How to Win NaNoWriMo 50k for Busy People (15 Tips)

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So, on the final day of last month, I did something crazy and impulsive. I joined Camp NaNoWriMo and set myself the goal of writing 50,000 words of a horror novel in 30 days. That’s right, 30 days. 

If you’ve never heard of NaNoWriMo, it stands for National Novel Writing Month where writers all over the world strive to hit 50,000 words of a novel or other work in progress in just 30 days. This takes place in November, but in April and July, they have Camp NaNoWriMo where you can set your own goals. Even though I’d never attempted such a challenge before, and even though I had zero time to plan, I set my goal for a full 50K. 

But I didn’t stop at just signing up for the challenge:  I announced it on social media, telling all my friends and family that they could make fun of me if I didn’t complete it, as well as having to give up caffeinated tea for a month. With that, the challenge was well and truly on.

At first I was excited and raring to go. I had this story idea and this character in my head that had been burning in the back of my mind for years, refusing to leave until I told her story. Now, I was finally going to serve her justice and bring her story to life. But when I woke up the next morning and realised it was time to actually start my project, I screamed internally and thought to myself ‘What the hell have you done?’

How was I supposed to go to work, keep the house in shape, be a parent, and write 50K of a novel in such a short time span? For those who are wondering, I’d need to write 1667 words a day.

But, you know what? I made it! And not in 30 days, but 29.

You’re probably here wondering how you can manage such a feat yourself (and you totally can!) so here’s 14 tips to give you the best chance of conquering your biggest writing goals. Note that these are what personally worked for me. We’re all on our own paths so what works for you in your life may be different. Do what works for you. 

Don’t miss a writing day if you can help it

One missed writing day will lead to more, and you’ll just end up with overwhelming word deficits to catch up on. It’s okay to write less on some days, life happens, but you’ll want to make up for it over the next day or so. Writing every day shows yourself and others that you’re on a serious mission and trains your brain to get into a routine

Prioritise your writing time

Saying yes to writing means saying no to other things, whether that’s clearing the garden, Netflix binges, videogames, or meeting up with people for long periods of time. You absolutely can and should still have some social meetups and entertainment to keep you sane, but keep meetups short and sweet, and only indulge in entertainment after you’ve met your word quota for the day.

Have a time and place to write

Something I highly recommend is to have a specific time and place you write, and do your best to keep to it. Aside from my youngest, my family understand that when I’m sat at my desk, I’m in writing mode. My brain also understands this because it associates the desk with writing, especially if it’s during a specific timeframe (usually early morning and early afternoon).

It’s best to schedule your time when you’re mentally and physically at your peak, and when you know there’s going to be least distractions and important responsibilities.

During this time, let others know that you are off limits unless it’s an emergency. I understand this is more challenging with young children, in which case you can still write when they’re playing, have someone else take on childcare duties, or wait until they’re in bed.

Learn to Write Anywhere and Everywhere

I know this contradicts the point above, but hear me out; there will be times when you’ll be unable to sit at your special writing spot, or to find a quiet moment. This is when it helps to temporarily let go of a rigid routine and write anywhere and everywhere you can. I wrote at the cafe, on my sofa, in bed, in the kitchen while cooking, even in the street when an idea hit me (always carry a notebook for that reason!).

Don’t edit as you write (Seriously, don’t)

This is one of the most important you can take away here; do not, under any circumstance, let your inner editor loose on your first draft. All first drafts are trash. Everything around you started off as an idea; a crappy, messy idea. Every book that made it to the bestsellers list started off as an unpolished mess with bits missing and bits needing to be hacked off. Editing as you go along will slow you down massively and make you feel like what you’re writing is never good enough. You’ll fall behind and you’ll get demotivated.

Save the editing for when the first draft is finished. Don’t worry about spelling mistakes, missing plot, inconsistencies, cringey dialogue, or repeating words. Just write like your life depends on it.

Don’t be afraid to move on

If there’s a section you’re stuck on, don’t be afraid to move on and write a different scene or chapter. There’s nothing worse than stewing and stressing over a part that just won’t come to you…yet. Like a marathon runner, just keep going. Keep the words coming. Sometimes, these troublesome parts can be dealt with in the editing phase, and other times the way forward will just randomly hit you at the strangest time.

Don’t worry, just write.

Take yourself and your writing seriously

Treat your writing as seriously as breathing (or something else important to you). This means that not only do you prioritise your writing time, you set boundaries with others, and you get brutal decluttering your schedule. You’ll find that when you treat your own time seriously and with respect, others will eventually do the same, but you must be consistent.

It’s no good saying you’re going to write, but then taking on favours for others, agreeing to go out for Friday night drinks, or joining your family for movie binges. Learn to say no, and mean it. Unless it’s an emergency, of course.

