by Amy Evans
Breathe in, breathe out. Today you’ll begin your journey to writing 50,000 words in one month. Think of NaNo as a cross country trail beneath your feet. You’re running through scenery that comes alive as you write. This place you find yourself in is a world of your own invention.
NaNo is about pacing yourself and watching your realistic goals play out over the next month. Focus less on word count, and more on using your time effectively and achieving your daily objectives. To come out of this having made progress on your novel will be an accomplishment in itself.
So enter that forest trail in your mind, where your story leads and only you can go. Appreciate the journey and immerse yourself in the setting of your novel. Fair warning, there will be hills to climb and many a creative stitch in your side.
On the NaNo trail, you’ll feel a writer’s high. Maintain a steady pace and use your outline to guide you, and you’ll feel this incredible and altogether elusive feeling of being able to write forever. All we can do is capture that feeling, nurture it, and trust that it will return. That’s why runners keep running, and writers keep writing: because when you reach the point of endurance, you’re on top of the world.
Joanna Penn’s 5 Tips to Help You Write a Novel in One Month
Plus a Kobo exclusive offer on Joanna’s titles The Writer’s Toolbox 2019 and The Successful Author Mindset.
1. Know what you’re going to write before you write it
Start by writing notes on your ideas for plot. Joanna Penn is a discovery writer, or pantser, so she doesn’t outline in advance — but she always has an imagined character before she starts a book, and an opening scene. Make sure you spend some time thinking about your story before sitting down on the first day to write.
One of the most important things to decide is your genre. Joanna Penn suggests writing in the genre that you love to read. If you’re not sure which genre you’ll be writing in, look up a similar book and check its category. It is good to have an idea of the category you are writing in, as this will help with characters, plot ideas, and where you’re heading in terms of an ending. For instance, romance readers love a happy ever after, whereas thriller readers appreciate a battle to the death and the triumph of the heroine at the end of the world.
2. Keep it simple
Maybe you want to write a multi-character epic across a universe of worlds. Fantastic, but perhaps don’t choose this as the topic for your NaNoWriMo project. Make it easy on yourself and use a basic structure for your story.
First, put a character in a setting. To use The Hunger Games as an example, Katniss lives in Panem, working to feed her family in an oppressed district. If you’re a new writer, keep your story simple, and pick one primary character and write from their point of view. The more characters you have, the more complicated your book, so try to stay focused on one protagonist. Although, of course, there will be other minor characters.
Then, come up with something that disrupts the character’s existing life. Katniss wants to save her sister from the Reaping, and volunteers to take her place. Then give the character something they want to achieve, and put lots of obstacles in place to stop them achieving it. Katniss wants to stay alive and win the Hunger Games, but increasingly she also wants to tear down the existing system of Panem. She faces obstacles in the challenges that the games present, the other tributes are trying to kill her, as well as President Snow and the whole corrupt system, plus her own internal battles.
Finally, build an ending that satisfies readers of your genre. Bring elements of the story endings you have enjoyed while reading into your own. You might not know your ending until well into the writing process. You will need to flesh out each of these elements as you write. If you stick to one character’s point of view, you will achieve your goal of one story.
3. Schedule your writing time and make the most of it
Writing 50,000 words in one month is an ambitious goal, and the only way to achieve it is to schedule your time. Joanna uses Google Calendar to block out chunks to write, but you can use whatever works for you. As long as you schedule it, and show up for that time. You can’t write a novel in spare moments, because no one ever has spare moments. You need to rearrange your life in order to get your writing done.
That might mean getting up an hour earlier, writing over your lunch break, or skipping Netflix after dinner. Getting your family to do your chores, or leaving things to pile up longer than you normally would. It might mean telling your friends that you won’t be going out much in November, and using your weekends to create. If you’re struggling to find time, ask yourself, how much do you really want this? We all have to give up something to achieve our goals.
Once you have your writing time locked in, turn up and do the work. Your first words are unlikely to be great, but that’s ok, just get them down! This is your first draft, so tell your inner editor to come back next month. For now, you are creating. Find somewhere you won’t be disturbed and set a timer. Don’t do anything else in that time but write. Join some of the online NaNo community writing sprints, or join a writing group in your city. Joanna goes to a coffee shop at 7 am before the morning rush, puts on her noise-cancelling headphones, and presses play on her rain and thunderstorms album.
4. Use effective tools, but don’t use them to procrastinate
There are many writing and productivity tools these days, and copious apps that say they can get more work done. Joanna Penn has now written 29 books of fiction and non-fiction using Scrivener. It is the secret weapon of many successful writers, because it is so good at helping you organize your manuscript. However, it might not be best to learn a new program during your month of writing.
Another secret weapon for prolific writers: dictation. Again, it is hard to start dictating on day one when you’re not used to writing this way. In terms of timed writing, there are lots of methods and special apps, but seriously, just set your phone to 20 minutes and write! If you find yourself struggling to concentrate, give yourself a periodic procrastination break. For example, in a two-hour writing session, Joanna will get up for more coffee, stretch, check Twitter, Instagram, and the news. If you find yourself going over 10 minutes, give yourself some tough love.
5. Acknowledge your self-doubt and fear, and get back to the blank page
Even after so many books, Joanna finds it a daunting process to return to the blank page. It’s exciting, but also scary. What if you don’t have any ideas? What if you get writer’s block? What if you can write words, but they’re just really bad? What if this is all a waste of time? There are so many brilliant writers, so why am I even trying? Don’t worry, you are not alone.
The creative process is a roller coaster of emotion and experience, which doesn’t end after your first book. You just know to expect it. Joanna struggles with her own self-doubt, but she knows that once she sits down at her laptop and starts to type, a story will emerge. Over repeated writing sessions, it will turn into whatever it is meant to turn into. Then it will be edited and worked over by professionals, and it will emerge into the world at some point. You just have to balance the curious, mystical process of creation with the actual work of sitting down at the page and typing.
Kobo Exclusive Offer on Joanna Penn Titles
In the spirit of NaNoWriMo, we’re offering 50% off The Writer’s Toolbox 2019 and The Successful Author Mindset audiobook. Use promo code KWLPODPENN to receive 50% off of your choice of either eBook or audiobook.
Joanna Penn is an Award-nominated, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of thrillers under J.F.Penn and also writes non-fiction for authors. She’s an award-winning entrepreneur, podcaster, and YouTuber. Her site, TheCreativePenn.com has been voted in the Top 100 sites for writers by Writer’s Digest.