My Five Best NaNoWriMo Coping Tips (aka Punching Out a Fast First Draft)

I’m having a weird NaNo year, since I’m working on revisions instead of drafting from scratch. But I did it last year and passed my 50K mark. So for all my online pals pushing through the last week of National Novel Writing Month, my five favorite “Speed It Up” tips for cranking out a craptacular first draft (because all first drafts kinda suck, yes?)

1. PLAY THE ‘ALBATROSS’ CARD. I’m the world’s worst to be speeding along in my manuscript and stumble over a bit of research that needs doing or a factoid I’ve forgotten from an earlier chapter. By the time I’ve stopped to look it up, I’ve either lost my momentum or gotten sidetracked by something shiny on the Internet. What color was Grace’s car back in chapter two? What year did the Andrew Jackson statue get placed in Jackson Square? Don’t stop to look up that info. In its place, type ALBATROSS. Example: Grace scanned the parking lot for her ALBATROSS. After NaNo is over, do a word search for ALBATROSS and spend a couple of hours filling in the blanks.
2. MAKE A FOUR-SENTENCE CHAPTER SKETCH. As you begin a chapter, take time out to make a mini-outline (yeah, I know, pantsers–it won’t kill you). Just write down three or four sentences of what is going to happen in that chapter: “Grace goes to the mall. She misses the last bus. She calls Jack for help even though it sticks in her craw. She chickens out before leaving message and decides to walk home. A car follows her.”  THEN write your sentence, knowing where it’s supposed to go. It might take a detour along the way, and that’s okay as long as you end up in the same place.

3. DIG OUT THE KITCHEN TIMER. Shut down Tweet Deck, e-mail, and any other online distraction of choice. Set your egg timer for 15 or 20 or 30 minutes (I usually do 20), and do a sprint. Note your word count when you begin the sprint, and then afterward. Try to “best” your word count each sprint. (Yes, you can check your e-mail before you start another one.) If you’re competitive like me, the drive to improve your own word count will be an incentive. You can also do “word wars” with an online buddy. My crit partner and I often do them, instant messaging before and after to see who “won.” We both win.

4. WRITE IN SCENES. I always have some scenes floating around in my head as I’m writing–it’s what goes in between those scenes that slows me down sometimes. Don’t worry about the transitions. Write the scenes that are already playing in your head, either in separate documents, or in your main manuscript separated by asterisks. You can always shuffle the scenes and fill in the transitions later.

5. MINIMIZE THE PRESSURE. Don’t look at your word counts. No, really. Don’t look at them. Just write fast and hard until November 30, and see where you end up.

Remember, the world will not end if you don’t get 50K by November 30. It really and truly won’t. And no matter how many words you get, it will be more than if you hadn’t tried. 


So, are you doing NaNo? How’s it going? Why are you reading blogs instead of writing (but I’m glad you’re here!)?

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About Suzanne Johnson

Author of urban and paranormal fantasy and romantic suspense, currently living in Auburn, Alabama. Author of the Sentinels of New Orleans series (Royal Street; River Road: Elysian Fields, Pirate's Alley, and Belle Chasse (Nov 2016). Writing as Susannah Sandlin, she is the author of the Penton Legacy series (Redemption; Absolution; Omega; Storm Force; Allegiance); The Collectors series (Lovely, Dark, and Deep; Deadly, Calm, and Cold); and the upcoming Wilds of the Bayou series (Book 1, Wild Man's Curse) releases April 2016).

6 thoughts on “My Five Best NaNoWriMo Coping Tips (aka Punching Out a Fast First Draft)

  1. Well, I’ve spent most of NaNoWriMo so far outlining. While I still wish to cut the prose down by about 10%, the lesson I’ve taken from outlining is that everything is too interconnected to lop off much more in the way of scenes or characters. I don’t have many problems of the Albatross variety; mostly as I cut things down my problem is losing track of motivations that have disappeared with cut scenes (e.g., I need this character to make a certain choice at this point that now seems inexplicable).

    Taking C.J.’s suggestion, I’ve taken a shot at experimentally splitting the 4 act story into 2 books of 2 acts, and have just finished fleshing out volume 1 to make it more or less stand alone. With the 9K or so of additions(!!!), Vol 1 weighs in at about 99.5K words. Volume 2 currently weighs in at 65K words, and I have about 15K in materials that I could add back in. Volume 1 of course doesn’t stand entirely alone as a story, but if it works as a book, then I’d predict the second volume to weigh in at roughly 85K, ideally.

    But positive news is that I have a reasonable manuscript of just under 100k words, at the expense of spawning a second necessary manuscript that needs major surgery.

  2. A timer has really helped me to focus this year. I’ll set the timer for a half hour, type away, then check my email or visit blogs for 10-15 minutes, then write for another 30. That is, if my sons nap at the same time, otherwise I get up early to get my writing done.

  3. SWEET!!! The Albatros card…that’s awesome. I usually just put a blank line in the spots where I need to think of a word, or name or something. Then on revisions, I fill in the lines. LOL. That’s cool!

    Ahhh…make a four sentence chapter sketch *hiss* Just kidding. No, it’s a great idea.

    I love doing online sprints with a couple writing buddies. It really keeps me focused!

    Great post.