NaNoWriMo Inspiration: 30 Tips for Writing a Book in 30 Days
Have you always wanted to write a book but never worked up the courage to do it? NaNoWriMo — or National Novel Writing Month — might just be exactly what you didn’t know you needed. Once you get past the crazy-sounding name and the crazy-sounding concept of writing a book in just 30 days, you will realize it's kind of like those couch to 5K programs that promise to turn couch potatoes into runners in just a few weeks. Get started with these simple tips.
- Sign Up - Solidify your commitment by officially registering on the NaNoWriMo website. With an account, you can join a local group of writers and attend in-person writing events, receive online encouragement from staff and published authors and more. If you had an account last year, you can use the same one.
- Come up with a Title - NaNoWriMo rules say you have to do all the actual writing in November, but they suggest you come up with a title beforehand. You can also come into the month with an outline or general synopsis, but the NaNoWriMo team suggests coming with a clean slate. Only words written in November count toward the minimum 50,000 word count.
- Read a Pep Talk - The NaNoWriMo website has a collection of pep talks from well-known authors like John Green, Dave Eggers and more to help inspire you to write your own bestseller. You could also search the web for some popular essays from authors.
- Focus Your Book - Sounds simple — and it can be — but this is an important part of the process. Start with just an elevator pitch sentence describing what the book is about, and then grow that sentence into a paragraph. Stretch it a little bit more and you’ll have a semblance of an outline.
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- Read Other Books - Dan Brown, author of The Da Vinci Code, suggests reading the classics for plot inspiration. Brown told the website Now Novel, “I’ve read a lot of the classics, where issues of plot and description are well crafted.”
- Read Book Covers - Once you’ve settled on the genre for your book, go to the bookstore, the library — or just Amazon — and read the plotlines for other books. It just might be what you need to get your wheels turning.
- Do Some Research - Get creative even in the research process. Talk to someone in your social circle who may be an expert in the field you need, watch the nightly news or listen to a podcast. Use your research to help with plotlines — but don’t feel like you need to write a complete research study on your topic.
- Look at the World Around You - Looking at real-world events can help you brainstorm. It also will help your readers resonate with the characters and setting. Supposedly, inspiration for Hunger Games happened after author Suzanne Collins was flipping channels between a reality TV show and a news story on the Iraq war.
- Write What You Know - Probably the oldest cliché in the book — and yet one of the most helpful — writing what you know first requires an examination of what YOU are an expert in. Draw from personal experience, skills and knowledge.
- Make an Outline (even though you really don’t want to) - John Grisham told The New York Times that one of his best pieces of advice is to know the last scene of the book before you write the first scene. Grisham acknowledged that means having to write “the dreaded device commonly called an outline.”
- Don’t Make an Outline - “I never outline my novels before I write. I have a vague sense of beginning, middle and end, but for me, it is a very character-driven process,” Emily Giffin says of her writing process. “As I get to know my characters, and the relationships between them form, the plot evolves accordingly,” she adds. SO, decide what works for you and embrace the fact that there is no right or wrong way.
- Keep a Running Idea List - Jot down characters, plotlines and other strokes of genius in one place and reference them when you get stuck. Even some things that look like they may not work the first time around can offer inspiration on second glance. This is also a good way to keep track of things once you get going and are juggling multiple characters or multiple plotlines.
- Write in the Same Place Every Day - It should be somewhere that you associate with writing your book. That way, each day when you sit down, you'll get into the writing frame of mind.
- Write in a Public Place - Environments like libraries or coffee shops can provide the perfect atmosphere. If everyone around you is being productive, you'll feel obligated to get something done as well.
- Make the Time to Write - If you had all the time in the world, you probably wouldn’t be taking part in a 30-day challenge. So, how do you find the time? Schedule it. Literally put it on your calendar — just like a haircut or dentist appointment.
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- Write When You are at Your Best - Toni Morrison told Open Culture that writing at her best meant writing in the early morning, pre-dawn hours because she is “not very bright or very witty or very inventive after the sun goes down.”
- Set a Routine - And stick with it. Most writers do best on deadline and that means giving yourself a deadline every day. Find a time of day that works best for you to write and make it happen. Every day.
- Time Yourself - If having a set routine doesn’t work every single day, then squeeze in writing sessions whenever you can and time yourself. Have a 30-minute lunch break or 20 minutes to kill waiting for your daughter to get done with dance class? Use the time to work and set a timer. Challenge yourself to get as much writing done as possible during time that otherwise wouldn’t have been as productive.
- Set Multiple Deadlines - Have a goal to write for a set amount of time. Have a daily word count goal and a weekly word count. Track how often you meet your goals and reward yourself when you do.
- Find — and Maintain — Your Focus - It can be really hard to stay focused on your writing with all the distractions of our technologically driven world. Don’t worry — there’s an app for that! Actually, there are several. Some involve music, some meditation and still others literally block things from distracting you. Search your device’s app store and you’re sure to find one that works for you.
- Find Your Happy Place - Some people get more work done if they set up shop in their favorite cafe. Some writers work best sitting by a big window or at their desk. And some people are happiest writing with a laptop in their pajamas in bed. Whatever works!
- Write One Word at a Time - This is one of Stephen King’s top pieces of advice in his memoir and writing guide, On Writing. “Whether it’s a vignette of a single page or an epic trilogy like The Lord of the Rings, the work is always accomplished one word at a time,” he says.
- Just Do It - Seriously. It’s going to take sacrifice. You’ll have to stop hitting the snooze button and miss out on an extra 30 thirty minutes of sleep or put off grabbing a drink at happy hour with friends. But it will be worth it. And just like exercise, once you finish, you’re usually glad you did it.
- Write How You’re Comfortable - In a recent Vanity Fair article, romance novelist Danielle Steel revealed she’s written 163 novels — all on a 1946 typewriter. JK Rowling famously used paper to write an early draft of the first Harry Potter. So even though the modern world may dictate that you’re supposed to be standing at a treadmill desk typing away on a laptop, get the words on paper in whatever way works best for you.
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- Plan Your Breaks - If you know you have a break coming up, it will motivate you to push through when the going gets tough.
- Don't Edit as You Go - Just write! There's plenty of time for editing later. Give yourself the freedom to let it flow and just write.
- Tell People Your Plans - Tell friends and family members what you’re hoping to accomplish, and they can help hold you accountable. Send out a tweet, post a pic on Instagram — heck, shout it from the rooftops. That way you’ll not only have people offering encouragement and moral support, but you’ll also have lots of people tracking your progress who will hold you accountable.
- Start a Blog or Facebook Page - You’re already tasked with writing a lot, so you don’t want to add too much to your plate. But if you set up a blog and plan to post regular updates, you’ll want to have something to report in this blog — and that should motivate you to put pen to paper on days when you just aren’t feeling it.
- Find Fellow Writers - Find a community of authors who are on the same mission you are. You can all mutually benefit from each other’s feedback and brainstorming ideas.
- Get Regular Feedback - It will make you feel better to know you’re on the right track. Pick a few people that you trust (they don’t have to be accomplished writers — just people who like to read) and ask for some honest feedback on a regular basis.
The goal of NaNoWriMo is to write 50,000 words by writing every day for 30 days. That's a lofty goal. Realize you may not meet it, and that's OK! You'll still have some great material that could ultimately be turned into your great American novel.
Michelle Boudin is a reporter at NBC Charlotte and a freelance writer.