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How To Write Faster This NaNoWriMo (And Beyond)

Every November, hundreds of writers take on the challenge of National Novel Writing Month.

NaNoWriMo, as it's commonly known, challenges participants to complete a 50,000-word first draft within 30 days—which is just shy of 1,700 words per day. It's a tremendous undertaking that tests a writer's creativity and productivity while building a steady routine.

The demands of NaNoWriMo can leave writers feeling crushed by the time crunch, especially those of us with day jobs and other responsibilities.

NaNoWriMo is in many ways about speedy storytelling. Here's how to make the most of the time you do have to work on your NaNo project.

These tips are particularly helpful during NaNoWriMo but can be applied to any time of the year.

Plan Ahead

For many writers, the first order of business for any new story is plotting, especially as NaNoWriMo draws near.

Whether it's a bare-bones overview to an intricately detailed chapter-by-chapter breakdown, there's no single correct way to plan your WIP, but many people find that having an outline makes their writing smoother and therefore faster.

That's one of the benefits of Preptober, the precursor to NaNoWriMo. Taking place throughout October, Preptober gives writers participating in November's challenge time to set themselves up for success.

Think of it like training in the weeks leading up to a marathon. You need time to condition your body before charging into the race.

Preptober looks different for everyone, but many writers use it to plot the story they'll be writing during NaNoWriMo. Not only does it help gather your thoughts and organize them, plotting gives you a roadmap to follow.

Not knowing what comes next in your story can certainly slow you down. Having an outline for reference can get you back on track.

As a quick note, this doesn't mean the Pantser crowd are automatically slower writers or will struggle during NaNoWriMo! Plenty of writers find that not having an outline works better for them and there is nothing wrong with that.

But if you think having a more structured outline will help you write faster, definitely take the time to prep one before tackling your new WIP.

Do Away With Distractions

This is one of the most common tips for staying productive as a writer, and with good reason.

I'm certain we've all had days where we've sat down to write only to check our phone for just a second and realize an entire hour's gone by without our knowledge.

NaNoWriMo's objective and constraints don't allow for much meandering. Eliminating as many distractions as you can helps to keep you focused on your writing.

Turn off your notifications during your writing session and close any unnecessary tabs. Some writers will turn off their Wi-Fi or use in-browser blockers to limit internet access and evade temptations online. If you're like me and get easily distracted by sounds, try listening to instrumental music while you work or use noise-canceling headphones (or even earplugs) if your environment permits; that said, please still be aware of your surroundings and stay safe in public spaces, friends!

You may also find it helpful to get any chores done prior to writing so they're not looming in the back of your mind as you're trying to focus. Tackle that stack of dirty dishes and move the laundry from the washer to the dryer before settling into your writing session.

When you've only got an hour or two to write, it's crucial to use that time only for writing and not extraneous things.

Embrace Technology

When I first started writing seriously, all of it happened on loose-leaf paper in a binder. This was during my freshman year of high school, and I wouldn't have my own laptop until I was getting ready to leave for college (for whatever reason, I didn't want to use the shared household computer for writing purposes).

I took that binder with me everywhere, and it in turn took a lot of damage—to the point it was being held together with duct tape for a time until I could replace it.

That first draft took me about six years to complete. Granted, I was balancing schoolwork and extracurriculars and was stumbling through the writing process like a newborn donkey on an ocean liner in a hurricane, so it likely would have taken me a good while to write that first draft regardless of the method I chose, but writing that thing out by hand was certainly a contributing factor to my speed and the lack thereof.

For more casual writers, speed might not be a great concern. NaNoWriMo, however, is built around a strict time limit. Thirty days and nothing more.

I do find I type much faster than I write. So even though it's not my preferred approach to drafting, I will be embracing the marvels of modern technology for NaNoWriMo.

To an extent, anyway.

It's safe to assume my Alphasmart Neo2 will be seeing a lot of use this month (and if you want to learn more about this blast-from-the-past gadget, check out my review here).

Mavis here is a nice middle-ground between the screen-free "acoustic" writing I love and the speed I need for NaNoWriMo. Whatever I type on her can be uploaded to my computer in a matter of minutes, ensuring I'm able to meet my goals in a way that works for me.

NaNoWriMo progress is tracked by word count, which is difficult to accurately assess with handwritten drafts. Mavis, along with the majority of writing software, has a word count display that can help you keep track of your progress.

Some writers also find it helpful to use dictation or text-to-speech tools as a way of speeding up their process.

