NaNoWriMo Survival Tips

Okay, folks. You’ve heard your friends talking about this NaNoWriMo business. That it’s supposed to be SO much fun. That this wicked awesome month-long writing exercise put on every November will rev up your creativity and caffeinate your muse or whatever else you call that clump of ganglia that drops words into your brain and out your typing fingers. Yeah. It’s fun. I’ve done it five times. You watch the little thermometer fill up as your word count rises. You get scared and want to pump more stimulants into your body to keep up with your friends. They all seem to have cooler titles than yours, fleshed-out plot descriptions….heck, some of them even have PLOTS. And you, you pantser, all you have is an idea that came to you while you were out shopping for Halloween kiddie kibble. Urged on by all your writer friends on FaceTwit, you sign up. And then the panic starts. Fifty thousand words. Thirty days. You do the math. (Seriously, you do it. I hate math.) How the heck…? With a spouse? Kids? A job? And if you’re American, with all the little frilly white things you need to make to go over the Thanksgiving turkey’s feet? What’s up with that, anyway? Decorating a dead carcass with lace garters? No wonder the rest of the world hates us.

What? Still want to do this, all for the glory of a rough first draft and a shiny badge to plunk on your website? Okay. Here are some NaNoWriMo survival tips that will help you get through this with your sanity mostly intact.

1. Provisions. Fill your secret underground bunker with your basic food groups: chocolate, coffee, canned goods, power snacks, and things that non-kitchen-oriented members of your family can make themselves. If you are in any way kitchen-oriented, think in bulk. Double and triple recipes of things that freeze and you won’t mind eating nearly every day. Borrow a cauldron from your local witch and make ten or twenty gallons of soup or stew. On some crappy, rainy night in late November, when you’re struggling just to coax your fingers into that curled position needed to hit keys, let alone get chapter seventeen to work out, you’ll thank me for that hot bowl of comfort. Maybe by sending me a few gallons now.

2. Kids. They are so unreasonable, disturbing your writing time because they want to do things like eat and talk to you. Okay, I don’t have any kids, but I’ve seen them around, you know, on TV and stuff. One thing I’ve learned from television is that simple commands work best. Like, “Go outside and play,” and “Here’s twenty bucks, scram.” Live in a dicey neighborhood paved with broken glass and spent bullets? Don’t have twenty bucks? Duct tape works, too. It’s cheap, and it also removes warts.

3. Domestic partners. Now, come on. These are grown people with opposable thumbs, and they often have their own drivers’ licenses and checking accounts. Surely, they can fend for themselves while you screw around on the NaNoWriMo forums and moan to your TwitFace friends that you’re falling behind on your quota. But sometimes, they need subtle reminders that this creative exercise is important to you. So reinforce your perimeters. A moat is fine but messy, and the alligators and Madagascar hissing cockroaches frequently escape and pester your neighbors. A line in the sand can also work, if the sand is kept at a consistent temperature high enough to burn flesh. Maginot Line? Look how well that turned out for the French. That’s why I turn to an easy, tried-and-true system of protecting my borders: the invisible dog fence. Run the wiring across the threshold of your writing room door. Then disassemble your dog’s collar and sew the electronic mechanism into a discreet place on your partner’s clothing. It’s remarkable how quickly negative reinforcement can work. One or two good jolts usually do the trick. If you’re lucky.

4. The day job. Seriously, you need this now, and for those who have one, be grateful. It may be the only time you get to rest your hands.

5. Housework. Unnecessary. Next.

6. Your health. I bet you expect me to say that silly things like sleep and exercise are overrated, that you can fall into your oh-so-sweet pillow top mattresses in December. Sorry. I’m not letting you get away with this one. A rested mind in a fit body is more efficient and creative. It’s also craftier and can help you devise better ways to protect your precious writing time. Plus, getting sick in December totally sucks, and by then, all your soup and chocolate will be gone.

7. Americans, be thankful. After the Thanksgiving meal, most of your household will disappear to watch football games or take advantage of Black Friday bargains, leaving you alone with your precious baby novel. Enjoy.

(Note: No children, pets, spouses, or Madagascar hissing cockroaches were harmed in the making of this post.)

Author: Laurie Boris

Laurie Boris is a freelance writer, editor, proofreader, and former graphic designer. She has been writing fiction for over twenty-five years and is the award-winning author of four novels. She lives in New York’s lovely Hudson Valley. Learn more about Laurie at her website and her Amazon author page.

38 thoughts on “NaNoWriMo Survival Tips”

  1. Thanksgiving weekend has saved my NaNo bacon more than once. As for #5, that’s my motto all year long, not just in November.

    (P.S. It’s 1,667 words a day. I didn’t even have to do the math this year. What does that say about me?)

    1. Usually Thanksgiving is what makes me do the math, Lynne. So, that’s…one day for meal prep…three days for out-of-town-visitors…count total number of days remaining and divide into 50K… And yes, I also live by #5. 😉 Thanks.

