NaNoWriMo #17: Learn From Others Who Have Been Down This Road

Today’s tip: read the comments below (click on COMMENTS to get ’em). 

If you’re one of the first here, check back later when those comments arrive… after (please) reading the next paragraph.

YOU ARE INVITED TO OFFER YOUR BEST NaNoWriMo ADVICE to other writers… here (add your comment to this post).

There are many ways to skin this little kitty.  I’m covering basics and core competencies and “toolbox” stuff… but others have a treasure trove of experitential gold to offer, especially regarding word count progress, staying focused and staying the course.

So let us hear from you. 

And thanks for playing.

Also, if you have specific NaNoWriMo-related questions and concerns, fire ’em off, too.

How are you doing with the planning process?


Filed under NaNoWriMo

33 Responses to NaNoWriMo #17: Learn From Others Who Have Been Down This Road

  1. I understand the goal of high word count per day/week/month, but a word count is the least important part of writing for me. I worry about such things after the first draft.

    Having said that, I wish everyone the best of luck. If I had any useful advice to offer, I’d give it.

  2. Reama Chen

    At the end of the day, stop writing in the middle of a scene. Sentence, even. That way when you come back to it the next day you’ll be able to jump right in without worrying about what to write. Alternatively, have a plan for exactly what you’ll be writing the next day at the end of the day.

  3. My best advice is get involved in your regional NaNo. I figure regulars of Storyfix have the resources they need to get the story planned and written, the next step is to go to write-ins, meet the people in your area who are embarking on this crazy journey, and enjoy it. I’m lucky, my region is awesome. Downright awesome. I hope yours is, too.

  4. Embrace peer pressure. I make public statements on my blog, on social media and to my family and friends, telling them I will complete 50,000 words in one month.

    I am too embarrassed to fail, thanks to the public declaration.

    I also utilize pre-planning/outlining, periodic bribes (including a full body massage for winning), social write ins, and social media report cards. But the most effective trick is to remove Wi-Fi and the internet from my laptop during November.

    Good luck to the all the WriMos.

  5. roulettec

    Turn your internal editor off. Let your brain get lost in the story and just type. Your characters will “take the story over” and will take you places that you never imagined you could go. (You are being too controlling and rigid if you don’t let this happen at least once!) They will cause wonderful complications and plot twists that will enrich your story like you could never have planned. Use your outline to get you on track for a fresh day or if you get lost. A lot of regions host chat rooms where they conduct word words. They give you a prompt and you write as fast as you can for 10 to 15 minutes. Last year I got a wonderful conflict out of the prompt “feather duster.” Even if I don’t end up using this scene in rewrite (though it turned out great), it gave me dimension to my characters that I’ll use elsewhere.
    Winner ’07, ’08, ’09 ’10

  6. roulettec

    “word wars”

  7. Have enjoyed “Story Engineering” since February. The method is reliable and the structure quickly gets to something interesting to read as well as write about. Also have read “101 Slightly Unpredictable Tips” which continues to be a good prompt. These are obviously a contrast to “No Plot? No Problem!” by the nanowrimo originator Chris Baty.

    After writing a dozen such drafts, there seem to be goals based on genres including scifi, mystery, thriller and horror so far. Used a handwritten notepad for about a week which yielded a typed manuscript in about three more. Started out with methodology of appending notes, each usually around five-hundred words or more, then sorting into an outline and filling it in while thinking about cause and meaning. Each person may have a chance at playing hero, and the author an exercise in building a world around them. Notes are added to each part for balance like a triptych having a double-wide middle. Material is added and revision left for afterward so that the story is told numerous times from different perspectives and looks a bit like metafiction.

  8. Here’s my best tip. Instead of trying to make 1,667 on the first day and fold up, try to make a strong start. Block as much time on November 1st as you can – do a midnight start if you don’t have spouse or family reasons to be in bed earlier. Try to get as far ahead as you can on the first excited rush of effort.

    Then for the next couple of days while enthusiasm is running high, keep up the momentum of your strong start. Count off the “virtual days” you’ve bought yourself for later on during the month when Life Happens and you might fall short. Either you’ll get ahead and stay ahead through the whole thing to get a Purple Bar before the final day (or a longer book), or you’ll be very glad you had those “virtual days” making up for it later on.

    The key to writing more in a day is to just spend more hours at it. This isn’t about trying to write 3,000 words in an hour. It’s more about slamming the keys for three or four hours or more on the first few days so that you’re well ahead. It is always easier to keep up the momentum of “I’m way ahead, I’m doing great at this” than it is to look at the week and go “Ack, I’m three days behind, I’ll never catch up.”

