It’s that time again. NaNoWriMo!* Here are some tricks to making this write-a-novel-in-a-month exercise work for you.

1. Announce Your Intentions

Let your family and friends know what you’re doing—and get their buy-in. This may mean extensive negotiation. Do whatever it takes: Pizza night, babysitting co-ops, doggie daycare,  car-pooling trades, sleepover swaps, etc.

2. Carve Out Your Writing Time

Finding the time to pound out 1,666.66 words per day for thirty days isn’t easy—especially when you figure in work, voting (yes, vote!), Veterans Day, Thanksgiving, family obligations, and, yes, sleep. Keep a time sheet of your waking hours for a week prior to NaNoWriMo and figure out where you can sneak in some writing. Here are some ideas:

  1. Skip the evening news/late night talk shows/your favorite show.
  2. Write during your commute. If you’re on a train or subway, write longhand or on your phone. If you’re driving, use a hands-free tape recorder if your local law allows and talk your way to your writing goal. (See Tip 5.)
  3. Get a bike or treadmill desk and write while you work out.
  4. Hire out chores—cleaning, cooking, food shopping, washing the car, walking the dog, etc.
  5. Eat take-out. Delivered.
  6. Train yourself to write whenever you have a spare ten minutes or more: in waiting rooms, between classes, during your kids’ soccer practice, etc. Seriously.

3. Make a Scene List

Start with your big scenes. Remember that every genre has its obligatory scenes—that is, scenes that you might need to tell your story.

For example, if you’re writing a romance, odds are you’ll need scenes like these: cute meet, first kiss, first fight, break-up, reconciliation, wedding, etc.

If you’re writing a mystery, you might need: Murder #1, discovery of Body #1, introduction of sleuth, first clue, Murder #2, discovery of Body #2, sleuth interviews suspects, sleuth confronts murderer, etc.

Once you have these big scenes plotted out, you can build in the smaller scenes that take you from Big Scene to Big Scene. Then you’ll have a scene list to guide you through NaNoWriMo.

4. Use an Hourglass

When you’re doing NaNoWriMo, there’s no time for procrastination. You’ve carved out writing time every day to meet that 1666.66 words per day goal at the expense of your day, family, friends, and HBO—and you can’t afford not to be in the mood to write.

My best defense: An hourglass. When I don’t feel like writing, I turn over my hourglass—a lovely silver and glass ornament filled with sand that I picked up from a clearance shelf at Marshalls—and I promise myself I only have to write for 15 minutes. Which is how long it takes for the sand to run out. If I can’t think of anything to write, I just write, “I hate NaNoWriMo” over and over again until my synapses start firing and I’m off again on the journey of my story. Nine times out of ten I don’t even realize the sand has run out, because I’m in the flow.

Give this a try. You can use an hourglass or a timer, whatever works for you.

5. Play the Movie of Your Story in Your Mind

When you get stuck, imagine that your story is a movie. Visualization engages your sub-conscious, and by so doing helps you kickstart your story. I like to do this when I’m walking the dogs through the woods. I watch my story unfold on the screen of my mind, and I recount what’s happening by using the Rev app on my phone. I talk my way through the scene, and the next, and the next. The best part: I can send the recording to Rev to transcribe. I don’t have to do it myself.

You don’t have to, either.

6. Reward Yourself

I’m all about rewards. Give yourself daily, weekly, monthly rewards. And make them worth writing for.

My favorites:

  • Daily: a glass of wine, a brownie, an hour of reading a new book
  • Weekly: an artist’s date
  • Monthly: a research trip to one of the fabulous settings in my story

Make up your own list. Reward the artist in you.

If you don’t know NaNoWriMo is, go to and find out.


Here are some pointers from my good friend and great writer Indi Zeleny, who organizes our writing group’s NaNoWriMo efforts and knows the ins and outs of the organization:

Enlist the support of other writers, preferably fellow NaNo’ers. These NaNo “Buddies” will hold you accountable, and you should do the same for them. They’ll notice when your word count bar hasn’t budged for three days, and they’ll call you on it. Your noveling pals may also give you a well-deserved shout-out when you reach a major milestone or sail through a particularly prolific writing day. If you have no real-life friends participating this month, head to the NaNoWriMo forums, click on your genre or age group or whatever you’re interested in, and search on “Buddies” or create your own matchmaking thread. Chances are, others are looking for a NaNo support network, too.

Shut off your inner editor. This goes without saying, but speed is the name of the game, so do not stop to edit. Not until December 1st. If you must, make an asterisk and add a note in the text so you can easily do a search and find these trouble spots in your novel—On December 1st!

Battle it out in a Word War or Word Sprint. (@NaNoWordSprints on Twitter, anyone?) NaNoWriMo organizers keep you going on all forms of major social media, day and night. If you hit a slump, check out their many forms of inspiration. Need a writing prompt or a character research topic or the plot twist of the day? NaNo social media is ready with a writing exercise to get you moving or a timed writing competition to see who can pound out the most words in 10, 30, even 60-plus minutes. Ready, set, go!

—Indi Zeleny

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