Winning NaNoWriMo: Tips and Tricks

Winning NaNoWriMo:  Tips and Tricks
On November 1st, I am going to attempt to repeat my National Novel Writing Month win.   I want to share some of what I learned from my first NaNoWriMo win, and a few words of encouragement to fellow writers who are gearing up for November.
NaNoWriMo is a marathon not a sprint.
If you are one of those writers who can write without planning, I really really envy you.  I am not.  I have been spending the past month working on my characters and creating an Excel spreadsheet with a rough outline of every scene in the novel.


Since I work full time, I have at most two hours to write at night.  That is the best scenario with no traffic on the way home and no unexpected interruptions.  Using an outline gives me speed and clarity.  I don’t have to think about what a character is named, what scene needs to come next, or any other friction point that could slow down my writing speed.

Increasing Your Writing Speed


I use a hybrid outlining process where I have adapted a few tools and methods.  I’m sure that many of you have heard of the Snowflake Method.  Briefly, the Snowflake Method is an outlining method that goes from simple to complex.  The method starts with a one sentence summary of your novel and finishes with a detailed scene list including narrative and dialogue for each scene resulting in a miniature first draft.  Here is a summary of the steps:


  1.  Write a one-sentence summary of your novel.  Look to the New York Times bestseller list for inspiration.
  2. Expand your sentence into a full paragraph
  3. Write a one page summary sheet for each of your major characters outlining their goals, personality, and other relevant details.
  4. Take the paragraph from step 3, and turn each sentence into a full paragraph.  The end result is a one page summary of the novel.
  5. Write a one-page synopsis of the story from the point of view of each major character.
  6. Expand the one page summary from step 4 into a four page summary of your novel.
  7. Take your character summaries and create character charts for each character.
  8. Create a detailed scene chart of every scene planned in the novel.
  9. Expand the scene chart into a several paragraph summary of each scene.


As you can imagine, the outlining process takes time.  For my last novel, I used  Cameron’s Outline Helper, a spreadsheet developed by Cameron Mathews.  Cameron’s Outline Helper is an adaptation of the Snowflake Method using a spreadsheet which organizes each of the steps of the outlining process.  There are separate tabs for plot points, characters, and scenes.


This year I used a simplified character information/scene information spreadsheet combined with yWriter.  For my scene list, I list a brief description of each scene in the scene tab of the spreadsheet.  After I finish playing around with scene order, I then transfer each scene description into yWriter.


yWriter is a word processor developed specifically for writers.  yWriter breaks down each scene into a separate text file which eases the editing process.  Under each scene, yWriter has a box for the scene description.  After I finish my outlining process, I set up every scene in yWriter and use the scene description box to write out a short description of each scene including any dialogue or description.


After my last writing holiday was hindered by lack of internet, I also keep a backup analog Book Bible.  My Book Bible is also where I place the random scribbles of ideas that I get at the grocery store as well as character information, a copy of my timeline, and everything else I need to write without power or internet.


I also have taken a piece of advice from Stephen King and Jamie Todd Rubin.  My first draft is where I tell myself the story.  I don’t worry about syntax or quality of the writing.  It’s also where I work out all those pesky plot holes. Some of it is written as a conversation between myself and my internal skeptic (who has a voice similar to that of Special Agent Dana Scully).

Staying Healthy While Writing


When you are trying to write a novel in a month, it’s easy to be lax about your health.


It’s also a mistake.


Let’s be honest- writing isn’t the healthiest of hobbies.  Sitting for long hours and typing at a keyboard means that you aren’t getting much exercise.  It’s also easy to snack while you are pondering a thorny writing problem.


Here are a few tips to avoid gaining pounds during NaNoWriMo:


  1. Take occasional breaks from writing and get up and move around.   If you have a standing desk, use it.  If not, set a timer and get up and stretch and do something non-writing related.  I use Tomato Timer and take a break every twenty-five minutes.
  2. Go for a long walk.  Having a change of scenery will give you clarity.  I come up with great plot ideas during walks.
  3. Keep a stash of healthy snacks at your computer.  Carrots and hummus, dried fruit chips, and low-fat yogurt with granola will satisfy your food craving without giving you the dreaded carbohydrate coma.

Stay Connected


Writing can be isolating.  Your friends and family may not understand why you think it’s fun to spend a month frantically writing.  NaNoWriMo has a great community of writers.  The forums on the site are excellent.  I also recommend following the #writing and #NaNoWriMo tags on Twitter.




1 Comment

  1. January 10, 2016 / 4:34 pm

    Awesome tips Susi, thanks! I really want to write a fiction book, it’s on my 2016 Bucket List! 🙂 I’ll try to use these tips for November 😉


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