Picture the scenario. It’s November 1st, the beginning of National Novel Writing Month. Like most aspiring writers, this day marks the beginning of a month-long journey where non-writers around the world join the ranks of writers, ready to mark off a major life benchmark: writing a novel. 

Someone once told me, a non-writer obviously, that writing was nothing more than putting words down on paper. If it were that easy, I’m afraid to say, there would be little mystique around writing a book. It would not be a goal shared by so many aspiring writers.

The process of writing is, more accurately, one of storytelling. It is a challenging pursuit, one containing many potential pitfalls. This is why, even if you’re involved in National Novel Writing Month, you still need to engage the pursuit carefully. 

I like to say that you need to write with intention. 

I believe that to successfully write a book, you not only need the chops to craft great stories out of killer sentences, you need to think like a writer. In this blog, I’m going to give you five potential pointers to take into National Novel Writing Month to help you jump start that process.

The Most Important Setting For Writing Is Yours

Whenever you hear writers talk about setting, they usually mean the world where the story takes place. The fantasy world, the space age military base, the small town where the murder takes place, whatever. 

For this tip, I’m going to talk about setting in the terms of where you write.

Some of you already have a ready-made home office. Whether you use it for your regular work, handling household business or your side hustle, this is probably where you’re going to want to write. For you, carving out a space is probably going to be pretty easy. The only caveat to this slam dunk, however, is this: if your home office stresses you out, in any way, don’t write here.

If you don’t have that ready made space, or you want to create some variety in your new practice, consider your local community which abounds with options. I’m fond of, at least once a week, writing in a cafe with a coffee. I choose the one down the street where there is usually a little buzz in the air. After a week in my office, the little bit of noise fuels me. 

If you don’t like buzz and prefer quiet, I suggest you choose a more subdued cafe or restaurant. Maybe, for you, a table at the local public library would be better. I’m actually a big advocate for library writing and, if I had a guess, your local book barn probably has some support for creatives built in.

The bottom line is this: writing fiction is very demanding of your attention. This means you need to settle on the location that allows you to get deep and really focus.

erick mertz, nanowrimo, portland oregon

Write Every Day Of National Novel Writing Month, Unless You Can’t

You’ve probably already figured out how many words you need to write each day to complete NaNoWriMo. If not, the magic number is 1,667. That means your average writing pace is 1667 words every day, thirty days in a row, without fail.

Think you can do it? If you answered yes, which I hope you did, I’m here to suggest to you that there will be at least one day in these thirty where you cannot.

Thanksgiving. Sickness. Off-days from school. Life tends to happen even during National Novel Writing Month. That’s why I say, you need to write every single day… unless you can’t.

Maybe you live an unrealistically stress free life, where you control every element in your surroundings. Otherwise, life is very likely going to throw one at you. I have kids, a wife who runs her own demanding business, aging parents, etc.. you get the picture. Even though writing is my job, every once in a while, these outside elements take me away from my duties and responsibilities.

As I’m writing this blog, I look at my calendar and realize that tomorrow is an unexpected off day from school for my son.

What am I supposed to do? 

You need to make accommodations for life’s usual interruptions (and maybe some that come out of the clear blue). If you have been adulting for a while, which I’m guessing you have, you know this.

Here is another thing you need to be aware of. The muse.

What do I mean about the muse? In classical mythology, the literal muse was the embodiment of creative inspiration. When the muse is around, our creative juices are flowing and we can write. When she’s not around, unfortunately, we can’t. There’s nothing wrong with us. It just means that she visited someone else on this particular afternoon.

If you wake up, hit the desk, start writing… but nothing comes, don’t worry. You’re not broken. In fact, there is nothing more “writerly” than dealing with the temperamental nature of creativity. 

I think it’s vitally important to put yourself in that writing seat every single day. Give yourself the chance to come up with those words, however difficult, but if they don’t come, for whatever reason, move on. It’s OK. The muse will show up tomorrow. Be ready for her then. 

