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Credit: (c) Beth Anderson 2013

NaNoWriMo? What on earth is that?

NaNoWriMo (NaNo for short) stands for National Novel Writing Month and the idea is for participants to write an entire novel in the month of November. Minimal, if any, planning beforehand and nothing written before you start: just what you can write in the month of November.

It’s broken down into 1,667 word chunks, so you need to write 1,667 words every single day (or 2,381 words if you’re just working weekdays – 5,556 if you’re only working weekends!) starting at midnight on 1st November. By 30th November you’ll have a 50,000 word book! 

That sounds like a lot of work. Why would I bother?

All too often life gets in the way of writing. Between the day job, nights out with friends or days out with family and social networking, it’s hard to remember to make time to write. Sometimes fear of the blank page is so bad that even housework seems more enthralling. 

NaNoWriMo reminds us that no one is ever going to make the time for us. We have to do it for ourselves, and we have to do it now.

Now? But November is such a busy month!

Yes - now! Thanksgiving may be looming for those in America, Christmas may be approaching for everyone who celebrates it, and it’s getting dark and cold – but it’s still possible to carve out time to write.

But surely a novel written this quickly can’t possibly be any good?

Too many writers put pressure on themselves to write a perfect first draft and, as a result, are too intimidated to even start or quickly get disheartened. And if you’re working on something and trying to make it really excellent at the same time, there’s a good chance you’re going to end up with some truly awful prose.

But by giving yourself permission to write badly, to write prose that you would be ashamed to come out with? You free your mind to experiment. To try things you’d normally be too scared to try. And amongst all the painful prose and dreadful dialogue, you might just find that you’ve got something that you can revise into an actual novel.

Most NaNo novels never see the light of day. But some do!  Water for Elephants: A Novel and The Night Circus both started life as NaNo novels.

And it’s something you can cross off your bucket list!

OK, I’m convinced. So how can I make sure I finish?

I’ve attempted NaNo four times in the past and never won. Why? Basically because I’ve let myself get distracted and persuaded myself I can catch up! But catching up is a lot harder than it might seem.

Here are my top five tips to make sure you successfully write 50,000 words before 30th November!

5 Put down your books, your iPhone and the internet

While you’re reading, playing Angry Birds or talking on facebook, you are not adding words to your story. You might even need to disconnect your laptop or phone from your internet connection to keep you going.  It’s hard, but when you manage to finish and validate your novel at 11.30pm on 30th November you’ll be glad you did!

But if you’re really finding it hard to write even one more word try logging onto the NaNo forums to get some encouragement or inspiration. Look for a challenge and join in. This might be ‘write 500 words in the next ten minutes’ or ‘write a scene including a fight between a fireman, a rabbi and a goth’. If you’re writing a spy thriller or a romance, it might be quite a challenge to work that into your book (and if you plan to revise your novel and try and sell it afterwards you’ll have to remember to take it out first!) but if it helps you get up to your word count and inspires you to get back to your main story, it’s worth it!

4 Get your family and friends on board

Tell them what you’re up to! Try and get them excited about your plan. If they will help by providing you with pre-prepared meals/cleaning your kitchen so you don’t have to stop and cook or clean, so much the better! But if nothing else, they will at least stop trying to drag you away from the computer when the words are flowing and you just want to be left alone (or, for that matter, when you’re feeling uninspired and almost ready to throw in the towel!).

3 Write every single day

Every single day. For the whole of November. No excuses! If you know you’ve got a really busy day coming up, get up early or stay up late. Think about what you’re going to write when you have a spare minute to make sure it flows easier when you finally do sit down. Even if you can only write ten words, do it. Ten words are better than none. NaNo is all about quantity, not quality – at least during the month of November. You can revise whatever you’ve written after you’ve finished!

2 Try to get ahead as early as you can, and don’t ever fall behind

If you write 1,800 words every single day you’ll finish your book two whole days early. If you write 2,000 words a day you’ll finish five days early! If you’re 5,000 words ahead and something does go wrong, meaning that you can’t manage to write one day, it’s not the end of the world. But if you already missed a day or two, you’ll really struggle to catch up.

There are spreadsheets that will produce fancy graphs to help you track your progress, and if you fall behind they’ll tell you just how much you need to write every day to catch up. But the easiest way to make sure you hit your target is to make sure you write 1,667 words every single day. At least.

1 It’s not over till it’s over

I know; I only just said that it’s really hard to make up lost time, but stories abound on the NaNo forums of writers who have only found the site on November 25th or missed a whole fortnight in the middle of the month and still managed to win. It’s far from the easiest way to do it, but it’s possible to just keep on writing until you’re done.

It’s harder if you have small children or elderly relatives to care for, or a demanding job, or if you’re committed to another hobby. But all it really boils down to a saying you’ll find repeated in various formats on the NaNo forums – “Butt in chair, fingers on keyboard”. If you don’t sit down and start typing, you’re not going to meet your target.

Believe in yourself – you can do it! Good luck!