NaNoWriMo Tips and Tricks for Success

We are just over two days away from the start of NaNoWriMo 2014.  It’s exciting and terrifying for NaNoWriMo veterans and rookies alike.  As someone who is doing this for the ninth time, I thought I’d share some of my tips and tricks for how I’ve been able to get through the month of November without abandoning the novel or the writing when the going gets tough.  Many of these ideas can be used not just for NaNoWriMo but for any writing endeavor you may take, and some of these tricks may be useful for overcoming a spell of writer’s block as well.  In the comments, share your favorite tips for getting the words on the page.

  • Have your character write a diary/blog post — When I get stuck, especially in NaNoWriMo, it usually means one of two things:
    • I have not gotten to know my character(s) well enough to know what they’d do in their current situation
    • I’ve completed the character’s current task and don’t know what he or she will do next.

    In either case, one solution to this that has helped me a lot is to have the character write a diary entry/blog post/give a speech/etc. Writing this type of thing gives the character a chance to talk about what they did, why they did it, how they did it, when they did it, and anything else they feel like discussing about the situation.  It gives an opportunity for the character to tell you, the writer, what they are thinking about things.  The benefits of doing this include: gaining a deeper understanding of the character; finding new events or situations to explore in another chapter or story with the character; defining back story or making connections to the character’s past; and, specifically for NaNoWriMo: bolstering word count.

    The result of writing these diary (etc.) entries can also be expanded into what happens as a result of them.  Does a boyfriend read his girlfriend’s diary and learn something important about her that she was trying to hide?  Does the blog post result in social/political problems for the character? Does the audience react strongly in one way or another to the speech the character gives?  So many possible avenues can get opened by writing a simple set of paragraphs directly from the character’s perspective.

  • Timeskip — There is no rule that you have to write your story in order, whether it’s for NaNoWriMo or not.  Specifically thinking about NaNoWriMo, getting bogged down in the details of a dull, boring or languishing scene is a bad thing because there simply isn’t time to waste on that. So, put a placeholder in, something like {fill in the details of why it is so darn important that he ordered a decaf soy mocha-latte later}, then start the next scene.  I’m not proposing that this is something you’d do routinely, just that if you’re stuck, sometimes jumping to the next scene, where the problem is already resolved, will help you figure out later how to actually resolve the problem.  Alternatively, you could skip backwards in time and write a scene that leads up to the one you’re stuck in.  Understanding how your character got to where they are can help you understand how to get them out of that situation, too.
  • Secondary plots — Presumably, you’ve got more than one character in your book.  So, if your main character isn’t cooperating, how about adding a chapter that focuses on someone else for a while?  At some point you will have to deal with the issues you face with your main character, but in the meantime the secondary story of what your non-primary characters are doing can bolster your word count for NaNoWriMo, open up new storylines within the main character’s story and, perhaps, change your perspective as to who the story is actually about.
  • Use a prompt — There are plenty of writing prompts out there. We have hundreds of prompts here on Today’s Author and also on our Facebook page. Sometimes just finding a simple sentence to use as a starting off point for a new chapter or scene is all you need.  So when you’re stuck, hit our Write Now prompt archive (right at the top of the page), visit our Facebook page and use one of the Micro Prompts, find a plot generator on the internet or  find another writing site’s prompts.  Prompts can be a fantastic tool for getting the creative spark going.
  • When all else fails, add a burrito or a monkey or some underwear — Sometimes nothing helps more than throwing a random object or instigator into the mix. It may just be me, but I find frozen burritos to be funny when they are used as a tool to solve a problem (I actually wrote a story in which the character used a frozen burrito to save the day).  Monkeys, squirrels, angry cats… they’re all funny, too, in that people and characters react to them.  And as much as we all like to claim otherwise, underwear remains funny no matter how old you get.  So, throw your character into a situation where he has been sent to the store to buy underwear for his wife or daughter.  Maybe while he’s there a squirrel breaks through a ceiling tile and runs around causing havoc. And after all of that, he finds himself in a 7-Eleven waiting for his favorite burrito to warm up…


There are many ways to get through the doldrums of a long work.  The ones I’ve mentioned are my favorite ways and they work well for me as a seat-of-the-pants writer.  Maybe you can use them to help you succeed at NaNoWriMo or at whatever your current work in progress is.  I’m sure, though, that you also have tips and tricks for getting through the rough patches and I’d love to hear them in the comments. So, share away and remember to just keep writing.


2 thoughts on “NaNoWriMo Tips and Tricks for Success

  1. Great tips, Rob. I’m bookmarking this for my possible participation next year.

  2. I agree, excellent writing tips for any project. My favorite is to write a different chapter and let the whole story move out of sequence but in order of writing interest. Have found that when I do this, and then re-read what I’ve written, I prefer the new order and am able to edit out weak material.

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