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Getting Ready for NaNoWriMo? A few tips.

So, it's National Novel Writing Month again, or it will be on Sunday: to its friends, November is NaNoWriMo. The idea is that you have a month - and nearly the shortest month of the year - in which to write a complete novel. True, their target is 50,000 words, which is too short for most industry definitions of a novel for adults: the real point is that it you're planning to create a complete story - a beginning, a middle and an end. Not a notebook full of bits of scenes, not an endless tweak of the first 15,000 words, not a collection of abandoned starts: a story. There's a website, a forum, an online word-counter, downloadable certificates of achievement, and so on... and all to help you hit 11.59 on the night of 30th November, with a story finished.

I've blogged about the thinking behind NaNoWriMo before so, if you're intending to dive in on Sunday, here are some suggestions which might help to make the most of the month.

- Do lots of thinking beforehand - so you know where you're going to start, or what the big scenes will be, or where you want to end or ... anything which means that, come November 1st, you know what moment of character-in-action you are trying to get down on paper.

- Make your decisions about narrator and point-of-view, past or present tense. If they're provisional, that's fine.

- Do whatever kind of imagining-on-paper (which is what other people call planning) will be most useful, and save you having to stop mid-flow. Sketch-maps, timelines, notes of ages, lists of real-life events, collections of images, mind-maps, freewritingclusters, a planning grid or a layout in Scrivener ... all of these help.

- If you get stuck as you're going along, try playing Fortunately-Unfortunately, or thinking about where the ship is trying to get to.

- If you find you're procrastinating, some of this post might help. 

- If you find it hard to get going each day, don't start by trying to write the next sentence, but take a tip from this post: sit on your hands (as it were), work out what about the scene-in-prospect does get your creative engines firing, then micro-plan how the scene will be built. After that, writing it is only a matter of joining up those dots with actual prose.

- If you don't do any of those preliminary things, and on 20th November you hit the 30,000 word doldrums then the same imagining-on-paper things can also be used to pick yourself up, dust yourself off and get going again.

- Accept that this is a crazy first draft: the draft "for yourself". The point isn't to get it right ... yet. The point is to get it written, so you can then get it right. 

- Remember that in NaNoWriMo more (even) than any other writing month, the law of Don't Fiddle applies: decide what you're doing today, do it, and then stop. Then not only will you be adding new words, you won't be making a muddle of the existing ones.

 - Remember, on the other hand, that sometimes the best use of NaNoWriMo is to get a story out of your system, learn what the getting of that story onto paper has to teach you, and decide that's enough. 

- If you do, on 30th November, feel that this project does have some kind of resonance or potency, then don't send it out: set about writing the "second draft for your reader". NaNoWriMo is only a start. But it can be an amazing start.


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Sandra Davies

Excellent blog Emma, and I'll be returning to check out several of those links during next month. This will be my third NaNoWriMo. 2010's novel finished up as part of what is mostly a just-for-me series (available as part of an omnibus on Lulu and Amazon but never seriously pushed). 2011's has undergone ~7 rewrites and is almost ready to put out there, as are the two books that followed. Book 2 was what I took to the Self Edit course (hence further work on Book 1). Book 3 was quicker to write and better for the previous ones. Book 4 is what I'm going to use this year. Some ~40 scenes identified (AND, for once, the body, probably), one stubborn character to develop and it might be near done this time next year.
So, yes, NaNoWriMo an amazing start for me.


Yes, thank you indeed. This will be my first NaNoWriMo and i'm going in with 40,976 words and a complete plan of the end of my Novel, right down to knowing that the last sentence is dialogue and knowing who delivers it. I'm using it to finally get the job done, although moving house might effect my writing time, but I have made concessions for that. The best advice I can take from your article is "don't fiddle". This is my worst habit. I too shall be popping back on a regular basis for tips so thanks again.



Useful tips, Emma. This will be my sixth Nano and this year I plan to plan more! Save the Cat by Blake Snyder has also been recommended to me to help with the narrative arc, and I want to use all the useful stuff I used at York too.


Ah this is a fabulous and timely post, Emma. I've been running a 'shitty first draft' course this term, and encouraging all my students to join in with Nano, so will forward them a link to your blog.

Emma Darwin

So glad it hits the spot, and thanks for the referrals! Hope the students find it useful. Bon Voyage to them all!

Emma Darwin

I've heard lots of people recommend Save the Cat - must dip into it. Hopefully NaNo is a good place and time to try out new things... Best of luck with it!

Emma Darwin

You're welcome, Pinks, and best of luck with it! Not sure that NaNo's original idea was working on existing stuff, but sometimes the hardest part is finishing, so why not use it for that.

And yes - DON'T FIDDLE!!!!!!!!!

Emma Darwin

Sandra - that's brilliant that NaNo has become part of your personal long haul, as it were. Very best of luck with it this year.


I know. I'd love to go in fresh, but this is my Criminal Lines story and I have Euan and Oli waiting to read the full MS. I want to get it finished so I can do some serious editing.


Sigh...I will continue to prowl slowly through the writing week...I am not a NaNoWriMo sort of writer. I wish I was. I might get more done.

Emma Darwin

Sorry, late replying but I hope it went well!

Emma Darwin

It can look as if you get more done, but I think you have to take the long view: Nano and then a year revising, and a year spent writing the same 50k, may end up with a novel which is very similar. It just depends on what the unit of your writing-and-revising cycle is: a novel, a chapter, a scene, a paragraph, a sentence...

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