Four Techniques for Conquering NaNoWriMo

There’s only a week left in November so it’s a little late for doing a NaNoWriMo post but I figure better late than never…

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the awesomeness that is National Novel Writing Month, it’s exactly what it sounds like – people from across the US (and now abroad) get together and collectively write a novel. It’s a great experience and I highly recommend it. (So does Lifehacker!)

For those of you going through it now, here’s an email I wrote to a family friend (middle school student) looking for advice on her first NaNoWriMo. Might be just what you need to get across the finish line. Keep writing!

NaNoWriMo Poster

Hey Family-Friend’s-Name,

Thanks for reaching out! It’s great to hear that you are doing Nanowrimo. I tried and failed to do it in 2006 (got to 35,000 words) and tried again in 2009 and was able to do it successfully.

The hardest part for me wasn’t finding the time to write, it was coming up with enough words to actually get to 50,000.

1) Give your story a lot of twists and turns.

I’m not someone who likes to do a lot of description. I’m a dialog and action kind of writer so I really needed a lot of side plots to the keep things going.

A piece of advice I often hear about fiction writing is to make sure your main character is always has a goal in mind and keep throwing obstacles at him/her that they have to overcome. Don’t make it easy for your character to get what they want!

2) Write what you know

My first novel was a modern sci-fi thriller which I found interesting but there was too much I didn’t know to write a good book. For example – if you are a regular person, what’s a reasonably realistic way for you to get a bunch of weapons on the black market? I’ve never done this and would have to spend a lot of time researching it on the internet. I had a lot of questions like this in my first novel and this slowed me down. You gotta keep pumping out words!

My successful novel was a fantasy novel. This worked a lot better because I read a lot of fantasy growing up and you really do get to just make things up as you go a long since it’s your book and your world, things can work however you want (with regards to magic, dragons, trolls, etc)

If you read a lot of a certain type of book, it’ll be easier to write a book in that style. Also it’d probably be a bit easier to have a main character close to your age or younger, than to write about someone who is 50 or 60, since it’s harder to understand what kind of stuff they deal with / think about.

3) Go off on tangents.

This is similar to lesson number one, but more specific. I think I had a couple sections of the book that were totally random. Sometimes I got really into describing something – like the history of an ancient tribe of elves. Almost like a story within a story.

But you can get even more random. I think in one part of my novel some random character starts talking and all of a sudden its a list of stuff I have to for work or a journal entry about how I’m feeling about living in San Francisco. Totally random, doesn’t make any sense.

But again, it’s your book and you’re allowed to do that if you want.

4) Write consistently.

Its 1667 words a day. That’s a good amount, but not crazy. I wrote basically on my train to work, my lunch break and my train home, plus spent time at night and on weekends writing. You will have to spend a lot of time writing, ideally with a keyboard instead of by hand, to get this book done. It’s a lot easier of you just do 1667 a day and not have to play catchup. That’s really demoralizing. So write everyday!

I hope this wasn’t too long and was helpful. Let me know if you have any other questions.


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Jason Shen

Jason is a tech entrepreneur and advocate for Asian American men. He's written extensively and spoken all over the world about how individuals and organizations develop their competitive advantage. Follow him at @jasonshen.

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