From 0 to 50K: How I’m preparing to win NaNoWriMo

This article is about my experience of preparing for NaNoWriMo: National Novel Writing Month. It’s a challenge to write a 50K word story in November – everyone who does that, wins! I hope that reading about the people & things helping me with writing will help you too.

I got excited about NaNoWriMo 2018 when I was on holiday at the end of September. Started prepping only because I yearned to write. As I began to plan, I realised how necessary it was. My previous experiences of NaNoWriMo have been random affairs of writing whatever. Now I’m ready to put more of myself into it.

I’ve realised I need a plan to win NaNoWriMo.

I need a collection of different sources of help. I need people who support me, specific writing prep and goals.

People who support me with NaNoWriMo prep

I’m grateful for a supportive network – my friends and a bunch of people I only know of via social media.

My friend, Tim, thank you for encouraging and supporting me to prepare for NaNoWriMo. Tim’s the co-author of The Living Memory by Tim Byrne & Emma Dyer

My workmate, Jim, recently asked me how often I write articles for my website. That question was the last push I needed to write and publish this

Artist, Emmy the Great, thank you for your show last night. My mood went from 5.5/10 to 8.5/10; and what happened inbetween was your performance. So much synchronicity and inspiration that my mind’s been reeling – in a great way! Emmy’s whole story was magic. So moving; I was in tears.

print of a moon scape, featuring trees and waves

Writing prep

Practising, prompts & protections against writers’ block

In late September, I decided that I would use October to practise and develop a habit of writing more and daily. I’ve been working on non-fiction and poetry, which has been good fun (and hard work). I’ve eased up on practise lately, due to other priorities, but I intend to return to it next week.

Plus, I’ve been collecting prompts and other inspirations, so I don’t run out of ideas to write about. I have vision boards on Pinterest for stuff like this.

Emmy the Great’s show reminded me that Artist Dates are so important. Artist Dates are another cornerstone of The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. They’re about spending 2 hours doing something I enjoy, but not socialising. Introvert time, if you will. I love to go to gigs, libraries, parks, art galleries, restaurants… Julia Cameron talks about Artist Dates “filling the well” of creativity. I’ve definitely experienced that – a rush of ideas during and after Artist Dates.

I recommend The Artist’s Way, especially if you do it with a group of people. (I did, and I’m about to do it again.) There are secondhand copies of the book on Amazon and eBay. There’s a lot of religious language and concepts in the book, which don’t work for everyone. I think it’s still valuable even if you skip over those parts. Let me know on Twitter if you’re interested in secular translations, because I’m working on one.

Reading about writing

Novelist, Rachael Stephen’s resources have been helping me so much. Love her videos, as well as @Prep_tober on Twitter.


I’ve outlined non-fiction articles, talks and workshops. But I’ve never outlined fiction or poetry. Until now.

Even working on this article, I kept slipping from outlining to writing the article itself. It’s a tough habit for me to cultivate.

Again, it’s all about practice.

What I realised is without an outline I’d end up with a collection of fragments, rather than a story. I’d be creating a massive pain to edit. I already have a bunch of snippets; I don’t need to add 50K words to that 😅

Imposing order is hard. I started using the Snowflake Method – I’m sure there’s a joke about millennials in there somewhere… I found it so difficult. I was blocked.

So, I tried out another technique – Jot, Bin, Pants. I was immediately prolific using this simpler method. I started to appreciate what I’d produced using the Snowflake Method too. This helped motivate and encourage me.

Tools & tech

I got a new (refurbished) Chromebook at the start of the month, to use for writing only. It’s working. I’ve taken it everywhere with me, because it’s smaller and lighter than my old Chromebook. I use it even when I’m exhausted because I can convert it to a tablet and carry on writing when I’m lying down. It’s enabling writing practice every day.

I started using 750 words for my morning pages. Morning pages are 3 pages of A4 (around 750 words) of free writing, to do daily. It’s a practice I got from The Artist’s Way and it helps me, and many others, to be more creative. It costs $5 a month, with a month’s free trial. I was spending more than that on stationery 🙈

750 words has transformed my morning pages practice. I appreciate the language analysis it provides, that I can search my text and that I can copy-paste from it. Because sometimes what’s in my head is an outline for a story, sometimes it’s a plan for the day, sometimes it’s a poem. And it helps that I copy whatever it is to wherever makes sense for it to be.

What’s next for me: My goals for next week.

Setting goals helped me so much this week. Reviewing what’s working and what isn’t every day has been significant too. Especially as I combine that with 15% Solutions to refine my to do list the next day.

Here are my goals for next week:

  • Continue daily retrospectives of what went well, what didn’t go so well, what I’ll try the next day
  • Continue with Jot, Bin, Pants outline – order it chronologically
  • Write whilst commuting, both in and out: 500 words each way
  • Write poems in response to OctoberFalls18 Poetry Challenge prompts
  • Identify challenge days in November. Work out which days I’m unlikely to reach 2K words. Make a plan for that. Recalibrate