How I Won NaNoWriMo 2014


Today’s the day, the first day of NaNoWriMo 2015. I promised that I would share some tips/tools for my fellow Wrimos, so here I am belting out a blog post that I should have written at least yesterday.

Here are some of the things that helped me succeed in NaNoWriMo 2014.

Good Planning

Okay, well, it’s the first day of November here, so if you don’t have a plan, it’s not likely you’re going to come up with one now. I had a 23-page outline of my novel last year, so when I wasn’t sure what I was writing next, I was always able to look at that.

But that’s not to say you can’t succeed without an outline. Plenty of writers start with a single idea and let it grow from there. You don’t have to take NaNoWriMo super seriously. The point of it is to have fun and to write for the joy of writing.

If you’re worried about not having a concrete idea for your story, don’t fret. I read some good advice recently which I will paraphrase (because I can’t find the source): “The first draft is where you find your story. Every draft after that is figuring out how to tell it in the most dramatic way possible.”

Or, if you’re worried that you’re going to write a crappy story, just remember that no writing is a waste of time. Even bad writing is a learning experience. I’ve had ideas in my head for years that I thought would be great until I tried to write them. It made it easier to move on from those ideas.

Guilt Monkeys

I did NaNoWriMo ’14 during my busiest and hardest school semester ever, and I managed to get straight A’s. I couldn’t have done this without my trusty notebook.

Plenty of people already do this, but I feel like its benefits are underestimated. Every night, I wrote down my goals for the next day. Which homework to do, papers to write, chores to complete, and most importantly, when I would be able to do NaNoWriMo.

If I didn’t get through the entire list, it felt like a wasted day.

Of course, I had to prioritize. Homework was more important than NaNo, so some days I didn’t write much. But I knew how much more I’d need to write the next day, and it wasn’t double of that day’s goals. More on this later.

So grab a notebook, one that you’ll only use for your daily planning, and write down all your daily goals. Use that to have a successful day. Also, leave the notebook open in a place where you’ll see it often. I noticed that when my notebook got put away during cleaning (or even if it just got closed) it became out of sight, out of mind, and I took my time getting around to opening it again.

Also, I donated to NaNo last year and got some donor awards. One of these was one of those rubber infinity bracelets. It said NaNoWriMo Wizard on it, and I was only going to allow myself to wear it if I won. I could wear it with pride, even though it is a little silly, if I won. But if I didn’t, and I wore it anyway, it would just remind me of my failure.

I’m still wearing that bracelet right now.

Word Wars/Sprints

I learned about Word Wars from the Absolute Write chat. Occasionally, people in the chat would offer to have a word war, and a timespan would be specified. Like, “Start at :00 and go to :20.” Then you report your numbers and if you have the higher total, you win.

But really, everyone wins because everyone got some writing done.

It’s a nice way to have a competitive way to get through your writing. And there are even several Twitter accounts that host word sprints, which are essentially the same thing. For example, some that I follow are @TheSprintShack, @GetWordies, and @NaNoWordSprints.

If you’re not into Twitter, there’s also Word War Central over on MS Wishlist. Get some friends to join and write some words.

Visual Aids

Okay, so I’m a nerd. Numbers and graphs and charts help me see things more clearly sometimes, and NaNoWriMo’s built-in graph was too plain for me. This is what my chart looked like at the end of NaNo ’14:

NaNo 14 Official

It’s kinda bare, right? The brown bars are my total word count at the end of each day, and the line is where I should be if I kept on schedule. You can see immediately that I didn’t catch up until right near the end.

Part of my problem with this was that I don’t think a bar graph is the most appropriate choice. I feel like bars should be for individual items, and a line would have been more appropriate, because it would show growth over time – just like the line indicating the par word count.

One thing that was really helpful, though, was the “Words per day to finish on time” next to the graph (not pictured).

So, I decided to make a better graph for myself, and this is what my version looked like at the end of NaNo ’14:

Screenshot 2015-11-01 at 12.35.15 PM

Okay, I know what you may be thinking: Information Overload. But stay with me on this.

First off, the bars in this version indicate individual word counts for each day (using the left Y Axis for the number to follow), whereas the total word count is the red line (using the right Y Axis). The par line is still in there, with everything under it shaded. The idea is to break out of the gray zone into the white.

The green line is the WPD to finish on time line, and it’s way more helpful than it seems at first. If the blue bar goes above the green line, that means it’s a good day.

Plus, that green line gives a little more encouragement. See how little it goes up on the days I missed or didn’t do very much? Missing a day doesn’t mean you have to write double the words the next day; it just means you have to write an extra, like 50-100 a day. And you can write that in your sleep.

The yellow line is just an average line that serves no real practical function but to be another metric.

If you think this tool would be helpful to you, I present it to you as a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet or you can copy it direct from my own Google Docs spreadsheet. The original was done in Docs, so in Excel it’ll look a little different. Just enter each day’s writing for the day and the rest will calculate itself.

So those are the things that helped me succeed last year, and I think if you use them well, you will succeed too. I can’t guarantee anything, though. Your success is in your hands, and no tool or advice I can provide will ever trump that.

So get to writing.


About David Shank

David T. Shank is a writer, runner, and musician, in that order. His blog is hopefully an oasis among the vast ocean of negativity that is the Internet. He lives in Cleveland studying how to write good.

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