Doing NaNoWriMo: A series including advice and personal observations


A photo of a compass

I hope these posts can be a NaNo guide

First of all, bear with me. This is going to be a series of blog posts about the experience of the NaNo itself. But first, I’m going to muse a bit about how I decided to do this. And who knows? Maybe this thought process will actually be food for thought for others who have a hard time every year trying to come up with something to write about in November.

So. I was wracking my brains about what I should do for NaNoWriMo this year. Finish the story from two years ago—or the story from the year before that (both based on animes)—or write some nonfiction? I really didn’t have any actual new story ideas, so it seemed that I just might have to go back to finish what I had already started (something I do want to do, at some point, as it happens, so that would be no trial at all). But if I wasn’t inspired to work on fiction, there were other options. I pondered those through much of October.

Last year, I stayed in my favourite anime world (that of Fullmetal Alchemist), and I wrote an encyclopedia from that world, as though it were looking back on the events of the two FMA animes and the manga (and the centuries and decades before those events) as history. There’s really no end to possible entries to an encyclopedia, so picking up this project again would definitely give me scope to do the fifty thousand words in November. I could do a hundred thousand words, in fact, and I’d barely scratch the surface of that world and that story.

But after tossing around the fiction idea (though it may still come back somehow), I decided that I just might do something nonfictional after all. I debated a personal blog, because it’s been quite a year, with my mother and my beloved cat companion of 14 years leaving this world within two weeks of each other, last April. But honestly, who wants to write 1600-plus words about how one’s world has been turned upside down, for thirty days in a row? The thought kind of makes me shudder—as it should probably make any potential readers. They can only take so much navel-gazing, and really, most navel-gazing is only important (and only interesting) to the gazer herself. So…perhaps not. I’m not a sadist. (And the readers heave a sigh of great relief.)

I also debated doing daily essays on various subjects, perhaps suggested by the first letter of the day of the week. And within that scheme, either Tuesday or Thursday (or both) were going to be about “theology,” because I do have those Philosophy of World Religions degrees, after all. I got that idea when discussing certain doctrines I’d grown up with (and have now abandoned as non-facts) with a bunch of friends, a mix of long-time atheists and former evangelicals/fundamentalists like me. Some people think that these fundamentalist Christians are fairly good people and “might have a point.” But I don’t think that most people who think like that actually have any idea of the real, nitty-gritty, actual doctrines adhered to by this hard-line faith. I actually want to write a book explaining it all, and did some blog posts long ago doing something akin to an outline. I just didn’t know for sure if I could sustain a 1667-word disquisition on hard-line theology every single day for thirty days. That was why I thought I might just do it on certain days, veering off into other things on other days, but still with some kind of structure based on the days of the week.

But I think I won’t. At least, not for the first half of the month. For now, I’ve decided that I’m just going to talk about NaNo-ing (hereinafter spelled NaNoing to ditch the hyphen). I might write posts that will help future newbie NaNoers get ideas. And since I’m both a writer and an editor, I can offer other information too, that will be helpful for NaNo writers.

So after all that blather (and there’s a bloody good reason for going on and on like that, as you’ll see), let’s get started in earnest, shall we?


Yes! Word count! That is the thing that sounds so daunting to NaNoWriMo newcomers. How on earth can you write fifty thousand words in one month? That’s the thing that stops a lot of people from even beginning—that massive bulk of words, that gigantic verbal mountain that they have to scale in a mere thirty days.

A digital rendering of a mountain peak

Don’t climb the whole mountain at once!

I can’t do it. How can I possibly have that much to say? If I’m a person who hardly has a word to say even when among friends with whom I’m comfortable, how the heck will I think of so much stuff to say that it will take fifty thousand words? In a single month or otherwise?

Well. By the middle of this sentence, I’ll be halfway through the first day’s required total. (The word “I’ll” was the word that separated the first half of today’s word total from the second half.) It’s not as hard as you might think.

Divide by Thirty

First thing to do? Forget the number 50,000. For the time being, put it straight out of your head. That’s not the number you need to worry about. The only number that is important is 1,667. And why is that? It’s because fifty thousand divided by the number of days in November gives you 1,666.66666666667. Or, to round up to a usable number, you get 1,667. That is the number of words you need to write in one day, to reach the total you need by the end of the month. (In fact, if you do 1,667 words every day, you’ll end up with 50,010 at the end of November 30, a bonus ten words or so that can help make up for any potential discrepancies between word processors in how they count words. But don’t worry about that right now.)

