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NaNoWriMo Survival Guide

The place to go for all of your NaNoWriMo needs is right here.

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Hey, there! I'm glad you've stopped by to make your NaNoWriMo experience amazing!

This is a two-parted survival guide. Part I consists of tips and tricks I've seen, heard, read, or experienced. Part II consists of supplies I’ve discovered are helpful to have handy.
This is here to help you prepare for NaNoWriMo, along with struggling through it. Please, please don't read just summaries. You can do that at first, but click on the links. They're a lot more helpful than the summaries, and they're written by adults with more experience, not some sixteen-year-old girl who's only done NaNoWriMo once before.
There’s a lot of information here, and quite a bit of it is repeated. But the more it’s repeated, the more important it probably is.
I’ve been accumulating this information since May, so if this isn’t the best survival guide you can find, well…I wouldn’t be surprised. But I did put a lot of time and effort into this, so take a look. Who knows—you might even learn something (I did).
Oh, and here's a random thing (that's not so random, really. It fits here). Go check out The Office of Letters and Light's blog. It's quite helpful.

Image Courtesy of National Novel Writing Month.

Part I: Tips & Tricks

1. Trick Yourself.

In The Write Practice's post 7 Tricks to Write More with Less Willpower, Joe Bunting talks about how to trick your subconscious into writing for you (#3). This works, guys. I've tried it. It's very helpful for when you just don't feel like writing in general. (To be honest, this whole post is a great reference for NaNoWriMo AND writing in general.)

2. Write or Die.

(No, not literally.) If you haven't heard of Write or Die by Dr. Wicked, I pity you. You need to check it out, especially if you're a NaNoer. I found it last year, at the end of November. Basically, the thoughts running through my head were something like this: WHERE THE HECK HAVE YOU BEEN ALL OF MY LIFE? You set your word goal and a time goal, and then write (you don't have to get the desktop version one. There's an online version, under "apps")! But you can't stop for more than a few seconds without some form of punishment. Dr. Wicked's methods of punishment can be harsh or gentle, depending on the mode you set it on. But be careful! He will start erasing your words if you stop for too long.

3. Backwards NaNoWriMo.

I haven't tried this form of NaNoWriMo yet, but I guess it works . Basically, you write a lot on the first day of November, and as the month goes by, you don't have to write as much each day. On Day 30, you actually only have to write one word. That's right. One. Word.

4. Watch People.

Whenever you aren't writing, watch people. They'll give you ideas, and as the Write Practice says, they're "free inspiration."

5. Don't Edit.

Whenever I read or hear tips about NaNoWriMo, this one is always there. Don't edit. It's a waste of your time until you're done. Right now, just write. You can't afford to edit. You don't have time, and personally I think editing can be very draining and frustrating. So just wait.

6. Have a Plot.

Please, oh PLEASE. As Nathan Bransford stresses in his blog post Do You have a Plot?, you need to have a plot. Duh, you might think. But bear with me. If you actually read the post, it is explained that a plot is very different from a theme, and people tend to think of the theme as the plot. So before I get any more confusing, just read the post. Okay? No, seriously. Go read the post, make sure you have a plot, and if you don't, MAKE ONE. And make an outline, too. (I recommend the Snowflake Method, which was recommended to me by Amy Wallace. It's a lot of work, but so worth it.) I didn't have one last year, and it screwed me up. So have one. You'll stray from it, for sure, but you need to have one. That way, when you feel lost, you'll have something to come back to.

7. The Write Practice Again.

Here are five tips from The Write Practice (yes, yes, I really do like that website) on how to win NaNoWriMo. They're simple tips, but very effective.
1. Write with friends.
2. Write fast.
3. Don't edit.
4. Use a timer.
5. This isn't just about 50,000 words.

8. Don't Worry About the Names.

Last year, I got stuck on names. I wanted them to be right, and it took up a lot of time to find the right ones. But I learned a lesson from that fatal mistake: forget about the names. Either already have the names planned out, or if you come across an unexpected but nameless character, use a random name generator, like this one. Specifically that one because it's more than a name. It gives you an address, an email, phone number, Mother's maiden name, birthday, and a whole bunch of other random information. And don't generate over and over until you get one that you like. Stick with the first one. You can change it all later. But when you're writing for NaNoWriMo, it doesn't matter.

