How to Survive NaNo


NaNoWriMo can be insane. Writing 50,000 words in a month? 12,500 words a week? 1,667 words a day? As well as working two jobs, learning Spanish, reading a few books and having a life? Just, how does one do it?


Just put one word after the other until you reach 2,000. Repeat every day.

This is pretty much the ethos of NaNo. Write. Anything. It doesn’t have to read well, it doesn’t have to make sense, it doesn’t have to be perfect. So long as there are words on the screen/page in front of you, you can make it perfect later.

I’m usually a night-owl writer, I think that I come up with my best phrases late in the evening. My brain just seems more creative then. However, leaving writing 2,000 words until late in the day isn’t the best technique for getting ahead with NaNo, so this year I’ve decided to make it the first thing I do. If I only manage 1,000, then I still have the rest of the day to add to it, and if I do hit 2,000 then I can skip off to town or work feeling like I’ve already achieved something that day.


Like I said before, food is pretty important. In my previous post on this subject, I made it sound a little like NaNo was synonymous with house-arrest and encouraged stocking up on snacks prior to the month itself. Of course you can leave your house to go foraging, but if you’re half-way through an epic exposition when you crave a crumpet, toddling down to the corner shop is going to throw you off your plot lines. So MAKE SURE you have crumpets, biscuits, bagels or grapes on hand. Anything you can eat holding in one hand is best, none of this cutlery lark. Eat with one hand, type with the other.

Dealing with People during this Fragile stage in your Life

Unless you live, eat, sleep and work with other writers, no-one will understand you. Try not to use phrases like ‘But Avril just WON’T fall in love with Terence! I’m doing everything I can, but she’s drawn to Stephanie. And Stephanie just wants to be on the five year mission to Mars and I think this might be over the head of most of the 12 year olds I was aiming the novel at…’ when you talk with non-NaNoers, because they will say things like “But…you’re the author. Don’t you write them? You get to say what they do, right?” And other completely unhelpful things. Stick to uncontroversial topics such as politics and religion (who knows, you might find a plot in there somewhere). The forums are the best place to go to discuss NaNo, since everyone there is in the same rapidly sinking boat you are, and will completely understand your lack of plot issues. Generally, I avoid people when I write.

When I was writing my dissertation I made a ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign which I used for three days straight. If you go down this route, use it wisely. If the sign is up all the time, people will eventually disregard it. Get the bulk of your writing done at times when people are less likely to disturb you and use the sign for emergencies. If you’re unsure about this and think there may be something important enough to disturb you for, then you’re in the wrong profession.

The Internet

This is a wonderful tool for research but don’t touch that browser when you’re writing. If you don’t know something, jot it down and keep writing. Designate a certain time (word count or time length) for writing and don’t double check Facebook or hang out on the NaNo Forums or even google ’18th century toilets’. It will interrupt your flow and knock you out of your voice.


But…wisely. Spending hours and hours staring at a computer screen or blank piece of paper wondering where the words are doesn’t help anybody. So, procrastinate. Cut your own hair, go buy a newspaper, make a seventh cup of tea in fifteen minutes, rearrange your desk, blow your nose, delouse the dog (by day 32, you’ll want to) or throw an impromptu writer’s block party. Then sit back down, stare at the blank screen, and wonder where the words have gone.

I like to procrastinate when I’m writing by eating crumpets and picking my split-ends. It’s an almost completely valid reason to stand around the kitchen for seven minutes, waiting for them to toast, buttering them, eating them…Mini-breaks like this are great and often the next sentence or solution to that thorny plot problem will jump out of the toaster at you just because you’re not straining your brain for more words.


Music choice is pretty important when you’re writing. I know some people prefer music without any lyrics, so that they don’t get distracted and I totally agree with that, except I prefer my music with lyrics. Generally, I listen to songs I know back to front so that I’m not consciously aware of the words and just let the sounds wash over me. The genre and pace of music might depends on the genre and pace of your piece, faster paced music for action scenes, Classical music for a historical novel etc. You might want to listen to tunes your main character likes, to get you into their head a bit more. Or, you might prefer to write in silence.


I’ll probably be throwing some more tips n tricks out there as I come across them in my struggle to get done. I’ve already started blowing my nose from sheer procrastination…It’s not too late to join in, by the way! Just head on over and sign up, then write six thousand words tomorrow to play catch-up, or four thousand tonight.

Good luck to anyone else attempting this!



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