If you are thinking about participating in NaNoWriMo or Camp NaNo anytime soon, these creative writing tips will help you find success.
I took part in my first NaNoWriMo last year and I’m proud to say that I WON! I finished writing a whole novel in one month!!
But let’s be honest here – it was HARD.
I honestly didn’t know what to expect when I first signed up for National Novel Writing Month, and I definitely wasn’t sure if I could hit the 50k word count that qualifies you as a “winner” of the challenge. But a few of my friends were doing it and I figured that, at the very least, it would be an excellent learning experience and boost my creative writing skills.
So, like any newbie, full of anxiety and excitement, I took to the internet for advice. I searched through blog posts and YouTube videos, looking for the best writing tips on how to take on this challenge and write an entire book in a single month.
Some suggestions didn’t work as well as I hoped, and I quickly discarded those before the challenge was fully underway. But some of that advice did work, and some other ideas came to me along the way.
Those creative writing tips and ideas are my new Secrets for Success, and I am going to give you all those secrets today!
Here’s my list of the 10 most powerful creative writing tips I learned from participating in NaNoWriMo!
1. Start Writing Early
One of the best choices I made for NaNoWriMo was to start writing early. The week before NaNo, I started the habit of sitting down every day to write my story.
No, I didn’t get to count the words I wrote beforehand in my NaNo word count, but this practice helped me out in two big ways:
1 – It helped me figure out which times of the day were going to be best to set aside for my creative writing time. If I had waited until November 1st to do this, I think I would have become very frustrated and might have even given up within that first week.
2 – It gave me momentum to keep writing on November 1st. Starting early saved me from the dreaded “blank page” when NaNo began. It helped me overcome the writer’s block that often comes with starting a new project. By November 1st I was already a few chapters in and I had a pretty good idea where my story was going.
2. Always back up your data.
This sounds obvious, right?
We know we should save our work regularly and store it in more than one place, but for some reason, in the excitement, I forgot.
Oh, I saved my work in Scrivener every fifteen minutes or so, but it turns out that wasn’t enough.
On week 2 of the challenge, I was 19k words in and disaster struck. My computer shut down while I was typing mid-sentence. When I plugged it in and booted it back up, my entire Scrivener file was corrupted.
My entire story was gone!
You bet I cried, and almost had a full-blown anxiety attack until my husband found the text files saved in the system’s back-up documents.
Unfortunately, they were all in the wrong order, but at least they were there. I was able to copy and paste each text file into my google drive. I ended up only losing the 1300 words I had written that morning – disappointing, but at least I didn’t have to start over.
Don’t let this happen to you. Save your progress in multiple places at least daily, if not hourly.
3. Make a Creative Writing Plan
Another thing I did for myself in advance was make a writing plan.
No, I didn’t make a detailed outline, and you don’t have to either.
Instead of a formal outline, I made my creative writing plan as a brief list of story beats. By story “beats” I mean vague descriptions of the important points that I knew my draft needed to move the narrative forward.
Having a basic idea of where my story was headed helped me figure out which parts I needed to write each day to help me get there.
And when I say my story beats were vague, I mean really vague. I didn’t restrict myself with chapter numbers or even full sentence prompts. I simply wrote a word or two for each beat that I knew I wanted to include in the story to serve as a reminder when I actually sat down to write.
I put my beat sheet in a separate text file at the top of my Scrivener file.
Avoiding specifics allowed me the freedom to make changes as I wrote. This flexibility helped the story flow better and also helped me stave off writer’s block yet again.
4. Every Little Bit Counts
Writing 50k words is hard, but NaNoWriMo breaks the challenge down into daily chunks that make it easier. Even so, some days, the 1700 word goal was just too much for me to handle.
So instead I pushed myself just to write SOMETHING every day.
I have 3 kids and also help my husband run our small business. There were days when sitting down to write for an hour or more was just not possible, and I suspect that other aspiring writers may run into this same problem.
Here’s how I overcame that: I started a google doc for myself that I could access on my phone.
Yes… gasp… I sometimes write on my phone.
On days when I couldn’t get a full creative writing session in, I would open up that document and try to write at least a paragraph.
That’s it. Just one paragraph!
Sometimes I even got through two or three paragraphs before life (aka my toddler) interrupted me.
One paragraph may not seem like much progress, and I can hear the skeptics out there saying “why bother?” But I promise you, little bits add up.
At the end of the challenge, I calculated the total word count for days that I only wrote a paragraph or two. By the end of the month, I had written a total of 1,618 words on my “no time” days!
That’s almost an entire day’s worth of writing that I would have missed had I not pushed myself to just do something every day.
Writing a book doesn’t have to be a marathon. It CAN be done in little sprints.
5. Write on a Different Document than you Save on
I have a bad habit of editing as I write. Finishing my first novel took several years longer than it should have because I was constantly going back to edit and revise what I had already written instead of doing my actual writing for that day.
Editing should be a separate task that you make separate time for, not one that hijacks your creative writing time.
Because I already knew this about myself, I set up a system to help me avoid the premature editing pitfall. I set up a “Daily Writing” text file in my Scrivener document. (Later it was a separate document in my Google Docs folder.)
Every day when I finished my writing session, I would copy and paste that day’s work into the main story file or document and then clear out the daily writing file so I could start fresh the next day.
Without yesterday’s writing in front of me, I felt no temptation to go back and edit my work instead of writing.
6. Give Yourself A Starting Point Each Day
This creative writing tip may seem like it contradicts the one before it, but hear me out.
Remember when I said that not having to start with a blank page helped give me momentum to keep writing through the month? This wasn’t just true for the start of NaNoWriMo.
