15 Writing Habits That Will Kill Your NaNoWriMo Manuscript
This is gonna be your year, the year you win NaNoWriMo. There are plenty of hurdles to clear ahead — even with just one week left — including the 15 habits that will kill your NaNoWriMo manuscript dead, as detailed on the list below. Learn to identify and avoid these all-too-common problems, and you'll ace the world's most infamous, 30-day writing challenge.
Founded by Chris Baty in 1999 as a fun challenge for Bay Area writers, NaNoWriMo — that's National Novel Writing Month — celebrates its 20th iteration in 2018. The rules are simple: in the 30 days of November, write 50,000 words on a single novel manuscript.* That averages out to about 1,667 words per day, which is no easy feat, especially if you don't already have a daily writing habit.
Even though NaNoWriMo is a tough, tough slog, it's still 100 percent doable, y'all. Most novel projects get derailed by a handful of common, avoidable problems that throw off your writing groove, but you might not even identify these issues as harmful to your writing career.
Check out the 15 NaNoWriMo-killing habits I've identified below:
Not Optimizing Your Writing Environment
Knowing your optimal writing environment, and making a space like it for your NaNoWriMo sprints, are steps you must take to reach your goal of 50,000 words in 30 days. Sure, some people write best with music playing, or in bed, or at their favorite coffee shop, but don't feel like you have to do any of that to be a "real" writer. Seriously, the only thing you're required to do as a writer is to write, so make sure your writing environment has been tailored to suit your needs, and no one else's.
Continuing to "Prep" When You Should Be Writing
There's nothing wrong with plotting out your NaNoWriMo manuscript, flying by the seat of your pants, or falling somewhere in the middle of those extremes. But when you use research and preparation as a means of putting off the actual writing process, you've taken a big step toward derailing your NaNoWriMo mauscript project. Cut your research off at 12 A.M. on Nov. 1, and pick it back up when you're going through the revision process in January.
Trying to Edit as You Go
Speaking of the revision process, there's a reason why NaNoWriMo encourages you to edit your drafts during the month of January, people! Editing as you go — that is, trying to perfect your manuscript as you write it — will be the death of your writing career. Go read Anne Lamott's "Shitty First Drafts," and write fearlessly and terribly throughout the month of November.
Texting and Using Social Media
Social media has been a boon to a lot of authors, but you have to step away from your phone if you want to stick to your writing goals. After all, it's really easy to check a text, reply, and then spend the next 90 minutes of your writing session scrolling through Pinterest or Twitter. Use a productivity app if you have to, but nix the social contact until you've hit your word count for the day.
Not Writing on the Go
Don't be afraid to write in two different formats. Jot down your last sentence before you leave the house, so that you can pick up right where you left off if inspiration strikes you in the post office queue. Whether you're writing in an email to yourself, in Google Docs or another note-taking app, or using your favorite pen and notebook, being able to write on the go is critical to finishing your NaNoWriMo manuscript by Nov. 30.
Engaging in Negative Self-Talk
Don't tear yourself down for writing badly. No, your first draft doesn't sound like Margaret Atwood, but you know what? Neither does Margaret Atwood's first draft. If you can't cut out the negative self-talk, try writing poorly on purpose! It's a great way to get your words on paper, and you're going to edit the hell out of this draft anyway.
Not Padding Your Manuscript
While we're on the subject of getting words onto paper, you know that NaNoWriMo is all about hitting that word count, so why not add in extra words wherever you can? I have been known to drop all contractions from my November writing, and to write passive-agressive notes toward people who try to distract me while I'm working. Whatever you can do to hit 50,000 words, do it.
Waiting for Inspiration
Inspiration is a fickle mistress, y'all. If you wait until you're inspired to write, you're going to be waiting a long time. Writing takes dedication. Your muse isn't going to sing the perfect novel into your ear. You've got to work for it. Stop waiting to be inspired, and start inspiring yourself instead.
Getting Caught Up in the Little Things
Feeling as though you need to have the perfect font, layout, color scheme, and title before you ever begin writing? That's all fine to do before Nov. 1, but once NaNoWriMo actually begins, trying to perfect your manuscript's ~aesthetic~ will only slow you down.
Forgetting to Save Frequently
Even in this day and age, some writing programs don't back up your work automatically, so you should make saving your work a habit if you don't want to lose any of your precious NaNoWriMo words. And because hard drives crash and accounts get hacked, you should keep a backup copy of your work on a flash drive, just in case tragedy strikes.
Not Rewarding Yourself Enough
For some Wrimos, the thrill of finishing their 30-day project is enough. Others need a little more material incentive in order to push through and hit major writing milestones. Make a little advent calendar for November, and treat yo' self whenever you hit those 5k, 10k, 25k, and 50k marks.
Not Participating in Events with Other Wrimos
One of the best things about NaNoWriMo is that it gives you the opportunity to build a community of writers within your area, genre, and/or age group. If you aren't participating in word sprints, write-ins, and other writing events this November, you're missing out on a great chance to have other writers inspire you to keep going.
Giving Up Because You Realize Your Story Doesn't Work
Plot holes happen, y'all. Unless you can address them in the moment — and I assure you, you can't — you're just going to have to keep writing as if 1) the plot hole doesn't matter, 2) the plot hole isn't there, or 3) the plot hole has already been patched. Don't let yourself get roped into fixing a big problem with your draft, if fixing it means you won't complete said draft.
Putting Your Reading List on the Back Burner
Sucessful NaNoWriMo campaigns are built upon time management. You have to set aside time to churn out 50,000 words, in addition to all the other stuff you have to do in life, like working, sleeping, and bathing. Although it's common to let your dishes pile up during the month of November, you shouldn't let your reading habit fall by the wayside. Reading one or more good books during NaNoWriMo is a great way to inspire yourself to keep going.
Not Making Time to Write
This is the biggest pitfall Wrimos encounter, by far. In order to write 50,000 words in 30 days, you have to, y'know, write. Make some time every day to write at least 1,667 words — the minimum you'll need to hit 50k by Nov. 30. If you can, write more, to give Future You some wiggle room in the event of a late-month crisis. And remember: don't let anything short of an emergency get in the way of your writing.