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th-6It’s almost November. To the writing world, that means the advent of National Novel Writing Month. Even hardcore professional authors have been known to participate in NaNo once in awhile, or perhaps it’s how they got started.

Think Erin Morgenstern, Chris Baty (founder of NaNo), Sara Gruen, and more.

But surely not everyone who participates in NaNo is a professional author with nothing more important to them than getting words down on a page?

No. NaNo attracts all types of different people, from teens to retirees, from amateurs who have never written a story before, to professionals using it for a boost in productivity or motivation. If you hop on the forums, you can find a range of writers spanning the gauntlet.

In order to succeed in writing 50K in 30 days, and do it while you have a life, you’ve got to plan for success. Below are some of the tips I’ve found over the years to help me succeed in winning 3/4 NaNo events.

Make a game plan

What does your typical writing day look like? Do you stumble out of bed whenever you want, fit in five minutes here, a minute there? Or do you only work when your muse comes calling? While that may work for average productivity, NaNoWriMo is NOT average productivity.

There are a few blessed writers out there who write thousands of words a day and can adhere to that schedule every day of their lives. I am not one of them. I am a slower, more deliberate writer, and at first, NaNo was difficult because it pushed me to write more faster. It is possible to retrain your brain, and it is possible to write 50K in 30 days.

But in order to “win,” you must have a game plan. 1667 words in a day is no mean feat–you must be deliberate about writing every day for 30 days, more if you want to finish a full-length novel and not simply have a novella.

My day begins when my son wakes up. Some days, that’s in the 4 a.m. hour. I know a lot of parents wake up early to have writing time or exercise before their little ones wake up, but for me, that’s not going to work. Instead, I count on using nap times and utilizing the iPad for my son to watch some cartoons while I madly type away if nap time wasn’t enough. I also use my phone a lot more than typical. Evernote is my best friend because of its seamless syncing ability. Storyist also has a great app for iPad and iPhone (not sure about Android devices) that syncs pretty easily with its desktop version. Although I much prefer Scrivener for its capabilities, it’s harder to keep synced and there is no app, so for NaNo this year, I plan on using Storyist and Evernote.

A note: in order to use Storyist and sync it, you must have Dropbox, which you can install for free. I also save all my important files directly to Dropbox, thus eliminating the need to backup my NaNo novel all month long. Also, if you’re torn between Storyist and Scrivener, I wrote a blog post about a year ago that compares the two.

Planning your day involves more than realizing what program you’re going to use and when you’re going to wake up. For me, it involves planning dinner ahead of time so I know what I’m making that night (crock-pot anyone?), it involves knowing nap time schedules and guarding that time as writing time, it involves saying no to commitments when I have writing to do, it may involve staying up late.

In other words, writing 50K in a month takes dedication and sacrifice. If you don’t devote to sacrificing for your novel, you won’t have a novel to sacrifice for.

Know exactly how many words you have to write per day to win

You think you already know the answer to this one? Maybe you do.

In order to win NaNo, you must average 1667 words a day for 30 days.

This does not mean you have to write every day, nor that you must write 1667 words a day without fail. Yet, if you aren’t writing every day, you need to know how many words you need to write every day.

Say you want to give yourself weekends off, that will reduce your writing days from 30 to 20, and increases your daily word count to 2500. Now, if you don’t work, don’t have children or family to worry about, you can easily do that. If you are a high-word count a day type of person, you’re fine. But if the most you’ve ever written before is 1500 words a day, or 5000 words a week, expecting yourself to write nearly double that is bordering on unrealistic. Choose your days off wisely.

Have a bare-bones outline at minimum.

It’s still not too late to brainstorm your novel. Even if you are a die hard panster and can’t bear to be confined by an outline, brainstorming for your novel and coming up with their main plot points as I outlined earlier this week is critical for success.

Now, when I say “success,” what I mean is a coherent first draft still badly in need of rewriting. NaNo isn’t a magic writing machine which is going to help you push out a publishable novel at the end of the month. No, it will give you a kickstart, encourage you, and give you a sense of community. It will not write your novel for you; it won’t make you publishable.

Did I lose any of you to false expectations? No? Good. You’re in the right place.

An outline does several things for you that even a pantser cannot deny: points you in the right direction, lets you know your ending before you start, helps you know where you are in your story arc, allows you to see if you’ve got a sagging middle or aren’t elaborating enough, gives you confidence that your novel isn’t going to be 50K of rambling.

Winning NaNo doesn’t matter.

I know, some of you just choked, didn’t you? But in the long run, “winning” NaNo this year won’t make you an author. It won’t magically mean that the hard part is over, it won’t mean you’re ready to publish–this book or another.

No, winning NaNo may get you a step closer to those things, if that is your goal, but it won’t get you there. Many people participate in NaNo one year, write their 50K and then never look at that novel (or think about writing any other) again.

Does that mean you shouldn’t try it?

Absolutely not. I fully encourage you to hop on the bandwagon, sign up, get a NaNo badge for your blog, whip out your notebook or laptop, and at 12:01 a.m. November 1st, start typing.

Because you know what? Even if you don’t win, even if you don’t get close, there is something special about bandwagons. Misery loves company, right? Well, victors love company too.

Writers write alone; words pour forth from our minds to our fingers without the help of another. And when we achieve something great, whether it’s a 2000 word count day, or if it’s writing 50K in a month, we want someone to share that accomplishment with.

So what are you waiting for?

Go sign up!