    So there’s my tip. Don’t cheat yourself, just get ahead as early as you can because life does happen.

  9. Curtis

    I used NaNo to resurrect my writing from twenty years of life in a “suit.” With our individual word count graphed and posted daily to the region website it became a blistering competition.

    It worked. A month of imagination powered by adrenaline coupled to a don’t hold back wild and free and crazy writing spree was a blast. Thanks. I needed that.

    My story? The setting remained constant. The time frame remained steady. There was a story line. But characters piled up and competed for the top spot. It became a juxtaposition of humor and grief orchestrated by central casting. Well, what would you expect from a title like Rooster Town.

    No plot No problem. Characters met chaos on a timeline. Hot dog. Are we having fun yet?

    Would I repeat that four week core dump? Nope. Not without idea, concept, log line, set up, inciting incident, FPP, midpoint, SPP, and resolution plus the companion beat sheet all in a fairly tidy stack.

    Meaning when I look at the Binder in Scrivener, I should be able to report, ” Ghost Rider, the pattern is full.” Otherwise, all I will do is bust the tower.

    I’ve seen to many movies and read to many novels with copywrites 1963 and forward since finding this blog that fill the bill. I still haven’t found a commercially successful movie/book that doesn’t support Larry’s premise. I’m long since done with the argument.

    P.S. Be Prepared…. If this is your first NaNo and you are not a full time writer i.e. you pay the bills with it. –It is possible you will discover just how foggy folks around you are about writing and its purpose. Especially after about a week and you have wrecked every routine in the your world. All the planning in the world won’t change that. 🙂

  10. boingboing

    Finding it daunting to try to carve 2 hours out of your day to write?

    Instead of trying to write your 1667 all in one go, consider writing in shorter time increments. Then do several a day when you have that shorter time available until the word count is achieved.

    And don’t sacrifice a good story with the race to 50k. It’s better to have 50K of solid writing and not have a finished novel than to have 50K of spaghetti mess that now needs more work to untangle but have ‘finished’.

  11. Hey gang,

    I have been writing n/f books since 1994. I got lucky and got published right away and that started my obsession with writing better and better books. I never bothered to publish my third book, and in fact it so many ways it is incomplete, and now dated, but it is a treasure of help for writing–and it is free. I wrote it for myself really and did some fun illustrations (I am absolutely NOT an artist it turns out) to make it more readable.

    It is a series of techniques to get your book out of your head and on paper, and help you when you get lost, stuck, bored, depressed, or feel like you are a failure and people are laughing at you for wanting to write. You can have it–free, of course, there is no catch, no gimmick–if it helps you during NaNoWriMo.…2weeks.pdf

    I find that when I get stuck it helps to pull out this book and do the exercises, as silly or banal as they seem (even to me, the author). It was designed for n/f books but the core techniques work amazingly well for character development and scene breakdown, even plot analysis. Anyway, it is free, hope it helps. Please don’t try to call me or write, the phone number and the address are from 2002 I think. I have no idea who lives there now 🙂

  12. William Greeley

    Here is a plotting method that I got from Bernard Grebanier’s “Playwriting.” It does not work for everyone:

    A story is about the relationship between two characters, the central character and a second character. The turning point is an action the central character takes on a third character that changes his relationship with the second character.

    For instance, “Hamlet” is about Hamlet and Claudius. The turning point comes when Hamlet kills Polonius; until then Hamlet pursues Claudius, but after Hamlet kills Polonius, Claudius pursues Hamlet.

    In “Romeo and Juiet”, when Romeo kills Tybalt, his relationship with Juliet is doomed.

    In “Cyrano de Bergerac,” when Cyrano stops De Guiche from interrupting Roxanne and Christian’s marriage, Cyrano will never win Roxanne for himself.

  13. P.S. I had given up on that book and shelved it when years later I went to a $700 a ticket seminar in Las Vegas only to find out this guy was using the same exact techniques! Well, my presentation was more fun (and dilly). So you can save yourself $700 and just download the PDF. I own the copyright but that doesn’t mean I am intending on selling this information any time soon.

  14. Flávia Denise

    I’m following every advice you are giving to the letter and after years of wanting to write – and being too scared to put pen on paper – I’m finding myself dreaming of the story and how to solve its problems.

    The thing is, the more I plan the story, the more I realize that I have only plans for the main character and after the First Plot Point I get a bit of a blank space, where I imagine other characters should have space. I don’t really know how to solve that. Should I just wait and write this part as it comes to mind when I reach this point? Or should I make an effort to decide it right now?