Even though 1,667 words still seems like a lot, at least it’s a smaller number, and a lot more manageable. I’ve learned from doing several huge jobs, both in records management and in writing, that if you look at the entire bulk of the work you need to do by the end, you can get paralyzed. You can’t get started, because you’ve got that whole mountain looming above you, and you just cannot mentally encompass accomplishing the whole climb.

So don’t encompass it. Do what I call “chunking.” That is, you divide the huge thing into smaller, more manageable (and more doable!) bits. You don’t need to climb the whole mountain in one go. But can you climb to the first of the thirty camps up the slope? Sure you can.

Write bits at a time

Even when doing 1,667 words in a day, you don’t have to write the whole lot of them in one concentrated go. I mean, if you have the opportunity to do that, and you’d like to, then by all means, do it. But you can also accomplish the required word count by keeping your document open in another window and taking short, quick breaks to flip over to it now and then and writing another paragraph or two before flipping away from it again.

Of course, this is assuming that you’re working on a computer. If you’re not online for your daily routine, have a notebook with you. If you’re one of those who still does a lot of writing by hand, it may take you longer, but doing things in short spurts will still get the word count up. In the past, when I was doing stretches of grunt work with my hands (I had days of shifting boxes for hours at a time when doing records management projects), I even had a little voice recorder that I hung around my neck and spoke into occasionally, dictating new scenes. I’d type them up at the end of the day, and if my word count was short, I’d add to it then.

The important point is that writing a paragraph or two, every few minutes during the day, can get that word count mounting quite quickly as the day progresses.

So again, this is “chunking.” You’re not doing 50K words at once—and you’re not even doing 1,667 in one swoop. You’re doing a couple of paragraphs. But you just do it as often as you can.

Never say in one word what you can say in four

You may already have guessed, from reading my verbiage above, another way of piling up the word count. I should interject, though, that this method is primarily for those for whom the word count itself is the actual goal, with the fine tuning and editing of the language to come later. If you are one of those who wrestles word by precious word in every sentence, striving to make the sentence as economical and perfect as possible from its very inception, with not a single unnecessary or wasted word—this approach will drive you absolutely stark raving bonkers.

But if you’re willing to blather on and on for the sake of word count, here are some ideas how to do it. You can add phrases in place of single words. For example, while you would normally say “Now,” why not say, “At the present time?” That’s four words instead of one! Or you can add modifiers. Look at my phrase above, “drive you absolutely stark raving bonkers.” I could have said, “drive you mad,” but hey, why be brief when you can add three more words?

Another way to add words is to add little asides (often in parentheses). You can look at what I’ve written, above, and you’ll see that here and there, I’ve done exactly that. These little parenthetical asides are extra tidbits (by the way, the word “extra,” back there, was my 1,667th word in this blog post and in today’s total) that might not be necessary to the flow of your narrative but which the reader might find entertaining or interesting. And meanwhile—bonus!—you’ve added several more words!

So those are some preliminary thoughts about how one arrives at the decision to do the NaNo to begin with and mulls over ideas about what to write about. And this is our first discussion about word count, but I’m sure we’ll return to that as we go along.

And guess what! At the end of this sentence, I’m one hundred and seventeen words into tomorrow’s total already!



Filed under * NaNoWriMo, * Writing tips

5 responses to “Doing NaNoWriMo: A series including advice and personal observations

  1. Hey Phyl, great idea! You do write beautifully.

    I am one who struggles to get to the 1667 words per day but I would really like to do it this year. One thing I worry about is whether packing in the verbiage to get to the count will get me into bad habits. In non-Nano writing “less” is so often “more” and I have a hard time remembering that as it is.

  2. Yeah, I totally get that. Of course…there’s also the fact that it will give you some great exercise in editing later. 😀 (Even these blog posts will likely be edited down, eventually.)

  3. Tim Luekman

    While I understand your reluctance to do something so personal for the NaNo, I wouldn’t be so quick to dismiss the idea as mere navel-gazing. (Though it certainly can become nothing more than that all too easily!) But a good reflective memoir is usually worth reading, if done well … and I think you’d be up to it, if you chose to go that route. 🙂

  4. Tim Lukeman

    And of course I typed so swiftly I misspelled m y own name!

  5. Pingback: Not inspired? Tough. Keep writing. | SHINY IDEAS

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