Monday 2 November 2015

NaNoWriMo - Ready, Set, Go

Part 4 of the NaNoWriMo series
by Jeanette O'Hagan

So this is Part 4 in the NaNo series where I give you a pep talk about how to succeed at NaNo and I have a confession to make. It’s the end of Day 1 and I’ve written no words on my NaNo project while my Nano buddies are belting out a thousand here, two thousand there, one prolific writer managing over 4500 words on the first day.

Now there are good reasons for my lack of productivity. The last two months have been hectic (check here) and while I’ve chosen my NaNo project, I haven’t had time to look at it and work out where I’m up to yet. My project is a continuation from last year, I have the major plot points worked out but I need to know what I’ve actually written already. (Which is more than I remembered. I actually spend several hours today rereading my manuscript and resisting the urge to edit as I worked out what areas I haven't covered yet.) Besides my daughter had a major computer crisis and needed my help with a vital project. And our ACW NaNo Facebook group was humming with activity  – people buddying up, encouraging each other, commiserating, celebrating, people to respond to – a whole lot of fun. And I have a blog post to write. Hmmm.

Day one – and zero words. And too major many tasks still due this month that I won’t be able to ignore – so what do I do, fling my hands up into the air and give up … Well, no, that’s not an option.

The fact is that NanoWriMo can be a roller coaster ride – but one missed day or ever a few isn’t going to make or break the month. In the end, it’s not how you start the race that counts – it’s how you finish it.

So, how do we facilitate getting down words on the page? What if we haven’t planned as well as we should? What if the ideas are just not flowing?

Here’s some thoughts:

Make space and time to write  

Where do you write best? Do you have a quiet corner with desk and chair, everything lined up ready to go – or maybe you prefer to write in a bustling cafĂ© or at the beach? Is it early in morning before anyone else rises, once the kids have left for school, in your lunch hour at work – or after everyone is in bed at night? Or can you close the door and fence off some time for yourself in the afternoons? Wherever and whenever it is – make sure you make the time and space to write each day, or each weekday – or on the weekends. The first step is to hot glue your bottom on the seat regardless of whether the muse is calling you or not.

While routine helps, you can also be spontaneous  

Maybe grab those stolen hours or moments here or there. Have a notebook to jot down ideas – as you wait for the bus, or eat your lunch, or are in the doctor’s waiting room. Or maybe have one beside your bed, near the shower or maybe dictate notes while you’re driving or doing the cleaning. If you aren't writing, you could be mulling over character or plot.

Don’t be afraid of the blank page 

Even if you have no ideas, you can start writing or typing until your ideas catch up with you. It can be surprising where that takes you. Or you might like to start with some writing exercises – or, something I find helpful – read through the last chapter or so that you wrote the day before to get you back into the rhythm of the story. (For more ideas check here).

Remember to give your internal editor a holiday 

That’s right, buy her a plane ticket to some exotic overseas destination, pack his suitcases and wave him/her off for a month’s long trip. Okay, that might be a bit hardcore for some of you but I really suggest that as much as possible, you just write and worry about editing later – preferably in December. So the result may be a rough diamond – but I must admit to being surprised how good the prose can be. And besides, words on a page can be edited but a blank page can't.

Use placeholders

Got stuck on a plot point or an item of research? Is it going to take you too long to pursue – mark a note of the problem and give yourself permission to keep going or move to another part of the story. I sometimes write planning notes or brainstorm ideas as I go – and before long the notes begin transform into the next scene.

Don’t forget to take breaks

Take a walk, listen to music, play with the kids, go to the movies or whatever else might stimulate your creativity – just remember to start writing again.

Tap into the competitive spirit

Are you really flagging? Sometimes timed write-offs can give you the stimulus you need. See if any of your buddies would like to do a writing sprint – say of 30 minutes – to see who can write the most in that time. I’ve surprised myself with how quickly the ideas come and it’s great practice at nudging that workaholic internal editor back on leave. Your local NaNo group may have write-ins and other events, where you can write together.

