How to Survive and Succeed at NaNoWriMo

So you’re going to try your hand at the NaNoWriMo challenge this year. 50,000 words in 30 days (or less). It may seem a daunting task, but with some planning and practice and a few handy tricks you’ll likely succeed and come out of the month of November with your goal complete.

First, let’s look at the math of the challenge. I know, we’re all writers, who wants to look at math, but bear with me for a couple of minutes and I’ll show you what you ‘should’ aim for every day.

Quite simply 50,000 words divided equally by 30 equals 1,666.67 words per day. You’re probably saying to yourself, DUH! I know this already. But, take a look at the calendar and pick out days you KNOW you will have trouble getting any kind of writing done. For me, two of my kids have birthdays in November, Thanksgiving is filled with travel and eating too much turkey, and there are a couple of days during the month when I know I’ll have family obligations. So I knew there were at least five days where I’d be lucky to get any writing done, leaving me with only 25 ‘good’ writing days. Again the easy math, 50,000 divided by 25 equals 2,000 words a day.

That was my goal, and it might not be a bad goal for you either–even if you don’t think you have those obligations. Why? Because despite your best intentions, you’re going to need a few ‘down’ days just to recharge your creativity. So forget 1,666.67 and aim for 2,000.

I can almost hear you now…but…but…I thought you were going to make it easier to achieve this goal, Shawn!

Just wait…there’s more…

So, with the 2,000 words per day goal in mind, I’m going to toss in something else you probably won’t like. Aim just a little higher. 10% higher. Instead of 2,000 words…try for 2,200. That extra 200 words is not even another full page of writing…more like 2/3 of a page. Again, I can almost hear you ask…why?!?!

Again, because you’re going to have bad days. If you aim for 2,200 words per day, you’ve now gained just over 2 days of ‘nothing’. In a sense all you need is 23 days of writing, with 7 days of absolutely nothing and you’ll still reach your 50,000 word goal.

Have you had enough math yet? Well, there’s just a bit more, but I’ll sprinkle it in for the rest of the post.

This year, November starts on a Tuesday which means you only have 4 full weekends this month. If you work the traditional M-F 9-5 kind of job, you likely spend more time on the weekends writing…so unfortunately, that’s only 8 really good writing days. A couple of those days you’ll want to make sure to set aside extra time. Why? Because again, you’re going to have ‘down’ days.

With the 2,200 words per day goal in mind, by Friday Nov 4th, you’ll be closing in on 9,000 words. Great. You definitely don’t want to be falling behind in the first week because the last thing you want to do is play ‘catch-up’ all month. It’s not fun. However, if because you’re still adjusting to this new writing schedule you have fallen behind, don’t panic yet, by Sunday you only have to be nearing 13,500.

Now, if you can–this is a great weekend to set aside large chunks of writing time and really pound out the words. Build up a big lead early and then it’s a simple matter of maintaining for the rest of the month. It’s early enough in the month that you haven’t exhausted yourself mentally, but late enough that by this point you probably have passed all the intro stuff of the novel and are starting to get to the real meat of the story. Can you knock out 5000 words one of those days? If so, you’ve earned yourself another day off later in the month…and trust me…when you’re closing in on Thanksgiving, you’re going to want and need that day off!

At this point, you’re probably asking…but where the hell am I going to find the time to get all this done? I wasn’t sure if I could find time to write 1,666.67 words per day and you’re asking me to do 2,200 a day? Are you crazy?

No….  🙂

This is where the planning comes in. This coming weekend, if you haven’t already, tell your family what you’re going to be doing in November. Let them know that you’ll need some extra time to write, that this is something important for you to achieve, and you would appreciate their understanding on this matter. Let them know, that if you have the time to write when you need it, and are able to get ahead on your goal, that you’ve already planned 5 (or more) days off throughout the month to spend with them. Likely, they will understand.

Next, let your friends know. Tell them you won’t have as much time to chat on the phone, or text, or tweet in November, but that again, if they allow you some time early in the month, you’ll likely have more time available to socialize around the holiday. If they’re true friends, again, they will likely understand.

With that issue resolved, hopefully you’ll clear up at least 30 minutes to an hour each day spent socializing in real life or on the computer. Unless you type extremely fast, that’s not going to be enough time each day. You need to find a little more. Do you NEED to watch all the TV shows you do? Even cutting out a couple of hours each week will get you closer to your goal. Can you write on your lunch break? Even if it’s not on your writing computer (etc) maybe jot down some words on some paper and type it in later at home after work. I did that and probably wrote 20-25% of my NaNo book on scratch pieces of paper.