9. Sometimes, You Might Need a Boost in Creativity.

Shana Lebowitz compiled a list of 36 ways to boost creativity right over here. Some of these won't work for NaNoWriMo (I think visiting a country is out of the question, plus the whole asking for someone's opinion needs to wait until December. Right now you're just getting the words out, not trying to please someone else). But listening to music, writing by hand (even for a bit), or going to bed can be great options.

10. "Seeing is not Observing."

In this article, the power of taking field notes to enhance your observation skills is explained. But to me, I got something for writing out of it. Whenever you aren't writing, have a notebook. Always. Even by your bed at night (we all know that's when the best ideas come to us). Notice everything going on around you. Write down how the little boy's smile turned into a laugh when his mom started tickling him. See that rose? Describe everything about it. Take a picture of it if you have a camera with you. Just remember this: always be observing, and find a way to put those observations into your novel. It'll boost your word count and give your scene a bit more depth.
Besides, who doesn't like pretending to be Sherlock Holmes?

11. Reward Yourself.

I got this one from over here. They'll give you links to other articles that explain why and stuff. The point of the post: reward yourself when you do something significant. Not after every sentence. If you finish your word count for the day, celebrate. Get more done? Celebrate. You're halfway? Celebrate. But do NOT celebrate by not writing. As it says in the article, "never reward writing with not writing. Rewarding writing by abandoning your schedule is like rewarding yourself for quitting smoking by having a cigarette." -Paul J. Silvia

12. Know How to Defeat the Two Types of Writer's Block.

One of the NaNo pep talkers from last year (for the YWP), Ally Carter, wrote a post that helped me a lot. It's about the two types of Writer's Block, how to recognize them, and what to do about them. (Also, here are all of the pep talks from the YWP, and here are all of the ones for the "normal" NaNoWriMo.

13. Writer's Relief Comes to the Rescue!

(Yet another great writing website!) Over at Writer's Relief, their staff have given seven very helpful tips for NaNoWriMo. They are: prepare mentally, clear your calendar, create an outline, have draft notes, stock the fridge (healthy food, guys), exercise, and set rewards. Go read the post. They get more in depth, and they're probably some of the best tips I've found while putting this thing together.

14. Timers are Great.

You know they are. Don't deny it. They help keep you on track. Write or Die is a great one with a goal all set in, but if you don't like that, here's another one.

15. Make a Long Playlist and Don't Stop Until it Does.

Don't stop for anything. No food. No internet. No messing around. Nothing. (Okay, you can get up to pee, but that's it.)


From The Office of Letters and Light, I show you eight tips they provide for surviving Camp NaNoWriMo, that are still very useful for NaNoWriMo. Or real life.
S-Size up to the situation. (You can do it.)
U-Use all your senses, Undue Haste Makes Waste. (Don't write so fast that your story is confusing, but don't write so slow that you can't finish in time.)
R-Remember Where You Are. (You're among friends, it's okay to suck, and you're at the beginning of the rest of your writing life.)
V-Vanquish Fear and Panic. (Forget about fear. It's pointless. Instead, have a plan, stick with it, and stop worrying.)
I-Improvise. (An acronymn.)
  • Ideas
  • Mayday Option
  • Punting the Critic
  • Reinventions
  • Open Doors
  • Volume
  • Interaction
  • Sidestepping
  • Experimentation
V-Value Living. (People, experiences, etc. are our inspiration. We need them, and we can't shut them out. No piece of artwork is worth losing someone over.)
A-Act Like the Natives. (Learn from the professionals, but don't be mislead by fallacies. Basically, writers write. So write. A lot.)
L-Live by Your Wits, But for Now, Learn Basic Skills. (Make the story exciting while still improving on alliteration, metaphors, dialogue, etc.)

17. No Plot? No Problem!

The Office of Letters and Light has come up with three things to keep in mind while brainstorming for your plot.
1. Ideas are like celebrities.
2. Document everything.
3. Two stormy brains are better than one.

18. Just Write.

Sometimes, that's all you need to do. Just write, write, and write some more!

