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.

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