Tips for NaNoWriMo writing.

I’ve participated in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) for the last four years. Yes, I’ve signed up with milling hordes of other unkempt and caffeinated writers and aggravated my carpal tunnel syndrome on an annual basis.

I highly recommend it!

This is actually the first year I’m not officially signing up for NaNoWriMo, and here’s why: I’ve graduated to My Own Version, taking the things I like and learned from NaNo and leaving the rest.

Here are some of the things I learned by doing NaNoWriMo that help me get the most out of what I’m calling MyOwVer.

  • Set your intention. As a mental health therapist specializing in Cognitive Behavior Therapy, I believe that what you set out to do begins first in the mind, in visualizing a desired outcome and experience.
  • Part of setting intention is capturing it. Get a notebook and spend some time on this, letting the mind wander and imagine, and picture what you want throughout your NaNoWriMo experience- how each day will look and feel, how the 1700 words you have to write each day will feel and flow, the sense of joy and accomplishment at the end. Write this down in detail to help you imagine and return to it.
  • Use a notebook (see above) We learned to write by hand as children. Goal setting, journaling, outlining and other totally creative mining for ideas are best done by hand because they tap into our inner child and feel more “real” as we create them. I compose at the computer, but for idea and intention generating, I use a notebook. Try it and see.
  • Plan your novel. The NaNoWriMo site has tons on this, so I won’t belabor the point, but I’ve found if I’ve done my character bios (essential to filling the mind with pictures of the characters so they can then come out and play) and done at least a beginning, middle and end brief outline, I’m pretty much ready to roll come day one.
  • Use Write or Die. I use this trusty behavioral reinforcement writing program all year round now when I want to blast into serious word count. It’s a great little program: Set your goal. A box opens up. You type as fast as you can. When you slow down, it begins flashing at you. Then babies cry, and horrible violin practice, and the Village People jam until you start typing again. (Works like a charm.)
  • Pack your supplies #1: I am working on two major projects this year during MyOwVer. One is my memoir (argh! Nuff said) and the other is Broken Ferns, fourth book in the Lei Crime Series, a book with so much plot and character drama I can’t keep it all straight and have written two books just to keep away from it.  So I have stuff I’ve already done for those books on a stick drive.
  • Pack your supplies #2: I’ve packed my carpal tunnel braces, and a brand-new wrist rest since I’ll be using the wrist-unfriendly laptop. I’ve also raided my baby album for images that can spark memory/inspiration. I have my retreat clothes, and my favorite pillow (my version of a rabbit’s foot!)  I’m buying top-quality emergency chocolate and packing my favorite flavor of coffee.

    I achieve max productivity away from distractions, out in nature.


  • Go to a special place. You’ll notice I kept using the words “packing.” Yes, you can do NaNoWriMo at home—but I can’t do MyOwVer at home. It’s about max productivity, and I learned by experimentation that when I bribe my muse with new and beautiful surroundings, I really get sh*t done. This year, I’m going back to my favorite writing retreat in Mendocino, California (a sublimely beautiful spot.)  There is no internet at the cabins there. Nuff said.
  • Get accountability partners. Part of what makes NaNo work is the accountability of all your “tribe” and others rootin’ for you, and competition with seeing your word count stack up with others. In MyOwVer, I’m re-creating this by doing it with my amazing writer friend Holly Robinson. We are meeting IRL for the first time, and holing up in a cabin in the woods with our laptops, coffee, and a couple of bottles of wine. Can’t imagine anything more fun, or productive.
  • Don’t edit while you’re writing in this phase. It’s so tempting. In fact, part of my normal process is to re-read the day before’s pages to “get in the mood” for today’s writing. In NaNo mode, and in MyOwVer, one re-read is allowed—but the temptation to fiddle, tweak, obsess and perfect kills word count. NaNoWriMo and MyOwVer are all about getting sh*t done, period. Tweaking comes later.

Good luck to all, and happy writing! I’m off to buy a suitcase for MyOwVer—and don’t be afraid to redo NaNoWriMo into something that’s uniquely yours.


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