Take Whatever Support You Can Get

Support is such an underrated aspect of art and creativity. Sitting down at your computer every morning (or evening, whatever works for you) to write a story is, by nature, a solitary pursuit. Often, we as writers don’t have access to the kind of support we need to sustain for efforts. This is why I think it’s vitally important to seek out the support offered through National Novel Writing Month. 

The great thing about NaNoWriMo is that thousands of people are doing it at the same time you are. In your town, even your neighborhood, there is a community you can tap into.

The website for National Novel Writing Month makes it easier than having to go out and find groups on your own. By logging your project, you open yourself up to a world of support from fellow writers including local meet ups and group connections. You can offer your support to your peers’ successes and help them get through their tough days.

The site, and connected community, are invaluable resources.

Beyond just the NaNoWriMo site, I recommend that authors seek support in their regular worlds. What do I mean by this? I mean, simply, talk to your friends and family. Involve your peers in what you’re doing. I’m not tooting your horn when I say, writing a novel is a pretty big deal. People really want to support friends and family when they set out to do cool things. 

Don’t miss out. Be open about what you’re doing and be willing to accept the atta-boys from those friends and family. They will, I promise you, get you through a tough day. At the very least, the novel your writing might provide some stress free conversation at the Thanksgiving dinner table.

Man looking frustrated with his hands on his head

Word Counts: More Problems Than Good?

What I’m about to write, I fear the organizers of National Novel Writing Month might come for me. But hear me out on this one: Don’t become a slave to word count. 

I can hear you all saying it now. But if I don’t write my 1,667 words every single day for thirty days, I’m not going to complete NaNoWriMo. I’m getting up early this month to finish this challenge! 

Do whatever you can to meet the daily word count goal. But also be mindful that good things sometimes come in small packages. Your best writing may just come on a day when you write 1,000 words instead of 1,667. That breakthrough chapter or scene may be at the end of a 500 word day.

If you look at the work you do, and you’re happy with the quality of it regardless of how many words you get, consider the day a success. 

There is a lot of talk in the writing community, especially amongst the indie author crowd, about writing a lot of books in a short amount of time. In fact, there are entire communities dedicated to writing in volume, which can lead to, when properly marketed, a very profitable writer business.

The trouble with writing fast should be obvious. Not everyone is, by nature, a fast writer. Some of us (most of us, actually) are slow and fast, meaning, the work comes at varied speeds. 

Use National Novel Writing Month to figure out what kind of author you are. Don’t expect it and its word count demands to define what kind of writer you should be. 

Bring An Open Mind To National Novel Writing Month 

This openness is a critical mindset to consider. I think it’s especially useful if you want to use NaNoWriMo as a launchpad for a career in writing. Sometimes the story we spend months imagining, hours planning out, and dedicating our time to writing, isn’t the story that’s in us. Stories are like that. They have a way of morphing and changing despite our best efforts.

If you find that, in the middle of November, that your story is changing. Don’t fight it. Instead, I want to encourage you to go with it.

One of the best NaNoWriMo success stories I’ve ever encountered came from a writer who started the month, determined to write one book. She got up every morning, hit the keys, and started work on what she believed would be a straight forward, sword and sorcery fantasy novel. 

When it was over, she had something else entirely. 

Was that National Novel Writing Month a failure because she shifted course? No way. She crafted a book that was published and, years later, readers are still reading. She wrote a great story, but the NaNoWriMo success ultimately came because she followed her instinct to a better book. 

If the 15th of November comes around, and you sense your best laid plans are turning into something else, maybe it’s best to follow that one. 

national novel writing month

We’ve talked a lot about the idea of story, what makes a good one, how to access it and what to do with it when you’re done. Beyond these technical, craft-based ideas is getting into the right mindset. Going into National Novel Writing Month with a good one is absolutely critical.

Writing dozens of books both for myself and my clients has taught me a few things I regard as truths. Setting is important, both in your story and your writing practice. Writing should happen every day… unless, as we discussed, it’s just not possible. You need support to nurture your best writing, forgetting for a moment, those word count goals. 

Last and most important, bring an open mind to what National Novel Writing Month brings you. The writing project you brought in on November 1st might now be what you end up with. Planning is important, you’ve all read that, but be open for magic.