Bottom line, you’ll probably need to find at least 1.5 to 2 hours each day. You don’t have to worry about editing this NaNo book, so accuracy isn’t important at all. Heck, this blog post just past 1000 words and I’ve been working on it just over 30 minutes. (Now of course, I’m going to spend some time editing this, but as I’ve said, you don’t have to do that–just type…quickly!). You may think, it’s impossible to find that kind of time in your busy schedule…but then, you need to ask yourself, how dedicated am I to this goal? If you take yourself seriously as a writer, others around you will take you seriously too. Show them you mean business when you say you need time to write and they will respect you. (And if they don’t…well, that’s a bit beyond my scope of assistance!)

Take any scrap of time you can find. Eating breakfast…write. Eating lunch…write. Waiting in a doctor’s office…write. Waiting to pick up your kids from school…write. Set the morning alarm an extra 15 minutes earlier…write. Stay up late an extra 15-30 minutes…write. Ask your spouse to run an errand you usually run each week…write. 

Bottom line…if you’re idle…write.

If you’re doing good and keeping up with the 2,200 words per day for the first 10 days…congrats! You can take Friday November 11th off. Celebrate! Woo hoo. Then come Saturday, Nov 12th, get back to work!

Another writing tip…TRY to end your writing each day somewhere in the middle of a scene. Leave off in the middle of a conversation, in the middle of a fire-fight, just somewhere in the middle. It always seems easier to start up again the next day from something exciting rather than from a dead stop.

Don’t go back and read what you’ve written!!! It’s likely crap!!! That’s okay. It’s JUST your first draft. It’s supposed to be crap. Don’t edit. Only read back a few sentences just to get going at the beginning of each writing day. Can’t remember a character’s name? Doesn’t matter, put a name in and keep going. Can’t remember what a character’s eye color is? Doesn’t matter, say it’s brown and keep writing. Did you say the main character had 4 sisters or 5? Again, it doesn’t matter. Details don’t matter at this point…words do. Reading and editing what you’ve written is not adding any words to your NaNo book.

Your thoughts seem scattered? Doesn’t matter. I’m attempting to write this blog post as an example of writing by the seat of my pants. Pushing past 1400 words right now and I still haven’t passed an hour of work.

By November 15th, you need to be at the midway point. If you’ve been writing 2200 words instead, and you’ve only taken Friday, the 11th off , you’re likely closing in on 31,000 words instead. Congrats! You’ve earned another day off. You can take it now or save it until Friday the 18th or even Saturday the 19th.  Keep writing. Because by the end of that weekend, Sunday, Nov 20th, you’ll be closing in on 40,000 words.

This is a good thing. Mentally, you’re going to be tired. The last week or so you’ll likely have a ‘bad’ day. The middle part of your novel might be sagging. That’s okay….introduce a new character or kill off an old one. Do ‘something’ to spark your creativity again because I’ll tell you the span between 25,000 words and 35,000 words can be tough. Once you reach 35,000 to 40,000 words, you’re starting to close in on the climax. Also, you’re starting to realize, hey, I’m doing this. I only have 10,000 words left and if you’re sitting on 40k on Nov. 20th you’re in good shape. 10,000 words with 10 days left.

Don’t get cocky yet. It ain’t over until it’s over.

Monday and Tuesday, write. Wednesday, take it easy. Maybe only do half your usually writing. You should be sitting pretty at 45,000 words by Thanksgiving. Take the whole day off. Have fun with the family. Try to forget about writing for a while…even though the amazing climax scene is lurking in your mind just waiting to burst out of your brain.

Lots of people shop on the Friday-Sunday after Thanksgiving. If you’re one of these people, enjoy one day of shopping and write the other two. If you’re not, send your family out to shop, and crank out the rest of the novel. Why not finish early? By Nov 27th, you could easily be done and have three days left to spare.

Don’t like spare days at the end of the month? That’s okay. Know that not all things are going to go as planned for the month. Know that with the Nov 27th as your end goal date, that if you do have a BAD day during the month, you’re only using up one of your three spare days.

Just relax, and enjoy the ride. You’ll find at the end of the month, you’ll have a true sense of accomplishment. You will achieved something you didn’t know you could do. And later, in December, when you read back over what you’ve written, you’ll realize, sure, parts of this novel you just wrote are really crappy…but I’m fairly confident you’ll also find passages that really shine. Parts of it you might not even remember writing.

Now please, I’m just going to put this out there for you all….please don’t slap a cover on this brand new book you’ve just cranked out and upload it for sale to Smashwords or Amazon etc. I know it’s tempting to do this and perhaps in your mentally exhausted state come December 1st, this might seem like a good idea….but it’s really not. You’re not doing yourself any favors and you sure aren’t doing the writing community any either.

