Tips about writing a Novel for NaNoWriMo



Trust me, I’m a looser participant.

Well yeah, I can’t say I’m a NaNoWriMo winner because I didn’t reach the 50k words goal. Here’s why I would never achieve that work mark:

  • I have a full time job (as a software programmer). On a good day I work 8 hours sitting in front of a computer, solving technical and abstract problems. Then I finally get home. What do I do to get some rest? Sit in front of a computer, writing a creative and abstract plot for a novel. And I do so until midnight, when I go straight to bed. While I’m staring at the celling with my brain venting, my legs, my neck and my eyes are all complaining at me.
  • I don’t drink caffeine. And through all the forums and blogs about NaNoWriMo, or writing in general, drinking coffee seems to be a requirement. So imagine going through all that without any “performance-enhancing drugs”.
  • I’m a perfectionist in rehab. Another fundamental requirement of NaNoWriMo is forgetting quality and focusing on quantity. Never review what you already wrote. While the “Write now, edit later” motto makes sense to me, focusing on quantity seems a wee bit counterproductive to me. I feel like if I give enough attention to my writing, thinking thoroughly about every scene, I’ll come up with new ideas which in the end of the day will mean more words and a better story (and less review time).

The real prize is satisfaction & self-fulfillment. Make sure you win those!

Increase your chances of winning

As I said before, “Finishing the novel is just an outcome; the writing process is the real fun!” 50.000 words in 30 days is just that little pressure to force you to write when anything else motivates you to.

I believe that writing that amount of words in single month is only achievable if (A) you enter hermit mode and focus 100% on writing your novel only stopping to eat and drink coffee or (B) you’re an experienced writer that has a clear idea of the story and a trained to skill to write verbosely.

There’s an infinite number of tips to win NaNoWriMo but for me it all comes down to one tip: preparation. Fail to prepare and you’re preparing to fail. Here’s how I prepared:

  • 30 days of world-building. It’s a must, I did it during the summer when I had plenty of time. It will force you to (re)think about a lot of aspects that will make your novel richer and more convincing. Most important days: Map, Races, Recent history, Language & Names (hardest), Speculative element (crucial!), and What if character X…?
  • 5 sentence summary of each chapter. When you finish reading a chapter of a novel you can easily summarize it in a sentence, right? “Bilbo meets the dwarves”, “Harry receives a letter from Hogwards”, you get it. However the author took more than twenty pages to tell you that. Now it’s your turn. Create a simple spreadsheet with two columns, “Chapter” and “Scene”. Name a chapter and detail it in at least five sentences, or dialogues, or scenes, the bare minimum to ignite your imagination in November.
  • Lots of research. If the built your world like I told you too you should have a clear idea of how it should look like. Search for material that will help you describe a landscape, a village, a weapon, a character, or a creature. Everything that may boost your creativity counts: photos, drawings, trips, mythology, urban legends, songs, games, movies and other books. DeviantArt is a great source.

And if you still have some spare time to prepare a bit more:

  • Read a good book about writing good books. And the best book for that is “Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, How to edit yourself to print”. That book is precious! I know that editing is for later but it’ll useful both before your write the novel and afterwards. It presents clear and reasonable tips, always explained through several examples and exercises.

The numbers about the words

NaNoWriMo’s website provides this great graph about your progress, along with other useful statistics. On average I would spend 3-4 hours a day writing which would produce 750-900 words. On weekends, in exchange for a pleasant outdoor sunny day, I could bump up those numbers to 1500-2000 — that’s the average word count I should write daily to achieve the 50k words!

My word count evolution
My word count evolution

That dashboard also provided a funny statistic called “At This Rate You Will Finish On”. It told I would reach the goal in the end of December, and quite frankly I think that’s an accurate and fair deadline. Even for me it all those obstacles I mentioned above, two months is a realistic time-period thus don’t be hard on yourself and make your possible deadline. Funnily, if I was to win NaNoWriMo, in the last day of November I should write as much words as I wrote in the whole month. #notgonnahappen

Since I’m a geek I stored my novel on a distributed version control system called Git, but any cloud backup service like Copy or Dropbox should be enough for you. This next image shows when, during the week, I wrote most. It looks like Wednesdays’ and Saturdays’ nights were the most productive hours.

My average writing days and hours
My average writing days and hours


I may have lost the official NaNoWriMo but I’m still doing it — but on my own conditions. Expect a brand new and epic novel in late December. Or January. Or February. Soon enough. Eventually.

  • Have you managed to finish the novel yet?
    I reread the post and noticed you were writing @250 WPH. At this pace it would take you 200 hours to complete which means around 7 hours per day!
    Did you consider that pace too slow or were you comfortable with it? Were you revising and writing at the same time or were you just writing whatever came to your head?

    • Glad you asked. I’ll publish the first volume in September, which is not the complete story. Basically writing a novel is really hard and takes a lot of time. I’m currently revising it and negotiating with an artist for some illustrations. If people like it, I’ll write the second volume, I’ll probably do a kickstarter.

      As for your second question, yes I was more time than I would like. I was mostly writing, but I would rethink every sentece a lot before writing it, so there was a bit of revision in it (which is against the best practices) 😛

      • I noticed that you were making changed to your nanowrimo git, which prompted me to reread this post =)
        Good luck with the current reviewing.

  • Diogo Rolo

    Nice post! I’ve gotta love posts with graphs and statistics, it really helps you visualize your schedule and what you’be been through.

  • Vera

    Ah, I’m also a half-winner. Feels good, though. Half was a lot more than I was ever able to do. (And I’m gonna keep at it.)
    Like your tips, especially the 5 sentence chapter summary — gonna put it to use!