NaNo Survival Guide: Self-Care and the NaNo Community

NaNoWriMo is a fun-filled month and a formidable challenge. With all the excitement buzzing, it’s really easy to throw yourself full force into writing. Last week, I offered WriMo’s some suggestions to increase productivity, but I should also emphasize that it is important to take care of yourself. No goal is worth compromising your wellness. And, especially in the case of NaNoWriMo, the sacrifices you make might end up backfiring and keeping you from meeting your daily targets. I’m no doctor, but I am a NaNo veteran who has overdone it in the past. Here are my suggestions for how to take care of yourself during this crazy challenge:


Keep Your Sleep Schedule

You will be tempted to drink a bunch of coffee and stay up all night to write. DON’T. You’ll feel like crap and weaken your immune system–making yourself susceptible to early winter colds. The few extra hundred words that you produce from staying up late aren’t worth the days of writing missed when you are sick in bed with the flu (trust me, it has happened to me in the past). And, chances are, when you stay up late, you’ll either be so hyped up on coffee or overtired that you’ll end up watching old re-runs of The Twilight Zone and not actually writing. Like The Tortoise And The Hare, when it comes to NaNo, “slow and steady wins the race.

Drink More Water Than Coffee

I’m a fiend for coffee as much as the next writer, and nothing is an excuse to indulge in too much coffee as productivity. DON’T. It’ll mess up your sleep schedule, which as I mentioned before, is key to your NaNo success. Try to remember to keep hydrated and drinking water (or maybe some decaf tea) in between your cups of Joe–or at the very least, keep to your usual dietary and wellness habits that keep you healthy all the rest of the year!

Take Breaks

There has been a lot of news in the past couple years about how harmful it is to sit. This has posed a conundrum for office workers and computer users, and NaNo participants are no different. Aside from the stress sitting puts on your vascular health, repetitive stress from typing at the computer (or writing with a pen) can cause long term ailments like carpel tunnel syndrome or arthritis. Every so often, take a break from the novel to get some fresh air. (Bonus tip: Nothing helps inspiration like a change in scenery. You might find the answer to your writers block when you have a minute away from the story!)

Make Friends

One of the best parts of NaNoWriMo (aside from testing your endurance and drafting a whole novel) is the community. Whether online or in person, there are countless opportunities to connect with other WriMo’s. If you’re feeling stuck, discouraged, or if you have some tips that you want to share, reach out! We are here to help each other, and celebrate the craft of novel writing together!


3 Tips for NaNoWriMo Productivity

Writing_MJRoseWe are less than two weeks away from diving into NaNoWriMo, and you might be starting to wonder–What am I going to write about?

Jessica Critcher showed you how to get your novel set up on the NaNoWriMo website, and two of her tools for success. Here are some of my tips for beating writers block and keeping your word count growing throughout the month.

Create Prompts

I typically write by hand, and one of the reasons is so I can track my new ideas without NaNoWriMo Promptsdisrupting the flow of the thought I’m currently writing. By using a legal pad, I can flip to the next blank page to jot down a new prompt–a piece of dialogue, a concept, or even a single word–that I can return to later. This is my main strategy for coping with writers block throughout the year, and it keeps my pen moving during NaNoWriMo. If you don’t write by hand, you can just as easily do this in whatever word processor you use. (Pro Tip: You can set up your prompts now, just be sure to not include them in your word count in November!)

Explore Backstory

Hemingway’s strategy, known as the Iceberg Theory or Theory of Omission, helped keep his work direct and minimal, but packed with underlying emotion. His concept was that in fiction, the reader witnesses tip of the iceberg of the character’s experience, but the writer themselves know the full depth of the character under the surface, with the majority of the details not included in the story. For NaNoWriMo, you can chuck the Iceberg Theory out the window. You’re here to write 50,000 words! If you come up with a subplot or backstory for your character–include it! You never know what you’ll end up keeping in your final novel, or if that little idea might become a story of it’s own someday.

Put Genre Aside, For Now

When writers set out write a story, we may already have an idea for what genre it is and the approximate length. Sometimes we are right on the money, and that horror short story turns out to be exactly as spooky and brief as we expected. Other times, you may plan a paranormal novella, and the next thing you know, you’re writing a contemporary romance series. While understanding the common plot curves and tropes of a genre can help steer your novel, for NaNoWriMo it’s more important to get the ideas down–and word count up! Don’t let labeling your work stymie your productivity.

The biggest thing to remember during NaNoWriMo is you aren’t striving for a perfect, finished novel. It can take months, or even years, to produce a final manuscript. Your challenge in November is to produce 50k words of content that you can re-work and revise in the future.

