Our world seems full of organized challenges. Every one of them promises to help participants accomplish something bold and ambitious in a discrete amount of time. Whether it’s weight loss, getting organized, or quitting smoking, we want to meet great challenges, hopefully in a relatively short amount of time. For writers, NaNoWriMo is that challenge.

NaNoWriMo is short for National Novel Writing Month, an internet based writing project that challenges its participants to write a complete, 50,000 word novel all within the month of November. Blank page November 1st. Book finished on the 30th. Started in 1999 in San Francisco by writer Charles Baty with only twenty-one participants, the challenge has evolved and grown exponentially over the last two decades. In 2015 over 460,000 people registered for NaNoWriMo at the project’s site, with more than 40,000 reported successes.

That’s right. 40,000 people worldwide wrote a novel in one month.

As daunting as the challenge seems (do the math… 1,666 words a day) there are ways to survive NaNoWriMo. The way I see it, there are even ways for a new writer to succeed and make it a real creative springboard.

The internet is chock full of writers tips and resources, but few are geared directly at meeting this daunting challenge. Whether you’re an experienced writer, new writer, or somewhere in the middle, here are my five tips for surviving the November 2018 NaNoWriMo challenge.

NaNoWriMo Survival Tip #1

Know the book you’re going to write…

Not everyone is a plotter. As esteemed writing guru Larry Brooks says, there are plotters and there are “pantsers”. By “pantsers”, of course, Brooks means writers who make it up as they go along, or, “fly by the seat of their pants”.

Both dispositions are legitimate. I’m a plotter. Most writers are. But that doesn’t mean you have to be.

What do I mean, know the book you’re going to write? If you’re doing a spaghetti wester involving a train robbery and a zombie infestation, know the story, know the characters, know the basic plot. Maybe know the train robbery angle, working the other stuff in. If you start on day one and are deciding between western and contemporary romance, ugh.

Regardless of how methodical, writing is a narrative invention. You can’t plot your way out of that reality. If you expect to get 50,000 by November 30th though (at 11:59…) you can’t leave everything to chance.

NaNoWriMo Survival Tip #2

Take the support where it’s given…

A month can be a long time when you’re writing. It’s especially gruelling on the cold late autumn month of November. There is a major American holiday at the heart of the month, as well as the opening salvo of Christmas season.

Even if NaNoWriMo took place in the balmy idyllic climes of June though, a writer needs support to thrive and succeed. So, I say, take support wherever it’s given.

When you check out the challenge website (link above) make sure you’re aware of your local NaNo community. There are Facebook Groups and Twitter handles. If you live in a big enough town, you’ll surely find NaNoWriMo meet ups. Company of other writers gives you the hives? Try telling your family.

The point is, your best writing will come when you’re not feeling utterly alone and hopeless.

NaNoWriMo Survival Tip #3

Don’t change how you normally write to try and conform with the challenge…

For people who have never written, NaNoWriMo is your chance to figure out how your write.

Everyone else, the survival tip is this… keep doing whatever it is that you’re doing. Of course, you’ll have to (likely) do it faster and more consistently, or whatever, but your routine is, in a sense, your refuge. Don’t lose that.

For example, I write fresh in the morning. I write for fifty minutes before I get up and walk around, usually to tidy up, transfer laundry and clean dishes. Every two hours, I have a light snack.

If I’m doing NaNoWriMo, I don’t change that at all. That routine makes me “safe” in a sense. I know how to work through tough mornings and “less inspired” times with that routine.

One of the keys of NaNoWriMo success is understanding what the physical challenges are all about. The challenge is about words in a given time, which is a new challenge. Nowhere does it dictate how those words come.

NaNoWriMo Survival Tip #4

Taking care of yourself is critical to success in anything…

I’m a huge advocate for self-care. Everyone needs it. Writers maybe more than anyone.

1,666 words a day for thirty days is a tough grind. I write five days a week, exceed that most of the time and I realize I’m an exhausted weirdo by Thursday. The challenge is a challenge because it’s hard.

Be good to yourself. Just like you keep up that routine in Tip #3, keep up your human routine. Eat well. Exercise. Have a gin and tonic if a gin and tonic is your thing.

Also, don’t create emotional strife and strain by locking yourself up in a cell on Thanksgiving day (or maybe, I don’t know, it could be a good in-law escape…). Instead, make a bargain with your friends and family.

Get a little writing time in, but for goodness sake, enjoy the holiday.

NaNoWriMo Survival Tip #5

Remember that the goal is to finish a novel…

Maybe most important is keeping this mentality in mind as you proceed. The project was designed to get people writing books. Writers get stuck. Challenges like this can get you unstuck.

For most creative people, unstuck is a new feeling.

If you’re thirty thousand words in and making good headway on November 10th, but discover something in your story, a new road, a new character angle, etc… take it, go toward the best book.

If December 1st rolls around and you have discovered your real book, I think the challenge was a success. I think that if after thirty days you’ve tossed the wrong book and get the right book as a result, you’ve won.