Break the elephant down into mouthfuls 

While 50,000 words sounds huge, 1667 words a day not so much.  How many words do you write in an hour? I generally write about 750 (if I’m doing a sprint – then it could be 1500), so that’s really only a little over 2 hours a day each day to meet my target. Of course, I may not be able to write each day – like today, or possibly next weekend when I’m on a craft camp – but then some days I’ve written 5000 words or even 6000 in the one day (in maybe 4-5 hours) so have always been able to eventually catch up and even surpass my goal. 

So there really is no reason why I can’t win again this November – even if my word count for Day 1 is zero.

So what about you? How are you going with NaNo? Do you have any tips you'd like to share?

And – if you were thinking of joining and haven’t yet – it’s not too late. Sign up on the NaNo site (here) and join us at the ACW NaNo-nauts (here). We’d love to have your company J

Part Three: Preparing for NaNo   5 October 2015 
Part Four: Ready, Set, Go  2 November 2015 (That’s this one) 
Part Five:  Is there life after NaNo?  30 November 2015

Image courtesy of ponsulak at

Jeanette O'Hagan has a short story published in the general market Tied in Pink Romance Anthology  (profits from the anthology go towards Breast Cancer research) in December 2014 and two poems in the Poetica Christi’s Inner Child anthology launched in July 2015. She has practiced medicine, studied communication, history and theology and has taught theology.  She cares for her children, has just finished her Masters of Arts (Writing) at Swinburne University and is writing her Akrad's fantasy fiction series.  You can read some of her short fiction here

You can find her at her Facebook Page or at Goodreads or on her websites or Jeanette O'Hagan Writes .


  1. Great tips! I have 6 hrs when kids are in school - & I might not answer the phone / door ;) I also mark my problem areas with an asterisk so I know where to fix later - my internal editor can (just about) cope with that!

    1. Thanks Carolyn. I make the most of those hours the kids are in school too (as well as the hours after my youngest is in bed) :) Using an asterisk (or a unique symbol that can be searched later) is a great way of moving on. I sometimes highlight issues too. Thanks for your great tips :)

  2. Great post, Jeanette, and good on you for admitting your challenging first day. I'm using November for editing but have adopted the spirit of NaNo. Well, trying to.

    All the very best and hope you achieve your goal.

    1. Thanks Ian. You could be a NaNo rebel - I did mostly editing in July. The suggested conversion was 1000 words for 1 hours of active editing though I used 750 words (as this is my usual writing rate). All the best with the editing - and looking forward to the publication of the sequel to Angelguard.

  3. Thanks, Jenny. Onward we march. I only wrote about 500 words ;). Can I say that word storms or word flurries whatever we call them are a great tool even when we are by ourselves. If I'm stuck I sometimes do a ten minute flurry. Or three 10 minute flurries with a 3 minute break in the middle. Our brains are capable of a fascinating level of lateral thinking :).

    1. Hi Sue - that's 500 more than I wrote (unless I count the blog post in my total lol). The idea of a word flurry sounds interesting. Is it like a writing sprint - but done solo? And yes, our brains are amazing - especially when we push them a little.

  4. Encouraging post, Jenny, as are my fellow NaNo-nauts. I know if I miss a day here or there it's not an automatic fail but it's good to see it in writing. Thank you :)

  5. Thanks for taking the time out to encourage us all ... especially at the expense of your own nano-writing time. I tend to write scene by scene ... and I know that I'll need some 'bridging' chapters or paragraphs when I'm through. For now, I'm just letting my brain run riot. :) I have to anticipate my unwell days in advance. Thoroughly enjoying the journey so far, though!

    1. That's great to hear Melinda :) I'm getting into it the swing of it too. Letting things flow.

  6. Hi Jeanette, Thanks for sharing your helpful tips. I decided that I need to write at least 100 words every day, no exceptions. Even on the days when I'm interstate, and there are 6 of those days in November. That's when my tablet will come in handy for writing in small chunks. I'm not going to reach 50k by December 1, but I'm determined to finish a 25k novella and start a second 25k novella. I'm going offline now to write, and I'll check in with the ACW NaNo-nauts tonight :)

    1. Hi Narelle - that sounds like a plan - and even 30,000 words (or 20,000 or 10,000) is an achievement. :) And who knows, you could surprise yourself :)


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