Two Magical Tools to Help You Win NaNoWriMo

National Novel Writing Month is creeping closer. You’ve registered on and pledged to write 50,000 words in 30 days, and as November approaches, you might be feeling a little nervous. This is a daunting task, to be sure. But you’re not going to be writing 50k words at once. You’re going to be writing them one at a time. Specifically, you need to write 1,667 words per day to finish on schedule.

People are usually pretty impressed that I can do this. They attribute all sorts of magical qualities to me and my writing, which, I imagine, makes them feel better about putting off their own novels. But that’s a lot of pressure to put on me, you guys. I’m not a sorceress.

Ok. Maybe I do have one small, slightly magical edge. Lean in close and I will whisper my secrets to you. I know two resources that can make the process a little less terrifying. One is called Write or Die, which forces you to write quickly, ignoring your inner editor and your urge to procrastinate. The other is Write Track, which allows you to obsessively graph and analyze your progress, as well as schedule your writing around life’s eventual chaos.

Write or Die

Write or Die is a free web app by Dr. Wicked. There is also a paid desktop version for $20 with enhanced features that can be used without a connection to the internet. But whichever version you use, it works more or less the same way.

You set a time limit for however long you want to write. Only have 15 minutes before your kid gets home from school? You get an hour for lunch? Put it into the app. Then, you set a word count goal. Trying to knock out your daily quota of 1,667 words? Only feeling confident enough to try 100? The app doesn’t judge. Once your time limit and word goal are set, you click start.

And then you write. The app opens up a text box, and you have to type into it until either your word goal or your time limit are fulfilled. If you stop typing, there are consequences. The type and severity of the consequences are up to you.

On the easy mode, the app will simply remind you to keep typing.

On medium mode, which is what I use, the app will play an annoying sound and/or fill your screen with terrifying images until you continue typing.

On Kamikaze mode, Write or Die starts to delete your words from the beginning. How’s that for motivation?

There is also a stimulus mode and a reward mode for people who are more interested in positive reinforcement. (Ditto for Written? Kitten!) But I personally respond better to negative reinforcement. Think about it: there are all kinds of positive benefits to finishing your writing. But if you don’t finish, nothing bad is really going to happen to you. You can quit NaNoWriMo any time you want and convince yourself you didn’t want to do it in the first place.

Write or Die ups the stakes a little. On my most frazzled, bogged down, uninspired days, when the words just aren’t coming, I take my laptop to a crowded café and turn the volume all the way up. With Write or Die, if I stop typing, my computer will make an embarrassing sound and everyone in the café will turn to look at me. Suddenly I find I have the ability to dig deep and finish my quota for the day after all. I’m not saying everyone needs to be motivated by an immediate desire to avoid humiliation. But if you think you could use a little more focus during your precious, finite writing time, give Write or Die a shot.

Write Track

People love to tell me how they would totally do NaNoWriMo if it only took place in a month that wasn’t November. But here’s the thing: there are 11 months out of the year that aren’t November, and most people don’t write novels then either. I don’t finish NaNoWriMo because I’m not busy. There is chaos all year long, and the only way to be a writer is to write around it. (Katie is going to talk more about time management next week.)

So, yeah, Thanksgiving takes place in November. You’re probably going to want to spend some time with your family. You might be traveling somewhere, you might have to go to your kid’s football game, whatever, there are lots of things besides writing that will have to happen in November. But that doesn’t mean you have to abandon your entire novel or your shiny dreams.

If you really truly cannot find a single spare second to write even one word on a given day in November, you’ll have to make up those 1,667 words on the rest of the days of the month. But it can be intimidating to simply try for 3,334 words the next day, and 5,001 the next. A lot of people give up after falling a few days behind because they feel like they can never get caught up. Write Track to the rescue.

Write Track is a free online tool created by David S. Gale that allows you to create a project with a word goal and a deadline, and manage that project in a very sophisticated way. For NaNoWriMo, I set my start date as November 1st and my end date as November 30th. I set my word goal as 50,000 words, and it creates a calendar for me, with each day’s 1,667 words waiting to be written. But instead of forcing you to strictly keep up your quota or fall behind, Write Track allows you to give yourself days off (or schedule more work on certain days,) in advance, and then redistributes your word count accordingly.

For example, let’s assume nobody wants to write on Thanksgiving. Personally, I’m not going to do any writing on November 7th, because I’m going to be playing a 24 hour videogame marathon for charity. So that day is a wash. I set the weight to zero, and now that day’s 1,667 words are spread out through the rest of the month, not doubled up the next day. Now, I have to write 1,725 words per day to finish on time. Conversely, if you manage to write more than the minimum, your words per day for the rest of the month will go down.