There are many things I love about drafting by hand, and it's something you'll see me do to this day. However, it may not be the best strategy for NaNoWriMo. Don't be afraid to adapt your strategies or test out new ones during this challenge!

Draft Now, Edit Later

Another thing that slowed down the first draft of my first stab at writing a novel was my habit of editing as I went. There would be plenty of times I would write a scene and then immediately turn around and edit it.

While this can feel productive because you're tackling two steps at once, it can actually be hindering.

For one thing, you're dividing your time rather than dedicating it to one step. Instead of spending a solid thirty minutes on drafting, you're splitting it into fifteen minutes for drafting and fifteen for edits. So while you are tackling two steps at once, you're taking twice as long to complete the draft if you're stopping periodically to edit.

It's also often recommended that you set any draft aside for at least a few days before starting revisions. This gives you a chance to reset and rest so you come back to the project with fresh eyes that make it easier to see what areas need to be worked on.

Nowadays, I'll make a note in the margins of the page where I know to include a new detail or strike something out when I return to that part of the story. And that's made not only drafting quicker, but it gives me a stronger foundation to build on when I am ready to edit.

Editing your WIP as you go can be so incredibly tempting, especially for the perfectionist in us. But when that clock is ticking, it's important to pick and prioritize your focus.

NaNoWriMo is all about the first draft, not the final product. The goal is to get creative and just write. To explore and see what comes out of following your imagination without worrying about getting it right.

It's okay for your first draft to be messy—certainly during NaNoWriMo. They're called "rough" drafts for a reason, after all!

Befriend Your Stand-Ins

Another thing that can slow writers down is not knowing the name of something. Whether it's a character's name, a place, or something else, we can get stuck trying to find the right word.

I struggle with even starting a new WIP when I'm not completely set on the protagonists' names (I had a particular indecisiveness when it came to Thomas's surname for this year's NaNoWriMo project).

Think of it like going for a nice little jog in the woods. The sun is gleaming but it's not too hot out. Your favorite playlist is on full blast. The ground is smooth so you're not tripping over roots and rocks. You're just having a grand ol' time.

And all of a sudden, you come to a broken bridge. Your flow comes to a screeching halt that prevents you from moving forward, and you're left trying to find a way over the rushing river below.

Now imagine there's a stack of planks somewhere off to the side. They're shabby but sturdy enough to hold your weight, and they're long enough to get you across the gap. So you use them as a makeshift bridge, make your way across, and resume your run.

Using stand-ins as you're drafting is like a makeshift bridge.

It's common to be in a steady writing groove only for it to be interrupted by a gap in your train of thought. You might be introducing a character or location that doesn't have a name, can't find the perfect descriptor for an object, need to do a little more research about something, or just don't know what the next line of dialogue ought to be.

Getting stuck is natural for all writers, but it's not ideal when you're concerned about your writing speed.

Stand-ins are like leaving a little note to self. A temporary substitute you can come back to and replace later on.

Every writer has their own system. My stand-ins tend to be in brackets that are easy for the search feature to pick up on; one of the first things I'll do when starting edits is to go through these brackets and fill in what I can.

In drafting, these stand-ins might look like

Lucy had not been to [TOWN] since she was a girl.

A boisterous laugh accompanied [Paul's Friend 2]'s reply. "Well, that I shall certainly drink to!"

Adam stared at the cake before him, eyes widening with anticipation. [Research cake decorations c. 1810]

"On the contrary," Mary [DT]. "I find it absolutely remarkable that one could uphold such a lie for so many bloody years."

[DT] is my most frequent stand-in, meaning "Dialogue Tag." I'll use it when I know I need to indicate how something is being said or what the speaker is doing. It's something I'm exceedingly prone to getting hung up on.

The stand-ins you utilize will depend on your needs, but they all serve the same purpose: filling in the gaps just enough for you to cross the gap for now so you can come back and build a sturdier bridge later on.

NaNoWriMo can be intimidating. Penning 50,000 words in a mere thirty days might sound impossible, but the feat can be accomplished with proper preparation and by finding strategies to write more quickly during the challenge—and beyond.

Additionally, don't be hard on yourself if you are not able to write every single day or fall behind the word count goal. The whole point of NaNoWriMo is not just writing a 50,000-word novel, but getting into a writing routine and reigniting your creative spark.

Happy writing to everyone participating!

Want to know more about what I'm writing for NaNoWriMo? Be sure to follow me on Twitter and Instagram to get the scoop on my seaside second-chance romance TITLE throughout and beyond November!



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