National Novel Writing Month – Tips That Have Helped Me

NaNoWriMo 2010

Image by Lindalawen via Flickr

November is National Novel Writing Month, when participants across the world will be challenging themselves to write like they have never wrote before.  During the month of November, participating writers will attempt to write at least a 50,000 word novel.  One month, 30 days, and 50,000 words… at least.

I have competed in NaNoWriMo the last four years, and planning on competing this year as well.  In each year, I have managed to finish the project, usually just making past the 50,000 word limit, and usually before the November 30th deadline.  Granted, I have had to do a few tricks to make it to the 50,000 word limit.

First thing for anyone thinking about attempting NaNoWriMo is that what you will be writing will be pretty much a first draft.  Remember to keep this in mind as you write, especially if you are someone who has to deal with inner critics.  Even Chris Baty, the founder of NaNoWriMo, and author of No Plot? No Problem! pretty much says that what you write in this time frame will be crap.  That’s what rewrites are for (which reminds me, I have 4 first drafts to rewrite).

Keeping that in mind, the first thing I did was I made an editing rule.  Since I was unable to be at a computer and write all the time (work kept interfering), I would use the off time to edit what I had previously written.  But, the goal of editing on the fly like this was for spelling and for plot points.  If I came across something that seemed off in the plot, I would make a note of it so that I can go back into the story when I could and add in text to explain the plot point.  In essence, the editing process never took anything out, just worked to explain what was in there.  I would keep in mind that anything I added this way could be looked at when I reread and rewrote the project after November and determined if it was worth keeping in.

Like a lot of other NaNoWriMo participants, I would also engage in word games, various tricks to bolster word counts.  In my first NaNoWriMo, I had a character named Cerezan Tyrant (It was a modern fantasy adventure).  Every time this character was referred to, it was by his full name, Cerezan Tyrant.  He was not in the story extensively, but he was in it enough for this double name to add in at least a one hundred words or so.

Another trick used by many (including myself) is an excessive use of description.  Adjectives and adverbs are a NaNoWriMo’s best friend.  Again, a lot of the excessive use of adjectives can be stripped out in the rewrite.  But it still adds words if you describe a stranger as, “Tall, lanky stranger with a deceptively calm smile.”

The worst thing I have to admit that I have done is removed contractions from my NaNoWriMo projects.  Not all of them.  If they were in dialogue, they remained.  But whenever I could say wouldn’t, I would say would not.  It’s cheesy, but it does boost word counts.

I have also been willing to stoop to using longer titles.  My second year, I had a character looking through a library for a book to read.  Along with other books, the character stumbles across Marley and Me by John Grogan.  Except, I did not simply say Marley and Me, I referred to it by its full title, Marley and Me – Life and Love With The World’s Worst Dog.  Just by using the full title, I added an additional 8 words to my count.

I also stooped to adding in sex scenes to my second and third NaNoWriMo projects.  A really good sex scene can add in a couple hundred to a thousand words to your word count (depending on how much detail you go into).  And, just like any other not wholly needed scene, they can be removed in the rewrite.  Prologues and Epilogues are good for this type of trick as well.

Dares and adoptables can also boost word counts.  A dare is a suggestion from another NaNoWriMo participant, often posted in NaNoWriMo’s forums.  They can be relatively simple, like include a scene where your characters play a board game.  Or they can be extremely complex, like include a scene where a kiwi bird is eating a kiwi fruit while someone mentions cannibalism.  Adoptables are items that other writers happen to not be able to use that they “leave” for anyone to try to use.  Also open for NaNoWriMo writers to use are the traveling shovel of death, and the trebuchet.  These are open challenges for writers to try and work them into their projects.  The traveling shovel of death is, well, a shovel used in a murder, either actually used, or just nearby.  I used it myself in my last project.  The trebuchet is, well, the medieval siege engine.  Not the easiest thing to work into some stories, but well worth the challenge.

Then there are the personal challenges, the in jokes.  My personal in joke is the use of the romance novel Bedded By Her Lord.  The in joke stems from a copy of the book that was left at work (no one fessed up to leaving it behind).  The romance novel has appeared in three of my four projects (the first was written before the book was left behind).  The first year I included it, it was a book in a library (the same one that had Marley & Me in it).  The next year, it was the only book in a farmhouse compound in a zombie infested world.  Last year, Bedded By Her Lord was actually being made into a movie.

There are many more sneaky tricks to boost word counts for NaNoWriMo, many of which have been posted in their forums.  If you decide to try NaNoWriMo, you may find yourself using some of these, or you may not.  If you manage to reach the 50,000 words (or beyond), congratulations.  If not, it doesn’t really matter.  You now have a first draft (or start of one) to work on improving and possibly even publishing.

Good Luck!

About chyrondave

Avid comic reader, amateur writer, music fan, and someone with opinions, lots of opinions.

Posted on October 9, 2011, in Creative, NaNoWriMo, Writing and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 21 Comments.

  1. Thank you for the great tips to boost word count. I’m definitely gonna use my characters full name at all times. :D

  2. Lol! Really great tips and I’ll certainly use them. Thanks. K

  3. Thanks for the tips as I’m doing my first one next month.

  4. I admire your work , thankyou for all the interesting posts .

  5. Florentina Raabe

    I just found that a couple weeks ago. Great stuff!

  6. I love how these types of articles are so useful year after year. Not to many topics can claim that.

    Anyway, to the tips:
    Oddly enough, the “excessive description” might be helpful (once in a while) even in the edited version of my 2012 NaNo.
    I’m doing a Doctor Who plot, and with so many incarnations to pick from, I really ought to say SOMETHING to indicate which version I’m using. At least if he’s alone at the start of the story…and maybe even if he isn’t. Or in that plot point with Nine through Eleven meeting; I’ll need some way to distinguish who’s talking, and I don’t want to keep calling them by number, do I? ;)

    My personal challenge is figuring out how to work in the connections from one story to another, WITHOUT explaining things all over again, WITHOUT looking like something just fell into the story out of nowhere, and WITHOUT requiring readers to have read all the stories.
    More to the point, my connections are of the “let the reader decide if they’re really connected” variety–is that the same character from the other story, or is it just the same last name? Which is fine if the character has little more than a cameo, but a little more difficult when they have an actual ROLE in more than one story.
    Also to work in a certain recurring non-Who villain after I realized I was using her theme in the Who stories.

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