National Novel Writing Month – 50,209 words and counting

Every November, thousands of writers accept the National Novel Writing Month challenge to write 50,000 words in 30 days. At 1,667 words a day, it’s a furious pace. The goal of the challenge isn’t to produce an award-winning novel in 30 days. Instead, NaNoWriMo aims to motivate occasional or “I would if I had the time” writer to complete a sizeable project in a short timespan — no excuses.

On November 1st, I used a vacation day and sequestered myself in a local library branch to begin my novelling adventure. In the final weeks of October, I’d planned the first half of my “Phantom of the Opera meets Cyrano de Bergerac meets This Is Spinal Tap” novel plot and sketched out bios for each of my major characters. By November 30th, my storyline had lengthened from 20 to 35 chapters and I’d completed about 80% of my novel – 50,209 words, to be precise. (I’ll be finishing the last few chapters and doing some editing over the next month.)

Here’s what I learned in November:

1) Have a writing buddy. The NaNoWriMo community is huge – just search the #NaNoWriMo hashtag on Twitter – but geographically disparate. My friend Laura was also participating and, through the month, we compared word counts, swapped ideas and kept each other motivated. On the final night, we sat side-by-side and competed in twenty-minute “sprints.”

2) Find your writing place. It might be a coffee shop, or a spare room in your home. For me, it was the Maria A. Shchuka branch of the Toronto Public Library. Ample outlets, free wifi and close proximity to a Tim Hortons made this a great place for me to crank out thousands of words. Being surrounded by books also helped.

3) Back up your work. NaNoWriMo runs several “back up your novel days” when their staff encourages writers to save copies of their novels in a safe place. I took this one step further and kept my novel saved in a Dropbox folder. My precious words were synced to my laptop, my work computer and my smartphone. I also used EverNote to sync my chapter summaries and character bios. Very handy. (I’m sure that Google Drive,, etc. would also work well for this.)

4) Tell everyone you know. During November, I kept myself on track and accountable by chatting about my novel with co-workers, family members, Twitter followers, fellow commuters, friends, my cats and innocent bystanders.

5) Build in downtime. 1,667 words a day is a heavy commitment and I did about 2/3 of my writing during my commute. If I was going to do NaNoWriMo again next year, I would plan to write closer to 2,000 words a day and take five days off throughout the month. In addition to writing, I had other responsibilities throughout the month – volunteering, planning a wedding, hosting my parents for a weekend – and a few days off would have been incredibly valuable.

Any other tips to add for getting through November?