19. Forget Everything You've Just Read.

I've read over and over again that, when it comes to writing, the rules are optional. There's almost always some exception (including exceptions to this rule). So if something isn't working for you, maybe you can break that rule. You're a person. I'm a person. We have different opinions, lifestyles, methods, etc. Some rules work for me, some don't work for you.

Part II: Supplies

1. Healthy food.

Don't let yourself go completely unhealthy while you're going through NaNoWriMo. Writer's Relief suggests over here that "maintaining a healthy diet will keep you focused and alert for the long writing journey ahead of you."

2. Notebook, Pens, Pencils, etc.

Always carry these. ALWAYS. As mentioned earlier, if you decide to take field notes, you'll need these. Besides, you never know when a brilliant idea will pop into your head. And, as I have often experienced, I forget that idea if I don't write it down. (Especially at night. That's why I have a special notebook that I keep on my nightstand.)

3. Your Favorite Movies.

Yes, movies. And TV shows. Whatever you need to help you get over your problems, whether it's Type 2 Writer's Block (as mentioned here) or a lack of inspiration. Compile a list of your favorite movies/episodes and keep it handy. But don't watch one EVERY time you feel tired. Sometimes you just have to push through, because sometimes what you're feeling is Type 1 Writer's Block being sneaky. Watch out for him. That little bugger wants to ruin your November. Don't let him.

4. An Awesome Mug.

Picture this: you're writing away on a cold November night, wrapped up in a blanket with a mug of tea or hot chocolate or coffee or whatever you prefer. And what mug are you sipping your hot beverage from? It could be this fantastic Writer Mug, designed by yours truly. I worked hard on this and lovelovelove it, and you should too! Buy it (or browse other products!) here.

5. Your Brain.

Please don't forget this. Just...please. While it might be quite amusing for others to watch you try to write 50,000 words in thirty days without your brain, you'd be in a lot of pain.

6. NaNoWriMo Calendar.

It’s helpful to have your goals written down. Even if it’s just your normal calendar with the wordcount goals written on every day, do it. I have one at the end of this post that you can use. You can set it as your desktop background or print it off or whatever. It has the number day, the wordcount goal, and an inspiring quote/note, along with a couple challenges and prompts. (Don't like mine? Google search for one and you'll probably find one you like.)

7. Character Profiles.

These will come in handy, I've heard. What color were your character's eyes? Refer to the character profile instead of searching for it. Stuck on not knowing how your character would react to a certain situation? Look at their personality in their character profile. Of course, these should be made before November 1st. You can find the Official NaNoWriMo Character Questionnaire right here. The Write Practice has  the 35 Questions to Ask Your Character From Marcel Proust. Both are wonderful.

8. An Outline.

Outlining probably isn't your favorite thing. I get that. It's not my favorite either. But it must be done. The Snowflake Method is the long way around. But there are others. Even if you just write the beginning, middle, and end of the story—it's something.
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EDIT: Here's a 2015 NaNoWriMo calendar for you all! Good luck this year!

2016's Calendar:

Unfortunately, I didn't get around to making a 2016 calendar for NaNoWriMo. But I found this lovely one by Kiriska on DeviantArt!

Have any tips or tricks I didn't mention that you love to use? Post them in the comments!
I am also planning on posting a series of reminders, bits and pieces of encouragement, and possibly some interviews during November, so stay tuned! (Edit: you can find those in the 2013 archives.)


  1. VERY helpful post! This is my first year doing NaNo, so I'm not quite sure what to do. This has helped more than you know. Thanks!
    (This is Mary Jane from Pinterest)

    1. Thank you! I'm so glad I was able to help. :) And I know exactly how you feel-last year was my first year, and it was quite overwhelming.

  2. Awesome. This is my first year, so this will be really helpful.

  3. I know I'm a little late to the party, but this is a wonderful post! I found this on Pinterest, while looking for guidance and inspiration. You did a great job compiling this list - it's extremely helpful! Thank you so much!

    1. Thanks, Erin! I'm glad I could help! And don't worry about being late--you're still as welcome as anyone! :)

  4. I hope to try some of these tips this year. I know about the snowflake method but I still think I don't quite understand it yet.

    1. You totally should! Good luck! Just keep working at it, and you'll get it!


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