So It’s Your First Time Doing NaNoWriMo

Congratulations! You’ve taken the first big step toward writing a novel: you started. You’ve got an idea burning in the back of your brain, you’ve got characters itching to leap into existence, you’ve got a setting just waiting to be brought to life. The only thing standing between you and your grand vision is fifty thousand little words. Easy peasy. Or… not.

It’s a big undertaking, trying to write fifty thousand words in just thirty days. Right now you’re probably feeling excited, anxious, eager, maybe even a little nervous. Whatever you’re feeling, you’ve got that drive, that deep-set resolve that you can do this and you are going to do this. And you totally can. But it will be hard. That drive will wear off, life will pop up to distract you, you’ll run into some kind of writer’s block. But if you know that going in, it will be easier to get past it.

And to make it even easier, here are some tips for getting through your very first NaNoWriMo without completely losing your mind.

You’re not alone.

Writing a novel is hard. And one of the hardest parts is knowing that you’re the only one entrenched in your story, forcing yourself to get words onto a page every day instead of going out with friends. NaNoWriMo takes that loneliness away. There are thousands upon thousands of other people trying to write a novel with you. Take advantage of that! Find local write-ins. Make friends with other people on the official NaNoWriMo site. Participate in word sprints on social media. Convince an IRL friend to do it with you and set one day a week to go to a coffee shop or library and write together. Share your ideas with someone so that they can help you when you get stuck or give you a second set of eyes on a passage that’s just not working. Lean on the writing community that’s built into this huge creative event.

But don’t compare yourself to anyone else.

The flipside of trying to write a novel with so many other people is that it’s easy to compare your word count, your quality, your ideas with all those other people. Don’t. It’s not worth it. Any progress you make is good progress. NaNoWriMo isn’t about finishing with a fully formed novel, it’s about getting yourself to sit down and put words on a page. All those stories you hear of famous novels that came out of NaNoWriMo are gross overexaggerations. Published novels go through rounds and rounds of edits and proofreads and rewrites and more edits. They take years, not just one hectic month.

You’re just trying to get words on a page. Even if your writing buddy has twice as many words as you, it doesn’t mean they’re any better. You each have your own story, your own pace, your own style. And that’s okay. Any progress you make is good progress. Remember that.

It’s not about quality.

Almost anything you write this month is going to be crap. It’s going to get rewritten in later drafts. You’re going to hate it even as you’re typing it. That’s what’s supposed to happen. NaNoWriMo is about quantity over quality. It’s about getting fifty thousand words toward an idea and actually putting a story onto paper. Even if your idea makes perfect sense in your head, putting it into physical words will often reveal plot holes and missing characters and extraneous details. That’s what editing is for. But that comes later. For the month of November, you’re just writing. Writing and writing and writing, regardless of quality.

Don’t edit yourself.

It’s always tempting to go back and cut scenes, rewrite scenes, rehaul character development. Sometimes you realize something isn’t working, and all you want to do is make it work. Don’t. Go back and mark it for editing, maybe jot some notes as to what you want to do with it, and move on. Keep writing. You’ll never hit fifty thousand words if you’re constantly going back and deleting things. Plus, you never know what will happen in the first draft of a novel. Maybe you’ll get another twenty thousand words in and realize that the thing you wanted to go back and change actually works with your story now. NaNoWriMo is about discovering your story, not making it perfect. Write now. Edit later.

It’s okay if you don’t finish.

Fifty thousand words is a lot. It’s not impossible, but it’s meant to be a challenge. If you don’t make it to fifty thousand words, you’re not a failure. No matter how many words you get, that’s that many words toward a story you might not have had otherwise. Even ten thousand words is an amazing accomplishment. If fifty thousand words is daunting to you starting out, it’s okay to make your own word count goals. Maybe you set your own goal of twenty thousand words so that when you reach it at the end of the month, you feel like a success. Whatever you do, keep yourself accountable, keep reaching for whatever goal you set. Don’t make it too easy for yourself, but don’t make it impossible either. And tell your writing buddies about it! Let them encourage you and help keep you accountable to your goal, too.

Find healthy snacks.

You’re going to be spending a lot of time writing this month. Writing goes hand in hand with snacking, so make sure at least some of your snacks are of the healthy variety and not the heart-stopping kind. Fruit and nuts are good for sweet, natural energy, and veggies will give you that satisfying crunch without doubling your body’s salt content. If you write at coffee shops, go for slightly sweetened black coffee instead of the milk and sugar lattes and frappés. At Starbucks, you can get any latte syrup in black coffee—with a little cream, it tastes almost like a latte and, bonus, it’s half the price.

Limit your caffeine intake, too. Writers drink a lot of coffee, that’s just a universally accepted fact. But while it’s tempting to keep filling that coffee mug as you write late into the night, don’t. At worst, it’s dangerous, and at best, it will increase your body’s caffeine tolerance so that you’ll have to keep drinking more and more to stay awake. That won’t go away once NaNoWriMo is over, and you’ll end up with caffeine headaches and an empty wallet. And, because it’s just good sense, for every cup of coffee you drink, make sure to drink a glass of water, too.

Don’t neglect self-care.

Even though you want to finish a novel this month, don’t do it at the expense of taking care of yourself. You still have to go to work or class. You still need to eat regular meals and shower. You still need to sleep. Don’t ignore your friends and family, don’t go a month without cleaning. It’s important to take breaks from writing. Not only is it good for keeping up on life and self-care, it will help your creativity. So take walks. Go out with friends. Do a load of laundry. Give yourself a break, and come back at your novel with renewed energy. If you feel yourself getting too stressed out because of NaNoWriMo, take a day or two off. You can even call it quits on writing for the rest of the month. That’s okay. Following through on goals is important, but taking care of yourself is more important. Live to write another day. In the end, it’s not about hitting fifty thousand words, it’s about writing. Have fun with it.

This month is going to be one exciting and stressful and awesome ride. Millions of words are about to be written, thousands of stories are about to be born. And, more importantly, your story is about to make its debut into the world. Are you ready? Sure you are. You’ve got this.