Here’s what my November looks like right now:

It also creates lovely graphs of your progress, which are perfect for people who like a visual representation of their hard work. Here’s a graph of my progress last year:


The orange bit is the expected progress of 1,667 words per day. The beige part is what my month actually looked like. You’ll notice I managed to finish early, despite being out of the country for two weeks AND spending Thanksgiving with my family (and taking five days off). Write Track helps me get ahead and stay ahead, and it soothes my neurotic brain by reminding me that every single word counts.

Bonus: It can sync with your NaNoWriMo account, and there’s a “friend” feature that lets you see other people’s charts, if you’re into that. (I’m femmefatale, come find me.) Best of all, with the tweet button, you can shout each day’s hard won victory from the Twitter mountaintops to celebrate your progress along the way.

So, there you have it. These are my talismans for warding off the terror of the blank page and blinking cursor. But these things aren’t going to write your novel for you. You have to believe you can do it and take it seriously enough to finish. There’s no magic involved (beyond the ordinary, everyday, imagination kind).

But that doesn’t mean it won’t feel miraculous when you’re done.

NaNoWri-wha? | An Introduction to National Novel Writing Month

Fall is here and restaurants are putting pumpkin spice in everything. Stores are mobbed with Halloween stuff, and soon all of your friends will start complaining about how early stores are putting out Christmas stuff. For most people this time of year means pies and cozy sweaters, hot chocolate, accompanied by a vague sense of dread about the upcoming gauntlet of family holidays. But for writers, this time of year is significant for another reason. (Not that writers don’t love sweaters and pie and hot chocolate.)

All year I look forward to November, also known as National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) where writers all over the world take up the challenge to write a whole novel (50,000 words) in the span of 30 days.

I talk about NaNoWriMo a lot, at networking events, at friends’ birthday parties, and it’s that scary 50K number that usually gets people’s attention. After the obligatory “Wow, that’s a lot of words!” the most common thing people say to me on the subject of NaNoWriMo is “I could never do that.” The second most common thing is, “Maybe next year.” I’m sorry to go all Shia Labeouf on you, but yeah, you probably can just do it, and last year, you said you would do it this year.

What makes this year special? This year, Katie Li and Jessica Critcher (that’s me) are writing a series of blog posts through the month of October to set you up for success.

  • In this post I’m going to tell you how to make a NaNoWriMo account.
  • Next week, I’m going to share two invaluable online resources for meeting your daily quota of 1,667 words that will prevent you (or rescue you) from falling behind. (Click here to read!)
  • Later in the month, Katie is going to talk about productivity and time management, as well as word sprints and getting over writer’s block.
  • Finally, Katie will discuss self care for writers, as well as the brilliant, supportive, NaNoWriMo community.

And then, snug at home with our Halloween candy as the clock strikes midnight on November first, you, Katie, and I, along with thousands of people around the world, are going to set to work for a month of creative debauchery. No deleting, no quitting, and absolutely no second guessing. We’re going to write whatever depraved nonsense creeps into our heads. And come December, we’ll all have beautiful, terrible, nonsensical first drafts that could someday be very good books.

So why should you trust us anyway? Well, Katie and I have each completed NaNoWriMo (at least?) three times, for a combined total of around 300,000 words, and that’s only counting what we write during the month of November.

I write videogame reviews for Hardcore Droid and feminist musings for Gender Focus. I’m also querying my debut novel, which first came to life many years ago as a NaNoWriMo project.

Katie writes for the Huffington Post and runs a bi-weekly e-zine called The Beautiful Worst. She also wrote and self-published a novel, Somewhere in Between, which you can and should totally read.

While we may not have it all figured out yet, we know one or two things about knocking out a first draft. We would like to share what we know with you. Because writing is hard work, but it’s not impossible.

So let’s get started.


Step 1:

Go to and make a free account.


Step 1A (optional):

Visit Katie’s profile, ktplumtree, and/or mine, FemmeFatale, and click “Add as buddy” so you don’t have to go it alone.


Step 2:

Browse the NaNoWriMo FAQ’s and the NaNo Prep Page to see if any of your questions have already been answered.

Step 3:

When the site officially re-launches for the year on October 5th, go to “My Novels” under the “My NaNoWriMo” tab, and “create” your novel.

my novels

Step 4:

Keep an eye out for the rest of our posts, and hang tight until November. We’ve got write-ins, both online and in person, Twitter chats, and all kinds of good stuff coming.

You can do it. This is going to be fun, we promise.