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Amy LeTourneur

10 Tips to Help You Win NaNoWriMo

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The start of NaNoWriMo 2020 is just days away! You know your characters inside and out. Your outline is solid. You’ve prepped your little tushy off. But, still, there’s that niggling little thought in the back of your mind:

Can I really write 50,000 words in just 30 days?

Yes, my friend, you can! And here are my top ten tips to help you win NaNoWriMo like a boss.  

1. Take it day by day.

writing quote by EL Doctorow - Work in Progress BlogThe thought of writing fifty thousand words in just thirty days can feel like a thousand-pound weight on your shoulders.

So don’t think about it.

Instead, just take NaNo one day at a time. Fifty thousand words over thirty days breaks down to 1667 words a day. So every day, just focus on the words you need to write that day to stay on track. If you’re able to beat your daily word count goal, then give yourself a high five! If you don’t quite make it, then shrug it off and do your best to sneak in some extra writing time to catch up.  

2. Make TK your new best friend.

You’re in the groove. I mean, really writing up a storm. Then your protagonist jumps into his car, and you think, “Wait! What kind of car does he drive?”

Forty-seven minutes later, you’ve picked the perfect car for your MC…but you haven’t written a single word in all that time. And during NaNoWriMo, forty-seven minutes can make or break your daily word count goal.

And this is where your new bestie, TK, saves the day. Very few words in the English language include the “tk” letter combination, making it the perfect placeholder for writers. When you’re ready to revise your first draft, searching for TK will highlight all of your placeholders and maybe one or two other words.     

So when you hit a snag – a name you want to change, a detail you need to research, etc. – don’t spend your time figuring these things out now. Instead, simply write TK to mark the spot and keep writing. 

You may want to add a note or two to your placeholder, as well, to remind you what you’re looking for in that instance. In this case, surround TK and your notes with brackets to set them apart from the rest of your writing. For example, the placeholder about your MC’s car might read [TK – hipster car, two-door, unique color]. 

3. Fire your inner editor.


First drafts don't have to be perfect, they just have to be written - graphic by Amy LeTourneur for Work in ProgressOrdinarily, I would applaud you for doing light editing as you write. A tight first draft makes the revision and editing process go much more smoothly.

But editing as you go absolutely kills your word count! So to win NaNoWriMo, fire your inner editor for the month and just let the words flow.

Remember, friend, first drafts don’t have to be perfect. They just have to be written.



4. Step away from the thesaurus.

Thumbing through your thesaurus to find a synonym for every tired, banal word in your manuscript will suck away your writing time like nobody’s business! I hate writing crappy first drafts as much as the next girl, but if you really want to win NaNoWriMo this year, then just type “he walked” or “she was sad” or whatever and move on. But don’t worry, you’ll be spending a lot of quality time with your thesaurus during the editing process!


5. Get on the fast track.

If your novel is character-driven and rich in dialogue, then one of the best ways to fast-track your writing is to write the dialogue – and only the dialogue – in a scene first. Before each passage, write the name of which character is speaking then note his or her emotions or actions in parentheses, but that is allOnce all of the dialogue is written, then you can go through and fill in all of the details that go around it.  

This not only increases your writing speed, but it can also help you capture all of the great lines characters tend to rattle off in your head while you’re busy trying to describe the love interest’s luscious locks. The locks can wait, but those awesome lines of dialogue tend to evaporate into thin air if you don’t write them down the moment you think of them. (Or is that just me?) So catch ’em while you can.


6. Find your writing mojo.


Some writers can get “in the zone” regardless of what’s going on around them.

Yeah. That’s totally not me.

If I’m uncomfortable or in a noisy environment, then I just cannot concentrate to save my life. So I recommend two things to help you find your writing mojo and win NaNoWriMo: 

  • A comfy writing “uniform”
  • Noise-cancelling headphones

Mpow headphones with amazon affiliate link - Amy LeTourneurComfort is important while you write, but slipping into your writing outfit is also a signal to your brain that it’s time to buckle up, buttercup, and just write. Your uniform can be anything that makes you feel relaxed and comfortable. My writing uniform consists of these buttery soft leggings and racerback tank tops. (Which are also perfect for sleeping, yoga, and binge-watching British crime dramas. 😊)

And if you have a busy household or you’re at all distractible, then a set of noise-cancelling headphones will be a godsend for you! I use this budget-friendly set of wireless headphones, and they are amazing! They use some mysterious techno-magic to “cancel” the ambient noise around me, which is often enough to help me concentrate. But if I want to block even more noise, then I can connect to my phone through Bluetooth and listen to my favorite playlist (rain sounds) while I write. No regrets here. None.

