How I Was Destined to Win NaNoWriMo

You don’t need lots of money or the right connections to win National Novel Writing Month. Here’s how I won the November writing challenge by giving my novel a bunch of TLC.

I am super excited to announce that I won NaNoWriMo! That’s right, I made it to the 50K word count by November 30.

You bet I ordered my t-shirt. Hopefully I’ll get it in the mail by Christmas.

This was my first year participating in the National Novel Writing Month challenge. Normally, I dedicate every month of November since 2013 towards a writing project, but this year I decided to take the plunge.

Call me self-competitive, but I didn’t want to fail. That’s why I set myself up early for success before I even scribbled down the first word of my manuscript.

Of course it wasn’t in the stars for me to come out a winner, but I made it my job outside of my real job to go for the gold.

So, how did I win NaNoWriMo? If you’re a planner (not a pantser) like me, these tips will really come in handy during next year’s National Novel Writing Month challenge:

I Set Aside September for Selecting

I put a reminder in my calendar on September 1: Start Brainstorming NaNoWriMo Ideas.

Choosing a story to be your next novel seems like an easy task, but it took me a month to do it. It’s much more than sorting through all of my story ideas and selecting which one suits my fancy right now. It’s also about deciding which story has the most potential to reach a completed 50K draft during National Novel Writing Month and will spark my creativity and passion for 30 days.

I’d set weekly reminders the rest of September to make sure I finished this task. I wanted an entire month to get comfortable with the commitment I was about to make in November.

I Put Aside October for Planning

I received new weekly calendar reminders starting October 1: Outline NaNoWriMo novel.

For pantsers, this is probably not going to happen. But I tried the pantser method throughout graduate school and beyond without any luck. Unless you know how to create a story arc like writing your name, it helps to have some time for plan your plot.

To complete a novel, you must have a grip on creating a well-defined plot. That is, if you don’t want your story to quickly get lost.

Plot not your strong suit? I highly recommend reading Dr. Stanley Williams’ The Moral Premise. I attended one of his lectures last spring and it opened my eyes on how to create both a physical and emotional plot for the characters.

Because I outlined my book, I knew where I was going starting on November 1. I gradually saw my idea progress from day to day, each gaining more momentum from the last.

I’ll admit that I only outlined the progression for the main characters. I wanted my secondary characters to surprise me as I wrote the draft, and I’m glad I did. I discovered more about these people from writing than any plot outline could do. But if I didn’t already have that structure in place, I wouldn’t have had the guidance to get there.

I Demanded a Daily Word Count 

I read NaNoWriMo founder Chris Baty’s book No Plot? No Problem! just after the new year. In it, he shares that to reach 50K words, you need to write at least 1,667 words a day.

This isn’t news to National Novel Writing Month participants, especially if you’ve kept track of your daily word count on the NaNoWriMo website.

But knowing and understanding are two different things.

Once I understood what commitment this meant for me, I demanded high standards from myself early in the game. I was going to require 1,667 words daily as a minimum from myself. Even if that meant giving up TV, social activities and sleep.

I reviewed my calendar and noted days that I would be less likely to write or (gasp!) not write at all. Then I made sure to write more on my available days so that I wouldn’t fall behind. By Thanksgiving, I was still on track if not ahead on my total word count.

I Exercised

Running still made the cut in my schedule. Even if I ran in the dark of the morning or in the bright gym on rainy/snowy days.

It’s easy to eliminate fitness from your schedule. In theory, that gives you an extra hour to type out more words. But I urge you to make time for your health.

Here’s why.

I spent the time during my runner’s high thinking about how I would write my story. How could I elaborate on today’s action, description, and dialogue? What is missing from the plot that needs to be added?

When it came time to write some words, I was beyond pumped. Because I had that time to gather my thoughts, I was ready to launch into the draft when it came down to write. Thus, my writing sessions were more efficient and satisfying.

I Committed to the Novel, Not NaNoWriMo

It’s fun to jump on the National Novel Writing Month bandwagon. I felt so inspired during the first write-in I attended just days after the writing competition started. I couldn’t believe how many writers were all in for this writing adventure.

By the third write-in, those numbers dwindled drastically. And during my last write-in, over half of the writers had fallen so behind in their word count, that many had to be convinced of sticking it through.

What happened? Did their schedule get in the way of their writing? Did they get bored with their story? Did they lose motivation?

It’s a hefty task to write a 50K novel in November. The month gets swallowed up by Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and basically Christmas during the second half of the month. And sometimes unforeseen events happen that are out of your control, taking you out of the writing challenge completely.

But if your fears got in your way more than your life, then here’s the best advice that I can give you if you want to win NaNoWriMo: Commit to your novel, not National Novel Writing Month.

Sure, it’s fun to talk with writers about their writing projects, to network with writers online and to attend launch events. But after all the conversation and confetti, what’s left is you and your manuscript.

Writing is a tribute to solitude. You must be committed to completing your manuscript more than to the competition itself. The purpose of National Novel Writing Month is to push you to get a story down on paper. It’s up to you to use these thirty days wisely.

Did you win NaNoWriMo this year? Congrats! Share your secrets to winning below.


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