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Three steps to winning NaNoWriMo

A couple of weeks ago LifeHacker posted a three steps Systematic Approach to solve just about any problem. Except for the bizarre example of how to find a missing leg, I thought overall it was pretty framework for doing stuff.

The three steps in the article are surmised as:

  1. Understand the problem.
  2. Create a plan.
  3. Keep yourself motivated.

The article inspired me to write a post about the three steps in the context of writing a NaNoWriMo winning novel. So, here it is.

1: Understand the problem

A big problem with novel writing is that there are a lot of misconceptions. It's important to understand what novel writing is, and what novel writing isn't.

A novel is a lot of hard work, and nothing, even inspiration or constructive feedback will make it easy. It's a marathon that, at times, you need to force yourself through.

That said, writing a novel is a lot more fun than you might think. It's a fantastic voyage to meet the characters who inhabit your creative subconcious, and it's worth taking at least once, even if the end result is completely unreadable. It's the journey, not the destination, that's important.

However, a novel is not going to be good, no matter how hard you try, on it's first draft. Even when written by an experienced author. If Stephen King says that the first draft of anything is always shit, you'd better believe it. As the official NaNoWriMo guide "No plot? No problem!" (NPNP) suggests, you need to learn to "turn off your inner editor".

Writers block is not a legitimate excuse not to write. A talk by Charlie Higson I attended made me realise how lame the Writers block excuse is, it's akin to a Plumber claiming "Plumber's block", or someone using "Jogger's block" as an excuse not to go for a run in the morning. Good inspiration won't always be there, but it won't come back by doing nothing at all.

You will need to make sacrifices. In order to reach the 50,000 words in a month, you'll almost certainly need to limit your access to TV and the Internet.

2: Create a plan

Once you've fully understood the issues around writing a novel in a month, you can begin to plan it. Break up the 50,000 words into 30 days, that's 1,666 words per day, and make sure you can easily find out what the daily total is for any day. I did this by writing each daily total on a calendar.

Although NPNP suggests that you simply write freeform without worrying about the overarching story, I have personally found basic planning with The Snowflake Method to be enourmously helpful in constructing scaffolding around the story.

If you can make what seems to be a plausible plan on paper, you may be able to do it. If it's not possible for you to do that simple task, there's no way in hell it's going to work in reality.

3: Keep yourself motivated

Keeping motivated is the hardest part, approximately 80% of the people who attempt NaNoWriMo year on year fail.

Make sure you aim to keep at least ahead of your daily target every day, and reward yourself for success. Watching a TV show might be a good reward, and NPNP suggests that you should do this anyway as research for story structure.

Also use 'negative motivators' where possible. Constantly tell people about how you're going to write a novel, so you can suffer their humilation if you don't. NPNP suggests that you should offer to donate to a political cause you dislike, if you fail to win. (I wonder if GOP donations spike about the end of November..)

Keep remembering how great it'll feel to tell people that yes, you have written a novel and you are a legitimate novelist.

Sometimes, the motivation just isn't there, and there's nothing you can really do to help it. You just have to force yourself to keep going.


Well, that's it! Hope what I had to say is helpful to someone, somewhere. Maybe I'll do this again for game development.



Sam (not verified)

I notice no-one has commented on this so I will quickly say: I really appreciated it. Thanks!

Earok's picture
Joined: 02/06/2009

Cheers Sam, glad I could write something you found interesting :)

hydra9's picture
Joined: 05/24/2009

Hehe, you've written plenty of stuff I've found interesting and informative!

Earok's picture
Joined: 02/06/2009