are working on a story or article and you realized that it no longer interests you. But writer burn out is when you start to lose interest in your work and you can’t see yourself continue with anything else.

The thought of writing fills you with dread. Working becomes harder and harder. Writing becomes stress in overdrive. You get sick just thinking of the blinking cursor on the page.

The good news, I have 6 Tips to Help you Avoid Writer’s Burn Out.

1) Do something active. If the words refuse to come, doing something active can help to reboot your mind or give you a chance away from your writing to think about it. Take a walk, exercise, or do some housework.

2) Explore new topics or styles of writing. You can also change topic, stories, scenes, or even genres. A change of scenery, even if it’s just in your writing, can help stave off writer burn out.

3) Schedule one or more days off each week. This mini vacation will not only allow you to catch up on the house or yard work, but give you a break to renew your batteries and keep you from overworking yourself.

4) Take a break. You can take a spend some time with family or friends, 10 minute break, a reading break, a stretch break, meditate, take a nap, or watch a movie.

5) Don’t overload yourself. It can be so easy to take on more than we can handle. Between the writing, promoting, blogging, other jobs, housework, and social networking, it can be too much if we don’t space it out. Scheduling when to do something and giving yourself app time to accomplish it can keep stress at bay.

How do you ward off writer’s block? What to do when you already have writer block?

Tricks to Recovering From Writer’s Burn Out

First, I want to define burn out for those who are new to the discussion. It is that point when you are tired, when have no interest in your work and future work only seems to make it worse, and when doing your work becomes harder and harder to do until you don’t even want to see it again. Burn out is like any virus, once you contract it, it can become dilapidating and if not treated, difficult to recover from.

There are a few tricks I’ve learned over the years to keep myself from catching writer burn out and recover from it when I don’t catch it in time. They might require some fundamental changes to your routine depending on your life.

9 Tricks to Help Recover from Writer Burn Out

1) Take a vacation. This one is my favorites, but this one doesn’t mean that you have to leave the state, go camping, or plan an elaborate retreat. It just means that you step away from your work. You can go somewhere else, go to a café with a friend, take your kids to the park, be lazy, get some house or yard work finished, watch a movie/TV/Anime, walk around, relax, take a drive, and/or read a book. Sometimes just a change of scenery can make all the difference.

2) Take care of yourself. This is one I need to work on. There are never enough hours in my day, and I’m constantly going from one project to another without stopping to breathe. I’m learning that I have to take care of myself and my talent, I’m healthier physically and emotionally, which makes me better able to be cope with stress, be happy, and less likely to burn out. Sometimes taking care of ourselves just means taking a step away and relaxing.

3) Accept Failure. Not only is no one perfect, but what fun is perfection. Failure is where you learn and grow. It is the stick by which you can judge your progress. And one person’s failure, can be another person’s success…or at least the path to success.

4) Join a support group or Find a Writing Partner. For more information look up support groups or read my article on Writing Partners at

5) Be careful of criticism. We need to learn to handle criticism as writers, however, during the creative process you don’t need a critic sitting on your shoulder. Let your creativity have free reign at the beginning stages and criticism at the later stages, once you have revised and edited your work. Another tip, give your work to someone you can trust to give you an honest opinion and constructive criticism.

6) Find your balance. Don’t overload yourself with too much work. Take a break. Explore new venues. Change topics, scenes, and even genres. Spend time with your family. Whatever you need to do to find balance in your life and your writing. Even if that means taking a little more time to write.

7) Explore your reasons. Writer’s burn out for a reason, figure out why it happened to you. Every situation is different. Try to identify the problems and work to improve them. A good way to do this is through guided journaling or free-writing. Figure out what matters to you and how to get it. Remember, writing about problems is a different process than talking it out or thinking about them.

8) What’s your motivation? Are you an extrinsic motivator or intrinsic motivator? If you are an extrinsic motivator, then you are motivated by things that come outside of yourself, deadlines, other people’s evaluations of your writing, or the need to pay the electric bill. However, if you are a intrinsic motivator, then you are motivated by things inside you, challenges you make for yourself, self-made deadlines, finding pleasure in your work.

9) Change it up. The best way I’ve found to overcome writer’s burn out is to write something just for you. Trying different forms of writing.

Creative people hit the point eventually where they feel tired and can’t find any interest in their work. If you have experienced writer’s burn out and wish to add anything, please comment. What are some ways you have employed to recover from burn out? Or keep yourself from falling victim to burn out?