Put the NaNo book aside for a while. Take some time off (if you need it) and bask in the glow of your accomplishment. Work on something else in December. Maybe wait to do that first read until January. Put some distance between you and this book because if this is something you eventually want to publish, it will need some extensive editing. Trust me, very few people can spill out gold this quickly!

I sure as hell can’t.

And hey, I just broke past the 2000 words on this blog post and I’ve been working for just over an hour.

Is this ‘crap’? Maybe. I’m going to actually take the time to check it over for mistakes, spelling errors etc. But the point of this exercise was to not only inform but to also demonstrate how it’s possible to write 2200 words in a day, relatively easily too. Right now, I ‘should’ be sleeping…but I’m taking the time to write this instead.

I wish you all the luck in the world on your NaNoWriMo writing goals. I’ve done it before, and managed to actually write 55,000 words. I’m not bragging, simply pointing out that by sticking to my 2200 words per day, and only taking a few days off throughout the month, 55,000 words was easily achieved. Well, okay, not exactly ‘easily’ but still, something I was able to do even with two kids and a job.

Oh, I mentioned ‘practice’ earlier. Spend a little time this weekend with your characters. Write a scene using them that has nothing to do with the book you’re planning. Try them out and see what they feel like. You’re going to be spending a lot of time with them over the next month.

And that’s it folks…2222 words. 1 Hour 20 minutes.

Good luck!

PS: I spent ten minutes breezing over this post. I didn’t want to do a lot of edits on this because I wanted it to keep its scattered, quickly written feel. Even though I did take the time to check this post…don’t do the same with your NaNo book. I can’t stress this enough. JUST DON’T DO IT. November is not “EDITING” month. It’s “WRITING” month.


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About inkcompetentwriter

Author of The Penitent Assassin and The Rush of Betrayal duology available at and

4 responses to “How to Survive and Succeed at NaNoWriMo”

  1. deshipley says :

    Luck favors the prepared! Take note of the several serviceable guidelines presented in this post, would-be Wrimos; a little prep can go a long way toward making your NaNo journey less stressful and more productive — not to mention more fun! Thanks for the tips, Shawn. (:

    • inkcompetentwriter says :

      Last day for people to get prepared for NaNo. And you touch on something in your comment that I think is important to remember, this month-long journey should not be ‘stressful’. Sure, you’re challenging yourself, you’re setting perhaps a near-impossible goal, but I’ve found stress to be such an obstacle to creativity and inspiration. Let the stress go, or if you just can’t do that, use the emotion to fuel your writing. But if all you’re doing is mentally stressing out over what you’re doing in life, writing or otherwise, I wonder if it is something you should be doing at all. (Hmmm…could I use the word ‘doing’ any more times in that sentence? I suppose my tired brain is failing to be all that creative this morning!)

      Unless, I suppose, you’re a person who strives on stress….

      Good luck to all of you who are participating in NaNo. I don’t believe I will be taking up the challenge this year, though I am planning on editing a manuscript I wrote during NaNo three years ago. My other challenge for the first half of the month is to do a deep cleaning of my house…fun, fun, fun….and NOT because I am suffering writer’s block, but rather, because the holidays are quickly approaching and I’d like to end the year with a more organized home. (plus, it will make my wife happy…and you know the old saying, Happy Wife, Happy Life….right? Well, if not men, you should!)

      Have a great day, All — and Happy Halloween.

  2. Kirkus MacGowan (@KirkusMacGowan) says :

    Of all the information in this post, you saved the gem for the comments. The part about a happy wife… Lol.

    Great post man. I think the part about squeezing in writing when you can described every day of my life this year. I don’t know how many times my friends have rolled their eyes when I told them I needed to get home to do my daily writing.

    I admit, I’m really lucky in one area. No stress about writing. If anything, I feel it more when I don’t write. Though it’s hard work, I think my brain uses writing time as a release. Otherwise I’d spend that time with family staring at the wall daydreaming about the next scene!

    Good luck to all the NaNo writers this month!

    Good stuff Shawn. 🙂

    • inkcompetentwriter says :

      Yeah, I could probably do a complete blog post about “Happy Wife, Happy Life”. LOL It’s soooooo true.

      I know what you mean about feeling stressed when you don’t write. I am most comfortable when I’ve had a chance to write every day. It may not be much, and some days because of work and family obligations it’s only 10-15 minutes, but even that little bit is enough sometimes. I’ve had periods in my life where I didn’t write at all, for months at a time, and those were not exactly happy times.

      Thanks for stopping and leaving a comment, Kirkus. I hope you visit again. And good luck with your own writing.

      Have a great day, All.

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