From Sarah, With Joy

*Poet * Author * Wanderluster*

Monday, November 3, 2014

5 Things To Help You Win NaNoWriMo (and any other novel)

On Halloween, writers everywhere wait anxiously around their clocks for the stroke of midnight. No, not for the arrival of witches, or ghosts, or the walking dead, but for the arrival of November.

The arrival of National Novel Writing Month.

50,000 words in a month? writers say. No problem. But a month is a long time. Long enough for distractions, for losing interest, for life to get in the way. And a month is also a short time. Short enough to make you want to tear out your hair when you realize you have 1/3 of the month left to write 2/3 of your novel.

So how to make it through this Herculean endeavor that is NaNoWriMo? There are a few tools and strategies that might help. And these strategies can be used not just for your NaNo novel, but for any other writing project throughout the year.

1. Community Support. This is something the NaNoWriMo group has down to perfection. The wonderful NaNoWriMo site has community boards and inspirational posts and ideas from a great crop of talented and successful writers. Not only that, but by using the #nanowrimo hashtag on sites from Twitter to Instagram, you instantly have access to other writers partaking in the same adventure you are, and coming up against the same struggles and difficulties. This community can give you ideas, encouragement, and emotional support. Set up NaNo parties with your friends. Make sure your family knows what you're doing, and what times you need to be alone to write. Find friends on Twitter or throughout the Blogosphere that can help and support you. This goes not just for November, but for the whole year.

2. Online Tools. There are lots of online tools that use tricks and gimmicks to help spur you on. One that I personally find terrifying, but imagine could be extremely effective, is Write or Die. With this website, you set your parameters and then start writing. And if you stop writing, your words start getting deleted. Gone. So you have to just write and keep writing to keep that from happening. For those who like a more positive reinforcement approach, I like the site Written Kitten. The premise is simple. You type into the text box, and for every 100 words you write, you get a new picture of a kitten. Pretty sweet, right? In lots of ways :)

3. Setting the Mood. There are a couple methods for picking your background "noise" while you write. When I'm looking for music to underscore my words, Pandora is an obvious but easy and incredibly useful tool. I highly recommend the Michael Giacchino station for writing background.

The other option is to go for writing talks and podcasts. I'm not one who can write while listening to anybody else's words, but whether you listen to writing talks while you write or while you take a break, they can be incredibly beneficial. I've compiled a list of my 3 favorite TED Talks for writers, and if you haven't discovered the Writing Excuses podcast, do yourself a favor and check it out. I've mentioned it before on this blog, and I'll probably mention it again.

4. Poetry Collection. I know, I know, we're writing novels here, not poetry, but here me out. I don't think a writer can get a bigger zap of inspiration, or give their Muse a bigger kick in the pants than by reading poetry. Poetry is like the 5 Hour Energy drink of writing. There's a hump we just have to get over when we sit down at our keyboard of just getting the words to start coming, and poetry can ease us more quickly over that hump. Read a poem before you start your writing for the day, and I can guarantee it will make things go a little more smoothly. I recommend the 180 More anthology from Billy Collins, or the Good Poems For Hard Times anthology from Garrison Keillor. 

5. Reminders. Reminders can be very helpful, and can come in many forms. You can set an alarm on your phone to tell you its time to sit down and write. You can make your little brother your official alarm. You can buy a hat and set it apart as your official "writing" time hat, that signifies to both you and others that when you're wearing it, you are WRITING. You can post pictures of your favorite authors and inspirational quotes above your desk. And of course, you can make an actual reminder list. Reminders to tell your internal editor to shut up, this is a first draft. Reminders to take breaks every 300 words if that helps you keep your stamina. Reminders to eat. Reminders that this project in its final stage will be AMAZING.

So use these tools, and maybe November will go more easily for you. And not just this month, but every month next year, and the next. And of course...

Write on!

Sarah Allen

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  • Writer's Digest Short Short Story Competition: We’re looking for short stories! Think you can write a winning story in less than 1,500 words? Enter the 15th Annual Writer’s Digest Short Short Story Competition for your chance to win $3,000 in cash, get published in Writer’s Digest magazine, and a paid trip to our ever-popular Writer’s Digest Conference! Due Nov. 17.
  • StoryShelter Personal Essay AnthologyStoryShelter is accepting submissions for personal essays of 400-1200 words for a book called I Am Here: The Untold Stories of Everyday People. Due Dec. 31
  • Museum of Words Micro Fiction Contest: The competition is for very short fiction pieces of up to a maximum of 100 words. The winner will receive a prize of $20,000, with three runners-up each receiving $2,000. This contest is open to writers from all countries and entries are accepted in four languages: English, Spanish, Arabic and Hebrew. All stories entered must be original and unpublished. Due Nov. 23
  • Jane Lumley Prize for Emerging Writers: The Prize is awarded annually to a writer who has not published a full length book of poetry or prose. This year is poetry. The winner will receive a prize of $300 and will be featured in Issue 6 of the Hermeneutic Chaos Literary Journal. Due Nov. 30.
  • Schnieder Family Book Award: These awards honor an author or illustrator for a book that embodies an artistic expression of the disability experience for child and adolescent audiences. Three awards of $5000 each will be given annually in each of the following categories: birth through grade school (age 0-10), middle school (age 11-13) and teens (age 13-18). May be fiction, biography, or other form of nonfiction. Due Dec. 1



  1. I tried NaNo once and failed and never went back. I wish I would try it again, but working, NaNo, holidays and writing just don't seem to allow me the time to finish.

    1. I'm with you. I've never done NaNo and don't know if I could. I need to feel more in control of my own pace. But hopefully any writer can learn from the good aspects of NaNoWriMo :)

  2. And block off the hours needed to write and don't let anything get in the way of that time!

    1. Exactly! I think any writer could follow that advice, regardless of the month.

  3. I'm not doing NaNo. I've challenged myself to complete an edit of a book I've written already. With over 100,000 words it is challenge enough to finish by the end of the month believe me. But your #3 point brought to mind something I watched this morning and I think would be appropriate. It's a bit long for a video but well worth the time. I hope the link translates.

    1. Ooh, that's a great idea for a November challenge! Yeah, I'm in the middle of a project and don't think I could manage NaNo. Thanks for the video link, I'll definitely check it out!

  4. I'm doing Nano. I don't reach 50 K words every time but it really helps spur me on!

    1. Great attitude! That's why I think any writer can learn from the NaNoWriMo, even if they're not an official participant. It helps spur us on!

  5. Thanks for all these great tips and advice.

  6. Thank you. I'm bookmarking this to help get me through the month :-)

    Anna from Shout with Emaginette

  7. Thanks for the tips. I have found your #4 brilliant. A dose of Dylan Thomas before I start writing perks up my use of language like nothing else!
    To find out how, see my blog post:

    1. There are just some amazing poets out there, and it has helped me so much to start the writing day with a dose of their brilliance. Glad the idea has helped you!

  8. I wish the best of luck to everyone doing the NaNo challenge. You're all braver than I am.


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