    PS: not American, not writing in English, forgive any mistakes.

  15. Fiona

    I use Write or Die. I set my target (time and words) and then just let it all hang out. No editing, no reading just hammering out the words.
    Pausing to think makes the screen start to go red which pushed you to get going again.
    As said above, let the characters take you to places you never thought of. I was running out of steam last year with 2000 words to go and all of a sudden I was off in a completely new direction which has laid the foundation for this year’s book.
    I love the pressure and focus of writing for a month. It works for me.

  16. Flavia, last year I did nano, and my notes for the novel’s plot (as opposed to the society, world building, and characters) were pretty sketchy. I nonetheless completed the novel and Nano. This year I have more notes for plot — scene outlines, even. We’ll see how closely the completed novel tracks to these. All I can say is, “whatever works.” For me, I make as many notes as I’m able to make. Can’t hurt, right? So what if I end up tossing them or deviating from them or whatever. What I’m aiming to do is get my mind churning about the novel. However I do that is all to the good.

    My take on this is that the more structure I have going in, the less revising I’ll have to do later. Your mileage may vary.

  17. Trudy

    please do not send you NaNo work to a publisher without re-reading, re-writing several times, editing and proofing, etc.

  18. Aside from pre-planning is this — practice writing a little bit every day. If you’re not used to writing something other than the occasional email or whatever at work, November can seem rather daunting. Any new hobby is in the beginning. Or if you’re returning after taking a break.

    I’m having to get myself warmed up and back into the habit because I haven’t done much writing since things went south on me earlier this year. My mind just wasn’t in a good place to write about some fictional person/place … so I stopped and picked up a ball of yarn and a crochet hook (and have had a hard time putting them down) 🙂

    Figure out what kind of environment you can work in before November. Do you need to work in a void of people/pets/noise? Are you one who can tune everything out and write no matter where you are? Make sure the people around you know what’s going on, and what to expect from you while in writing mode. If they don’t know they should leave you alone for a set aside writing time, it’s rather stupid to get angry with them as the month goes on.

    I’m still attempting to train my husband to not talk to me while I’m typing. He’s getting better about it, but he still loves to interrupt while I’m in the middle of a sentence.

    Don’t force it. If you find yourself staring at the keyboard wondering where your brain has gone – stop. Get up and move around the house a bit. Play with those action figures sitting on a shelf — crank up some funky music and jam and jiggle for a few minutes — stand staring at the jumbled mess that is in the pantry cupboards — anything but worry about your story idea or word count.

    A five to ten minute break can make a world of difference and get you past staring at a blinking cursor on the screen.

    Set your own goals. If your goal is the base Nano daily word count, go for it. If you need more of a challenge – don’t hold yourself back. Figure out a reward system for yourself and earn that candy bar or whatever you’re going for.

    I sat down before my first nano to figure out how many words I could do in a day (around 5000 if everything goes to plan) and so every Nano I have a personal goal of 50K in 10 days. Last year I ended up a couple of days off because family surprised me with a weekend visit. Certainly not everyone is like this, but I honestly prefer getting the word count out of the way so I can concentrate on finishing my story.

    Most of all? Have fun. Sure Nano is a bunch of work…but it doesn’t have to be a soul sucking grind. If you’re not having fun along with the occasional moment of frustration it can be harder to get to the end.

  19. Michael

    I’ve finished NaNoWriMo four times in four years. My first effort was totally pantsed (and reads that way), and each effort has been more planned (and subsequently a better first draft). Listen to Larry.
    Suggestion #1: Arrive prepared (AKA have a plan).
    Suggestion #2: Work steadily and consistently, set time aside each day to write – and write.
    Suggestion #3: Start each day of writing with the last paragraph from yesterday. A blank screen can be petrifying.
    Suggestion #4: When in doubt, over-describe, you can always cut prose later.
    Suggestion #5: Be nice to loved ones, it’s a difficult month for them as well.
    Suggestion #6: Keep to the plot, but let your characters breathe and stretch their muscles.
    Suggestion #7: Do not edit. There is no backspace on the keyboard for 30 days. It won’t be perfect. Get over it.
    Suggestion #8: Don’t forget to have fun with the process.

  20. I’ve found that having an outline is a HUGE help to keep you going when you get stuck. If the current scene you are writing stalls out, skip ahead! Even skip to the ending, if that is what excites you! There is no “NaNo” police. There is no one who will say “hey, that didn’t count as part of your 50k” when you take a break from a scene to type down some notes to yourself about another scene, or another character.