I gave myself that momentum every day.
Every day when I deleted my work from my Daily Writing file, I always left myself the last paragraph. This gave me a starting point for the next day’s writing so I would know exactly where I left off.
And since it was only one paragraph instead of the entire story, if I felt the need to edit it, I only wasted a couple of minutes instead of the entire writing session.
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7. Prepare Yourself For Your Daily Writing Session
The hardest part about writing 50k words in a month isn’t the actual writing. It’s making yourself sit there and do a single task every day without getting distracted.
At least, that’s what it was for me. So, I set myself up for success before I sat down each day.
Because I had already done some writing before NaNo began, I knew what things were likely to distract me once I actually sat down to write.
Usually, I get hungry or thirsty or household sounds will pull me from my focus.
To prepare each day, I turned on my background music in advance. I like coffee-shop jazz, but I have heard that some writers like Stephen King prefer to rock out to heavy metal while they write. Whatever your sound of choice is, get it ready beforehand.
I also brewed my coffee and grabbed some healthy snacks that I knew wouldn’t leave residue on my fingers that might end up on my keyboard (the cleaning of which would cause another distraction.)
Finally, I put my phone in airplane mode so I wouldn’t receive calls or notifications while I was writing. I warned my family about this in advance too, so they wouldn’t be concerned if I didn’t respond to them right away.
Only you can predict what types of things are likely to cause a distraction for you and prevent you from getting your writing done. Head those distractions off at the pass by solving those problems before you start.
8. Do Not Stop to Edit or Research. Just Write.
As I mentioned earlier, editing during my creative writing time used to be one of my worst habits. Removing the temptation by writing in a separate document helped immensely.
However, I spoke to several other writers who found that their problem wasn’t editing but researching. As they were writing, they would come across a part of the story that they didn’t feel quite ready to tackle and they would stop writing to do some research. Research would turn into a rabbit hole and before they knew it, their writing time had expired.
That didn’t happen to me this time because I had a plan for that distraction, too. I simply did not let myself stop writing to do any research.
Instead, I made notes for future me to do more research on any topics that I felt needed it. I also left notes for any scenes that I knew I would need more time to visualize and plan out to get just right.
Example: **Fight Scene. Write Later.** or **Research medieval plants.**
This helped me push through and keep writing instead of stopping to plan out the perfect fight scene, or research which plants may have been used in medieval times for basic remedies.
Future me will have to deal with these things during the revision process, but when finishing the manuscript is the goal, it’s okay to skip these details for now.
9. Don’t Compare Yourself to Other Writers
This one might be the most important of all my creative writing tips. I almost fell victim to this pitfall.
NaNoWriMo is a great program and the connection that you get with other writers is amazing. However, I was always the straight-A, over-achiever kid when I was in school. I got used to being at the top of my peers, so when a few of my writing friends passed me in word count during NaNo, I let myself get discouraged and almost quit.
I’m so glad I didn’t quit, but I think a lot of creative minds fall into this trap.
We compare our work to the work of our peers, and judge ourselves based on that comparison. We know this is a mistake, and yet, we still do it.
As hard as it might be to resist, don’t compare yourself to other writers. Focus on your own work and hitting your own word count goals. Focus on doing your best, not someone else’s.
If this is a big problem for you, don’t even look at anyone else’s progress until the challenge is over. I would even go as far as asking a friend or family member to input your daily word count for you, so you won’t be tempted to peek at your friend’s progress bar.
Do whatever you have to do to focus on your own success and push yourself to keep going until the end. You’ll be glad you did.
10. Ask for help
Setting a writing goal and routine for yourself can prove difficult when you have small children or other time-consuming jobs. It’s okay to ask for help if you need it.
During the month of November, my husband took all the kids for several hours every weekend so I could catch up on any writing I missed during the week. He also handled all the staff meetings for our business that month. I checked in with him later to stay informed, but he stepped up to handle the bulk of it so I could focus on writing.
For the month of November, I made my writing a priority, and because my husband knew how important it was to me, he helped me keep it a priority.
If you need to ask or pay someone to watch the kids for a few hours or make the meals while you are writing so you can focus on the task at hand, do it.
Even if you have to trade with a friend and watch their kids for a few hours in exchange, the bargain will be worth it. Ask a coworker to take on a few extra tasks this month, in exchange for you taking a few tasks from them next month.
Ask your friends and family to help you find creative solutions so you can give yourself the time required to sit down and do your writing. It’s only for one month. You can find a way.
Bonus: I learned I CAN write a complete novel in a month! And you can too!!!
Okay, full disclosure, after the jump start I got the week before and the chapters I still had to finish when NaNo was over, I know I can write 50k words in a month and a full novel in about 5-6 weeks.
But even so, the confidence I gained was HUGE!
My first novel took several years to finish, and it made the idea of writing any more novels after that feel like a really daunting task. Now I realize it doesn’t have to be that way.
I still have to take the time to sit down and write (and then revise and edit) but if I stay focused and break it up into daily writing sessions instead of monthly ones, I CAN actually do it quickly.
And you can too!!
Now it’s your turn.
Use these 10 creative writing tips to CRUSH NaNoWriMo, or just to write a book in less time than you thought you could. And if you would like more writing tips, check out my post 5 Easy Ways to Be A More Productive Writer.
Whether you have tried participating in NaNoWriMo before and found it too challenging, or you are planning to jump on that ship for the first time this year, these 10 creative writing tips can help you succeed!
And when you are done, you may just have your next best-selling book ready to move forward.
Do you have any other creative writing tips that I didn’t cover here? Let me know what you have done to finish writing a book in the comments!