5 ways to make NaNoWriMo a success not just a word count

Writers around the world on 1 November 2015 will unleash the creative beast in an audacious attempt to write a 50,000-word novel by 23:59 on November 30.

It’s that NaNoWriMo time once more. The month-long writing process is relentless. You need to be focused, fast, creative and committed to the cause. No Netflix in November.

There’s no shortage of advice when it comes to HOW to write at top speed. The urge to edit, for example, is banned and a word blackout is imposed like this:

  • Turn DOWN the light on the computer screen.
  • Shrink the font until it’s too SMALL to read.
  • REMOVE the delete key.

We tried these suggestions. We didn’t like them. Writing blind is like descending Everest when the sun goes down. You wouldn’t do it.

Writers want to make the NaNoWriMo experience a success otherwise what’s the point?

The pursuit of success made us stop and think. We are told HOW to write against the clock but WHAT we write at top speed is not prioritised with the same passion.

What can we do to fix this?

We have options:

We can write “blind” and meet the deadline – then reread what we’ve written and see qwerty keyboard carnage that results in typos and tantrums.


We can plan, polish and attack the deadline – then reread what we’ve written and see a reasonable effort in terms of structure and story albeit with some mistakes.



After all, what’s the point of writing 50,000 words in one month if it takes 10 months or more to unravel and edit the work? Editing on this scale is a daunting project – more so than writing 50,000 words in the first place.

No one likes to clean up a mess. Writers are no different. So instead of turning down the lights and dismissing the words, we should respect the words, always.

Here are 5 ways to create a positive NaNoWriMo experience that results in a decent novel:

1. Aim for success in 25 chapters

  • 50,000 is a big number. Break it down to make the writing process more manageable. Create 25 chapter folders. This will help to pinpoint a visual timeline: beginning (chapters 1-10); middle (chapters 11-19); and end (chapters 20-25). This, of course, is a rough guide but it aims to keep you on point. You don’t want to get carried away and hit 45,000 words without an end in sight.
  • Break each chapter into 4 scenes. Each scene is around 500 words and should have a structure. It doesn’t need to be as rigid as the beginning/middle/end format but a good scene needs direction. You can write fast and navigate at the same time – the trick is to keep asking: where am I going with this?
  • Stick to the winning numbers and hit the jackpot: 4 scenes x 500 words = 2000 words per chapter; 2,000 x 25 chapters = 50,000 words. Result.

2. Master the 3-point plan

Plan ahead and break down your novel into 3 significant parts: need, drive, desire. This isn’t a chronological timeline or story arc exercise, this is about highlighting key elements that serve as writer prompts should you notice the word count slowing down.

  • Need: a book needs to be about something, not just anything. Love, revelation, revenge, it doesn’t matter what; it matters that you can pinpoint the subject matter and write 50,000 entertaining words about it.
  • Drive: a book needs movement. Characters must evolve, learn and achieve.
  • Desire: characters must have a desire, a passion, a purpose. This will allow them to live more excitingly or dangerously outside the realm of the old, everyday routine.

3. Ask important questions first… and keep asking them

  • Who is the main character? The name remains the same but the person you are writing about should change – it is a transformation through learning, discovering and realisation. It might take a lifetime in real time but you have 30 days to tell the story. Get to know your character inside out in super-quick time by asking questions about their backstory.
  • What do they want? Everyone wants to achieve something in life and the characters in your book are no different. Money, fame, success, happiness, peace – human wants are constant. Your character needs to want something badly enough it’s worth writing a book about it in 30 days.
  • How are they going to go about it? Action time. This is when your character makes decisions and acts upon them. It could be subtle or explosive but it must be memorable.

The above questions must be asked throughout the NaNoWriMo experience, not just on Day One. It keeps the timeline on track and the words and action relevant, not superfluous.

4. Respect the first 10 pages

As NaNoWriMo kicks off on 1 November, the beginning of the book tends to get off to a rushed start, which is understandable. You’re keen to write as you mean to go on – fast. This can hurt the first 10 pages. You can’t risk dragging the reader along at breakneck speed otherwise they’ll lose the plot: you need to hook them in. Dedicating a few more minutes to the first 10 pages will help to shape the rest of the book.

  • First sentence. Start with a roar, not a whimper. This is the moment to grab the reader’s attention.
  • First dialogue. It doesn’t need to be a long conversation but make sure it is a memorable one.
  • First clue. The reader needs a reason to keep on reading. Make it happen in the first 10 pages with an intriguing situation or clue.

5. Don’t be afraid to delete

The delete button means fewer words = panic attack! This is why writers are advised NOT to delete during NaNoWriMo. We disagree. Deleting an irrelevant sentence or scene could make all the difference to the progress of your book. Keep these thoughts in mind:

  • Fast and relevant. Ditch the junk and keep the treasure. Are the words relevant to the rest of the book? Delete the rubbish and write faster to make up for lost words. You can do it.
  • Pure and simple. Don’t overcomplicate a situation. Delete the words and descriptions that are making it hard for the reader to follow the story.
  • Listen and learn. 30 days will disappear in a flash but there is enough time to create 50,000 readable words, not rubbish. Delete dialogue that is slowing down the conversation. Speed up with more action.



When the writing gets too much, make sure to read the pep talks to spur you on. We love the one from The Fault In Our Stars author John Green.

Over 250 NaNoWriMo novels have been traditionally published. They include Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants, Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus, Hugh Howey’s Wool, Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl, Jason Hough’s The Darwin Elevator, and Marissa Meyer’s Cinder. #NaNoWriMo



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