8 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Completed NaNoWriMo

NaNoWriMo is a month where writers aim to write a 50,000 word novel. This is an amazing accomplishment! Although there's no right or wrong way per se to win, here are some things I wish I knew before I completed NaNoWriMo.

NaNoWriMo isn’t anything to kill yourself over. 

It can be daunting, I know. 

I was a wreck before day 1. 

Last year I participated and won NaNoWriMo, rushing to the 11:59 pm mark on November 30, 2015. I know the struggle, which is why someone would’ve told me a few things to make it easier. Nevertheless, I lived and learned so I wanted to share my tips with you to avoid the mistakes I made and hopefully give you a better foundation to work from. 

Using these tips can help you work smarter, not harder and finally get that novel written. 


Use an autosaved document + BackUp work

This was my biggest mistake. I used a program similar to Scrivener, but one time it didn’t back up my work. I lost nearly 5,000 words. Can you say a headache and mass panic? Luckily the developers were able to get that back for me and have since improved the program, but I learned quickly. 

Make sure you are writing in something that autosaves and something that backs up online somewhere. I use Google Drive because I can access it anywhere, it autosaves and I can easily create a copy of the document every time I exit out of it. 

Trust me when I say you need to back it up every time you exit off and make sure it autosaves while you’re typing. 


Write more than minimum, but pace yourself

Don’t bust out of the gate, otherwise, your energy will deplete quickly. Write, but rest. I would definitely write the minimum, but if you can, write more. 

I’ve seen people struggling with NaNoWriMo on their first day, only getting 400 or 800 words done. That’s because they’re overthinking it and trying to force the words out. This month is a marathon, not a sprint. 

I fell behind when I got sick the week of Thanksgiving. 15,000 words with only a few days left to go. You can do a large amount of writing in a few days if you want to finish NaNoWriMo bad enough. I did, which is why I didn’t give up despite the horrible odds. I wish I’d known when I started that 1,667 words wasn’t the goal. It was the minimum to make it. 

The goal was to get the story out of my head and on paper. 


Plot on notecards

This is a pre-NaNoWriMo tip, but I ended up using it during the first week. I didn’t plot, I pantsed it. Stressful for me because I scrambled through notes to figure out what I should write next instead of having a general outline. 

That’s where the notecards come in. 

I got index cards and put pivotal points on the back - like the hook, first plot point, climax etc… - then I flipped it over and wrote down that scene synopsis in 1-2 lines. Once I had the main points, I got other cards and wrote 1-2 lines for the scene on them, but they didn’t have any plot points on the back. It put everything in order and created a timeline. Plus, I had the ability to take one scene at a time and focus only on that one card. 

This sped up my writing like crazy! 

Take 10 minutes and use this method. It’s a plotted-yet-pantsed method because it gives you an outline yet you can run with the scene anyway your pantsing takes you. 

By the way, if you don't know what pantsing is, it’s writing by the seat of your pants, which basically means that you just write without any structure or outline.


Use all your tools

It’s not just banging the keys. 

If you’re at work, write it down on notepads when the ideas come to you. Standing in line for the bus? Use voice typing on google docs and it’ll write it for you. Scribble on napkins if you have to and type it up later. 

Your environment is also your tool. By focusing and using the immediate tools at your disposal, you’re more likely to get things done. Set up the night before, grab your coffee and write. Nix the social media and the TV - you don’t need it. Those aren’t tools that can help you achieve your goal. 

Wake up an hour before you normally do and immediately hop on your computer before your mind wakes up. It’s difficult at first, but your mind is still asleep, which means it’s not awake enough to be afraid. Use that hour before your normal life begins to thrive. This prioritizes your writing, instead of trying to get it done after you’ve worked all day, taken care of the kids and are exhausted, trying to get to that 1,667 mark as the clock strikes midnight. 


Take advantage of playlists

Playlists kept me focused, especially when I needed a time limit to get all my writing done in. 

8tracks or Spotify are free programs you can use to listen to new music. They have playlists created from others or you can make your own. Some are even named for NaNoWriMo.

This not only gave me new music to work my mind around and keep me focused but also gave me a time limit. When I created my own playlist for let’s say 45 minutes, I could only write for that 45 minutes. It was a timed writing session that ended when the music did. This helped me focus and forced me to get at least 1,667 words done in that short time span. 

A lot of people fear they won’t have enough time for NaNoWriMo, but really it’s about the time you waste doing something else. Hunker down and set a timed writing session. If that’s an hour, great! Only write during that hour and get it done. Listen to music - especially instrumental - when you do. 



Every time you stop to think, “Does this sound right?” or “Does this connect?” you’re editing. You’re slowing your progress. 

Just type. Get it out. 

Editing does not belong in NaNoWriMo. That’s what December and the next year is for. 

Use the notecard outline I mentioned earlier to get yourself out of the rut or try participating in writing sprints with others online and in person. 



That heavy feeling in your chest? It’ll go away if you just breathe. This is not the end of the world and getting worked up won’t help your writing get done any faster. Your body can’t produce amazing things if you don’t give it the oxygen it needs to process. 

If you’re distracted or scattered, learn to practice following something simple like your breath. This repeated pattern will help you focus so your attention doesn’t waver as much and calm your nerves. You don’t have to stop thinking. Close your eyes and think about your breath going in and out of your body. Breathe deeply for a few minutes, then open your eyes again and notice how calm your body is - how focused. 

Sitting quietly for a few minutes, doing nothing or even listening to a soft piece of music without working on anything else can help you get past a stuck phase and develop a solution. It helps you develop patience, lower anxiety and refocuses your energy that’s being wasted on fear. 


Get feedback

Post NaNo, get feedback on your work. Talk with someone who knows a bit about writing and story structure. Don’t take your story to your mom or your best friend - unless that friend is an editor or something. 

Even if you have to pay for it, the feedback you get will be well worth it. 

I realized when I had someone reading it that sometimes I mentioned a character early in the story, but nothing was ever said about them again. Feedback helps you cut things out that don’t help the story along and gives you a new perspective on your writing. There are some things in your story that may not make sense and that person reading can tell you about them. 


Once you win NaNoWriMo, the amazing feelings you’ll have will put you on a high for the entire next year. Seriously, that’s what it did for me. The things you’ll get when you’re done jumpstart your writing in ways you probably never thought of before.

And hey, if you need someone to talk to, I’m here. Find me on social  or send me an email if you need a pep talk or advice. You’ve got this. Stop thinking so much and put your ideas down on paper. They deserve to breathe, too. 

Taylor Rae Davis, Storytelling Coach & Find the Freedom Founder

Taylor Rae Davis is a writer, author, and coach for writers who want to feel confident in their ability, tell stories from the heart and make writing an integral part of their lives. When she’s not writing fiction, reading everything in sight or watching a supernatural TV show, she’s traveling, and creating kickass content to help her readers get past their fears, get their ideas on paper and live up to their true creative potential.

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