You need to act how you want to be treated and seen by others. So if you want to be treated like a writer, you need to act like one and align your behaviours and priorities with that.

Remember, saying yes to your writing means saying no to other things you could be doing. What’s the most important to you?

Tell everyone what you’re doing

By telling everyone what you’re doing you amp up the pressure on yourself to perform. Some people don’t do well with the added pressure, but it sure lit a fire up my butt whenever I thought of depriving myself of caffeine for a month (my announced punishment for failing) or of my friends poking fun at me for yet one more thing.

Join a writing group

Perhaps the number 1 tip I can offer is to join a writing group, preferably one that does writing sprints. The NaNoWriMo website offers plenty of these according to your local area. Writing is a solitary endeavour and it can feel even lonelier when others around you just don’t seem to get it. The people around you can even discourage you from writing, telling you it’s a waste of time (it isn’t!) and that what you’re doing is unrealistic (it isn’t!).

Writing groups stop you from getting lonely, you get to talk to others who enjoy writing as much as you do, and who understand all the writerly joys and frustrations. They’re also a great tonic for motivation as you can cheer each other along, hold each other accountable, and share ideas and problems.

No matter how introverted you are, don’t go it alone. 

Get rid of distractions

There’s a reason this advice is repeated all over the internet on writing websites, in books about writing, and in forums. Distractions will kill your writing. Research shows that every time you’re distracted it can take over twenty minutes to get back into the flow. That spells disaster for your muse and your word count.

So every time you sit down to write, put your phone on silent (even better if you keep it out of sight), block yourself from the internet, and wear a visible pair of headphones. The headphones can block out sounds around you or help you to focus with music, whilst also acting as a visual cue for others to let you be. As for the internet, there are many apps out there that will block your access, the most popular one being Freedom.

Treat yourself after reaching a milestone

You’re doing something big and awesome, so treat it as such! It’s easy to become demotivated and see all the words left to go stretching before you like a line of infinity mirrors. So make sure you celebrate with every milestone, whether that’s your favourite beverage of choice, a meal out, or a gaming binge. Just don’t celebrate so much that you fall behind and quit. Save the big celebration for the moment you cross the finish line.

Eat healthy, balanced meals

Despite popular writing advice out there saying it’s okay to stuff yourself with your favourite treats and survive off microwave meals, those foods will make you crash and sap your valuable energy, not to mention add pounds to your waistline. It’s okay to cut loose occasionally to save time, or to treat yourself after achieving a milestone, but ultimately, you need quality fuel to fire those ideas up and onto the page. If you go into a food coma, so will your project.

Instead of sugary treats, eat wholemeal snacks, fruits, nuts and seeds. They sound boring but there’s no end of things you can do to spruce it up, and they’ll make you feel great too. Oh, and don’t forget to hydrate with plenty of water. I know many writers swear by endless cups of caffeinated beverages but tea and coffee are mild diuretics so you will pee more and can become dehydrated and tired. By all means, still have your caffeine, but if you drink a lot of it, drink plenty of water alongside it.

Get plenty of exercise

It’s no secret that sitting and typing for long periods of time is catastrophic for your body and mind. In fact, studies have shown that sitting for long periods is comparable to smoking and obesity. Not only that, but a lack of exercise can cause mental health issues or contribute negatively to existing mental health conditions.

Some of my best ideas actually came to me while away from my keyboard while walking to and from work, or just while buying groceries. When you’re still for a long time, thoughts can become stagnant too, so get those steps in.  

Sit ergonomically and invest in a good office chair if you can

There’s nothing worse than completing a 30 day writing challenge feeling like you’ve been through a meat grinder. Plus, you can cause yourself permanent injury and chronic pain. No matter how lofty your writing goals, none of it is worth permanent chronic pain that will blight the rest of your days. If you can’t afford a good chair, at least make sure you’re set up and supported in a way that won’t kill your neck, back and wrists after ten minutes, and take regular breaks.

Don’t beat yourself (but don’t let yourself off the hook either)

It’s easy to beat yourself up if you don’t meet your goals, but please don’t. We’re our own worst critics, especially us writers, and sometimes life doesn’t just throw a spanner in the works but a huge cavern with a ‘do not cross’ sign. Some circumstances are serious enough to call a halt to a project, but realise that it’s called a writing challenge for a reason, and don’t give up unless you absolutely must.

Often, when you take on something important in life and start working towards big dreams and goals, the universe will test you. Something will happen to throw you off track or take up your time. In fact, it feels like the universe set it up perfectly just for giggles. But the universe actually really wants you to succeed and so I. So when that happens treat it for exactly what is it: a test. Show the universe (and yourself and others) just how serious you are and watch everything mysteriously fall into place later. Then celebrate when you cross that finish line because you didn’t give up.

Because you’re a writer, and you’ve got this!

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