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5 tips to win NaNoWriMo (and survive life, creatively)

Nanowrimo is upon us! Are you ready to churn out 50,000 words? And are you ready to live your life as a creative person after November 30?

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Halloween is over, which for a lot of people means time to gear up for the holiday season. But for many others it means the beginning of NaNoWriMo.

It's the beginning of #NaNoWriMo! Click To Tweet

NaNoWriMo is an annual event where people around the world take on an immense challenge: writing a 50,000 word novel in one month. That’s 1,667 words a day, in case you didn’t feel like doing the math.

It’s a big project to undertake, considering the big reward is having finished the thing. Sure, there are some prizes, but really the point is to have done it. To have made a plan to take on a creative undertaking and carried it out to the end. To push yourself to the limits and see what you’re capable of doing and making.

I’ve won NaNoWriMo before but I’m not participating again this year. Not technically, anyway; my writing schedule for my creative work is more productive than NaNo’s schedule, and since I’d be doing it anyway I don’t think it’s sporting to just put in a chunk of my manuscript on November 30.

But, as you may have figured out from reading this, I’m a writer by trade and that’s what we professional writers (and creative professionals in general) do. We scrape together paid work in our field as much as we can, and we devote the rest of our time towards getting our manuscripts done, our plays written, our comics drawn, our songs recorded. It’s always a hustle.

Creative life is always a hustle Click To Tweet

And, scrappy and un-glamorous as it may be, I think a lot of the people who do Nano every year aspire to that kind of routine. The kind where you don’t need to wait for a contest to create something. The kind where you can stick to your own deadline. The kind where you’ll happily cancel other plans to finish your project.

So here are my five tips to help you use what you’ve learned doing Nano and apply it to your daily creative life.

1. Write about whatever you want

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This sounds very obvious but it’s amazing how many people try to write towards what they think the current trends in publishing are, or what they think will look appealing to an agent. For one thing, publishing is a very slow process; too slow for you to know what will be in vogue when you’re sending out queries. And for another, what’s the point if you aren’t writing a story you care about? Tell the story you want to tell!

2. Show it to people

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I think one of biggest things that keeps people from making the transition from “someone who likes creative work and does it a little” to “someone who actively tries to put their work out into the world” is fear of criticism. And you have to get past that. More than just being OK with the idea of people seeing your work, you need to get cozy with the process of asking people for criticism. That’s the only way you’ll get better.

3. Embrace the slog

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Writing and all forms of creative work are just that: work. It’s not all happily scrambling to type out what your muse whispers in your ear. It’s mostly very boring, very hard, and very complicated. You’re going to tear your hair out when your plot doesn’t cooperate. You’re going to churn out ten thousand words before realizing you need to start over. You’re going to start work on your second draft only to find you don’t touch your first. And that’s OK! Nothing worth doing comes easily.

4. Make sacrifices

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Unless your name is J.K. Rowling or Stephen King, chances are no one is paying you to hack away at your masterpiece. Maybe you’re a student, maybe you work full time in an office, maybe you’re a parent. Whatever it is, no one has time to spare these days. And that means sacrifices. If you’re used to going out for drinks after work every day or having weekend-long hangouts with your friends, you’re going to have a hard time finding time to write. Prioritize the things that keep food on your table, your grades up, and your family in tact, but you’ve got to find some way to work every day. If that means karaoke night is over for you, then let Jared from Marketing sing “9-5” in your place so you can chip away at your goal.

5. Take the next step

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At the end of November you’re going to have a 50,000 word document on your hands. You will have two choices: one, let it collect dust in your hard drive, or two, take the next step. Wait a few weeks and go through it again to make edits. Then give it to a friend or someone in a writer’s group and use their feedback. Polish it up. Send it out. Take the next step!

Take the next step! Click To Tweet

NaNoWriMo is a great thing, and one I encourage people to participate in. But I’ve met a lot of people who finish and never go further, even if they say they want to. People whose eyes go glassy when I tell them that going well above 50,000 words a month is my normal routine, regardless of what month it is. But there’s nothing special about me! I was not given a magic potion to drink! I have no fairy godmother! I just want to jump off the cliff and into the void.

At the end of the day, we all do creative work for ourselves. To get the ideas swimming around in our heads out into the world. It’s a selfish act. So be selfish. Live creatively!

Live creatively! Click To Tweet
Chelsea Ennen

Chelsea Ennen

Chelsea Ennen is a New York City-based writer and recovering academic with an MA in contemporary literature, theory, and culture from King's College London. Her nonfiction writing has been published on The Mary Sue, HelloGiggles and The Female Gaze, and her dissertation on postfeminism versus third wave feminism in contemporary pop culture was accepted for presentation at the 2016 Indiana University of Pennsylvania English Graduate Organization Inter-Disciplinary Conference. She is the fiction editor of the Kaaterskill Basin Literary Journal and a novelist who would very much like to pet your dog, please.

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