    As a suggestion to Flavia Denise, who asked this question above: “after the First Plot Point I get a bit of a blank space, where I imagine other characters should have space. I don’t really know how to solve that.” – try thinking of a character that would have the MOST conflict with your main character. Then pretend you are your MC writing in her/his journal or diary after meeting this new character for the first time. Then switch roles and write a journal entry from the new character’s point of view. I count these journal entries as part of my 50k (though I might type them in a different font and eventually move them to a different document). Like I said, there is no NaNo police.

    I have found that character development is not something I’m very successful at in the planning stage. The characters’ quirks come to me when I start to write. As others have said much better than me in earlier comments, let your characters take you on a wild ride. Don’t hold back. Don’t try to control them, even if they break your outline. Outlines can and should be revised during the writing process.

  21. It’s important to remember, just because you write a book in one month, doesn’t mean you will have a finished product sooner. NaNo is simply a different method of writing, but in the end, it still requires a lot of time and work perfecting the draft.

    Best advice: turn off your internal editor. You have to just keep typing and let the words flow. When I feel words coming out that probably won’t be used in the final draft, I highlight them or put then in parenthesis. That way I still get the word count, but I know where I need to start in my revisions.

    Keep ahead of schedule.

  22. If you are in the middle of a novel, can you still play? I don’t want to stop writing the novel I’m working on to begin a new one, but want to continue with my current novel.


  23. Heather — you can be what they call a Nano Rebel. Which I think is more than acceptable and is part of Nano — even has its own little section on the forums.

    So there’s nothing wrong with keeping going instead of starting over with something new just for one month. 🙂

  24. Emily

    This will be my fifth NaNoWriMo, and I am psyched!

    –Get your word count in BEFORE you head to the forums!

    –Fiona mentioned it already, but I also use and highly recommend Write or Die by Dr. Wicked (

    –What makes or breaks me: pretending I still love my story after week two. Every year, I hit a point in my writing (about the middle to end of week two…) where I think, this sucks–why did I ever start writing about it? And hundreds of new ideas suddenly pop in my head. If I let myself think about the new ideas, I go ADD and abandon my story and lose… BUT if I convince myself that it’s okay to just pretend I love it for a bit and keep going, then in a few days, I hit the downhill slide, I actually do love it again, and I realize those imposter ideas really sucked. Like whoa.

    –My final two cents: Have fun! And don’t be too hard on yourself; think of a reasonable goal for yourself and decide to do slightly better. Larry holds aspiring professional writers to a very high standard (as he should!), but if you are new to NaNoWriMo, and especially if you are new to writing, churning out a manuscript that is two tweaks from perfect may not be the ideal goal. Generally, my goal is to do better than last year in some way. Since in my first year I quit only a few thousand words into the thing, my second year goal was to finish a whole story. And I did! It sucked, but I was still brand new to writing, so I considered it a success. I’ve pantsed and planned, had good stories and bad, but the only one I regret writing is the one I didn’t finish. So go easy on yourself, get caught up in the frenzy, and finish strong!

  25. @Emiily — well put, thanks. L.

  26. Annie

    My tips:

    Wordcount spreadsheet. Generally mine have columns for 50K and 100K (arbitrary book-length milestone), and conditional formatting/color-coding for days ahead/days behind. But then I like playing with Excel. The spreadsheet works for me because I get competitive — if I’m ><that close to the next milestone, or the next day ahead, or whatever, I'm more likely to go for it rather than quit for the day.

    Good sleep, good food, exercise. Physical burnout mid-month doesn't help anyone.

    NaNo-isms (see the "NaNoWriMo Ate My Soul" board on the forums). Defined as a cross between a typo and a grenade. Don't edit as you go, but grab any NaNo-isms you notice and keep a list of them. Or read the forum thread. I find it impossible to get through that thread without literally LOL.

    For me, prep is essential…and structure's the big thing I'm missing so far (4 NaNos in). So now I'm playing catch-up, reading here!

  27. Linda Wilson

    I am a children’s writer finding Larry’s advice invaluable for my mystery series. Lately, each day I refer to Larry’s NaNoWriMo emails and also glance through his book, “Story Engineering,” as a prompt before writing to keep my story architecture/structure fresh in mind. I keep a story blueprint from children’s writer Kristen Wolden Nitz that she calls the “Step Outline” on my bulletin board as an additional help:
    Act I: Set-Up
    Turning Point/story takes new direction/challenge revealed
    ActII: Problem Intensifies
    Temporary Triumph
    Darkest Moment
    Decision Time
    Act III: Final obstacle

  28. Andrew

    Tip #1: Avoid using large prepositional phrases and consecutive adjectives to push your word count for the day. I did this one year with the idea of building a large rock from which to later chisel a sculpture. It didn’t work. I spent almost as long on the first edit just removing all the garbage writing I used to push the word count. And that was a lot less fun.

