10 Productivity Hacks for NaNoWriMo


We’re two weeks into NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). In my experience, this is the time when the flurry begins to die down. Writers are exhausted, with many dragging themselves to the keyboard each day to type their 1,667 words like zombies. Attrition gathers speed. We all begin count not just words but the days: specifically, the days remaining until 11/30 arrives and life returns to normal again, whatever that is.

In this time, it’s easier than ever to fall by the wayside with your NaNo project. But finishing is so, so worth it! So in the spirit of mutual encouragement, here are the top ten “hacks” I use during the endless second half of NaNo to keep moving forward.

1. Get Scrivener

I know that not everyone loves this grandaddy of all writing software. I myself resisted it for years because I heard so many complaints about how complex it is to use. Wow, do I wish I had gotten it sooner! With Scrivener, all my scenes are dropped into “buckets” (folders) that can be swapped around and more easily viewed than a file tree in my computer or pages in Microsoft Word. Plus, I can sort notecards and revision notes—creating both as I go. At the end of the month, I can compile and print out any combination in any order with the press of a single button. While Word helps me get pages written, Scrivener helps me make sense of those pages so I can revise them easily long after the month is over.

2. Stop, Drop and Write.

It’s easy to think about writing, talk about writing, and wish you were writing. But writing only happens when you actually write. On days when I’m depressed or don’t feel like writing, I tend to fiddle around and draw the process out. I’ve noticed that if I shut off all devices and time myself—setting deadlines that I’ll “race” myself to accomplish—it’s amazing how the work actually gets done. A whole lot faster than I would have imagined.

3. Write ahead of schedule.

Life happens. Chances are, you won’t be able to write for NaNoWriMo every single day—so on the days you can, write a few hundred or even a thousand extra words. That way you’ll be able to take the “off” day without panicking about how far you are getting behind. I personally aim to write at least four or five hundred extra words every day. Not only do I get done early, but I handle the challenges life throws my way with greater ease.

4. Know your project in advance.

I’ve written NaNoWriMo projects that I completely discovered as I went, as well as projects that were plotted in advance (see #7). I definitely prefer knowing something about the story before I begin. The League of Marvelosities, which launches as a serial here this Wednesday, was completely “pantsed.” I invented the concept during a long drive at the beginning of the month and literally wrote page by page to find out how the concept would flesh out into a story. This was fun and worthwhile but really hard. Writing this year with a loose outline and some pre-research and character notes is a ton easier—which makes it more likely I’ll stay on track.

5. Stay accountable through social media.

Some of us thrive on secrecy, and keeping projects a secret is a technique many famous writers advocate. Sarah Selecky, a coach I admire, just wrote a great article about the power of keeping your work-in-progress a secret. I appreciate her points, but from my own experience, I couldn’t agree less!) If I keep a project a secret, I am tempted not to finish it. Declaring my intentions aloud, and reporting in on deadlines met, to my social media circles really amps my motivation. I don’t share too many specific details of the project itself—but I keep my writing progress visible as a way to stay accountable.

6. Resist the urge to research—but do keep notes.

If your novel involves current or historical details, it can be easy to lose time (and get behind on word count) researching things. For this year’s project, which is set in a loosely realistic version of 15th century Northern Europe, I collected research beforehand and tucked it away in Evernote. I’m writing each day based on what I recall from my head that I read. For details that will need further research during revision, I am keeping running notes in each chapter in Scrivener. (Which is one of the many tasks that Scrivener makes so simple!)

7. Plot loosely, then “pants” your way between points.

I used to plot my novels obsessively, but the fast pace of NaNoWriMo the last few years helped me recognize that the most productive style of writing, for me, is a combination between plotting and “pantsing” (or “writing by the seat of your pants,” as they say). Now I chart out the major points of my various plots in advance but leave the details of individual scenes and transitional passages to be discovered during the actual writing. This approach removes the anxiety of “I have no plot! Aaaaah!” while not locking things in so much I lose interest and feel like I’m just executing the functions of an equation I’ve already solved.

8. Set a plan to release your novel in the future.

Nothing energizes me to be productive like knowing my work is actually going to be read by people. With NaNoWriMo, I’ve learned that setting a tentative release date for the revised novel really gets me inspired. For this year’s novel, I’ve set 2016 as a release date, and even picked a platform plus a new method of serialization I will experiment with. Knowing this gives me that extra “oomph” to sit down and write every day.

9. Reward yourself for small milestones met.

Pavlov’s dogs never lie. Personally, if I know I’ve got a treat waiting on the other side of the words, I’ll write all that more efficiently. This year it’s Inspector Lewis. Set in Oxford’s academic haven, Lewis is some of the best detective TV I’ve ever watched—positively delicious. Knowing I’ve got a hot bath and the inspector on the other side of my words makes it that much easier for me to knuckle down and finish. Bear in mind, though. Rewards only work if you withhold them for lack of performance. No words, no Oxford crime!

10. Write a lot the rest of the year.

This one won’t help you a lot if this is your first-ever NaNoWriMo or your first long-format fiction, but take heart: the more you write, the easier it gets to put words down on paper. This year I have started writing considerably more than 2K words per day for my job, let alone my personal fiction and blogging. By doing this I have noticed a marked increase in the ease of getting the story down on paper during NaNoWriMo. The 1,667 words per day (or 2,000 for me) of NaNo used to feel like an endless, painful slog; now it feels like just another item on the writing to-do list. It can for you, too—even if that seems like a faraway dream as you plod through words right now.

What’s your favorite “hack” for NaNoWriMo? How’s the process going for you this year? I’d love to hear your thoughts below!

5 thoughts on “10 Productivity Hacks for NaNoWriMo

  1. Sarah Selecky’s article doesn’t take into account a little thing I call “accountability.” While it’s true that instant gratification has a tendency of creating difficulty for long term goals, feeling accountable to others for your goals and deadlines creates something beyond a rewards system. If you tell someone you will post a chapter every Friday, you feel accountable to that deadline. There is someone out there that might put up a fuss if you don’t do it, if you get behind. That can be a very powerful motivator, and one I’m often telling my fellow Wrimos about. It’s why I post chapters from my NaNoWriMo story on Wattpad every day. I feel like I had to because I said I would, and I don’t like breaking my word.

    Liked by 1 person

    • What a great point! I completely agree about Selecky’s article. And yes — I’ve had the same experiences as you. The “community shame” of receiving an email that says, “Hey, I was so looking forward to the next installment [on a certain date] and it wasn’t there” or the even simpler, “Hey, did you make that word count you wanted to make? How’s it going?”–and having to respond with excuses–is MORE than enough to keep me on track! You are brave to post your daily writings to Wattpad! I considered it — but decided to keep my actual daily writings behind the scenes, releasing the revised version of the novel on Wattpad (likely starting next summer).But you’ve inspired me. Maybe next year I’ll actually post the daily scribblings!


      • Ah, well, my first drafts are probably cleaner than most people’s later drafts. And it gives me feedback on where to go with later drafts when people give me comments. My second draft of Mila’s Shift had a decent amount of updates based upon Wattpad comments, and I need those types of comments very early in the editing process, and I’ve learned from experience going backwards in my editing results in stagnation.


  2. Good tips! I’d also include word wars and word sprints! Those have been vital to my success in NaNo this year! I’m about to finish today because of them!


    Liked by 1 person

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