  2. Loved the post Laurie. This is my first time doing NaNoWriMo and I am shaking in my boots. And I don’t even have a day job or kids. And, I am lucky enough to have a cleaning lady once a week because I live in another country where help is inexpensive. All that aside, I spend my days and nights at the computer writing and running a website – I’m so afraid I won’t make the daily quota. But I’m definitely giving it a go – posts like yours allow me to understand that everyone faces problems – the main idea is, as Nike says, “Just Do It!”

  3. Laurie’s NaNo rules have helped me stay alive the past three Novembers and will get me through the next one. Her advice is so practical, I’ve made a lifestyle out of all of them (except #2 and #4, which I’ve somehow managed to avoid). We’re scrounging around for boxes to move because quite frankly it’s a bit stinky in here. Also, we’re out of clean cauldrons.

  4. I love NaNoWriMo…it’s a great excuse to stay up all night eating and chatting to my friends on Facebook..uhm I mean get my latest book started off. Great tips Laurie.

  5. Best NaNo tool ever? PVR – no need to miss your favorite shows and sometimes you can tempt yourself into a few hundred more words – then The Walking Dead!

    1. I must get some of that, RJ. The “Novel in Progress” sign on my door isn’t working very well. And the pet store is all out of Madagascar hissing cockroaches.

  6. No, no, no, no – I refuse to sign up ever again. I’ve tried and failed three times. Was so sure last year I’d do it and I had a buddy to keep me going (she managed it). Felt such a failure! I think I have a very garbled 25,000 words of what was quite obviously two separate novels which I’ve not looked at since last November.

  7. Wonderful advice! I’ve wanted to participate in NaNoWriMo since first learning of it last year, but sadly, I’m chumping out this year to concentrate finishing the first draft of my primary WIP. Maybe I can finish that by Nov 30…

  8. It’s only 1667 words a day. That’s an hour or two a day, avg. The solution for finding that time, for most US citizens, is pretty easy: no TV for November. 😉

    Nope. Turn off the tube, write instead. Nothing else really needs to change.

    Don’t watch TV? Let’s consider this a sec.

    There are 168 hours in a week. You need to spend 7-14 of them writing, depending of your writing speed. Let’s say you’re a slow typist and need 14. You want seven hours of sleep a night, so 49 there. You work 40 more and commute another 7. That’s 110 hours gone.

    So with writing, and work, and commute, and sleep, you STILL have 58 hours a week left over to spend with family, eat, shower, do housework, and whatever else it is you want to do. 😉

    That’s really the key to NaNo. It’s also the key to a writing career. You Must Place Butt In Chair And Write. You have to set writing as a higher priority than your leisure activities; it can fall after sleep, family, and work, but it needs to sit higher than the fun goodies. You can do those in December. 😉

    1. Meh… I need more than 14 hours/week of writing time coz I’m super slow, but the advice about the TV is so spot on! I have no problem taking those extra hours from the cleaning though. 😀 That will be a pleasure!

  9. Laurie, I really enjoyed this post. Your writing style has such a lovely flow you don’t even notice you’re reading, until of course spit flies from your mouth, as you suddenly burst out laughing, which in turn you receive strange looks from the kids.
    I’d love to try this challenge, but like you said in your post, kids, pets, job, housework (definitely necessary in my abode, as I have two whirl-winds for kids and they can destroy a room in a matter of minutes) get in the way of my creativity flow. I need to book myself into a nice hotel and ship my kids off to a little orphanage in Roratonga to get any kind of peace and quiet around here!
    It would be a great way to get the next six books done in my book series, tempting, very tempting *scratches chin in a thoughtful manner* Hmm perhaps after Christmas when the hubby will be back home full-time and I’m not on my own holding the fort. (Hubby been working away, not been in prison by the way).
    Oh, and was just kidding about the kids 😉 or was I *scratches chin again* No, no . . . really . . . I couldn’t . . . mmwahahaha *evil laugh emits from deep within*

  10. I nearly opted in this year, but life intervened. I will be printing this off and filing it for next year! Any advice on demanding cats? Duct tape I guess. Terrific post thank you Laurie, I needed the giggle.

    1. Thank you, Carolyn! See, cats can actually be helpful writing friends. The trick is to let them in on the process. Because they want to feel useful. This will mollify their demands. Or so I’ve heard.

  11. Laurie, you’ve convinced me to give it a try. No kids, no spouse, no formal work — retired. But I’ve never written more than 25K… This will be a challenge. Thanks!

  12. Gawd… I literally laughed all the way through this! I’m doing nano too this year and I’ve been trying to prepare by doing a spring clean /now/ so I won’t have to touch a mop or a bucket for 4 weeks. Working on the gallons of soup as well. The Daughter doesn’t know it yet but she is going to have to chip in and do some cooking as well. She’s 25 after all. It’s payback time!

    1. Does this mean that my parrot, cockatail and canary will have to get their own bood, and the bonsáis will fetch their own water? Hope they don’t sue me!

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