    Tip #2: You don’t have to write consecutive chapters. If you’ve thought your story through to the end, write the important chapters first, in any order you prefer. It helps keep your momentum strong if you can skip over a difficult hurdle and return to it later. Plus it buys your subconscious time to marinate on the harder parts.

  29. Use tools like Dr. Wicked’s Write of Die and hit the “disable backspace” switch. It was amazing how much my productivity soared when I couldn’t correct mid-sentence.

    Make a typo? Rewrite the word. Sentence not sound right? try it again. Often the rewrite ends up sounding better than the first version did anyway.

    But whatever you do, however you do it – DON’T EDIT! Don’t even fix the typos. Even that sort of critique will shift you from right-brain-creative mode to left-brain-critical mode and slow you down.

  30. I’ve been writing in NaNo for a few years, and each year I learn vastly more than I did the year before. How you approach it is up to you, and what works for one writer might not work for the next. Certainly, my “rule zero” advice is *try*. Try the unexpected, take chances, change up your environment or your story, and embrace what might feel hard. Writing is safely risky. You can throw a roadblock in front of your main character, put together story elements unexpectedly (lab coats, murders, your daughter’s high school, and Catholic spies) to produce amazing things. Imagine, and let yourself go.

    The word count is a horizon rather than an iron clad destination. Nanowrimo’s greatest emphasis for me is *completion* of a story. A story by definition has beginning, middle, end, with high points and resolution. Stories stopping midway or lacking these things truly suck.

    Writing may be a solitary craft but Nano needn’t be. Many writing groups form during November, some of them (like mine) lasting year-round and others spontaneous. There are group write-ins, which produce enormous energy and enthusiasm or might give you the break to a block. Then there’s the online aspect, including the lively Nano forums and websites like this. Don’t be afraid to reach out, explore, be inspired and inspire in turn.

    Be mercenary with your time. With myriad distractions and responsibilities, writing falls to the wayside for many of us who are employed full-time, students, parents, pet owners, homeowners. We are often besieged on all sides by numerous demands which can be so much more appealing than sticking out writing when we’re frustrated or so much more loud when we’re trying to carve out a little time to make word count. Writing deserves equal importance to chores and family time. Let your loved ones, coworkers, and acquaintances know what you are in the midst of in November. Be kind and gentle, but firm. If you commit to two hours in the morning daily to write, then use those two hours to write. Turn off the phone, ignore the yoga class, let others worry about making breakfast or vacuuming or dropping off the mail. Disconnect yourself from the Internet, shut the door, put your headphones on. Whatever it takes to write, not do the stuff about writing, but /writing./ Don’t be ashamed for making time this month for an important venture.

  31. These are great suggestions! I just have one more to add. Back up your writing. It breaks my heart when I hear stories of writers losing their entire novels in a hard drive crash. And no matter how bad you think your novel is (and as a two time Nano winner, I assure you I have written some bad novels!) there will be passages where you think, “I wrote THAT?”
    So, especially during Nano when I often write until my eyes fall shut from exhaustion, it is important to remember to make not just one copy, but a few. Personally, I went to online backup, and suggest Dropbox as a free solution.
    Thanks for doing this series, by the way, Larry. I am saving these in my email for future reference. Maybe you could consider consolidating them into a short manual? A Nano guide for planners?

  32. Karl

    I just found today and am reading the NaNoWriMo posts to get ready for my third foray into November insanity. Both of my previous trips into NaNo were done by planning, not pantsing, but I never did any of the planning on paper. It was all in my head. For my first NaNo, my original idea was a single scene, a meeting between what ended up being the two main characters of the novel. That scene had been in my head for over two years and I didn’t know what to do with it. It was actually the pressure of the NaNoWriMo start date that cooked that one scene into a story with a plot and conflict and plot points and everything else that you describe, all within a matter of a couple of days. The vast majority of the story and the characters and the plot points, et cetera, came to me in a blinding flash. I even knew exactly what the last scene of the novel would be in that blinding flash. My biggest NaNo problem is that I don’t type very fast (20wpm) and finding enough time to write 50K words in a month is thus difficult. You would think that my job as a physician would leave me with plenty of spare time….

    Unconciously I seem to see and use the very structure that I see you laying out in these blog posts. But it is a great help to see it spelled out so precisely and specifically. I will be buying a copy of Story Engineering shortly. But not till December; can’t let reading take up NaNo time!

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