7. Focus, grasshopper.


To help you avoid distractions such as – oh, I don’t know – the entire worldwide web, use your writing software’s “focus mode” or “full screen mode.”   

screenshot of scrivener in full screen mode - Amy LeTourneur
Screenshot of Scrivener in full screen mode {affiliate link}

Scrivener has, by far, the most appealing full screen mode I’ve found. This mode hides both the program’s toolbars and your computer’s taskbar, which helps you concentrate on your work in progress. But the best part, in my opinion, is that you can choose your own background – any color, photo, or image you like! (Mine, shown above, is the wallpaper from my desktop.)

Screenshot of focus mode on the Write! app - Amy LeTourneur
Screenshot of focus mode on the Write! app {affiliate link}

Focus mode on the Write! app works a little differently. When you enter focus mode, the program brightens the paragraph you’re writing and dims the rest of the document. This is fabulous for those who are prone to self-editing as they write. (Ahem…me.) 

If your program’s focus mode doesn’t keep your nose to the grindstone, then Write or Die may be just the thing you need to win NaNoWriMo. This program is famous (or perhaps I should say “infamous”) for its Kamikaze Mode. In this mode, as long as you’re typing, then all is well in your writing world. But if you stop typing for more than ten seconds, then the screen flashes red, obnoxious sounds scream from your speakers, and the program begins erasing your words until you start typing again! Kamikaze Mode is no joke, my friend. But, let’s be honest, some writers need this type of tough love. If you happen to be one of them, then give Write or Die a try. (Not an affiliate link.)

Don’t have writing software? Check out this recent post, where I share my top five picks for novel writing software.  There’s something on the list for every budget and writing style, so you’re sure to find the perfect program for you. 


8. Get your brain juices flowing.

Before every writing session, spend 10-20 minutes exercising to get your brain firing on all cylinders. This may seem counter-intuitive when every minute counts, but moving your body – even for just a few minutes – releases hormones known to make your brain work more quickly and efficiently.

So before you sit down to write, go for a short walk or jog, do some calisthenics, or enjoy a brief yoga practice. (For tons of free 10-minute yoga sessions, check out the Yoga with Kassandra channel on YouTube!)


9. Cut the carbs.

Sugar crash. Carb coma. Brain fog.

These are just some of the effects of eating too many carbs, especially those high in sugar. While it’s okay to indulge occasionally, doing so during NaNoWriMo will have a seriously negative impact on your word count.

To keep your creative center (aka brain) working at optimal levels, try to avoid sugary or high-carb meals and treats before a writing session. And if you like to nosh while you write, then choose snacks that help your brain rather than hinder it.

But don’t think your options are limited! Just ask Mr. Google and you’ll quickly find a list of brain foods to add to your NaNoWriMo survival kit, everything from blueberries and broccoli to nuts and dark chocolate.

Wait, Amy, you’re telling me dark chocolate is good for my brain?  

Yup. Science says. 😋


10. Embrace your inner recluse.   

How many hours a day do you spend watching TV? Scrolling through social media? Playing video games? Texting with friends?

A lot, right?

Now think about how many words you can write in that same amount of time.

It’s okay. I’m not judging. And in December, you can jump straight back into your normal watching, scrolling, playing, texting routine. But if you hope to win NaNoWriMo, then you’ll have to become a bit of a recluse in order to reach your daily word count goals.

So turn off the TV. Hide the Xbox controllers. Let friends and family know you won’t have much time to talk or text until NaNoWriMo is over. Most will understand and cheer you on toward your goal. And when you win NaNoWriMo, you can throw yourself a victory party to reintroduce yourself to society. 

Just be sure to tidy yourself up first. 😉 

Penny for your thoughts…

Do you feel confident that you’ll win NaNoWriMo this year? What helps you get in the writing groove the most? Tell me all about it in the comments below!

If you haven’t joined the Work in Progress NaNoWriMo Facebook Group, then head over now and jump in today. We have a great group of writers going through NaNo together, and we’d love for you to be a part of it! (To avoid a delay in processing your membership request, be sure to answer the questions that pop up when you click the join button.)

I’ll be focusing all my time in November on my NaNoWriMo project and getting my first novel ready for publication (yay!), so I won’t be posting again until mid-month. Until then, buckle up, buttercup, and let’s NaNo!!!


In case you missed it: In last week’s post, I explained how you can find time for NaNoWriMo in your freezer! It’s not too late to prep a whole stash of freezer meals for NaNo season, so head over to the post to learn how today.

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